The Load Out

So this is it. Avery’s last stand. I’ll try to be brief and I’ll probably fail. Perhaps you’ll indulge me in this valedictory, or not. But then again, that’s always been our deal, hasn’t it.

A little over nine years ago, I launched averyfineline.com as an experiment in online ventriloquism for me … to try on in public a voice that until then I’d only heard in my head. That’s why I’ve kept the icon to the right – a reader generated image, I might add (h/t, ArtCoach). It’s always seemed like a fitting commemoration to my foolhardy attempt to hide my light under a bushel, or a paper sack, as it were, even long after the jig of anonymity was up.

The blog debuted as I was in the throes of a doctoral dissertation about the psychology of American religious experience, and that work was, I realize now (though I saw only through a glass darkly then), disrupting and rearranging my already queerly evolving relationship to gospel music.

Five years earlier, I had begun the process of coming out and when nearly everything else from that world of evangelical Christianity fell away, turned aside, or stalked off vaingloriously, gospel music remained for me. I wondered why, but it wasn’t until I immersed myself in the prehistory of heart religion in America that I began to grasp the connections between my interest in puritan mores and gospel music. My doctoral work effectively scrambled the coordinates I had historically used to approach gospel and my customary ways of interacting with it. And averyfineline became an increasingly powerful part of that realignment process.

It began like this: I sat down one day to write an essay of sorts. It was about … something. Something related to gospel music, I’m sure, but it was also entirely forgettable because I couldn’t imagine an audience. So I decided to create my own audience. In the hot slow months of June and July, I started writing a ghost blog of sorts in a Word document that I’d send to my most trusted and insightful reader for feedback (h/t, JL), and she didn’t hate it. By mid-August, it felt right enough to launch averyfineline into the virtual seas, so I hit the “post” button and Avery (my nom-de-blog, also contributed by a reader … h/t, SL) was born.

I turned to blogging to test a hypothesis that there was an as-yet ungathered audience of other gospel people like me out there: people who wanted to have a conversation as intense as the ones going on in the Singing News forums, and at (what is now) absolutelygospelmusic.com, and other online discussion threads full of Joyful Noisers, but without running into artificial limits on those conversation as determined by the self-appointed piety police. Thus the early tagline for the site: Southern Gospel for the Rest of Us.

I’ve often wished I’d kept that description, but Avery and I were growing and becoming at a pace I could sometimes barely keep up with. And so the tag line, along with a lot of other stuff about the site, evolved to reflect the shifts in everything from the blog platform and the addition of moderated comments (it took a village of tech-savvy readers to make the transition to wordpress, I should note… not least of all, h/t, TT), to my own shifting horizon of interests and tastes.

I look back on those formative years of blogging and recall it as a time of writing furiously, nearly constantly, feverishly, with a kind of deliriously insatiable curiosity for the next discovery that would unfold in the blogging process about gospel music and its (ir)religious culture. I don’t think I was necessarily saying anything new, but for me, and I guess, for many of you, there was something valuable about saying these things in this way about questions and issues I had either taken for granted or assumed were unanswerable before I blundered into the colloquial style of inquiry that is blogging.

Of course this memory is at best embellished. I wrote a dissertation, did a post-doctoral lecturing stint, secured a permanent academic appointment, and later professorial promotion, and a host of other professional milestones, all during this time that my memory tells me I was blogging day and night. But then, memory takes on the warp and woof of the impressions that serious, sustained inquiry makes on our sensibilities.

So that’s how it started: as a larkish, bloggerly diversion from the dissertation, a way to keep my instincts as a writer and thinker grounded in safer, more open-nerved territory than academic work allowed for me. With time, the blog’s themes ultimately merged with the work I was getting paid to do at the university. Gospel music became my primary academic interest and research agenda in its own right, and resulted in part, of course, in The Book (have you bought your copy yet ;).

A funny thing happened on the way to the bookstore: in finding my own voice as a scholar of gospel music culture, I experienced less and less urgency to drive the conversations here online. Some of my happiest memories of the blog come from this era when something previously unheard of in gospel music emerged and flourished: a free flowing, public conversation about gospel, expressed with prismatic and regularly confounding variety. And it all happened with little more effort from me than moderating comments as they streamed in (my Wordpress Dashboard tells me I’ve approved close to 35,000 comments thus far). I always said this kind of conversation is what I wanted, and I was being truthful. But thinking about it was nothing compared to seeing it happen on my laptop screen, my smartphone, the iPad glowing in the small dark hours of insomniac blog-comments moderation.

As readers and fellow travelers in this experience, you all have continuously astonished me, for better and worse, but ultimately for good. There are both individual voices and a prevailing gestalt that make up the averyfineline hivemind, and trying (and often failing) to tune my ear to your frequency has forced me to rethink what I thought I knew about how and why a lived and living religion matters in the daily lives of ordinary people bound by a powerful sensitivity to – and divided by equally powerful but often divergent beliefs about the value of – the close harmonies of the soul’s best song.

I calculated once that I had written over 3 million words here, and that was several years ago (and the blog archives remain incomplete from my super stupid early days of trying to handroll this thing on Dreamweaver; if anyone needs a cybercommunity service project, migrating the rest of the Dreamweaver pages to wordpress has your name all over it!). So let’s just agree that my output here may be among the number no man can number.

One result: for some time now, I’ve found myself regularly having a gospel thought and thinking, that’s a good idea, I should blog about that, only to discover I already had. For a while, during this time, I dragged as many of you as would follow along with me in a kind of meta-academic reflection on the themes and issues that were arising as I researched and wrote the first book and now, have begun the second. But I think we’ve all known that’s not sustainable.

And so, to everything a season. I’d prefer nice round numbers like 10, but nine years and change is an era or two in the internet’s fleeting, forgetful, irresolute sense of time. And in any case, I’ve decided to call it a good set, a long stand, and load out.

This is not an awards speech (though I’m grateful for the recognition that writing about my experience as blogademic has garnered), so a sincere but all-encompassing expression of gratitude will have to suffice: Through the blog, I’ve:

-met many friends (KC, MG, SF, BS, and so on), some who have become as dear-hearted family to me (Edie and Ruth, that’s you), some I’ve never met (SV!);
-made enemies (especially of tenor singers and performers’ mothers, if my annual experience of being cornered, heckled, stink-eyed, and lapel-poked at NQC is any indication);
-discovered colleagues and kindred spirits;
-benefited from informants deep inside the death star mothership of the southern gospel industry (don’t worry, ya’ll, I’ll take your identities to the cybergrave with me), and;
-received more email than a single human can decently manage (from the heavy hearted and soul stirring, to the side splitting and hair singeing).

In short, I’ve learned beyond all manifold measure, about you and me, but mainly about the power of good music (and gawd, there seems to be so much less and less of that these days in professional southern gospel) to exceed the orthodox or official meanings that so many sanctified sangers and their fans, clapping on the one and three, so often insist upon.

Going forward into the foreseeable future, the site as you encounter it now will remain up and open to comments, or until I get tired of dealing with the spam (though I’m sure I’ll get an annual earful from the accounting interns who gripe about the fiduciary sinkhole it has been to run a site whose owner stubbornly, proudly refuses to charge readers or accept advertising). We’ve created a fairly wide and deep repository of cultural experience, history, and memory here, with (at least to my mind) immense artifactual value … plus the long tail of the interwebs mean people will, as they always have, continue to discover old posts and continue the conversation, however fitfully. So Averyworld won’t remain purely encased in amber.

The standard Avery email address will remain active as well for those wishing to communicate with me, and, if you desire, you may keep up with my most recent work here, a page that will be updated periodically to reflect new publications and other professional endeavors. These will ultimately include the new book I’m working on now that’s built around your voices as expressed in a survey so many hundreds of you responded to a few years back (more profuse gratitude).

And with that, farewell, dear readers. Let’s one another meet some glad morning by the bright riverside, on one shore or another.

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Comments

  1. Ron Fleshman wrote:

    Hate this. But we all go through changes and nothing ever stays the same except politics, which is unfortunate.

    Stay in touch (yeah right), and good luck.

  2. Madison Easter wrote:

    “Avery” was THE first person (outside of my family) that reached out to me with words of comfort after Mom’s diagnosis. It meant more to me than he probably knows. For that, I thank you again.

    Around the water cooler, your iconic brown bag has had many names written across it: “Doug” , “A jealous piano player”, “Some English professor”, and even “*******”. However, no name encompasses the full persona and allows us to experience that original mystique than “Avery”.

    Thanks for giving me the very first (and longest running) website I’d ever lurked.

    Take care,
    Maddy

  3. Jimmy Jack wrote:

    As always, way to many words and commas. Brevity is beautiful. Learn it, live it. Goodbye.

  4. Tom wrote:

    It kind of seemed like this time was inevitably coming, and sad about its arrival. But we’ll keep reading your books. May God’s grace and peace be with you.

  5. irishlad wrote:

    R.I P.Doc.

  6. Bud wrote:

    The music does it more rarely now, but when it crosses that fine line a very magical thing happens. Thanks for the insight, honesty, and love for this music.

  7. Mike wrote:

    Kudos to all you did. We all hate change. Since it’s inevitable, I hope there’s a new you. In every niche (even as small as Southern Gospel music), honesty is coveted in an unconveyable desperation…at least for some.

  8. The Art Coach wrote:

    I am not much with words…but it has been a blast! Thanks for making us think outside the box. I have always been proud to have contributed the paper bag guy. We had some fun with it, didn’t we? Would love to see you return in the future!
    Farewell.

  9. Steven wrote:

    Thanks for your time and dedication to the site.

    Hopefully there will be a reunion tour.

  10. Gradie wrote:

    Man, what a learning experience this has been through the years. Thank you for all your hard work and I appreciate your honesty. God bless your future endeavors and no matter what you say, we all know the true story is that you’re just quiting to spend more time with family.

  11. Jim M. wrote:

    Doug,
    Regardless of how you’ve chosen to explain your departure from these hallowed halls, I choose to believe that the GMA hired a hit squad from a third world country to “enforce your silence.” This is a much more colorful explanation and will set you up quite well for averyfineline II, blogged from the jungles of the Amazon. Thanks for the great ride!

  12. Aaron Swain wrote:

    Congratulations on a great run. Nine years is quite a bit of time to dedicate to anything, and Averyfineline had an undeniable effect on shaping the SG blogging niche as we know it today. Perhaps keeping the site up will keep your foot in the door for a “reunion tour,” as Steven put it. I, for one, hope to read your unique perspective on NQC in the future, should you ever pass that way again.

    As a postscript, I had no idea you were at JMU now. That’s a great school; I had given some thought to going there for college before deciding elsewhere, and went for a mobile app programming seminar there last year. Beautiful campus.

    Blessings on your future endeavors!

  13. Ed wrote:

    Thanks for providing the medium to discuss the unmentionable, to debate the irrefutable and to shine a light on the “darker side” of SG music.

    Although a great deal of false information has likely been posted by some contributors, I tend to think many facts have been shared here. It’s unrealistic to think that SG music is without deep, dark secrets. After all, our favorite singers are only human and suffer from many of the same frailties as the fans. At least this blog has chosen not to ignore them…

  14. Dean Adkins wrote:

    It is enough, sir; as much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many.”
    Very likely; but it is blank and cool–’Farewell.”
    ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

  15. quartet-man wrote:

    I am going to take a break in my sabbatical, retirement or whatever it is and comment here. I am glad you are keeping this site up and hope you do. If not, I hope you send me the files as there are some great posts and comments here that I would hate to see gone (and archive.org only goes so far).

    I remember the early days when the options for talking about SG were next to none. Free speech was non-existent and any degree of criticism was squelched with an iron fist.

    Free speech has its own drawbacks and was sometimes abused, but it was so great to have a place to share one’s opinions and be critical. Unfortunately, some find even the mere hint of anything less than pie in the sky perfection in SG to be affront and to even go as far as impugn the artists motives and walk with the Lord. But, I digress.

    I will have to admit that things have changed and this blog has been a shadow of what it once was. However, you have made some contributions to the field and perhaps there is a bit more self assessment in the field by some. Certainly some couldn’t see past their hurt feelings (and maybe sometimes egos), but discussions here may have made some work harder to improve. Granted, some here got far too brutal and personal, but there were also some things here that I am sure could have (and maybe did) help others to see their weaknesses and things to improve to become better artists.

    I am serious in that I would want to the files here (for my own library as it were) should you decide to take the archives down. I hate that some other sites just disappeared with no notice with some great posts and comments being evaporated. I hope that doesn’t happen here and am glad that you gave notice and at least now intend to keep the archives up.

  16. RachelWells wrote:

    See ya!

  17. Dan Keeton wrote:

    Mr. Doug,

    I’m not sure of the enemy “Tenor Singers” you mention. However, this one appreciates your work to open the locked doors of the SGM underworld and bring to light many things which would have remained hidden. I love the music and the heroes I looked up to in my climb up the SGM ladder.

    Right or wrong, agree or disagree, you have made a great contribution to this industry, which is just my humble opinion.

    I wish you great success in your future. God loves you.

    Many Blessings
    Dan Keeton

  18. NG wrote:

    Thank you for nine years of great blogging.

  19. DamonFromKY wrote:

    Thanks, Doug, for the years of entertainment and thought-provoking analysis. I rarely commented, but have appreciated every post, even as they have become less frequent. Your voice will be missed here, but I hope to catch it wherever your talents take you next.

  20. Pink wrote:

    Thank you and you will be missed.
    pink

  21. William Sinister wrote:

    WHO CARES?

  22. Gayla wrote:

    Hidee Doug,
    I have truly enjoyed this website! I appreciate you allowing the interaction! It was one of my first visits daily “on the Gospel Music web”. Thanks for adding a “scholarly voice” to this Music that I so love.
    Take care,
    Gayla Raper Fooks

  23. Judi Linville wrote:

    As usual, you did it your way, with class and flair. Thank you for giving some of us an education in Southern Gospel, once a foreign language but now a sound that will be missed except when we return to these great old posts and read them again. Above all, thank you for being you, with that trademark unflinching honesty, letting the barbs fly and the chips fall where they would. I’m looking forward to reading the next book, and the next. Although this post didn’t need them, I still have my red and green marking pens…:) gpl….

  24. Josh wrote:

    Enjoyed this blog,wished it wasn’t leaving.

  25. Martin Roth wrote:

    Thank you for all your work. God bless you.

  26. gina wrote:

    The early days of your blog are what brought me into following the happenings of southern gospel music online. For that, and your willingness to use your talents to educate, humor, and amuse the readers, I say thank you! Your blogging of the NQC in years past contained some of the most insightful commentary I have read. Take care, best wishes, and thanks again for your contribution to our southern gospel lives!

  27. Indiana Daze wrote:

    The cessation of your column coincides with Sylvia Brown’s graduation to a new galaxy. Is there any connection?

    I became familiar with your site a year ago. Your articulate and incredibly well-constructed thoughts will be missed immensely. The comments section was always a highlight. Anna, where will you go now???

    Imagine if Avery had been around 40 years ago? We could have read about inebriated singers on stage, group stops at beer joints, hot babes accompanying quartets, and even more mundane things such as when I heard one top-level group plot with the sound man so his group would sound better and the others worse. (Ah, the intrigue involved with big groups at all night singings!) Who will call the Trinity Network Bozos on the carpet now? (Poor choice of words since the head bozo probably has carpet burns.)

    Congratulations on the 9-year run. Bummer for us.

  28. RDB wrote:

    Well, I’ll be frank. I’ve mostly lost interest in the site. Along with you I suppose :). thanks for all the good and the bad. And thanks for being brave and saying its over. This is the internet. Is it ever over? Maybe you could start some perpetual farewell blog.

    Naah, just leave us the memories and don’t disappoint us by trying to recreate them in future.

  29. Janet B wrote:

    Well…darn. I was looking forward to the annual whine about Christmas music. It just won’t seem like the holiday season now. ;)

    Bon voyage, Doug. Don’t be a stranger.

  30. TF wrote:

    No big loss. At all. Did far more harm than good.

  31. CVH wrote:

    They (the ubiquitous ”they”) say all good things must come to an end. And so it is for AVFL.

    I first came across the site six or seven years ago and being a long-time SG fan, I was amazed to find a place for dialogue that was candid and deliberate in its approach. Unlike every other SG website, AVFL engaged its readers with substantive topics; no rehashed press releases posing as news articles or swarmy record reviews.

    Whether questioning, doubting or informing, DH allowed readers to share their thoughts honestly. I think this was one of the distinguishing traits of AVFL; it was “real”.

    Anyone who’s read my posts knows that I think the industry is in trouble. At some point it will stabilize but at a lower level; in other words, the glory days are over and the future remains uncertain. AVFL offered something different; a much-needed respite from the usual self-congratulatory fluff that permeates the business. And for that fact alone AVFL will be sorely missed.

    So thanks, Doug. For those of us who have long ago taken off the rose-colored glasses, your insight, transparency and wit is our loss. But every end is also a new beginning; so good luck my friend. Godspeed.

  32. Elvis Presley wrote:

    Ladies and gentlemen, Doug Harrison -a professor and terminal gospel lover -has just left the building!

  33. Priscilla Presley wrote:

    You showing up again, you crazy psycho… Which part of “till death do us  part” is giving you  so much  trouble, you redneck son of a bitch

  34. ode wrote:

    Well said, CVH. Doug’s place was one of a kind shop. His writings on here will surely be missed by many, and AVFL’s absolute, non duplicatable uniqueness will be missed by him as well. No other place will afford Doug the liberty to express himself so freely to the audience that enjoyed and valued his input so much.

    Books, academic presentations, college classes are all done, to quote my fav sci fi author, “for amusement of bored public” and will always be judged accordingly. But here he had a slice of niche market, highly interested in the topic, something that he won’t have ever again. We truly CARED. 

    I will take a shot at AVFL’s obituary shortly and to enjoy the privilege of one last post here….
    PS.  hmmm.. and not a peep from  Wade! He’s been strangely  quiet  (and I thought that cheap duck tape from a dollar store wont work just as well) 

  35. Auke wrote:

    I hate to see you go, but I understand your motives. Thanks for all the great writing Doug!

    GBU

  36. Indiana Daze wrote:

    Paul Crouch is dead and you can’t write about it. Maybe you should postpone retirement for another week.

  37. scribe wrote:

    I don’t know how to write well. Sometimes I hang my head low and asked God, “What do you want me to say?” Be a Baruch. Be a protector of these words: Get yourself ready. The call is to both tear down and to build up. - The Weeping Prophet

  38. ode wrote:

    36 - maybe not, Dazed…;)
    This is how SG world reports Crouch’s death: gospel news site and Fbook SG groups described  Paul Crouch as “a faithful  man of God, great moral character, humbleness and strong faith”, one that will be missed greatly.    

    And this is how Daniel Mount’s blog delights in Doug Harrison ending his bloglife : “ Ding Dong The Witch is Dead!” 

     SG praises crook, grifter and a crack theologian. And hates a man that spoke the truth.  “You truly know them by their fruits….”
      

  39. NonSGfan wrote:

    Well… That was ….. An interesting ride….

  40. ode wrote:

    Color me impressed!
    It took only ab. 24 hours after public admonition for Daniel Mount to develop  the sense of moral  decency and, after a couple of edits, force himself to remove   THIS
    While done in a cowardly, unapologetic, rude and hypocritical way…  considering how low the moral bar is set in Southern  Gospel, that’s still an impressive act.
     

  41. Anna wrote:

    #27 Indiana Daze:
    I just can’t believe I have a fan! Now I know how it feels to be a SG singer!! Maybe I’ll start singing. Better yet, maybe I’ll open my own blog–”The Silent Heckler…Ponderings From Southern Gospel’s Back Row…” It will only be positive though. NO NEGATIVE COMMENTS ALLOWED! Oh wait, the SG world already has a blog like that. Nevermind. Farewell, all…

  42. Indiana Daze wrote:

    Dear Anna, if you will write a blog called “The Silent Heckler”, I’ll change my name to “Whispering Thunder”. Since the back row in church was always the most interesting, I’d join you there.

    It’s actually sad this blog is ending but I was always the last person to arrive at a good party so I’m used to it. Where do SG fans go who don’t buy the crap served by the Crouches of the world?

  43. Ben Harris wrote:

    Wishing you well Doug, may God Bless and kepp you.

  44. Josh wrote:

    Doug,we still want you to come back.

  45. Videoguy wrote:

    You know, when a concert is really good, there’s usually an encore or two….

  46. gina wrote:

    Ok Doug, it is at times like this that we really miss you. We need to know what happened to David with the Perrys. It seems he has all but disappeared and nobody wants to say if he is coming back to the group or has quit. Lib is usually pretty upfront about things like this (when it isn’t already obvious) but is totally ignoring this one. It’s so sad what the Perrys have faced in the past year and they have the support of the masses right now. Why would they allow this to dampen that spirit? Come back, Doug! You are the person we could count on to get real answers in this industry.

  47. cg wrote:

    If you were the Crabb Family you would have had a reunion tour by now… I miss you !!!!

  48. RF wrote:

    I exchanged emails with Doug shortly after his announcement. I said then I would never ask him to come back. He made his decision and that was that, but now, he who lives only a couple hours from me, is needed. I may take a trip I-81 and handcuff him to the Ford and hold a gun to his head and make him comment. I’m kidding of course, but good grief, I miss this.

  49. gina wrote:

    RF - Let me know if you need a partner-in-crime! ;)

  50. Ode wrote:

    Gina, implying that Doug’s (a professor of linguistics, published author,
    academic, speaker and a scholar) blog main purpose and lofty goal was to
    fill the reader on gossip about personnel dynamics will undoubtedly only
    reinforce his decision to remain closed.

    asking on FB would be simpler. Befriend a few godly, Jesus fearing SG
    singers and you will get so much gossip about -who’s that you want? David
    from Perrys? - to fill a magazine issue, yellow press style.

    Remember when a singer from a much known SG group made outrageous claims on
    AVFL about typical Gospel bus culture, singers demanding female counterparts
    to show their private parts? I thought nothing about SG morality could shock
    me, but that did, I posted my public email, he wrote back, ‘friended’, then
    I got 3 more singers on FB opining on the subject.

    SG gossip is not why Doug is needed, we can safely outsource that to India,
    I mean facebook.

  51. gina wrote:

    Ode, you obviously didn’t read the last sentence in my post. “Real answers” obviously aren’t gossip, and I am among the few who respect Doug’s credentials. We actually need him to counter those pages of gossip and junk, not to mention his random intelligent commentary on this genre. As for fb, no thanks!

  52. Ode wrote:

    You mean Doug Harrison has deep access to personal details on David’s,etc. life,
    completed with accompanying factual proof to qualify that potential info as
    non-gossip? Then by all means, oh sister of mine, grab RF and arrange the
    kidnapping ASAP, help you God.

    Be our selfless AFVL’s public servants!

    Most of those use criminal methods to achieve public good - I come from the
    land where every high-level politician in its history did/ is currently
    doing time / or under investigation; and currently live in a land that has
    four governors serving prison time - but sadly I’m too far from you to help,
    except with bail money ;)

  53. Mike S. wrote:

    Maybe most don’t want to face the sad truth about the SG business but the unvarnished truth is as much as groups want to be “professional” and “big time”, you are seeing all these personnel changes because most can’t pay high enough salaries to keep good talent.
    Even bigger groups like The Perrys, who have been doing this a long time are seeing new realities in the marketplace…well…its just sad. I’ve been a SG fan for almost 40 years and I would rather still believe the groups I love to hear can draw enough fans across the country to make a decent living for 6-8 singers/musicians + expenses. But its not true.
    Aside from some special forward thinkers like Greater Vision, The Hoppers, Jason Crabb and of course the Gaither machine, most of “professional” SG is professional wannabe. The really smart ones have admitted what they are- quasi-professional/regional acts and either the group owner owns his own business or they work during the week and sing on weekends.
    My I-Pod has a lot of Perrys on it. Really like some of their stuff. But vocally and talent wise- they are a step and a half below professional quality- and they are better than many out there.

  54. Drew wrote:

    Has anyone heard about the riff going on with the Kingdom Heirs?

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