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Three recent novels by Stephen Graham Jones, Attica Locke and Michael Farris Smith through the lens of Repo Man and True Detective:
There's a scene in Repo Man where a car-lot attendant explains to a young repo man how the world operates, a worldview he calls the "lattice of coincidence."
"Suppose you're thinkin' about a plate of shrimp," he says. "Suddenly someone'll say, like, 'plate' or 'shrimp' or 'plate of shrimp' out of the blue, no explanation. No point in lookin' for one, either. It's all part of a cosmic unconsciousness."
Lately, my plate of shrimp has been True Detective. It's been at least six weeks since the season finale and I can't stop thinking about the show. I see it everywhere—even in the books I read. But is it me, or is it the "cosmic unconsciousness"? Because the last three books I read all contained uncanny echoes of True Detective.
One of the strangest things that happened to me last year was a bout of vertigo that literally knocked me on my ass while I was in Walla Walla, Washington interviewing Scott Campbell, Jr. for our book, Giving the Finger. The whole story is in the new issue of Razorcake, which also features a rad interview with punk pop phenom Tony Molina, an oral history of East L.A. punk curated by Alice Bag, and a stunning essay by Cheryl Klein.
Before he was a star on Deadliest Catch, Scott Campbell Jr. had a rocky childhood and an even more treacherous path to becoming the captain of his own vessel. He tells his story in Giving the Finger: Risking It All to Fish the World’s Deadliest Sea.
After the deer was dressed, we’d cure it out by hanging it in the rigging. We did this with all the deer, so by the end of the hunt, we’d have a pretty impressive display. If we had a half a dozen or so men aboard, and we each got our quota, we’d come back to Kodiak with thirty to forty deer hanging in the rigging.
Two new short story collections by a pair of San Diego writers.
I bought some books at the table shared by Magic Helicopter and Publishing Genius. I happened to be there when both Mike Young and Adam Robinson were there and so I was saying my hellos while selecting books in a somewhat discombobulated fashion and after I'd made my purchases someone sitting behind the table handed me If I Falter at the Gallows and instructed me to read the following:
At the top
of a dune
in the desert,
man appears, only
only to be pushed
in the back
to tumble don
the dune by
I laughed and agreed it was funny, but after a moment's hesitation I put the book down because I'd already made my purchases. I went back to the Razorcake table and at odd times throughout the day the sentence would come back and I'd wish I'd bought the book. In other words, I regretted having faltered.
The next day I went back and bought the book and have been teasing over the story/poems over the last few weeks, sometimes reading the epigrammatic sentences over and over again. I'm sure there are other writers who work in this mode but these absurd little vignettes remind me of the comedian Steven Wright, king of the deadpan non-sequittur. Highly recommended.
In the tradition of Letters to Wendy's, poet Lauren Ireland composed a series of short letters to Lil' Wayne while he was in incarcerated in 2010. Razor sharp and funny as hell, Ireland's aphoristic missives are barbed with surprises:
"Spirit animals are bullshit but I have one—it's a big huge knife."
Dear Lil' Wayne isn't out yet, but you can get a sweet deal from Magic Helicopter Press if you pre-order now, plus a chance to win even more swag from the cover designer Krysten Brown. Win/win and you don't even have to submit to a body cavity search.
There's been a ton of great writing about True Detective and its influenes in the weeks leading up to it finale on Sunday night. Here's a closer look at the ur text of True Detective source material, Robert Chambers's The King in Yellow.
An element of the supernatural hangs over the stories like black stars over Carcosa. These elements do a marvelous job of distracting the reader from the fact that none of the narrators can be believed. It matters less that their sanity has been compromised than the fact that their accounting of events is highly suspect. If you've been paying attention to True Detective, you know that the detectives' unreliability is crucial to the how the story-within-the-story unfolds.
I just got back from AWP14 in Seattle, and I brought home a ton of interesting books, journals, chapbooks and things in between: from perfect bound books from emerging presses to hand-made zines. I'm going to try to writer about as many as I can over the next few weeks. Number one on the list is A Secondary Landscpae by Aaron Gilbreath. I've been reading a lot of Aaron's work lately in places like Harper's, Vice and River Styx. A Secondary Landscape is a quiet mediatation about figuring out one's place in the world imbued with the recklessness of youth. The format is perfect: Scout Books makes little Books for Big Ideas. This 3.5"x5" literary object is made with recycled paper and vegetable inks and is a collaboration with Kevin Sampsell's micro-press Future Tense Books. It's so small I was afraid it would get lost in all the books, fliers and cards I brought home, so I read it on the plane. A Secondary Landscape is a great read for in-between places.
The latest issue of Razorcake is here! #78 has a great profile of the band that put out my favorite record of 2013, Donna Ramone’s punk guide to silent films, plus columns, comics and book, zine and record reviews by the Razorcake familia. I’ll be at the Razorcake table at AWP Seattle (O21) all weekend. Come say hello!
We'll be giving away a limited quantity of these ferociously cool t-shirts at the Razorcake table at AWP in Seattle. Free with a six-issue subscription to America's only nonprofit indie music zine. Come by O21 and get yours early because they won't last. We'll mail you your subscription so there's no paper to bring home and you can pack one less shirt for your trip. Sweet, simple, rad. This offer is only valid at the Razorcake table at AWP Seattle while supplies last.
On Monday, February 24, 2014, Australian author J.S. Breakelaar will be launching her debut novel American Monster, "a deeply original apocalyptic novel" from Lazy Fascist Press at Stories Books and Cafe. I'll be reading with Ben Loory, Cecil Castellucci, John Skipp and Zoe Ruiz. Stories is located at 1716 Sunset Blvd. in Echo Park.
I was interviewed by Heather Fowler at Fictionaut last month for the Writers on Craft series. Heather is a good friend, a member of the Legion of Vermin and we've been reading each other's work for years. You would think this would make answering the questions easier, but these were tough.
What do you feel is the purpose of literature?
To me, literature feels bound to the context of its creation in ways that don’t register in other arts. That’s probably a bias on my part, but there it is. Literature attempts to teach the reader about class, sex and power in human relationships at a particular moment in time. It’s meaningless, of course. We’re all passengers on this dinky life raft we call earth. We haven’t gotten to the kill-or-be-killed part of the endgame where your next-door neighbor starts to look like a roasted chicken, but we’re getting there. The water is slopping over the gunwales and we’re squabbling over when we need to start baling.
Toward the end I mention a few projects that are in the pipeline, about which I'll have plenty more to say soon.
In celebration of Bill Burroughs' birthday month I wrote a pair of reviews about the drug-loving author of Naked Lunch. First I tackled Barry Miles' new biography, Call Me Burroughs, a fascinating examination of all phases of the author's life.
"Call Me Burroughs" is riddled with weird anecdotes laced with gallows humor, bizarre coincidences and profane punch lines. It's a massive undertaking made complicated by Burroughs' peripatetic lifestyle and rampant drug use.
Then I took a look at a book that El Hombre Invisible wrote late in life called The Cat Inside.
I'm not sure what's stranger—that Bill Burroughs, the godfather of punk, lifetime dope addict and firearms fetishist, wrote a book about his cats or that, in it, you'll find lines like this:
"... [A] scarlet orange and green cat with reptile skin, a long sinewy neck and poison fangs—the venom is related to the blue-ringed octopus: two steps you fall on your face, an hour later you're dead..."
That's classic Burroughs at his hardboiled finest. But cats? Seriously?
Portrait of the author in 1988, shortly after I got out of the Navy.
I've got a new essay up at Granta that goes with the theme for their new issue: Do you remember? Teenage Wastelands is about going to see Pearl Jam with my wife late last year and reflecting on other concert going experiences, including my first show: The Ramones at the Wax Museum way back in the early '80s. It's worth noting that I'm not a Pearl Jam fan, but I'm not a hater either--at least not anymore--but if indie music of the early '90s takes you back, you might find something in this piece for you.
There are three things for which there is no substitute: sex, travel and live music. I applaud those who have their priorities straight. I watched dorkily beautiful strangers lose themselves in the music. I watched them get carried away. I watched them rock the fuck out. Throughout the show I kept thinking, My God, I hope I don’t look like that.
There's a link in the article to a YouTube video of Pearl Jam's entire performance at Lollapalooza at Irvine Meadows. It was fascinating to re-watch this show that I attended over 20 years ago. There's a lot I don't remember (as the essay explains) but I had completely forgotten that after Pearl Jam opened with "Baba O'Riley" they played a ripping version of "Sonic Reducer" by the Dead Boys that's worth checking out.
My first reviews of 2014 for The Floating Library at San Diego CityBeat have been on the somber side. 2013 ended with several deaths in the family: my uncle, my wife's paternal grandfather and my brother-in-law's grandmother all passed away. They each and enjoyed long, memorable lives. Nevertheless, their passing created a feeling of foreboding as the anniversary to the shootings at Newtown approached.
First, I reviewed The Last of the Blue and the Gray by Richard A. Serrano, which takes a look at the men who laid claim to the distinction of being the last surviving soldier of the Civil War. It's a facinating book replete with tales of old soldiers.
"Thirty-five years ago, I could call the roll of thirty in my company. But now, I am the only one living. They are all dead, and when a man dies, he drops out of thought and recollection."
That quote has stuck with me. I don't want it to be true, but I know it is. Writing is a hedge agaisnt that, but that's all it is.
I read Newtown with great trepidation for reasons I make clear in my review. I learned a lot of things about Adam Lanza and that horrible day that I wish I could unlearn.
Adam Lanza is a person who resists knowing. His crime, his horrible actions that day, didn't make him that way. He was a cipher all his life. Even to his family. Normally, one says "friends and family" but Lanza didn't have any friends.
Seidlinger avoids the clinch of genre fiction that tells us boxing novels should be brooding and atmospheric tales. “The Laughter of Strangers” delivers a combination of psychological horror and strangeness that would not be out of place in a David Lynch film.
Sedilinger is the publisher of Civil Coping Mechanisms and his book was published by Lazy Fascist Press, both of which are very popular with the indie lit crowd, which probably explains the huge number of Facebooks likes it generated.
2013 was a pretty good year for new music. If you've seen my list in years past, you know that my taste skews heavily toward punk rock. Sometimes a pop record will slip in there thanks to the influence of my wife's suspect listening habits, and as I get older I've noticed a gradual mellowing. Not this year. As my friends in San Antonio would say, this list is pretty rowdy.
10. Warm Soda, Someone for You LP (Castle Face Records)
Oakland power pop with snappy beats, jangly guitars and vocals glazed with goo. I prefer my love songs belted through bare teeth, but the slashing guitars ripped my heart to ribbons. Call me?
9. Cat Party “A Thousand Shades of Grey” EP (Bandcamp)
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: great band, stupid name. It’s hard to believe a band this morose sounding could come from Orange County, but then again so did Christian Death. Grab your black board shorts and sunscreen and dive into Cat Party’s sublime brand of Beach Gothic.
8. Teenage Burritos, Danya, 7” (Volar)
Don't be fooled by the clean, crisp sound on this collection of doo-woppy pop-punk ear candy – these tunes have a subversive heart. Once "Danya" (a love song dedicated to a teenage anarchist) wraps its warm tortilla around your heart, it won’t let go: "I remember the day you called a bomb threat to school / You got caught and I thought that you were cool." "Kamikaze" continues in a similar vein: "Kamikaze fly with me / I wanna die when the moon is high and I’m young and free." Never has going out in a blaze of glory seemed so hella romantic.
7. Libyans, Expired Language LP (Sorry State Records)
There are two reactions to this style of punk: “Er, it’s a little much” or “Fuck. Yeah.” DIY-or-die hardcore from Somerville, Massachusetts.
6. White Murder, Arteries Are Flexible 7” (Bandcamp)
When your bandmembers are spread out from Silverlake to San Pedro, the label “LA” doesn’t mean much, but this punk rock band has a singular sound and looks like no one else I’ve ever seen. Fronted by two exceptionally fearless and intelligent women who don’t play instruments and dance like dervishes, White Murder is fascinating to watch. With a bunch of singles and splits under their belt and dozens of memorable performances, I’m looking forward to their first full-length in 2014.
5. Mind Spiders / Lenguas Largas, Sister Series 7” (Razorcake Records)
You know how two bands will often split the cost of a 7” to showcase new work? Razorcake Records doubles down on the concept: two bands, two records, with at least two new songs and each band covering one of the other band’s songs. Neato. The 2013 releases featured Mind Spiders, who released my favorite record from last year, and Lenguas Largas from Tucson/Nogales, featuring former members of Swing Ding Amigos. You could listen to a hundred punk rock records in a row and not hear a single song that sounds like Lenguas Largas. They’re out there in the desert broadcasting on a whole other frequency, man. Mind Spiders offer up two new synth punk songs. I liked “Dark Side” so much I begged Razorcake to let me use it in the Vermin on the Mount video. Dirt Cult just dropped a new Mind Spiders record called Inhumanistic and head spider Mark Ryan has yet another side project called Radioactivity with former members of Marked Men and Bad Sports.
4. Hasil Adkins, Leaves of Autumn 7” (Arkam/45 RPM)
Recorded in a trailer in coal country West Virginia shortly before his death, “Leaves of Autumn” gets my vote as one of the saddest songs ever written. It’s quiet and understated – two things The Haze most certainly was not – and absolutely perfect. There are cleaner recordings of this song out there, but this 7” record is a unique artifact that is a great introduction to the legendary Godfather of Psychobilly and a must for completists. I wrote a fuller investigation of the story behind the story for Oxford American.
3. Low Culture, Screens MP3 (Dirtnap)
This debut from Las Cruces garage punk band featuring former members of Shang-A-Lang and Marked Men has more killer songs than any other record I listened to in 2013. The first three songs “Screens,” “I Feel Your Ghost” and “Waste the Day” are so tight you have to listen to all three one after the other. But the standout for me is the epic “California” which feels like it was written so that 100 sweaty kids packed into a beach bar could shout the lyrics together: Tonight I’m getting fucked up in California / Drinking whiskey on the beach / And all those kids who were better than me / Well they’re probably sitting home watching their TVs. Highly recommended.
2. Wavves, Afraid of Heights LP (Warner Bros)
Every time I listen to a new Wavves record I think, “This isn’t for me.” I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the band after relocating from San Diego to Los Angeles. On the whole it’s a bit slower and more psychedelic. The lyrics are less obscure and more self-referential. But none of that mattered. Once those epic hooks got a hold of me, I was done for. I listened to Afraid of Heights more than any other record this year. At the gym. In the car. At work. I saw them play at the Echoplex in L.A. with about 1,000 teenage fans and while they didn’t knock my socks off I wasn’t disappointed either. I love this record. Their videos are delightfully bizarre, as if they wanted to assure parents paying attention to what their kids are listening to that they really are dirtbags. Bravo.
1. Destruction Unit, Deep Trip (Sacred Bones)
Whenever I listen to Ryan Rousseau’s music, I think of Jay Reatard. That sounds like I'm saying Rousseau's music is influenced by his former bandmate, but I'm not. I don't know if its been said before but I think that if Jay Reatard is Vincent Van Gogh, punk rock's enfant terrible who died too young, then Ryan Rousseau is Paul Gaugin: the gifted mentor who renounces the world and heads for the wilderness. (When I went to Memphis, Alicja Trout told me that Rousseau was the only one who could control Jay.) This isn't the place to compare and contrast the two and specualtate on the ways they did or didn't influence one anouther, but when I listen to Destrution Unit, I hear a band that is constantly changing and exploring new ways to express the inexpressable. Jay Reatard's genius was to figure out how to do something and then take that knowledge to the absolute limit. You could say they're two sides of the same coin, but you'd be wrong. They're not even the same currency. Deep Trip is not like any othe record I listened to this year, nor is it like any other record Rousseau has made before. It's dark, chaotic and wild. When I saw Destruction Unit play the Tower Bar in San Diego at the beginning of their tour, they tried to play the new record. They lasted four songs and then mid-way through the fifth everything fell apart. Their failure was spectacular. There was nothing left to do but pack up, move on, try again the next night. Deep Trip takes me to a place I didn’t know I could get to without drugs, a place that houses feelings of joy and sadness that I didn't know I still had access to, a place I wish that Jay Reatard were still alive to visit. I think he'd like it there.
In the summer of 2012 I took a class with LA artist Kiyoshi Nakazawa to learn the art and craft of making comics. For my class project, I thought I'd adapt one of my short stories. After blocking it out, I realized the story would be dozens of pages long. I decided to adapt something much shorter: a 150-word story I'd written about an airline pilot having marital problems called Black Box. It took me a lot longer than I thought it would but I finished it and now it's been published in Matt Lewis's San Diego-based zine The Radvocate. Check it out and order your copy today!
This year, I read 56 books – virtually the same number of books I read last year. 28 of the books were by women, 28 by men. This disposition is a vast improvement over years past and it wasn’t by accident. After tallying last year’s list I was shocked, not by how my reading tendencies skewed toward male authors, but by my failure to recognize the discrepancy. As the organizer of Vermin on the Mount, I strive to assemble readings that represent diversity in genre, gender and cultural background. Plus, in the summer of 2012 I read all of Jennifer Egan’s books while traveling in Portugal and Lithuania. If anything, I thought my reading was ahead of the gender curve. Nope. In 2012 the split was 39 to 12 I needed to do something about that.
By seeking out books by women, I started noticing the things that VIDA has been saying for years: books coverage is largely a boy’s club. Even more surprising to me was how obvious the discrepancy is on the shelves of book stores, where the male authors often outnumber female authors by a factor of two or three or four to one. When seeking out books by female writers, the consumer has fewer choices. That sucks. As a reader, writer, and book reviewer, I had to change. My reviews in The Floating Library, my books column for San Diego CityBeat, reflect this. For the sake of consistency, I have employed the same format I used for last year’s list, with a few minor twists.
Books I Recommend Without Reservation
The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell
Crapalachia: A Biography of a Place by Scott McClanahan
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
The Virgins by Pamela Erens
I have written extensively about The Disaster Artist, which might me the most entertaining book I read all year, and fans of Scott McClanahan were treated to two new books by the West Virginia author, but the book that surprised me the most was Revenge by Yoko Ogawa. In terms of the style and the strangeness of its storytelling, Ogawa’s linked stories remind me Paul Auster’s City of Glass trilogy: compulsively readable and deliciously strange. (Or at least the experience of reading it for the first time since I don’t feel the trilogy holds up that well). On NPR, Alan Cheuse calls Revenge macabre and metafictional. I’ll be reading more Ogawa in 2014.
Books That Made Me Question the Worthiness of the Human Project
Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Middle C by William Gass
Confessions from a Dark Wood by Eric Raymond
Books That Reaffirmed It
Fight Song by Joshua Mohr
Umnak: The People Remember: An Aleutian History by Tyler M. Schlung
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
The Fire Outside My Window: a Survivor Tells the True Story of California's Epic Cedar Fire by Sandra Millers Younger
I didn’t review Sandra’s book because we are close friends. In fact, we both enrolled in Judy Reeves’s writing group around the same time in 2009. (In 2013, two members of that group, Marivi Soliven and Sandra Millers Younger, got their books published.) The Fire Outside My Window is a comprehensive, exhaustively researched account of the Cedar Fire, the largest wildfire in California history. It also burned down Sandra’s home. While Sandra was editing her manuscript, the group urged her to put more of her story in the book, but she felt like she had to make sure she got everyone else’s story right before she could expand on her own. She got the story right.
Books About the Oddness of Creative People
The Book of Dolores by William T. Vollmann
Happy Mutant Baby Pills by Jerry Stahl
Leaving Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
Writing by Marguerite Duras
Books That Zapped Me Into the Past
Tin God by Terese Svoboda
The Mango Bride by Marivi Soliven
Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery that Outlived the Civil War by Richard A. Serrano
Books That Anticipate the Future
Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel
Edie & the Low-Hung Hands by Brian Allen Carr
Books That Don’t Rhyme
Red Doc> by Anne Carson
Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
The Captain Lands in Paradise by Sarah Manguso
Field Work by Seamus Heaney
I wanted to read more poetry in 2013 and four books – one a quarter – doesn’t really cut it. I’ll do better in 2014.
Books That Make Me Wanna Commit Some Crimes
The Cost of Living by Rob Roberge
Donnybrook by Frank Bill
The Loom of Ruin by Sam McPheeters
The Loom of Ruin is a high concept novel with an exciting premise and one of the best openings I’ve read in a long time. Its protagonist is a ferociously violent Vietnamese gas station owner who rules his empire of Chevron stations with an iron fist. So why is he being watched by the LAPD, the FBI and Chevron’s corporate spies? The Loom of Ruin is a madcap apocalyptic L.A. story that’s somewhere between Repo Man and Falling Down. (Perhaps with good reason: McPheeters wrote the liner notes for the Criterion Collection’s re-issue of the post-punk classic.) The multitude of characters, inside jokes and lose ends make for a disappointing middle. But the climax of book, when the ruin stops looming and makes its mother-fucking presence felt, contains some of the most vivid, engrossing writing I’ve read all year.
Books Bursting with Strange Sex
Tampa by Alissa Nutting
What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life by Marie Calloway
Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger
Books That Were Stranger Than I Thought They’d Be
Strange Toys by Patricia Geary
In the House Upon the Dirt by the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
Dra— by Stacey Levine
Madhouse Fog by Sean Carswell
Omensetter’s Luck by William Gass
Panorama City by Antoine Wilson
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns
I don’t know why I didn’t write about Comyns’s extraordinary Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead for The Floating Library, but this book was delightfully bizarre. Its story concerns a sudden and savage flood that overtakes a small English village and the outbreak of strange deaths that follows. Comyns writes in a style both familiar and foreign, like Winnie the Pooh through the lens of Peter Greenaway. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead was re-issued by Dorothy, a publishing project dedicated to books written by women.
Books with Ugly/Beautiful Pictures in Them
Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground by Matthew Chojnacki
Into the Light: The Healing Art of Kalman Aron by Susan Magee
I’m married to a visual artist with memberships to a half-dozen museums and art is a big part of our lives. We go to lots of art shows. We talk about art. Sometimes we even make it. My house is filled with art books. Why don’t I read them?
Books That Are Difficult to Classify
Hill William by Scott McClanahan
The Laughter of Strangers by Michael J. Seidlinger
One Hundred Apocalypses and Other Apocalypses by Lucy Corin
Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin
The Guardians by Sarah Manguso
Bough Down by Karen Green
Board by Brad Listi
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
I started reading Girl, Interrupted early in the year while house sitting in Los Feliz. I lost the book somehwere and couldn't finish it. So my reading of Girl, Interrupted was, wait for it, interrupted. I was disappointed because Kaysen's novel is fascinating. Published in 1993 it's best know for the film version that features Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Brittany Murphy and Jared Leto. But Kaysen was way ahead of her time with short modular chapters that are a hybrid of memoir and fiction -- though this doesn't quite do the book justice: prose projections? reification of the self? Anyway, when another house sitting client presented me with the book, I was stoked. Read it and you will be, too.
Creature by Amina Cain
Don’t Kiss Me: Stories by Lindsay Hunter
Any Deadly Thing by Roy Kesey
The Whack-Job Girls by Bonnie ZoBell
The Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
The Fun Parts: Stories by Sam Lipsyte
The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt
The Book That Had the Biggest Impact
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Some books stay with me because of where I read them: I read Samuel Beckett’s The Unnamable while high on hash outside of a library at Trinity College on a rare sunny day in Dublin; and I read a sizable chunk of Blood Meridian while riding shotgun in a pick-up truck on a cross-country trip. I’d look out the window at the desolation that is Texas and think, “Jesus.” I read much of 2666 in Merida, Yucatan, a place where the heat and the rain and the rot will turn anything built by the hand of man into a crumbling ruin in a few short seasons. This book scared the hell out of me. It’s a book built on a bedrock of boyish fantasies that turn into nightmares. Adolescent visions of ambition, sport, sex and war are exploded into horror shows of corruption and debauchery. It operates on the principle that there is no bottom to the depths of depravity that man will sink to if he does not meet with the censure of his peers. The symbol of this moral sinkhole is Santa Teresa, Bolaño’s thinly fictionalized Ciudad Juarez, where the rape, murder and disposal of young women went ignored for a grotesquely long period of time. The book, whose five parts are loosely organized around the search for an obscure German writer, makes it difficult to conjure up a conviction that the human project has any lasting value. How can we say that we are moving forward as a species when we systematically oppress so many simply because there isn’t a force large enough to stop us? 2666 tells us that we are constantly at war with ourselves, and the tragedy isn’t that it’s happening but that we don’t realize it.
Ten years ago my friend Bradley Williams, who's been known to tear shit up with his one-man-band Almighty Do Me a Favor, went to Madison, West Virginia, and interviewed Hasil Adkins, the Father of Psychobilly. Adkins died a short time later leaving Bradley with one of the last recorded interviews of The Haze before he went up to that great Hot Dog Stand in the Sky. Buried in those tapes was a live recording of "Leaves of Autumn," a song that packs a lifetime of pain into three lonesome minutes. Last summer, that recording of "Leaves of Autumn" was co-released as a 7" by Arkam Records in Savannah, Tennessee, and 45-RPM Records in San Pedro, California. I sat down with Bradley at his home in L.A. and got him to tell me the whole story all over again and wrote it up for Oxford American. It's called "The Seven Thousandth Song." Here's a taste:
The sound on the recording is very good, considering it comes from a handheld cassette, but it's definitely not studio quality. A mid-range warble, somewhere between a whoosh and a hum, gives the recording a haunted feel. The low notes evoke a man singing in a trailer at the bottom of a holler, waiting for something he knows will never come. It's different than any other version of the song Adkins recorded. Toward the end, Adkins switches from singing to storytelling, as if overcome by a desire to make the facts of his loneliness plain. Then he goes back to singing, surging from a mournful ballad to something more manic and topping it all off with some nonsensical scatting.It's classic Hasil Adkins, a style unchanged after fifty years.
Last March I went to Dutch Harbor, Alaska -- way out in the middle of the Aleutian Islands -- as part of a research trip for my book with crab fisherman Scott Campbell, Jr. With equal parts hope and dread, I was looking forward to going out on the Bering Sea. A combination of boat repairs and bad weather nixed those plans, but instead of braving rogue waves with the crew of the Seabrooke, I got to spend several glorious hours with them in a Dutch Harbor watering hole on karaoke night. That story is now online at Granta as part of their new travel issue.