“That was a small lesson I learned on the journey. What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power. Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.”
“We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie.”
From: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
Read: During the great rainout of 2011.
“People always say that it’s autobiographical and they always assume — and I always do — when they hear a song, they think it’s autobiographical. I did a songwriting panel at New Music Seminar one year with Kris Kristofferson. And he was saying, ‘You can’t write
fiction; songwriters only write about what they know.’ And I said, ‘Bullshit,’ right off the bat to him. ‘Bullshit. Science fiction writers do not live in outer space. You know, Frank Black doesn’t live in space. He lives here.’ We got a good laugh out of that.
“I write fiction a lot of times. In ‘Band Camp,’ there’s a kernel of my own story in there, because I did go to band camp.
“I’ve never finished a novel, really. I’ve thrown out several. I got close to finishing one but I threw it in the trash. I’ve been working on one for a long time. I just don’t think it’s my bag. I enjoy doing it, but I just don’t think it’s my bag. … Stories about growing up in the South. Stories about bohemian life, hanging-out kind of life. No big departure.
“I don’t know, there’s a certain mystique about the Southern writer. People in the rest of the country, they don’t assume that people in the South can read. So when somebody from the South can write … There’s all kind of mythic darkness associated with the South, the underbelly of violence.
“These are pretty universal songs — they could take place anywhere.”
From: An interview I conducted with Vic Chesnutt in February 2003. We talked about his new album at the time (Silver Lake), his drinking (“I did shit I don’t know what I did for years”), the car accident that left him paralyzed, small-town Georgia, Emmylou Harris, Sling Blade (in which he appeared alongside Billy Bob Thornton) and Madonna (who had recorded one of his songs). He was gentle, honest, tragic, funny and friendly. He was a real person, and he passed away Christmas Day 2009. You should know his music, if you don’t already.
Read: While looking around the past.
Bonus quote: “I don’t want to listen to me. I want to listen to other people. I got no business listening to myself.”
“Grainier felt sure this dog was got of a wolf, but it never even whimpered in reply when the packs in the distance, some as far away as the Selkirks on the British Columbia side, sang at dusk. The creature needed to be taught its nature, Grainier felt. One evening he got down beside it and howled. The little pup only sat on its rump with an inch of pink tongue jutting stupidly from its closed mouth. “You’re not growing in the direction of your own nature, which is to howl when the others do,” he told the mongrel. He stood up straight himself and howled long and sorrowfully over the gorge, and over the low quiet river he could hardly see across this close to nightfall … Nothing from the pup. But often, thereafter, when Grainier heard the wolves at dusk, he laid his head back and howled for all he was worth, because it did him good. It flushed out something heavy that tended to collect in his heart, and after an evening’s program with his choir of British Columbian wolves he felt warm and buoyant.”
From: Train Dreams: A Novella by Denis Johnson
Read: During an afternoon thunderstorm in Miami
“Always, after he was in bed, there were voices — indefinite, fading, enchanting — just outside his window, and before he fell asleep he would dream one of his favorite waking dreams, the one about becoming a great half-back, or the one about the Japanese invasion, when he was rewarded by being made the youngest general in the world. It was always the becoming he dreamed of, never the being. This, too, was quite characteristic of Amory.”
From: This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Read: In an aeroplane over the sea
“Whether it honors them well or not, an essay’s fundamental obligations are supposed to be to the reader. The reader, on however unconscious a level, understands this, and thus tends to approach an essay with a relatively high level of openness and credulity. But a commercial is a very different animal. Advertisements have certain formal, legal obligations to truthfulness, but these are broad enough to allow for a great deal of rhetorical maneuvering in the fulfillment of an advertisement’s primary obligation, which is to serve the financial interests of its sponsor. Whatever attempts an advertisement makes to interest and appeal to its readers are not, finally, for the reader’s benefit. And the reader of an ad knows all this, too — that an ad’s appeal is by its very nature calculated — and this is part of why our state of receptivity is different, more guarded, when we get ready to read an ad. …
“An ad that pretends to be art is — at absolute best — like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair.”
From: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by DFW
Read: In front of the television.
“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. It is dreadful. But since it’s my own choices that’ll lock me in, it seems unavoidable — if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them.”
From: “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace
Read: During a lunch break, in a conference room at work, and four months’ shy of 40.
“He didn’t strike the piano keys for pitch — he simply opened his mouth and gave falsetto howls — in A, D and so on — they tuned by him. Then he took hold of the piano, as if he saw it for the first time in his life, and tested it for strength, hit it down in the bass, played an octave with his elbow, lifted the top, looked inside, and leaned against it with all his might. He sat down and played it for a few minutes with outrageous force and got it under his power — a bass deep and coarse as a sea net — then produced something glimmering and fragile, and smiled. And who could ever remember any of the things he says? They are just inspired remarks that roll out of his mouth like smoke.”
From: “Powerhouse” in A Curtain of Green and Other Stories by Eudora Welty
Read: At the gym, of all places
“On summer mornings over the Glades the sky is only faintly hazed. The moisture is being drawn up from the sheen among the saw grass. By noon, the first ranks of the clouds will lie at the same height across the world, cottony and growing. The moisture lifts the whipped and glistening heights. The bases darken, grow purple, grow brown. The sun is almost gone. The highest clouds loose their moisture, which is condensed into cloud again before it can reach the earth. Then they grow more heavy. The winds slash before them and the rains roar down, making all the saw grass somber.”
From: The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas
Read: Late this summer afternoon, at my patio table in Miami, breathing in citronella and realizing that a blade of sawgrass has not nicked my skin in years.
“It was early 1983, probably, after the ‘Everything Falls Apart’ EP presaged Hüsker Dü’s departure from hard-core punk and before the ‘Metal Circus’ EP made it official. Just a gig at a crummy club near CBGB, and late — after 1. There weren’t a dozen onlookers, but Hüsker Dü’s two early records were knockouts, and that Minneapolis trio never came east, so there we were. From our booth in back the music sounded terrific: headlong and enormous, the guitar unfashionably full, expressive and unending, with two raving vocalists alternating leads on songs whose words were hard to understand and whose tunes weren’t. Another half-dozen curious fans drifted in. And then, halfway through, the guitarist passed into some other dimension. When he stepped yowling off the low stage, most of us gravitated closer, glancing around and shaking our heads.”
From: “Hüsker Dü’s Propulsive Liberation” by Robert Christgau, in the June 26 New York Times Book Review
Read: While yearning for a blast of Candy Apple Grey.