“Williamsburg Will Oldham Horror:” Camus probably wished he was Milton too or whatever

I just discovered (via this neat online comic by Lewis) this excellent song about artistic self-doubt.  Singer-songwriter Jeffrey Lewis tells the story of the time he thinks he saw Will Oldham on the subway in Brooklyn.

I kinda thought I was gonna grow up to do stuff that would benefit humanity
But it’s getting harder to tell if this artist’s life is even benefitting me
Cause I was gonna waste some time and money today to remaster some dumb old album
And on the L train in the morning, I was totally sure I saw Will Oldham,
He was wearin’ the same big sunglasses he had on stage at the Bowery Ballroom
And since I was feeling in need of answers I just went right up and asked him, I said,
Will Bonnie Prince, Palace or whatever ‘What do you think about it?
Is it worth being an artist or an indie-rock star, or are you better off without it?’
Cause I mean maybe the world would be better if we were all just uncreative drones,
No dead child, hood dreams to haunt us, a decent job, a decent home,
And if we have some extra time we could do real things to promote peace,
Become scientists or history teachers or un-corrupt police at least,
‘Come on Will, you gotta tell me!!’ I grabbed and shook him by the arm…

As the shaggy-dog song continues, Jeffrey Lewis’s own self-doubt about his own identity as an artist, with Will Oldham in the role of the successful, envy-producing artist, spirals outward such that Lewis starts to imagine Oldham himself feeling inadequate next to Dylan; and then in turn Dylan “wishing he was as good as Ginsberg or Camus;” and “Camus probably wished he was Milton too or whatever”…

I was starring into his sunglasses and I was really freakin’ out i was like,
Steamboat Willie Bonnie Prince of all this shit, you’re like the king of a certain genre
But even you must want to quit like if you hear a record by Bob Dylan or Neil Young or whatever
You must start thinkin’ ‘People like me, but i won’t be that good ever’
And I’m sure the thing is probably Dylan himself too stayed up some nights
Wishing he was as good as Ginsberg or Camus
And he was like ‘Dude, I’m such a faker, I’m just a clown who entertains
and these fools who pay for my crap, they just have pathetic punny brains
and Camus probably wished he was Milton too or whatever, you know what i’m sayin’?!’

It is tough being an artist!!

Really, New York Times Magazine?

Every week I read through the “One Page Magazine” in the NYT Sunday Magazine and have the same reaction.  Really?  It’s come to this?

The Meh List
By Greg Veis

Not Hot, Not Not, Just Meh.

1. Rob Schneider (except in “The Waterboy”)
2. “Best of” albums
3. Chocolate-covered cherries
4. Having a Gmail photo
5. “Ladies drink free”
6. Newt, post-candidacy
7. “The Firm”

Additional reporting by Samantha Henig

This piece required “additional reporting”?

Too many bodies nailed to the wall: two sadistic thrillers, and another mystery

A while ago I read this absolute rave review in the NYTBR of a European mystery thriller called Sorry (by Zoran Drvenkar).  I’m partial to Nordic/European crime fiction, and this sort-of postmodern German thriller sounded right up my alley, albeit a bit gross: “Stunning… If you, my own reader, have made it this far, waded through the moral questions and the postmodern tricks of perspective and chronology, then you’ve earned the right to hear the best news: “Sorry” thrills, and it thrills immaculately.”

I read the whole thing and disliked it.  This was a case where I truly was saying to myself, “Ok, wait, which person is this nailed to the wall?  And who is seeing the corpse?”  Too many bodies nailed to the wall, I literally could not keep track.  The grotesque violence is disgusting, yes, and/but, more importantly, the theme and images of the serial killer who sculpts bodies like a conceptual artist feels rote, over-familiar, a tired trope akin to a wizard in a robe, a superhero, a damsel in distress.

I just went through this again with Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.  I actually was enjoying the novel quite a bit for the first half or so.  A bit like Henning Mankell, Nesbo is very good at sketching memorable characters among the various detectives, and pulling you into their personal and work lives.  At a certain point, though, the Silence of the Lambs mechanics start to dominate: yes, once again we have an insane serial killer here who expresses his pathology through creatively-sculpting the bodies of those he murders.  (How often does this really happen?)  In this case, he stages them as snowmen, and/or builds little snowman avatars peering in their windows.  It all has something to do with a primal scene; the snowman is, I guess, the killer himself, emotionally frozen, watching the trauma.

Bleah!  I regretted reading both of these (though The Snowman actually was enjoyable in some ways).

Also just read Raven Black, “Book One of the Shetland Island Quartet,” by Ann Cleeves.  This is in a less gruesome, cozier English-mystery tradition.  It has elements of a locked-room mystery in that it all takes place in a very small town on the Shetland Islands in Scotland.  The isolated, gorgeous, windswept, insular community, layered with longstanding grudges and suspicions and alliances, is very well evoked.  I have to say that ultimately I was not crazy about the way the mystery was resolved… I won’t say more, but I thought the conclusion was a slight let-down.  A good read, however.

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