Patrick Brown's Reviews > Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy by Will Oldham
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Sep 11, 12

bookshelves: best-of-2012
Read from September 03 to 07, 2012

This is the best music book since Our Band Could Be Your Life. If you're a fan of Will Oldham, in his many incarnations, this is the book you've been waiting for -- an in-depth look at Oldham's life, creative process, and philosophy. A book-length interview between Oldham and his sometimes collaborator, guitarist Alan Licht, this book covers every aspect of his career, including his acting work. All of his albums -- Palace and Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- get a thorough examination. This was eye-opening for me, and it made me consider some of my favorite songs of his again from a new perspective. For that alone, the book is a 5-star read.

But if you're not necessarily a fan of Oldham, I still think you'd enjoy this book. It's a rumination on the creative process and the current "indie" cultural scene in America. Oldham is clearly a sort of "super-connector" or whatever the Gladwellian term is, as he crosses paths with seemingly countless indie celebrities, including but not limited to Steve Albini, screenwriter D.V. DeVincentis (High Fidelity), Johnny Cash, Bjork, Jem Cohen (documentary filmmaker), John Sayles, Harmony Korine, R. Kelly, PJ Harvey, Marianne Faithful, David Berman, and Michelle Williams. One of the more interesting aspects of his career is that he often puts them to work as musicians, regardless of their previous experience in music, a tactic which earns the comparison to John Cassavetes that Licht makes. Korine plays on a BPB record, and I once saw D.V. DeVincentis accompany BPB on tenor saxophone at the El Rey Theater in LA.

I went into this book with an idea of Will Oldham. It was an idea of him as a reclusive nut, but a genius. An oddball who probably lived in the woods and didn't own a car. I was completely wrong about everything except the part about him being odd and a genius. He is odd, whether he would recognize it or it not, and he's a kind of genius, I think. One of the great pleasures of this book is reading his philosophies on everything from live music to alcohol.

On alcohol:
"It seems like alcohol is related to poisoning and deadening and turning things off, after the second drink. The first two drinks are great, and I recommend them to anybody for any reason, and I have no respect for teetotalers who deny themselves one drink a week or one drink a day even, unless they have an alcohol problem. But after that second drink…it seems like a little suicide every day…"

On auto-tune:
"I don't mind T-Paid, and I don't mind the huge Cher single years ago -- I don't have anything against Auto-Tuning -- but when it's Auto-Tuning with the idea that you're making the audience think that it's your voice, your singing, I tend to think that's a little weird."

On shared tastes:
"I went and saw Total Recall [1990] in one of those weekend sneak previews the week before it opened, and I was like "I love this movie, and this feels great." I love a movie that millions of other people like. It makes me very happy, even though they probably like it for a different reason. But my fantasy is, that even if they do like it for another reason, that there's a relationship and the beginning of the ability to communicate with other people about something: we can talk about Total Recall."

That's just a taste. The entire book is packed full of observations, insights, and just plain greatness. I can't recommend it enough.
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Reading Progress

09/03/2012 page 52
13.0% "Will Oldham has some interesting ideas about touring and shows. Do you think you give a song more attention while listening at a show or while cooking breakfast?"
09/04/2012 page 86
22.0% ""'Winter Lady' was just 'cause while I like Leonard Cohen's music, at the same time I feel like he's relatively uncoverable. Even with all the covers that people have done of his songs, I find they're, for hte most part, meaningless, mainly because they're in the guise of songs, but they're not really songs. They seem to be something else.""
09/04/2012 page 112
28.0% "I had no idea Oldham recorded with Steve Albini. I'm an ignoramus." 1 comment
09/04/2012 page 132
33.0% "Love that Oldham will use the word "diagetically" in conversation."
09/05/2012 page 139
34.0% "My efforts to make a Spotify playlist for this book are being thwarted by the fact that it looks like no Drag City music is on Spotify at all. Drag. City."
09/06/2012 page 209
52.0% "Kinda wish Oldham had recorded that album of 70s soft-rock songs he was thinking about."
09/06/2012 page 279
69.0% "Goddam, this is a great book."
09/07/2012 page 327
81.0% "I enjoy Oldham's musings on drinking and drugs, as well as this section on possessions."

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