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Will Oldham on Bonnie "Prince" Billy

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  346 ratings  ·  46 reviews
W - Sweeney called me and said that Johnny Cash just recorded "I See A Darkness." We had a Bowery Ballroom show a week or two later, and he invited Rick Rubin to come to the show; he came to the show ... and asked if I wanted to play piano on the song.

A - Which you agreed to do despite not knowing how to play piano.

W - Yes...

A man who acts under the name Will Oldham and a s/>W/>
400 pages
Published April 5th 2012 (first published January 1st 2012)
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Lee Klein
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars rounded up because it could've been 600 pages longer. A textual manifestation of every fan's fantasy to sit down for a few hours/days and chat with Will about his music and history and performance and identity and the Incredible Hulk. Also fantastic to turn down pages to look up so many musicians I didn't know: Solomon Burke, Oum Kalsoum, Roger Miller, Roy Harper, June Tabor. Can't think of another book-length interview, although Renegade by Mark E. Smith comes close (loved BPB's references to ...more
Patrick Brown
May 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: best-of-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 ...more
Aug 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In which Will Oldham talks to his friends for 300 pages, and Ed sits rapt listening to his bearded hero, imagining the words passing that mulchy beard, and is satisfied by what he hears.

What I found particularly interesting in this is Will comes from the generation who grew up listening to 80s alternative rock/hardcore/punk and while he plays folk/country music, the morals and lessons and contrariness of those bands is deep in his DNA. Reading it I was a little jealous of that time,
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the inherent flaws associated with obtusely modelled beings - the death spiral. Actually, it's a circular mill, first described in the field by Schneirla (1944). A circle of lost souls, each one following the man in front, becomes locked into a circular mill. They will continue to circle each other until they all die. How crazy is that? Sometimes they escape, though. Beebe (1965) described a circular mill he witnessed in Laos. It measured 1.2 miles in circumference and had a 0.8 h ...more
Alex V.
Oct 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was immediately consumed in Will Oldham's cleansing fire when I took the bus from my office at a Microsoft campus to another Microsoft campus across town in Redmond to buy a Palace Brothers CD some guy had for sale on the company's internal swap shop message board. I knew people who bought cars off this thing because they proudly told me and everyone they had. The guy's office was completely blank, lit up with blaring overhead lights. He had two desks strewn with computer parts and a small sta ...more
Brian Beatty
Dec 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Musician interviews rarely rise above the lowest rung of the entertainment journalism ladder, but there's considerably more to Will Oldham than the typical singer/songwriter/actor/photographer. I credit his home state of Kentucky and the sense of cantankerous glee evident in his work. And while an early 90s Palace show at Lounge Axe in Chicago still ranks among the worst live music I've ever been unfortunate enough to witness, Oldham remains among my favorite musical artists because he brings ge ...more
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, library
I guess I didn’t pay much attention when I found out about this book and added it to my reading list, but I assumed it was an autobiography — or biography, I suppose, if Will Oldham is writing about his musical persona, Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Instead, it’s a series of interviews Oldham does with his long-time friend and sometime musical collaborator, Alan Licht. The result, in terms of what we learn about both Will Oldham and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is probably more interesting, and more compelli ...more
Cailin Deery
Nov 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Having made it through the whole thing, I can tell you what I got from this: some surprising autobiographical or incidental details of Will Oldham’s life, and his amusingly arbitrary yet rigid opinions on the world (I still feel like it’s anyone’s guess what Will Oldham’s stance might be on any given issue). That’s it. Not enough reason to pick this up.

Reading this was like getting stuck at a table with two dudes indulgently carrying on about common experiences with zero regard for you: people,
Apr 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Less about Will Oldham the person than Will Oldham the actor and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy the musician, which is a bit of a shame. And at 400 pages, it ends up being a little overindulgent. But there's a lot of incredibly interesting anecdotes and insightful quasi-philosophies littering much of the book and Oldham sheds a lot of light on his two decades of strong musical output.

Some quotes:

"But it's nice, it's a great position to be in, to be in a relationship with a woman a
Oct 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2012, music
Will Oldham has a reputation for opting out of music industry promotional activities. He just doesn’t do the promotional circuit for each release, with the obligatory interviews, television appearances, etc etc. That’s why it was a bit of a shock to discover this title.

Alan Licht (a friend and sometimes collaborator) sat down with Oldham for a series of interviews over the course of a week. This book is the result of those interview sessions. It reads less like a typical industry hag
Nov 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
You never know which book on a vacation pile is going to pull you in. I love the early music of Will OLDHAM under various guises, but lost interest after the masterpiece I See A Darkness, so I wasn't sure this book would hold my interest. It's a fascinating read, though, and really interesting to read the fresh approach he took/takes to each new album. His music is extremely connected to his life, each album tied to a different home & a different, though often overlapping, circle of friends ...more
M. Sarki
Apr 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Update 13 Nov 2012: I attended a show that featured Bonnie Prince Billy and I wrote about it here:

One of the most interesting interviews I have ever read. I wish it hadn't ended. And I wish I could do this book more justice by writing a better review. But for now this must do. Too engaged with other things such as D. H. Lawrence who is wearing me out. (In a good way.)

Some news about BPB found here:
Update 13 Nov 2012: I attended a show that featured Bonnie Prince Billy and I wrote about it here:

One of the most interesting interviews I have ever read. I wish it hadn't ended. And I wish I could do this book more justice by writing a better review. But for now this must do. Too engaged with other things such as D. H. Lawrence who is wearing me out. (In a good way.)

Some news about BPB found here:

And be sure to watch the new video of "I See a Darkness":
Michael Liquori
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
What makes this book unique is that Will really focuses a lot on the evolution of his thinking regarding various artistic as well as life decisions. Further surprising is that he is a very analytical thinker and well-able to communicate these ideas. This is a real rarity among great musicians, who generally lack insight or even fear that their muse may fly away if they try to examine it too closely.
Jamie Grefe
May 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
So much to digest, but at the same time these conversations between Licht and Oldham capture a beautiful fluency of thought, a casual opening of one of my favorite artist's mind. This book has certainly given me a lot to think about in terms of how I will listen to Bonnie Billy's music and, moreover, it provides a deep context into who this person is and the communities that helped shape and define his music.
Andrew Ma
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Didn't think this would be that great but it turned out to be a fascinating account of a very singular artistic vision. About creating art and music, about the relationship between music and the listener, the creator and the listener, about artistic practice and integrity. Amazing.
Jul 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing

An essential read for all Will Oldham fans. This is a book to return too over and over again to extract some nourishing bit - be it a musician reference or a discussion about music and art.
Matthew Lacorazza
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A bit rambling, but great for fans who want a peak into Mr. Oldham's mind.
Gregg Cosgrove
Sep 11, 2019 rated it liked it
You really have to like Will Oldham to read this book. I don't know why you would pick it up or even know about it if you didn't have some interest in Will. I have lost interest in Will. The last several records that he has made have been mediocre, at best. I assume that he always smoked pot but it seems like his love of the weed has influenced his decisions - or maybe he just makes decisions that I wouldn't make. Anyway, what felt vital about him and what made his music interesting, is not very ...more
Dennis Webb
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Also, I haven't heard much of Oldham's music. This book is a commentary on popular culture as much as it is a book about his music. He has a very unique perspective, since he got his early start as a child actor. I had read a short magazine article about him and then saw the book at 1/2 Price, so I bought it, started it, put it down for something else, put it on the "to read " pile for about a year, then picked up again bout 4 days ago and read it straight through, basi ...more
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Wow. I’ve been reading this off and on for quite awhile now and I must say, I am a low level Bonnie Prince Billie fan because a lot of the details in this book were beyond me. Will Oldham talks in pretty great detail about the songwriting process and his thoughts on recording, performing, touring, and even acting. Every question posed by Licht receives a thoughtful answer. What I learned pretty quickly is that Oldham is very sharp and opinionated, which I found refreshing. I also now feel (and p ...more
P.R. Ryan
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Pretty interesting interview/memoir (sort of) about an incredible songwriter and musical talent. If you like BPB, and you should, this is worth checking out.
Apr 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
a must read if you are a fan of Will.
Full Stop
Jun 11, 2014 added it
Shelves: spring-2013

Review by Michael Schapira

Back in April a piece appeared on the New York Times Style Magazine blog announcing the imminent UK release of Will Oldham on Bonnie “Prince” Billy, with a US edition to be published in the fall by Faber & Faber. For any longtime and slightly obsessive fan of Will Oldham — which is to say the majority of his fan base — this was something of a major event. We learned that “within the book’s 382 pages Oldham answers nearly every question one might
Greg Talbot
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Folk music hardly feels like the place for artist trail-blazing and enigmas. Louisville artist William Oldham re-worked traditional folk music across various guises and styles with mystery and a pagan poetry of earthy delight. This collection of interviews is hardly formal, instead it leaps across ideas of artistry, identity and meaning in a free-wheeling and provacative manner.

The chapters like “Dazed and Awake” and “Wolfman Meet Abbott and Costllo”, and their accompanying cartoony
I've been patiently waiting for this book to appear for a while now and was very glad to see it arrive the other day.

It is a must for any BPB fan as Will Oldham discusses all aspects of his musical and acting career to date. In fact at some point through the interviews he must talk about nearly every song that he's recorded.

During the interviews Will reveals the inspiration behind many songs and albums, how they evolved and who was involved, together with information abou
Mike Mantin
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
A book-length interview with Will Oldham by an old friend and tourmate, shedding some light and getting some answers out of a notoriously enigmatic figure (figures?). The interview is conducted chronologically and finds Will talking about days growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, going to shows and building a love of music - there's the revelation that his first show was opening for Steve Albini's Rapeman making "anal breathing" sounds. But as well as the standard autobiography, Will projects a g ...more
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
"...but at a certain point aren't all the cultural activities supposed to be a fraction of our existence and enrich our existence, but not be our existence?" (p. 317)

A fascinating read that examines the career of one of my favorite singer/songwriters and beard heroes. This book provides Oldham's philosophy about approaching songs, albums, tours, and music in general which is intriguing if sometimes contradictory or just generally disagreeable. It's also interesting for those hoping t
Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Singer/songwriter and actor has lots of interesting things to say about music, the music industry, collaboration, film and creativity in general. Some of it I wasn't really buying, but found it pretty interesting anyway. A lot of it, however, is solid thought-out perspectives and cuts through the hype and bs of promoting art and gets at the core of making something and being a part of a larger community of makers. Also, it still covers the bunches of little anecdotes that everyone wants to hear ...more
Jun 12, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The concept and the execution are kind of pretentious, but reading an interview of this length really makes you feel like you've gotten to know the subject. Because I'm not an artist, reading Oldham's description of his creative processes was the most interesting part for me. The man has some strong opinions about what it means to make music. I'm still sure he and I wouldn't be friends if we met, though.
Guion Pratt
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I learned that one of my favorite songwriters started his performing career opening for Steve Albini doing something called anal breathing. Then he goes on to say a lot of really profound and freeing stuff about the songwriting/recording/performing process. He also makes a case for R. Kelly being more valuable than Bob Dylan.
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Will Oldham is a singer-songwriter and actor. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.
“In sleep you’re protected by the fact that you’re asleep and, for the most part, alone, no matter how close somebody else might be to you physically. For the most part you’re asleep and alone, and it’s all . . . up to you.” 0 likes
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