In the office (a room above the garage) early this morning, trying to get my homework done so we can spend the afternoon tearing up last year's chicken fence and replacing it with stouter panels to hold this year's pigs. They're due in June, the day after I finish my book tour.
Right now, listening to "Brotherhood of Man" by The Innocence Mission. I mention that song on page 181 of Coop. As with many writers, I use music to bust myself loose when coffee or the usual garden-variety neuroses prove insufficient. As a roughneck-folk kinda guy, I owe great debts to people like Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, Waylon Jennings, Fred Eaglesmith, Nanci Griffith, Eric Taylor, John Prine, Loretta Lynn, Neko Case, on and on... But I also cherish the time I spent in England, where I picked up some mopier, continental favorites. On pages 178 through 179, I cite Marillion, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, and Bronski Beat. As a fellow who's written a lot about small towns, I can tell you "Smalltown Boy" by Jimmy Somerville will expand your consideration of the genre.
When it comes to general inspiration (life-wise, art-wise, boogety-boogety-wise) I sure do miss Ol' Waylon. I'm tickled to say my daughter Amy loves his children's album, Cowboys, Sisters, Rascals and Dirt. It's fun to fold clothes with her while singing, "Shooter, you are a friend of mine..." knowing full well Shooter is all growed up, long-haired and shaggy.
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Yesterday, Coop was officially released. I tend to get queasy and wimpy in the wake of a new book coming out. Due, I suppose, in part to my post-Calvinist, lapsed-fundamentalist, deep-dark-depressive-Scandinavian heritage (think Seasonal Affective Disorder 362 days a year), I tend to take all negative comments deeply to heart as the truest truth and view all compliments as nothing but ironic foreshadowing for the bad news to come. This, of course, is a boring and silly reaction in the face of the world's real troubles and my great good fortune, and so, in short order, I recall my brother-in-law Mark's advice regarding everything from busted knuckles to arty angst: Walk it off. Period. And back to work.
The harshest book review I have ever observed (it was performed, not written) took place in a coffee shop. A grumpy artist named John designed the bar and, as a result, had lifelong claim (well, until the smoking ban kicked in) to the very end seat. John would come in every day, have a coffee, smoke a cigarette, and read. He loved to buy books and was nearly always reading a new one, fresh from the bookstore. John is a true curmudgeon. I always like to say you could sum up his life's philosophy with a frown and the phrase, "goddamit." Sometimes a young kid would be in John's chair when John arrived, and John would just stand behind the kid until someone would lean to the youngster's ear, nod toward John, and say, "Um, you gotta move."
So. The review. John is bent over his crisp new book. Two cigarettes gone, and halfway down the second cup of coffee. He's about one-quarter of the way into the pages. Stubs out his cigarette. Closes the book. Straightens, drains his coffee. Picks up the book, regards it a moment, then with one hand, turns and rifles it into the trash can six feet away. The book rattles the can, then John, standing to leave, says to no one in particular, "Twelve-and-a-half bucks, shot in the ass."
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There is some deep grief in Coop. All of it unexpected. It unfolded in real time, during the writing. I won't dwell on it here except to say that once again a songwriter helped me sort some of it out. I was writing a scene (on page 270) in which my wife and I were at a gas station fueling our cars in the wake of a family tragedy. We looked across the concrete at each other and I saw the weariness in my wife's eyes as a manifestation of compassion, and it deepened — or broadened — my love for her. Struggling to express what I had seen, I wound up re-reading the transcript of an interview I conducted with the singer Greg Brown some time ago, in which he discussed Pablo Neruda and the concept of weariness:
And he is saying, I don't want to be weary alone. I want you to be weary with me. And that's a lot of what marriage should be. I want you to be weary with me. I want you to be disappointed with me. Because that's just a part of life. Weariness. I think that's one thing... love and song, and all the good these good things can do, if you make those things inclusive — weariness and disappointment — if they become communal in a way, then somehow they ain't gonna drag you down. If you're isolated, then weariness and disappointment, they'll take you down. But if those things can be shared out — amongst lovers, amongst a community of friends — that's how we get by in this life. Sadness... weariness, you can't run from these things. And you see a lot of what's goin' on in our society, people runnin' like crazy, tryin' to get away from those things, man. You can't get away from them. You gotta let'em in. And if you let'em in with somebody, then that's when you start dealin' with life as it is.
Yessir. And amen.