Monthly Archives: May 2010

Sentences one wishes one had written

Describing A.J. Liebling:

A gouty fat man who was also a distinguished war correspondent, food writer, and press critic, he had formal education (he attended Dartmouth but did not graduate) but he also cultivated the Ishmaelian charm of the autodidact, always a little too eager to share his learning and a little tone-deaf when it came to distinctions between the canonical and the esoteric.

(Carlo Rotella, “The End of American Sporting Life” in A New Literary History of America pg. 859)

Dave Hickey’s prose

Some writers have mastered the undefinable something that sucks the reader right in, even into subject areas that don’t seem like they’d be enticing. Today’s case in point is Dave Hickey’s “The Song in Country Music” in the seemingly bottomless Marcus/Sollors A New Literary History of America. The piece is mostly about Hank Williams‘s prosody, but along the way you’re exposed to a passel of vividness, a blast of James Agee cross-pollinated with Lester Bangs. Maud Newton quotes one section and Justin Hamm has another, but here’s the one that brought me up short and sent me off to Amazon to order more of Dave Hickey’s writing:

(Hank Williams) was country music’s first auteur. He had grown up in what Nashville musicians called the “trash gypsy” culture of the Alabama woods, with a shell-shocked father and a predatory mother, in a world without electricity, plumbing, or pavement, personally beleaguered by bottomless need, a profound sense of social inadequacy, a predisposition to drink, and a genetic intolerance for alcohol. Georgiana, Alabama existed somewhere below the fuzzy cloud line of Southern culture and outside the cozy realm of country community. It was a place for which the traditional longing and nostalgia of country music was some kind of terrible joke…

and one more bit, further down the same page:

For the kids out of the hills and woods, who had never seen an elevator, Williams’s success remained the stuff of dreams. If you could do just a tenth as well as Williams had, they thought, if you could just move up from destitution to poverty, rich and famous could go to hell. For the Dixie greasers who were Williams’s own kinsmen, the young Icarii on their motorcycles, Williams’s life only proved the Calvinism in their bones. Flem Snopes’s account book must be balanced: Every act of creativity must be followed by an equal and opposite act of wanton destruction.”… (pg. 844)

links for 2010-05-15