Tobias Carroll writes fiction and nonfiction. He's the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn, and his work has recently appeared in Tin House, Midnight Breakfast, The Collapsar, The Collagist, Joyland, Necessary Fiction, and Underwater New York. He recently completed a short novel, and is at work on another.
A couple of months ago, my friends Diehard were playing an afternoon CMJ show. The band following them had a less-than-enticing name: Diarrhea Planet. A couple of the folks from Diehard advised me to stick around, and I’m glad that I did: DP’s sound recalled a number of irreverent, anthemic punk bands I enjoyed listening to ages ago. Turns out theirs is a sound that one can appreciate just as much at 35.
When I first started thinking about doing a zine in the mid-90s, two of the zines that inspired me most were Rumpshaker and Anti-Matter*. And pretty much since late last month, I’ve intended to use that as a point to link pieces by the editors of each: Eric Weiss’s interview with Carrie Whitney on the followup to her excellent All About Friends compilation**, and Norman Brannon’s essay “The Death of a Music Writer: A 20-Year Exit Strategy.” It’s always a fine thing when the writers who said smart, inspirational things about music (and why you should care about music) seventeen years ago are doing it just as much today, you know?
*-the third critically important zine for me growing up was Trustkill, for the record.
**-which featured Botch covering “Rock Lobster,” which was utterly awesome. See above.
I’m re-reading Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City for one of the book groups I’m in, and I figured it might make sense to delve into Kevin Avery’s biography of Paul Nelson, Everything Is An Afterthought. (Robert Christgau points out in his review of Avery’s book that Nelson was the inspiration for Chronic City‘s Perkus Tooth.) So far, I’m through the first part of Nelson’s book — the biography takes up about 180 pages, and is followed by a collection of Nelson’s criticism. Highly recommended so far, though also heartbreaking, frustrating, sometimes triumphant, sometimes maddening.
Another Christmas finds me in scenic New Jersey, along with family, beagles, and a pair of Krampuses hanging from the tree. My reading material: Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (shades of years ago, where I’m pretty sure Needful Things was my Christmastime reading.) Here’s hoping the holiday season finds you well.
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (Scribner)
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (Little, Brown and Company)
Vanessa Veselka, Zazen (Red Lemonade)
Justin Taylor, The Gospel of Anarchy (Harper Perennial)
Colson Whitehead, Zone One (Doubleday)
Nathan Larson, The Dewey Decimal System (Akashic)
Ellen Willis: Out of the Vinyl Deeps (University of Minnesota Press)
Geoff Dyer, Otherwise Known as the Human Condition (Greywolf)
John Jeremiah Sullivan, Pulphead (Farrar Strauss & Giroux)
Jeff Sharlet, Sweet Heaven When I Die (W.W. Norton)
Lisa Wells, Yeah. No. Totally. (Perfect Day Publishing)
John Williams, Stoner (NYRB Classics) Alexander Chee, Edinburgh (Picador)
Barbara Comyns, Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (The Dorothy Project)
Bruce Chatwin, On the Black Hill (Penguin)
Dennis Cooper, The Sluts (Da Capo)
Karl Marlantes, Matterhorn (Grove Press)
Michael Kimball, Us (Tyrant Books)
Michael Kimball, Dear Everybody (Alma Books)
Rick Moody, The Four Fingers of Death (Back Bay Books)
Paul Harding, Tinkers (Bellevue Literary Press)
Anne Carson, Nox (New Directions)
I also picked up Temporary Residence’s Bitch Magnet collection the other week at Sound Fix, and am slowly making my way through that. I’ll admit that I’d known of the group primarily as Sooyoung Park’s pre-Seam band; so far, I’m enjoying exploring their discography, which is heading to some unexpected places. (It’s also prompting me to revisit Seam’s body of work, which is never a bad thing.)
So hey, the year 2011 is nearing its end, which tends to mean that it’s time to muse on the year’s artistic offerings in concise form. In other words: there will be year-end lists. And so: here are a few of mine, with more to come. (I’ll have a couple of pieces up at Vol.1 in the next week, along with some thoughts on noteworthy live music at Big Other. Links will be posted as the pieces appear.) For now, here are two:
The week Owen left New York was one of sweltering humidity reaching down to enrapture us, swaddle us, leave us all reaching for insufficient comfort. We assumed Owen was alone in the task of loading a truck, of carting boxes and disassembled furniture down flights of stairs and into a double-parked van. It was a week of sweat-stained shirts, of dodging brownouts, of foregone conclusions about the city and about what constituted comfort demolished. Owen was leaving us, and few among us were sad to see him go.
Keen-eyed readers may notice that it shares a character with another story of mine, “Dulcimers Played, Strings Played.” That is not coincidence; essentially, this story originally began its life as a sort of prelude to something much longer I’d like to write. As part of it, I needed to explain how one particular character ended up in a particular place; from there, this story arose. The longer work is as yet unwritten (as a couple of my favorite novels from this year may have rendered the concept moot); we’ll see, I suppose.
(Also: immense thanks to Brian at Joyland for running the story.)
I’ve been a fan of the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson since around the time I heard his 2004 album Virðulegu Forsetar, a magnificent work that slowly unfolds from burgeoning drone to expansive bliss. And more recently, I’ve been listening semi-obsessively to a piece called “The Cause of Labour is the Hope of the World,” which comes from his soundtrack to a film called The Miners’ Hymns.
All of this is preface to say that I chatted with Jóhannsson for The Rumpus via email over the course of a few months, and the end result is now online.
While in New Jersey over the weekend, I ran a 5K. (I’m #225, which — oddly enough — is the number of the house I grew up in.) Here’s what I looked like before running it:
The upside: this was my first time running as part of a larger group, and I didn’t panic/lose my pace/etc. The downside: somewhere along the way, I seem to have stepped on a lumpy section of road and bruised the underside of my foot, which has prompted some fairly amusing-to-the-eye hobbling in the last 36-odd hours. (Thankfully, this has begun to subside.) On to the next one, wherever that might be…
Ah, late November. Soon I’ll be off to pay a visit to the county from which I came. Last year, I did some exploration and revisiting of old haunts. This year, I’m less sure of what to expect — maybe another trip to the River Road Bookstore; maybe some trips on Jersey roads to the west. Nothing is set as of yet…
Thinking out loud a bit here. A couple of weeks ago, a story of mine called “The Clutch” turned up on Vol.1. It’s a weird story, and the story of how it came to exist is (possibly) relevant: I wrote it for a reading that was part of a genre-themed series. My night’s theme was horror, and thus a horror story is what came up.
Except…it’s not really a proper horror story. It nurtures a particular image and setting that, by story’s end, eventually become horrific, but — this is more in the realm of things that unsettle me than things that will necessarily terrify audiences worldwide. It’s an image that I’ve had in my head for years now: seven or eight years ago, there was a particularly hot summer, and I’d walk to the subway after long nights at work and pass these clumps of trash bags that were just left there to fester, and I’d wonder; I’d start to see things emerging from them, and then I’d creep myself out and get onto the subway and try really hard to avoid thinking of the things now lurking around my subconscious.
(There’s an old story of mine somewhere with a similar payoff; a sinister buildup to an impossible image. Maybe I’ll post it somewhere; might make for interesting reading…)
I have a weird relationship with realism. A lot of the fiction I’ve done lately has been pretty straightforward. And yet: a lot of the writing that I first did when I was ushering myself into the process of writing fiction was much more surreal. Weird fiction or “slipstream” or something similar. Some of that’s just due to my reading habits: my bookshelves have a fair amount of realist fiction on them, but there’s a fair share of science fiction and horror and magic realism in there as well. But I also find it interesting that, after detouring around the weird for a while, I seem to find myself drawn back to it — the last story I finished opens in a fairly realistic vein and then takes a detour into the…if not the impossible, at least the unlikely.
Or maybe it’s just that I’m reminded that one can tweak things like realism on the page; that a story that opens in one mode doesn’t necessarily have to stay in that same mode for the duration. (Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm, which I just finished, is something of a master class in this — just when you think you know where it’s going, the narrator pulls things to a stop and resets the terms under which you hear his story.)
If nothing else, that renewed attraction to all things weird might help explain where parts of my head were when I wrote some of the dialogue in this story….