Rick Moody Vs. The Bad Penny

Living up to his name, Rick Moody had a gripe or three about the piece on his Wingdale Community Singers that I posted a couple of days ago.

Here’s what he had to say, followed by my reply (and here’s the original article):

Dear Bad Penny guy,

Obviously I’m happy for any Wingdale-related press, and obviously I can make out that this is an article about David Grubbs’s life in the Wingdales, which I appreciate, but for all that there are still a couple of factual errors about me here that I find disappointing and thus would like to correct. First, THE DIVINERS was not written after a ten year gap. There never has been any ten year gap. If you are intending to refer to gaps between NOVELS, that book appeared after an eight year gap, but one in which I also published a collection of stories (DEMONOLOGY), and a memoir (THE BLACK VEIL). In my publishing life, there has never been a gap of more than three years. In 2010, I will publish my new novel, and it will be the tenth book in nineteen years. I will leave the math here to you, but if I were only publishing once every ten years I would have considerably fewer books to my name.

Second, while there are those who consider PURPLE AMERICA a sad book, and I would venture there are those who also consider THE BLACK VEIL a sad book, I think I am not entirely amiss in noting that in recent years, perhaps the last five years, I have been reviewed as, to some degree, a comic writer. According to my own intention, in fact. I could adduce some reviews here to support my claim, but it’s 5:46 and the baby will be up soon. You can find these reviews for yourself if you like. I understand that not every reader keeps up with authorial developments over the course of two decades, but will you give a writer a chance to grow and change before you go make somewhat erroneous assertions about the course of his oeuvre? I would be grateful.

Thirdly, and then I will drop this, you give scant mention to the incredible boon to the Wingdales which is the addition of Nina Katchadourian to our ranks for SPIRIT DUPLICATOR. Surely, that is main tendril to the narrative for this album. It’s a shame to leave her out to this degree, and to do so, from my point of view, is to not pay much attention. I do some music blogging myself, so I know how hard it can be to feed the gaping content maw of the Internet, but perhaps in future you can look a little more before you leap? It’s not that hard.

Best wishes in 2010,
Rick Moody

Dear Mr. Moody,

What a surprise to hear from you, although I’ll admit that it wasn’t a terribly pleasant one. Prior to putting together my article on the Wingdale Community Singers, I actually reached out twice for an interview with you, but you were unwilling to participate (I was told that you would only be available were the interview to be published on Pitchfork or a few other select outlets).

At last we are able to “converse,” although I wish the circumstances were more positive.

I had hoped to include your voice along with Mr. Grubbs’ in the article, as I am fans of you both and wanted to create a more full-bodied piece. But unfortunately that wasn’t the case; I had to suffice with one voice, and a voice that was communicated to me via e-mail at that. (I hope we can both agree that e-mail can be a less-than-desirable medium when it comes to engaging in real dialogue.)

While I do appreciate your feedback – this site was just launched a few days ago, and your comment is the first – I am a bit perplexed by most of the points you make.

First of all, I do not see how it is “obvious” that you are “happy for any Wingdale-related press,” as you say off the top of the bat. How is it obvious? In fact, if you had omitted that line, I would’ve assumed the opposite.

Regarding your second point, you’ll see upon re-reading my article that I said “almost a decade,” not “ten year gap.” I said so deliberately, because eight years is awfully close to 10 (not as close as nine, I’ll admit) and my teachers always taught me to round up. If it had been a 12-year gap, I likely would’ve said “about a decade” or “roughly a decade.” As someone who has had many years of copy-editing experience, I can assure you that this is common grammatical practice.

Next, I thought it was implied to the reader that by “books,” I was referring to your novels. We could get into a long debate over semantics – rock critics often joust over “record” vs. “album” – but I’ll assume that you have even less stomach for that discussion than I do, so in the interests of diffusing that issue, I’ve tweaked “books” to “novels.”

In that same paragraph, I’m not sure why you talk about publishing 10 books in 19 years. That does not seem particularly relevant to the point I was making in my article, that spans of notable length exist between two of your novels and also between the two WCS records. And in no way did I imply that you’re “only publishing once every ten years,” as you’ll see when you re-read my article. All I said was that, in your career, there is a substantial gap between two of your novels.

Now, on to larger matters: In your second paragraph, you imply that I should have read other writers’ reviews before expressing my own opinions. As someone who has been a critic for 12 years – about a decade, if you will – I will tell you that I have no inkling to do that, nor do I feel obligated to. Over the years, I have found that discerning other people’s opinions taints my own, so in the interest of keeping my perspective pure, I do not do so.

Moreover, in regards to being called a “comic writer,” I would find it strange if you are implying that you actually want to be classified, or pigeonholed, in such narrow terms. Either way, perhaps you should have a Web site of your own if you wish to define a particular perception you’d like people to have of you.

On that same note, I would hope that you don’t think it’s realistic for someone writing an article about the WCS to have to read all your books in order to form a legitimate opinion. Of your four novels, I have read one. I’ve also seen four or five times (including in the past month) the movie that was based on one of them, “The Ice Storm.” (I know, I know, the book is always way better than the movie.)

I found “Purple America” and “The Ice Storm” to be haunting, unsettling and thoroughly depressing. And those two works account for half your novels. Seeing as how one of the other two novels you’ve written involves an attempted suicide and a mental institution, I am certainly not “somewhat erroneous” in describing your body of work as brooding.

On the subject of what was not included in my article, you’re right, I did not discuss Nina Katchadourian at great length. But because I had no intention of slighting any of the WCS in my article, I will explain my reasoning. I’m also expanding a bit on this point because you falsely accuse me of “not [paying] much attention” and not looking before I “leap.”

(For the record, I listened to Spirit Duplicator many times, and read your bio and the album credits many times as well. That’s not to mention the additional “attention” I paid to the WCS while planning, writing, editing and proofreading the article.)

• In the WCS press bio, Katchadourian’s importance is not overly emphasized. Your name is mentioned seven times, compared with three mentions of Katchadourian. Is one to discern from that Katchadourian’s status as “surely … the main tendril to the narrative for this album”?

• When I read the liner notes before writing the article, I noticed that Katchadourian only wrote two of the 15 songs featured on Spirit Duplicator. Does that still make her “surely … the main tendril to the narrative for this album”?

• Unlike you, Grubbs and Marcus, she was not involved in the first WCS album. And my article was clearly not about only Spirit Duplicator but about WCS on the whole (with extra emphasis on Grubbs, since he gave me the interview).

• If Katchadourian is so pivotal to the latest incarnation of WCS, why is the cover of Spirit Duplicator an image that only features the faces of you, Grubbs and Marcus? I only see Katchadourian pictured on the last page of the album booklet. Not exactly the best way to convey Katchadourian’s status as “surely … the main tendril to the narrative for this album.”

• And most importantly, if Katchadourian is so pivotal to the the latest incarnation of WCS, why did Grubbs only mention her once – and fleetingly at that – in the 13 answers he gave me to my questions? I will assure you that my questions gave ample opportunity for him to highlight her. (For the edification of you and the audience, I’m including below my full, unadulterated transcript with Grubbs.) No evidence there either of Katchadourian’s status as “surely … the main tendril to the narrative for this album.”

But the most striking part of your note comes toward the end, when you state, “I know how hard it can be to feed the gaping content maw of the Internet.” A cute turn of phrase indeed. If only you had done your own research and looked me up, you’d find that I’m not some anonymous blogger vomiting up whatever I wish out of ego or the burning need to fill a vacuum; I have a long tenure in the music industry, and I created this site, in part, to be a permanent home for my work, since some of the sites that have previously published my articles have since vanished (hence the “maw,” perhaps). I do not have any inkling, desire or need to fill any “maw,” I can assure you, and it was a mistake for you to make that offensive “leap.”

I will state this clearly: The only reason I wrote about WCS is because I have (well, had) respect for some of the players involved and love the music. That’s it.

Because you suggest throughout your article that I am either unfamiliar with your work and/or did not do my research, I am including a little further down the “Purple America” reflections I scribbled in my personal notes – with no intention of having them published online (despite that ever-beckoning “maw”).

Re-reading them, it’s amusing that I wrote how careful you are with your words, because clearly the words you chose for your letter to me were not carefully selected. I will assure you that when I wrote the article, it wasn’t at 5:46 [a.m.], and I didn’t have a baby to tend to. I am more judicious about spouting what appears next to my name in a public space.

Finally, my name is Kurt, not “Bad Penny guy.” You would have discerned this had you taken the time to look at the top of the post, or in my site’s “Contact” section (where you can also find my direct e-mail). It stuns me that someone who is so quick to accuse others of not doing their research doesn’t even do any of his own. Really, it’s not that hard.


Kurt Orzeck

David Grubbs Q+A (unedited):

1. If one were to delineate between bands and art projects, would you consider the Wingdale Community Singers to be more along the lines of the latter as opposed to the former? Please explain.

To me, I’d definitely say “band.”  I think its artfulness—hopefully—doesn’t have much to do with art per se.

2. Do you write and record WCS music altogether as a group, or do you ever rely on remote contributions?

We’ve done it both ways.  More of the first album was written with Rick and Hannah (and sometimes me, but less often so) going head-to-head, and sitting in a room and singing and strumming and really making it happen in a collaborative manner.  I should say that I’ve been amazed at how quickly the two of them can crank out lyrics; for me, who writes 3 or 4 songs per year, it’s really something to behold.

3. Given the hectic schedules of all parties involved, is it hard to locate creative momentum for the WCS? Are you all such experienced artists and musicians that you’re able to spark your creative inspiration on command, regardless of distractions or other peripheral circumstances?

You’re absolutely right—creative momentum has been a difficult thing to achieve.  But that’s one of the sweet things about making an album: it makes us all put the group on the front burner and helps us to achieve some kind of momentum as a group.

4. Can you verbalize the objective(s) of the WCS, and the goals for the group? Does each member have a different idea of what the WCS are and what they would like the WCS to be?

Write fantastic songs.  Make music that transcends its time—forwards and backwards in time.

5. If Spirit Duplicator was recorded in ’07-’08, why did it take until late this year for it to come out?

We were, ahem, weighing our label options?

6. What is the state of American folk music, in your opinion? Is its past more important or notable than its future?

Not to be a pessimist, but I’ll bet on the past.  That is, unless folks’ sense of what constitutes folk music significantly expands . . . as it should.

7. Are you trying to make a populist connection with your audience, like the folk greats have done, or is that not an objective of the WCS?

Interesting question.  I suppose that trusting so much in the power of words and in musical straightforwardness is a kind of populism, right?  A trope of populism?

8. Are the WCS lyrics works of fiction, are they derived from personal experiences – or both?

They tend towards the fictive.

9. Was there a conscious effort not to touch on politics?

No.  I guess our political stuff—“AWOL”—is out of date.  That was supposed to be a joke.

10. Is it weird playing “My Les Paul” while everyone else is singing the lyrics – yet you’re the one who’s actually playing the instrument (presumably)?

Oh, I wish that I could afford a Les Paul!  I definitely should in the video.  Will people assume that this is a tribute to the late, great Les?

11. Is alcohol, which factors prominently into the lyrics, a frequent presence when the WCS write, record, practice and perform? Any amusing alcohol-related anecdotes to share?

It kind of isn’t.  One member is a dedicated teetotaler, so the rest of us try not to get too stupid . . . you know?

12. What other musicians have you considered roping into the project? Are any collaborations on the horizon?

Interestingly enough, it’s the collaborations with and contributions of folks that you may not have heard of that are often the most satisfying.  I love Gerald Menke’s pedal-steel and slide-guitar contributions to “Spirit Duplicator.”  There are so many extraordinary musicians just bopping around Brooklyn that that should keep us busy for years to come.

13. What are the other projects occupying most of your time right now, and how are you progressing with each? If you want to limit it to the top three, that’s fine.

Rick just finished a new novel and has a new kiddo.  I have a less-new kid, teach at Brooklyn College, and play solo shows and have been working on collaborations with poet Susan Howe and artist Anthony McCall.  Nina is a red-hot, in-demand visual artist.  And Hannah is finally finishing her next solo album, which should be marvelous.


“Purple America” Notes:

Moody, Rick. “Purple America.” 1997. 300 pgs. Read 11.29-12.2.04

(Thoughts while reading:) I feel like I’m on roller skates reading this. Flailing around, startled and unsure of my footing … then stable, then slipping every now and again. With little respect for time or definable narrators, etc., this look leaps into a quicksand of memories, images and, apparently, some present[-day] description of a stuttering alcoholic tending after his paraplegic mother. Very long paragraphs and run-on sentences demand strict concentration and take a long time to sift through. … Márquez … Borges? Heavy detail about objects, especially foreign ones … but once the picture is quickly painted, he swabs on another one. Dreamy, hard to stay focused. Requires undivided attn. Very fluid text, bleeding together different events, narrators, time periods – all in the same sentence, sometimes.

(Thoughts after reading:) He is masterful in his ability to submerge you in the scenes and memories that float through each chapter. He really digs into the hear of the interior, by clawing through the exterior – in terms of characters, sentiments and settings. … This forces you to become the characters. Activity takes place not through actions but rather through perceptions. Economical, careful word selection. There are virtually no laughs. Hyper-descriptive passages interwoven through various mentalities.

PLOT: Alcoholic son tends to invalid mother after step-dad drops out of the picture. Mother now wants to die. 38-year-old loser son is useless. But he wants a girl he had a crush on in high school and their evening turns sexual. Step-dad, while realizing his mistake in leaving wife (who, incapable of bodily function, is a bit of a spill himself). Step-dad returns as son is about to off mother. Son flees, drowns (presumably) in toxic river. Obviously, very little to cheer about here, but it is a somewhat credible account of today’s grim American family/gothic image. I was relieved to have finished reading this.


One Response to “Rick Moody Vs. The Bad Penny”

  1. Rick Moody Says:

    Dear Kurt Bad Penny Guy,

    Your rather heated response, to my rather mild note, proves the validity of the time-honored advice given to me by some who, expostfacto, suggested that it was not dignified to respond to you here. They are correct. And since it is further disheartening to allow you to flog me for the betterment of your Google tags, I will refrain from going on at length about the difference between the word “book” from the word “novel,” and the similarity between my kind of memoir and the “non-fiction novel,” and the similarity between my kind of collection of stories about grief and the “novel-in-stories,” such that it would be more than logical to refer to my “books” in the twenty-percent-off-a-decade decade in which I did not produce as something very like “novels,” such that apparently I did produce two “books” or two “novels” while not producing anything at all, nor will I send along the link to Wikipedia, that degraded resource, which indicates “The recent novel The Diviners received continued high praise in multiple reviews: “In this affectionate but unflinching cautionary tale about vanity, ambition, and life’s unlikely paths, Rick Moody delivers a masterpiece of comedy that will bring him to a still higher level of appreciation,” because that truly is to descend to the level of obvious suggesting that one perhaps check Wikipedia before breaking out the shotguns. Should you prefer to have a level exchange, instead of getting in the last word, I would be happy to submit to the interview, which, for a variety of reasons, I never heard about until now, and we can play this out in a way that seems more adult. If that is not your wish, flog some more, and do your worst, for I shall now, before standing by my earlier remarks in their entirety, especially where Nina is concerned, and not omitting to stand by the word “leap,” and the word “check,” and the word “novel,” maintain a more dignified silence both in the reading and commenting hereupon.


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