This is at least the third book & music project Oldham’s been involved among his numerous collaborations, the first being Forest Time with photographer Erik Wesselo from 2002, then another in 2012 with artist Ashley Macomber called Afternoon.
For his song “Garden of Evil” Oldham offers us a fair interpretation of the picture book that comes with the record, or, sorry, the picture book that the record comes with. I bought it for the record, but the book and song go together so beautifully that you cannot separate them. That’s how I see Oldham’s poetry fitting against the flow of story in the book, his words fit the pictures almost literally, as best as able, and the melody is folk-simple, almost familiar, but not. Yet the book, pictures and words all remain deeply ambiguous−an Adam and Eve story laid out with a procreation twist buried among the worms, snakes, apples and a couple discovering that their bodies fit together in ways that symbolise two opposing modes of thought—lust and procreation. This is all imaged via aforesaid slithery creatures, snakes, tongues, worms, spoiled apples, death masks, babies and a non-opposing stance that presents a myth/creation story, albeit a very American-centric white Adam and Eve version for added gruesome effect. I do have a thing about Bible-myth mockery though, only insofar as I’m astounded that in 2015 there’s anyone who finds this kind of stuff art-worthy. And yet clearly there are, and I must be living in a vacuum, an isolation chamber when it comes to spiritual feeling among the general populace, who scare me. Thus Will Oldham contributing to a weird comic that recounts the Christian original-sin myth with bonus philosophical twist, just seems like old hat, the form of religo-satire/sincerity crossbreeding he’s been doing since 1993. Like, give us Will Oldham on 10:04 by Ben Lerner. Give us Will Oldham on Colm McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Give us Will Oldham on Paradise Lost. Anything but Genesis chapter 1, know wot I’m sayin’?
Still, wrapping the book up into 20 or so lines of interpretative poetry and being able to sing those lines beautifully is no small feat, and we must—really we must, we have no choice—but to commend the singer on his mode of presentation, plainness of song, his minimalist aesthetic, which keeps him edgy.
The theme present in “In The Garden of Evil” is one of anti-procreativity, and it somehow comes across as valid. In the pictures, the sexuality of the couple imaged in wiggly shapes is fraught with disease and ill omen, and as in Oldham’s lyrics, Adam & Eve’s offspring “turn against us” as if to suggest that we breed our own extinction merely by having kids. That’s a sensible observation, a sterile one if some people read it that way, but otherwise a mere cycle of life as observed in a once too-popular story that nonetheless continues to offer us an alternative rendering of the subject/object split that Lacanian theory places into our understanding of who we think we are as individuals. For you who have no idea what I just said – we’re forever trying to undo the loss or separation we felt as babes from the parent or womb by imaging our birth as a sin we’ve somehow committed. i.e. Eve bit the apple and we became separated from God, we split into subject/object, we developed self-consciousness. Ah, what agony.
The song opens with two or three plucked guitar strings, several times over, big gaps, and Oldham begins singing in a certain forlorn way that harks back to so many great recordings from his past. I love this merely for it being only guitar and voice, bringing to mind the 2013 album Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. The tune enacts a strong pull on your emotions, partly through its familiarity, partly through its simplicity, and Oldham’s way of singing, allowing the words to lift his voice as and where they need to take him, though always in a melancholy, disappointed or apologetic direction: “They’ve been at it two by forces / They’ll turn against us / We don’t have to own them / If we turn strongly towards the west,” and then later, “Leave the snake to the sky / And the baby to die / We’ll have fun / You and I.” Bruised, stoic, almost defiant in the way the melody asserts itself as something worth remembering yet is in no hurry to impress upon you. This is good stuff. This is only for a few of us. This is very much fan-based stuff, that raw-minded confidence, that sense that the song is in the song and not in the production. “Now my child don’t care about me,” sings Oldham forlornly yet reconciled to a reality that our offspring eat their old. My flexi has a lovely high quality of sound, but I notice after a few spins a bit of crackle appearing in the sound field.
Hello Alan Bumstead,
I wanted to let you know your blog has been really really helpful for me and say thank you for doing this.
I am the woman that Will Oldham sings about in his songs, not the sadist the other woman. I only met Will Oldham once in 1998 when I was 19, where he took my Scottish poetry book without asking, later tried to step on my head, then the next concert he stared at me with a pained expression for the song Give Me Children. My friend who was 17 met both Will Oldham and Bill Callahan in 1998 in Sydney without me being present. She told me a bit about meeting Will Oldham as he upset her, and I also talked about this with her family since we were all concerned about her being so upset. My friend never told me hardly anything of what happened when she met Bill Callahan in 1998, she was annoyed at me at the time and sent me a mean postcard, out friendship was always a bit up and down like that and she was only 17 and left school in 1996 after her parents separating when she cut the band name Pavement into her arm and stopped going to school. I visited her a lot since she was the younger sister of one of my best friends and Pavement was one of my favourite bands since I was 15 in 1994 and me and another friend went to a Pavement All Ages show and met them briefly when we asked them to sign a t-shirt. In 1996 when my friend left school we made up a Pavement sitcom for fun, and watched all of Will Oldham’s movies that were available in our town (Matewan, The Rescue of Jessica McClure, and some car racing one he made as a kid), read Pushkin and The Grand Meaulnes, watched Andrei Rublev several times as well as The Passion of Jean de Arc and Battleship Potemkin and Salaam Cinema and Le Samurai etc, had a race to see who could finish War And Peace first which my friend was in front most of the way until the boring part and essay at the end where I got in front and won the race since I liked essays and she didn’t. All the bands we liked featured in the Pavement sitcom as various character, Mark from Pavement was Mark Eyeball who gave people the Mark of Mark, Bill Callahan was Callahan Rides Alone like a book we found about a sexist cowboy who spanked a woman over his knee in the middle of a town square, Ben Lee had a network called The Friends Of Ben since he knew so many people, Harmony Korine was an idiot for calling his characters Telly and Caspar after children’s television characters and for working with the director Larry Clark who we called The Grand Morph after the the geriatric skateboarder in the claymation Morph. My friend thought Will Oldham in his child acting movie looked like the Truman Capote character in To Kill A Mockingbird, and she told him when she met him he reminded her of the drunken singer in Turgenev’s Sketches From A Huntsman’s Album which she lent him to read and when she told me I thought this was impolite and a bad idea and I am pretty sure this is why his next release was the first Bonnie Prince Billy single about drinking and dying, I Am Drinking Again. I think my friend also told Will Oldham I thought he was a liar and would turn into someone like a character played by Marcello Mastrioani in a movie, and this is why he got David Berman to coach him to perform Sings Greatest Palace Music as a middle aged Italian. Will Oldham refers to many things in our Pavement sitcom over his career as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, I find this odd, he has also sung about loving me for 18 years despite never meeting me except in 1998 and I went to his Australian concerts from the Arise, Therefore tour in 1997 to the Superwolf tour in 2006 when he stopped touring Australia until Wolfroy Goes To Town, where he played a concert in my town in 2012.
After I met Will Oldham and my friend met Bill Callahan and Will Oldham without me in Sydney, Bill Callahan and Will Oldham and Chan Marshall sang songs about me on their next records without asking me or telling me.
I am pretty sure Bill Callahan got my 17 year old friend drunk because all she said about meeting him was he ordered the house red wine. She was only 17, we lived in a small country Shire, she was in a big city by herself in another State because Smog was one of her favourite bands.
Cross Bones Style by Cat Power is about me, she called her record Moon Pix because she thought my friend and I were like people from the moon being such Bill Callahan and Will Oldham fans that we took crocheted blankets to Smog’s show in Adelaide like on the cover of Smog’s Forgotten Foundation, I dressed in a long gingham skirt we made by half hand stitching it and half stapling it together, and I had an egg basket filled with boxes of tea and small tea cups for a handbag; not only did Chan Marshall act in a mean and inappropriate way by saying we were like people who lived on the Moon and having the cover of Moon Pix referring to her spying on us from backstage, she also stole my idea for the Cross Bones Style film clip since she is so unoriginal, but she got it wrong by not putting in any books or literature or handmade clothes or old things like egg baskets and white beaded bags. Stealing my idea is why she sings “Hater I have your diamonds” as she has a pirate theme on the song where we are all pirates and she steals my diamonds, she calls me Hater since my friend must have told her
Smog wrote Teenage Spaceship about me on Knock Knock, going with the theme of me and my friend being from outer space established by Cat Power who was his then girlfriend in Australia recording what would become Moon Pix with members of the Dirty Three a band we had seen multiple times since 1996 and always chatted to the drummer Jim White’s mother who would be at the front of the audience too and a very nice woman who would thoroughly disapprove of Jim White drumming on a record bullying me like this. And also while Bill Callahan’s parents are authorised to spy as part of the NSA for national security purposes by the American government, Chan Marshall and Bill Callahan had no such authorisation, and got my underage friend drunk and engaged in illegal stalking and sexual harassment behaviour.
Will Oldham then put a skull on the front of I See A Darkness as Skulls go with Cross Bones, and wrote Madeline Mary about me, which you see also has a pirate theme like Cross Bones Style. I am very insulted at being likened to a pirate. He also calls me burly, he has insulted my looks for 18 years now on records and artwork and promotional material sold and circulated around the world. I am very very insulted and annoyed about this even though I don’t care what he thinks and he has two tone hair and beard colours himself. On the song I See A Darkness he uses the word wife for the first time in his Bonnie “Prince” Billy work, which you see many mentions of the word wife, despite he has no wife ever, this is as he calls me his wife. I couldn’t work this out for ages, then I had a brain wave — he calls me his wife since in 1997 and 1998 I looked like the wife in the Palace Old Jerusalem film clip, and he thought I dressed up as the wife being such a fan who takes crocheted blankets to Smog concerts. This was not the case however, and I never even saw the Old Jerusalem film clip until many years later in the early 2000s when it was put on the internet as the one night it was on music television in Australia when it came out in the 90s I went out with a friend instead.
Not stopping at this, these singers have sung about me now for 18 years. In 2005 Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom made me have a breakdown so I stopped eating, cried all the time, couldn’t think and had to take leave of absence from doing my Honours in History, and then had a psychotic episode in August 2006 the day after I heard Will Oldham’s Cursed Sleep EP thinking it seemed to have something to do with me, but me and my housemate couldn’t work out exactly what the lyrics were about. Now I have worked it out, since Will Oldham made me work out everything like doing an essay rather than give me an explanation like I told him to do 16 months ago now. This means I have a great Music Journalism and Scandal SCOOP! And I am going to take criminal and civil legal action too against numerous parties.
Cursed Sleep is about me not closing my arms around Will Oldham and getting older still and holding his love against his will — this is as I never even met Will Oldham except in 1998 and of course I got older between 1998 and 2006 and he never tried to talk to me once and now I find he has written numerous songs about me for 18 years starting in 1998. Then the next song is about having an affair with Joanna Newsom when she was dating Bill Callahan. Joanna Newsom instigated the affair, she pretends in her lyrics she instigated this affair to save Will Oldham. But she really instigated this affair because she didn’t have anything to write songs about in her important second record follow up to The Milk Eyed Mender, as if you read her lyrics after dating Bill Callahan so long all she has to sing about him is that 1. he is considerably older than her like in the girls epistolary novel Daddy Long Legs and she complains about being infantilised in interviews all the time despite her childish lyrics and despite Will Oldham singing on the Letting Go she has a tantrum like a child tearing her hair and banging her arms on the floor 2. Bill Callahan is very glum and she got tired of always having to be the one trying to cheer him up. Apart from that she has nothing to write about Bill Callahan except for what happened after she instigated an affair with Will Oldham to get material for her second record — 1. Bill Callahan beat Will Oldham up. 2. She briefly got back together with Bill Callahan. 3. She made Will Oldham and Bill Callahan lie about their songs about me after everyone found out about my breakdown and psychotic episode in 2006 or early 2007 and sings they are lonely men and did she have a hand in their loneliness — yes she most certainly did is my conclusion! I am going to press charges against her and hope she goes to gaol for 20 years since she is like the Bette Davis character in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane and I am like the Joan Crawford character she makes have a disability and hides in the house, even though I don’t even know her she is just totally demented even worse than Bette Davis. The Signifying Wolf is also about taking Joanna Newsom to bondage dungeons, a song in The Letting Go is about her then getting pregnant and not knowing if the father was Bill Callahan Will Oldham or a random at the bondage dungeon and having an abortion. The next song on Cursed Sleep God’s Small Song is about Will Oldham not loving Joanna Newsom after all, which is no wonder since she just had an affair with him for material for her second record, as the second record makes or breaks musical careers. You can tell this by the lyrics to Only Skin where she tells Will Oldham she is going to write a song cycle about Will Oldham and Me and Joanna Newsom having an affair with Will Oldham, Will Oldham gets upset about this, and writes a guilty song about skinning me, and Joanna Newsom writes Only Skin telling Will Oldham it doesn’t matter if they skin me (a metaphor for singing all these songs about me) since now he can go on to maker better music with her after scaling such musical heights writing songs about a woman or two, being me and the sadist swinger pilates weight loss instructor and twee leather designs designer Sue Schofield. I think sadism and twee-ness is a gross combination.
They all knew about my psychotic episode in 2006, I can tell from Stephen Malkmus’ Real Emotional Trash where he calls Sue Schofield Wicked Wanda and says he would rather date Rwanda. This refers to the Rwandan Genocide. This Rwandan Genocide reference is because:
1 the Rwandan Genocide is as EVIL as Sue Schofield the sadist swinger pilates weight loss instructor and leather designer who calls her leather design company Inherited Leather after Will Oldham and Joanna Newsom sing about skinning me to gloat about how she can wear my “skin” by keeping dating Will Oldham after Joanna Newsom and Bill Callahan drive me insane in 2005-2006. You will see about this time Will Oldham got a webpage saying REPAY NO ONE EVIL FOR EVIL
2. because news of my breakdown and psychotic episode caused great divisions in this group of musicians about whether to contact me and tell the truth about all the songs about me, or whether to keep lying and cover it up and tell Will Oldham to keep dating the sadist swinger and stop touring Australia and be happy with his life (I don’t know how he was meant to be happy doing this, but these people are not strong on logic as well as not being strong on ethics. Lie Down In The Light was called that because Ned Oldham told him to lie down in the light and be happy with his life and not contact me, since Ned Oldham hates me I can tell by a range of things including his songs Further Gone and God Will Let Me Know where he calls Will Oldham and eel, and calls me Wide Sargasso Sea who is the character in Jane Eyre who has a mental illness and is locked up in the attic and then burns to death in a fire conveniently to allow Jane Eyre to marry Mr Rochester as divorces were a great scandal then. As you see Ned Oldham was hoping I would die trapped in an attic so Will Oldham could marry Jane Eyre, he had a relationship with Angel Olsen both of them just used each other and wrote more songs about me, I wrote to Jagjaguwar complaining about them selling songs about me by Angel Olsen including her pretending to be sad I might be dead, and they never even wrote back to me saying how happy they were I was alive, after selling all these songs pretending to be sad I could be dead, without making any effort whatsoever to contact me and check if I was alive or dead). So all these musicians were bitterly divided and angrily fighting amongst themselves about whether to contact me or keep lying. The keep lying side won. Everyone got guiltier and guiltier. Stephen Malkmus moved to Berlin since his old friends were so depressing. David Berman was a bit hopeful in Look Out Mountain Look Out Sea (this refers to Will Oldham’s terms for me and the sadist, I am the mountain (you are wrong the mountain girl song is not about oral sex it is about me staring at him from the audience waiting for him to stop ignoring me and try to talk to me), and the sadist swinger and bondage dungeons generally is the sea. Then David Berman gave up on whatever inspired his hope then and gave up music saying otherwise he would write the answer song to Shiny Happy People. Then Bill Callahan and Will Oldham sing about my psychotic episode on their 2010 records which is co-ordinated — Drover and The Sounds Are Always Begging. These both contain lies saying that I went crazy due to Will Oldham, this is a technique criminals often use called MISDIRECTION — in fact, Bill Callahan and Joanna Newsom made me have a breakdown due to their actions at their 2005 Australian concerts I went to, and actions they got the woman from The Tenniscoats to do, who I have complained about to her father Maher Shalal Hash Baz saying their family now owes me a great debt. Joanna Newsom also sings about me on her 2010 record. I believe this was co-ordinated by Drag City, Dan Koretzky siding with Joanna Newsom against Will Oldham since she makes more money for Drag City. I think Bill Callahan knew he would get in a lot of trouble for writing songs about me since 1998 and making me have a breakdown in 2005, and he remembered how from 1998 at his concerts he always stared at me which made me look at the floor, apart from in 2000 or 2001 at the Ding Dong Lounge he stared at me and I turned it into a staring competition and easily outstared the man until he looks away. This is why after I wrote to Will Oldham in late 2013 Bill Callahan called his record Have Fun With God. He also appears to have written me an epistolary novel in the mean time, Letters To Emma Bowlcut which I have not bothered to read yet. Nick Cave mentions me in two novels as well, The Legend of Bunny Munro and The Sick Bag Song, even though I never even went to his concerts, only like a few of his singles, and don’t think he is a great writer and vigorously object to being put in his books.
I also know they found out about my psychotic episode in 2006 or 2007 because of some of Bill Callahan’s lyrics, such as Too Many Birds In The Tree and Eid Ma Clack Shaw.
And thanks to your very detailed website because of Will Oldham’s 2007 singles which refer to Joanna Newsom in California, and Cat Power.
Your website has really been very helpful to me Alan Bumstead. I am going to ask my University Archives if they want to archive everything about people writing songs about me for 18 years without asking. They might be able to buy everything, but if they can’t I was wondering if you would donate or sell them your collection in part or full to ensure that they have everything even the small releases.
I also was wondering if for my legal action you could make your collection available to me and the police if need me, not the physical collection by digital copies of the sound files and artwork. You have already provided a lot of digital copies of the artwork which is very helpful.
Thank you again.
think again, bruh. https://www.facebook.com/nickcaveofficial/posts/1032232163535159