Our favorite things this week include Kenneth Goldsmith's accounts of American tragedies and DOROTHY's soundtrack for bad behavior.
Dealing with Death: Kenneth Goldsmith specializes in what he calls “uncreative” arts—transcribing and documenting the human experience in the most literal way possible. His work is conceptual, whether it’s printing out the Internet for a gallery show or 1997’s Fidget, a book that noted every movement he made in one day. This year, powerHouse Press published his Seven American Deaths and Disasters, which transcribed accounts of some of the most powerful moments in modern American history. Goldsmith’s chapter on John Lennon’s murder broke with the form of the other chapters by using multiple sources; otherwise, he follows one station’s account, which gives each chapter a stronger voice.
The chapters are studies in media and the ways we process tragedy more than they are about the figures they focus on. One of the most compelling is Goldsmith’s transcription of an AM radio station in Dallas covering President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which begins with the DJ cutting in between ads and songs to pass along the announcement that there have been reports of a shooting. Goldsmith takes down the ads and song lyrics as well, visually reminding us how the tragic and the banal often sit side by side. At some point in each account, coverage of the event takes over and there’s a period where the news outlet is filling its air with news, even when it doesn’t have anything new. Wrong information joins with facts, and the story is recapped endlessly as the stations not only tell new listeners but themselves what they know.
As the stories are told and retold and retold, you can see the tellers start to get a grip on the event and give it narrative shape. Descriptive words and phrases creep into the account to bring it to life, to heighten the drama, and turn the event into a tale.
The most harrowing is a transcription of the 911 call from a teacher in the Columbine High School library while the shooting was taking place. Her terror is so palpable in the text that I cried reading the passage, and again when I tried to tell my wife about it. You can still see her using language and storytelling to try to give the moment shape in her head and get control of her emotions, but gunfire in the hallway took her again and again back to her unmediated reality.
Some Amazon readers complained that Seven American Deaths and Disasters is a one trick book, and that once you get the pattern, you’ve got the book. I can’t imagine Goldsmith would strongly disagree since his work has never been about practicality or efficiency, but I found each chapter paid off in some way. If nothing else, the book also makes you appreciate the human voice because so much of what people said in moments of great tragedy becomes banal when presented as text. (Alex Rawls)
Discover Dorothy: We don’t advocate dangerously irresponsible behavior, but DOROTHY makes the kind of music you listen to when you’re driving down a country road in a convertible, drunk at 3 a.m. The heavily-filtered vocals and gritty guitar riffs tap into a rock sound that’s inspiring. The band features Dorothy herself on vocals, Mark Jackson on guitar, Greg Cash on bass, and Zac Morris on drums. All of them sing hard and play hard, and their commitment to making a loud rock sound is thrilling. Still relatively undiscovered, they spent every Monday night in November playing a residency at L.A.’s Bootleg Theater. (Justin Picard)