The Believer
July 12, 2016

"The Artist's Novel"

Stephanie LaCava in Conversation with Seth Price

Fuck Seth Price, by Seth Price, 2015. Leopard Press, New York (pictured: second, hardcover edition).

Fuck Seth Price, by Seth Price, 2015. Leopard Press, New York (pictured: second, hardcover edition).

It’s astounding not more attention has been paid to the phenomenon of “artist’s novels,” a messy genre of fiction written by artists known for their visual and conceptual work. Henry Darger, Yayoi Kusama and Francis Picabia all wrote fiction. The latter, known primarily for his paintings wrote an autobiographical novel in 1924 entitled Caravanserail, which was reissued in 2013 in its original French. Picabia seems an appropriate grandfather for a new generation of artists interested in the creation and distribution of words.

Seth Price may be the heir extraordinaire with his genre hopping Fuck Seth Price (Leopard Press) about to be released in its second printing. The artist is known for his wit and playful approach to the distribution of intellectual and artistic properties. In a pivot of standard publishing practice, Price has chosen to release this hard cover as a follow up to the original paperback.

His first novel, How to Disappear in America was published in 2008. It was classified as such in the July 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine in which Fuck Seth Price was excerpted. The book, however, is a compilation of writings found on the Internet. Price’s 2008 Essay with Knots is a visual tableau, nine plastic panels screen printed with his 2002 essay Dispersion, the written work was also available in stores and online. This interview was carried out over email correspondence earlier this year. 

—Stephanie LaCava

STEPHANIE LACAVA: In a 2002 essay, you mention Mark Klienberg asking in 1975: “‘Could there be someone capable of writing a science-fiction thriller based on the intention of presenting an alternative interpretation of modernist art that is readable by a non-specialist audience? Would they care?’” Did this foreshadow your “Left Behind” project?

SETH PRICE: No, it came later. I saw the Klienberg quotation in 2002, and it went with a lot of stuff I was already thinking about. Right after 9/11 I read an article about the surge of interest in the Left Behind series, which is an extremely literal-minded extrapolation of the Book of Revelation. I got interested in writing an apocalyptic, evangelical, thriller with the aim of insinuating it into that reading public, as art. Before that, in 2000 and 2001, I’d been experimenting with writing in an automatic, procedural way. I tried to do a line-for-line mutation of Ernst Junger’s “On The Marble Cliffs,” where I would rewrite each sentence by arbitrarily inverting the meanings. If the sentence was “She walked up the hill,” I’d write, “He walked along the plain. “I have no idea what that was about. It went nowhere, though. I couldn’t pull off the evangelical thriller, either.

“Study for a Christian Novel,” Seth Price, 2001-2002. Pen, graphite, and tape on paper.

“Study for a Christian Novel,” Seth Price, 2001-2002. Pen, graphite, and tape on paper.

SLC: How did you arrive at the conclusion that you wouldn’t be able to pull off the project?

SP: I realized that carrying out the book the way I’d conceived of it would ultimately mean posing as an evangelical Christian. I was after a different kind of performance: to write a book and release it into the marketplace of books, where it would circulate but also perform its own circulation. The Dispersion piece moved in that direction, I think: it ended up functioning as an essay, but also as an example of what it, itself, was proposing. Positioning a piece of writing as artwork puts a doubling at the heart of the thing. You can take it as an authentic cultural product, something “honest,” but also as a gesture, as posing, which is dishonest. I like both/and, rather than either/or. Posing an artwork as another form of cultural production is drag. The Dispersion essay can be read as a “straight” art historical essay—I’m pretty sure it’s taught that way—or you can take it as an artwork that uses the art historical essay as a form, but also carries a performative dimension, in which case it becomes more nuanced. But also more suspect. There are curators and artists who have told me they never took it seriously, they thought it was trolling, basically. And I understand that.

SLC: What drove you to experiment with long form work like a novel, to pursue such a solitary endeavor?

SP: Writing a novel was partly an attempt to find another way of working. I was restless in the art world, but I can’t not make things, so I thought maybe I can make a little sidestep to another realm. But for this I needed to carve out space. For years I’d been trying to write literature and failing because my art production was taking all my time and energy. I was able to write weird little texts, and they fell right into place in the art world, but I couldn’t grapple with literature, which is a kingdom with its own customs. I couldn’t explore that world if I had to plan some looming exhibition, and manage a studio, all the while keeping up the mindset to experiment with new sculptural concepts or whatever. So I dismissed my assistants, and stopped producing artworks, and canceled or declined any upcoming exhibitions, and then I gave myself a year. Which was ridiculous, to think I could write a novel in a year. I kept writing more and more, and feeling ‘OK, nowmy chops are up,’ so I’d jettison the earlier stuff, but then that cycle just went on and on, and the thing I was writing crashed and burned. A couple hundred pages in the drawer. Fuck Seth Price only came later, it kind of popped off quickly after I’d declared the whole experiment a failure and started doing shows again, as if I needed to return to art in order to make it happen. 

SLC: You performed part of Fuck Seth Price at the Whitney earlier this year. Here, you eschew the protracted engagement of the novel for an hour in performance…

SP: Performance enters into all of my work, on some level, and I think it has to do with impurity. My work is impure and self-contradicting, and that’s what performance is about. For years I’d been doing public readings of my own essays and books, and for a while in the early 2000s I was doing performances where I’d tell stories I’d written, and sometimes improvise according to audience suggestions. I’ve also got a body of video work with fairy tales and ghost stories that I write and read. So the Whitney made sense. The double glass partition in their auditorium offered a good way to present a novel, as an author trapped in a box, physically separate but on display, unable to hear the audience, or even see them, thanks to the lighting setup, and audible to them only via a wireless PA. So all the elements of the evening were pulled apart and made artificial, but at the same time it was live. I was all Lavaliered and spot lit, I slicked my hair back and wore makeup, and I had on this dumb outfit of black gym gear and ultra-white New Balance. It felt like a Silicon Valley product launch. It was fucking intense for me. The Whitney had scheduled a conversation with Charline von Heyl directly after the reading, but when I emerged from the glass box to sit and talk to her, I was still vibrating with another world, the heightened world of performance. I was incapable of returning to a place of answering a question, or even understanding one. Charline was not happy about that.

Seth Price reading from Fuck Seth Price at The Whitney Museum of American Art, November 20, 2015. Photograph by Filip Wolok.

Seth Price reading from Fuck Seth Price at The Whitney Museum of American Art, November 20, 2015. Photograph by Filip Wolok.

SLC: Conversely, were you interested in making sure the reader has to live with the work for at least a little while when you published Fuck Seth Price? Were you considering the self-reflectivity of the character? Did you care about creating this protagonist—Seth Price—that appeals or endears himself to the reader?

SP: The novel is an example of autofiction, which is a trend now. I’d been reading contemporary literature intensively for some years, partly because I wanted to see what the current technologies were. The author/character was a technology people were using, for me it goes back to Eileen Myles calling Chelsea Girls a novel, or Chris Kraus’ books in the 90s, and more recently Knausgaard, and Sheila Heti, and Tao Lin, and Ben Lerner. I decided to use this because it was a current technology. It was my Left Behind move: “Ah, here’s a successful bandwagon…” I liked that the novel could be completely of its moment. It also allowed me to take advantage of the art world, my world, rather than try to enter evangelical discourse, or Young Adult fiction, the genre I tried to inhabit during my year writing. With art as a topic and a place I was writing from I was able to explore something I had license to exploit, but then to do it in a questionable way, to make it as indefensible as if I’d finished the YA novel. I could explore lines of thinking that took the narrator to absurd places, places I don’t necessarily agree with, that don’t represent what Seth Price believes. Again, it was about finding a place of self-contradiction.

SLC: Ingo Niermann and Alexander Wallasch did a novel on a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and played with idea of pretending the author was the actual soldier, knowing it would be a major success. Does playing the system like this become ethically okay if it’s an art endeavor?

SP: Well, that was part of my interest in the Left Behind series, back in 2001. It’s co-written by a suspect evangelical minister and a hack who writes as-told-to biographies, and it immediately was a perfectly weaponized best seller, so it looked like bad faith. But it was a successful piece of writing and it made a lot of people happy in a straightforward way and was affirmative. It’s also nakedly political, which is interesting: it transcends simply being a fantasy series because it openly affirms this controversial worldview that wants to make over the culture. It’s not subtle or artful, like in Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. At the same time, most of its readers probably wouldn’t see it as a political artwork. You could say the creators pick up and employ existing religious scripture and interpretation and exegesis as tools in order to generate the story, and also to address a vast and lucrative consumer audience. I’m saying that the series checks a lot of boxes for me. My thinking was, this veers close to the territory of art, where things can have double identities, triple identities, unstable interpretations. Obviously the authors wouldn’t see their project that way, and yes, fine, it has nothing to do with art. But you could say I used it like a springboard: “If I squint and blur my eyes, the cross wavers and comes to look like a big, negating X.” 

SLC: You have written poems. Some argue that poetry is closer to visual art. When you take out your own handwriting and the free form of poetry, how do you see the artistry in the words of the novel? Would you say that fiction itself is a sort of visual abstraction?

Poems, by Seth Price. 2003, Onestar Press.

Poems, by Seth Price. 2003, Onestar Press.

SP: The Poems book was another art gesture, though: taking hastily written, random, notebook pages and calling them poems. They might now stand as poems, but I don’t think I’ve written poems. But I do think of poetry as the best model for most of my writing. Readers don’t put the same burden of subjectivity on poems that they do on an essay, because an essay is taken to represent an authentic and direct speech act. People take it to embody what the author believes, whether it’s an op-ed by Maureen Dowd, an essay by Stephen King, or a Martha Rosler piece. Whereas a poem is more slippery, you don’t hold it to the same standard. In poetry you know that the “I” and the “you” might be fictions and that the lines are performing. Pieces of mine like “Teen Image” or “Was ist Los” or “Lecture on The Extra Part,” or even “Dispersion,” are not written as enunciations of my position, except in a second-order kind of way. They’re experiments in voice and position and belief. That’s why some people think I’m fucking around, and get annoyed, and for them the meaning evaporates. But it’s closer to visual art, where you look at a piece from another angle, or in a different mood, and it’s just some piece of shit occupying space in a room, or it switches identities from clever maneuver to brute fact. Art is a place where you can experiment with a position to see if you believe it, to see if it’s tenable, or even interesting. Poetry, too. When you transpose this to the essay form you run into issues. 

SLC: There is a funny notion of process in the literary world. You did studies or novels that you felt didn’t work before you wrote Fuck Seth Price. Does your approach to visual art/objects have a mirrored trajectory?

SP: No, probably not. The world of literature exists next to art and they share qualities of expression and topicality and formal interest, and a dialogic relationship to a history, and distribution and public, but really it’s all different. What’s experimental in art doesn’t cut it in literature, and vice versa. For me, writing was much harder than making visual art, and it was all consuming, which was scary, because at the end of the year I got nervous I might not be able to “come back.” The process of reception is also different. In literature the novel is held up as the ultimate form and authors are portrayed as whiling away the time between novels with reviews and stories and essays. But when the novels are out, you can just read them. With visual art, on the other hand, the fullest expression is the exhibition, and the exhibition is a temporary and quickly dispersed form, and few people will see all your shows, and shows aren’t usually well documented. So to an observer, bodies of artwork and thinking and sense eventually start to cohere, but this is fragmentary and obscured, and it takes years. It’s hard to really know what a good artist is up to, whereas you can get a sense of an author fairly quickly by doing some concentrated reading. This is why survey exhibitions are seen as important.

SLC: You said you’re in your second printing and now at work on the admin work of producing a museum show. I think of the line in your essay: “The art system usually corrals errant works, but how could it recoup thousands of freely circulating paperbacks?”

SP: If there is an art system, it has no problem doing whatever the fuck it wants, including corralling books and ideas. I’m done with anything that could be taken as a manifesto.

SLC: By the way, this is great: “with the twist of a kaleidoscope things resolve themselves.”

SP: As if!


july 27, 2016


Stephanie LaCava in Conversation with Paul Chan

It’s astounding that not more attention has been paid to the phenomenon of “artist’s novels,” a messy genre of fiction written by artists known for their visual and conceptual work. Henry Darger, Yayoi Kusama and Francis Picabia all wrote fiction. The latter, known primarily for his paintings wrote an autobiographical novel in 1924 entitled Caravanserail, which was reissued in 2013 in its original French. Picabia seems an appropriate grandfather for a new generation of artists interested in the creation and distribution of words. 

Darger’s novel The Story of the Vivian Girls inspired artist Paul Chan’s 2002 animation (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization. Two years prior, he debuted his project entitled Alternumerics, a series of fonts made of sentence partials that transform typed text to read differently from its inputted meaning. While Chan’s work often plays with media and language, there are also direct references to writers and works. In 2007, along with the Creative Time organization, he staged Waiting for Godot on the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans. In 2009, his animation Sade for Sade’s Sake debuted and he produced another set of fonts based on the Marquis de Sade’s writings. His publishing venture Badlands Unlimited happened in a self imposed hiatus from art making in 2010. This independent house has become known for its innovative artist-authored ebooks, New Lovers series and hard copy books by writers like Calvin Tomkins and Hans Ulrich Olbrist.

—Stephanie LaCava

STEPHANIE LACAVA: I would love to start in the year you took off to create Badlands. Was establishing the house an art world gesture? 

PAUL CHAN: No. It’s not a gesture at all. It’s a business.

SLC: Do you think there’s more of a refusal in the art world to admit any labor was required? 

PC: I think the act of refusal is in truth a kind of work. Ask any woman who’s had to turn down men’s advances whether saying no is work. 

SLC: How does this bring up questions of authenticity and also a sort of satirical self consciousness in the work? 

PC: The self is ……………..^v^

⋱ ⋮ ⋰
… ◯ …¨. ︵
¨︵¸︵( ░░ )︵.︵.︵…………..^v^
(´░░░░░░ ‘) ░ most authentic ░░’ )
… …………………………………..︵.︵
…… …………………… when it is ………….(˛. *˛)
… …..^v^
(˛˛ Split = Reflection )  
/ Ä

SLC: Were you interested in making sure the reader has to live with the work for at least a little while due to the protracted engagement of the act of reading or were you more interested in a different means of distribution, of a new “archive,” or neither? 

PC: Another way to think about this is that different means of distribution and production creates the grounding for another kind of attention and focus for what is being made and distributed. It is not an either/or, but rather a dialectic. 

SLC: Protracted engagement is eschewed in a gallery visit or performance. Were you conscious of playing with this when you decided to create Badlands?

PC: It is difficult to say whether I was conscious at all when I created Badlands. 

SLC: Did you ever feel that literature was where you could best play out some of your concerns or is it that these concerns were about the art world, therefore another place was required?

PC: My only concerns with Badlands are how we’re going to lose money and waste time on our own terms. And we’re not in the business of literature. We’re in the business of publishing. When Broodthaers started his Museum of Modern Art, Eagles department, his only concern, as far as I can tell, was to keep his museum going, and not whether he was reaching the right world or audience. 

SLC: Do you have an affinity or interest in the work of writers and auteurs like Stéphane Mallarmé or Alain Robbe-Grillet or is there someone else in that camp of innovative narrative who inspires you? 

PC: Those guys are cool. I would add Bernhard and Jelinek. Don’t forget Eddie Murphy.

SLC: Henry Darger: I don’t think it’s widely known that he wrote an artist’s novel and yet this was an early reference in your work. How did you discover this? 

PC: Like everyone else I suppose: I read it. 

SLC: How his influence play into your own creation?

PC: ,+.*`,+.*`,+.
__The hungry.*`,+.
______00000+.*`,+.*`,+. The hunger
____00 The mercy 0+.*`,+.*`,+.
___000_____000__ ,+.*`,+.*`,+.
__,+.*`,+. *`,+.__,+.*`,+.*`,+.
_____ ,+.*`,+.*`,+.
,+.*`, The merciful +.*`,+.
And also…
Pleasure °

____ ,+.*`,+.*`,+.
________$_,+.*`,+ in nature.

SLC: Samuel Beckett is another one. He’s the classic renegade first championed by Barney Rosset. I feel you’re a kind of natural heir to so much of this story.

PC: There is nothing to say about Beckett that would illuminate him more than his own letters, which Cambridge is currently publishing, in four large volumes no less. As for Rosset, I have a great admiration for him. And my relationship to Rosset is in part connected to law. Badlands’ lawyer is actually one of Rosset’s old lawyers. Also Rosset pioneered the idea that to sell books, one has to be sued and sued constantly. It’s a great business model for a publisher. 

SLC: As an artist, writer and publisher, what would be your definition of an “artist novel?” 

PC: 5” X 8”, softcover with color endpaper art, and retails for $12.95, with an e-book edition for $4.99.


august 3, 2016


Stephanie LaCava in Conversation with Alissa Bennett

It’s astounding that not more attention has been paid to the phenomenon of “artist’s novels,” a messy genre of fiction written by artists known for their visual and conceptual work. Henry Darger, Yayoi Kusama and Francis Picabia all wrote fiction. The latter, known primarily for his paintings wrote an autobiographical novel in 1924 entitled Caravanserail, which was reissued in 2013 in its original French. Picabia seems an appropriate grandfather for a new generation of artists interested in the creation and distribution of words. 

Alissa Bennett’s artist book-zine Dead is Better consists of eighteen essays, each about the death of a celebrity. It may seem an unlikely study for the exploration of artist’s novel, but it’s the ultimate mix of innovative personal narrative and creatively-formatted cultural criticism. While she had been researching and recording these entries for years, Bennett credits Frank Haines of the imprint Heinzfeller Nileisist for making the publication happen. She met Haines at a Christmas party. He recognized her from her Instagram where she had been posting reviews of her favorite drug documentaries, one of her many projects that illustrate an example of new media approaches to the distribution of text.

Raised in Rhode Island, Bennett modeled and traveled before settling in New York where she decided to study literature and cultural analysis. Her interest in Victorian mourning rituals, especially the relationship between capitalism and mourning, translated into a thesis on the conflation of illness and femininity in the 19th century. She wrote constantly, including scripts for the artist Sue de Beer and “a book about bad teenagers that I never published.”

For the past few years, Bennett has occupied two different roles in the art world. She writes catalogue essays that are primarily fiction for artists like Piotr Uklanski and Bjarne Melgaard, as well as works with talent at Team Gallery. 

—Stephanie LaCava

STEPHANIE LACAVA: Dead is Better has a deceptively simple premise and mass appeal. And yet, your voice. It’s so singular, funny, and knowing. The sensationalist subject matter is a way to deliver a more complex message. Early on, you refer to the work as “this cheap study of death and celebrity.” But what follows is an unconventional personal essay, a hybrid form of cultural criticism. Did you set out with the form in mind?

ALISSA BENNETT: There are certain books that have been really important to me and that I have read over and over and over. The three that come to mind are Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon (which I think Dead is Betteris a very transparent homage to), David K. Frasier’s Suicide in the Entertainment Industry, and Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. I don’t know if it was an intentional effort to conflate the qualities that I love about each of them (sensationalism, factual information, and sentimentality), or if it’s just the consequence of having spent a lot of time with the texts. 

On the format, I grew up reading Rollerderby and Answer Me! and Murder Can Be Fun. I always loved the non-committal quality that zines have. I think writers of these zines also relied on humor to deal with serious information—I don’t ever want to treat my subjects glibly, but I do want to examine how we interact with the idea of celebrity and the craziness that rides with fame. There is a certain amount of shame I feel for having these totally voyeuristic compulsions, and maybe it’s funny to point them out. It gets the reader off the hook and lets them see that the absurdities of these narratives are precisely what make them poignant and meaningful.

SLC: Your RIP asides further the above idea. When you talk about Gia Carangi, you write: 

You grew up a tough, beautiful girl in 1970s Philadelphia with an early predilection for women and David Bowie (RIP, that
is all you are getting from me here, David)…

How did you make your selections? Is there a celebrity you ended up cutting? Or is there anyone who crossed the line from potential chapter to Bowie-esque untouchability?

AB:  David Bowie died while I was writing Volume I. He is not someone who I ever felt any kind of particular attachment to, and I guess in very basic terms, his death didn’t interest me. He came up in Gia Carrangi’s entry, and I wanted to acknowledge him, but I don’t feel the kind of information hunger for him that I need to feel to write about someone. In a way his death was also conventional and natural. Of course, I think it’s okay to feel sad or empathetic when your hero dies, but it doesn’t pack the same emotional charge as a death that feels untimely or wasteful or shocking.

I’m in the middle of writing my second issue now, which will be focused on crime, and there are a few ideas that I have that I don’t know if I can see to fruition. I’ve had a long-term obsession with Jon Benet Ramsay since her death, but since becoming a mother, it feels too dark to me to write about child murder. As a general rule, I also am not interested in gore or serial killers. I think that writing about violence for the sake of writing about violence is cheap. That extends to writing about celebrity death as well.

SLC: There are elements of autobiography hidden throughout the book. You mention where you were at physically when you were writing, hints at where you were at emotionally, and also nod to your son. When did you start writing the chapters with an eye toward making a book? 

AB: The main thing that was important to me when I was writing Dead is Better is that there is not a single entry that’s forced, there is not a single figure included who I have not had a legitimate obsession with. There definitely is a connection between which deaths have felt emotionally significant to me and the experience of either hearing about or researching them. All of the entries are connected to something going on in my life at a certain time. I think that rendering them personal in some way reflects what we all feel when the celebrities die. 

These are strangers, but we can feel real grief when they are gone, and I am always curious about that circuit. The relationships we have with celebrities are significant and beautiful and it’s this part of these studies that feel most important to me. For the most part, I wrote Volume I from memory. The entries have some inaccuracies and chronology issues, but it was a part of the process of writing them to see how much I had retained—when I write about these people I want to go back to the memories that I have of them. I want the reader to go back as well.

SLC: The narratives address—in the most unpretentious and playful way—a culture obsessed with schadenfreude and celebrity. Whether intentional or not, the reader isn’t invested in the work for an intellectual takeaway, but rather to delight in the storytelling and your honesty and candid play by play. This is a tactic more often seen in visual art than literary work. I think literary conventions may struggle with fear of being seen as simple, even if its deceptively so or in service of a feeling. In a way, this is what makes this book very much a riff on the “artist’s novel.” I wonder how much of this comes from your background in the art world.

AB: It’s funny that you mention this because for many years when I would go head-long into an obsession, my son’s father would say “This is your art.” I never thought of it that way. It was just what I was into and I’ve always had this deep curiosity about the interior lives of other people. Celebrity is, of course, the place where you are able to have the most access to things that are private because of tabloid and fan culture. 

I also wanted to approach the zine without any pretension because part of what I love about fandom is its sincerity. Something that I have been thinking of a lot lately is how fandom works, how we like certain celebrities because we locate ourselves in them somehow-I feel like it’s the same process that makes us love art or music or literature.  I guess I use myself as a kind of reflective surface in these texts, I want you as a reader to be there with me in a way the mimics that idea of intimacy.

SLC: There’s a sincerity that is comic, but also palatable in some of the commentary. For example, in the River Phoenix chapter:

You were financially responsible for your family from a very young age, first as some kind of child street busker and then, of course, as an actor, and can any of us really appreciate how stressful and horrible that must have been? I sometimes find it unbearable and I am an adult!

You concede to relating to elements of the late subject’s choices. And there is also a gentleness to the criticism through humor. On Demri Parrott:

 “You had that certain do-not-give-a-fuck coolness that I understand now was the direct result of a very bad heroin problem and a lot of free time.” The comic beats in the book are great. I love the close of the Lizzie Siddal one, “Fuck them, Lizzie. You are a star!” 

Did you do a lot of rewriting or was it pretty much what came to mind as you sat down to do each chapter?

AB: I wrote them all quickly, which felt like it was an important part of the process. The first edition is really embarrassing for me because there are a lot of spelling and copy errors, but I wanted the entires to feel natural and personal and off-the-cuff in a way that I didn’t think I could find if they were too labored over.

In the second issue, I have found myself trying to control the texts a little bit more, which is something I need to keep in check. I don’t want anyone to have to slog through these zines and I don’t want them to feel too polished—I want this to be a series of texts that you can read on the subway or on the beach, I want them to be easy, and I think that too much self-consciousness really destroys that.

SLC: There’s also a great moment when you liken your death obsession to the fickleness of romance. Again, super human.

AB: But it IS like a romance! I always know that an obsession is real when I find myself going back to look for more information. You get full of someone and you back a way a bit, and if the love is real, that feeling of hunger always returns to you. I also am really attracted to unresolved or mysterious narratives where there is always room for more information or fluidity; this is also the place where fan message boards come in for me. I love that there are periods of stagnation followed by activity, I love when people complain that boards have been quiet but are still looking for clues or information. Layne Staley is a really important example of this for me—there is never enough information about his death for me to be satisfied—it is ultimate lack.

SLC: As a last note, I think it’s important to say how charmed the reader is by your voice at the end of a book so hefty in subject matter. 

AB: It’s a kind of sociological handbook about material that should never feel alienating or hard to approach. I have said before that celebrity deaths are our deaths, and I really believe that.