Outside Reading — Sturm und Twang edition

The Cosmic Journey of Kacey Musgraves by Alex Morris

I feel unkind making this admission: I am intensely excited about the next Kacey Musgraves album because it is being written from a place of heartbreak. Dazzling as her two most recent studio albums have been — and I’m on the record as thinking they’re quite impressive indeed — the prospect one of our strongest current songwriters moving into Blood on the Tracks territory is enough to inspire a Release Day Eve campout on the sidewalk in front of the record store. That Musgraves primary musical vernacular is county music, the homeland of tuneful romantic misery, heightens the anticipation. For Rolling Stone, Alex Morris catches up with Musgraves at this moment.

A New Generation Pushes Nashville to Address Racism in Its Ranks by David Peisner

Elsewhere on the county-music-iconoclasts beat, David Peisner reports on the surge of uncharacteristic accountability within the industry in response to the video-captured bigotry of widely celebrated performer and proven dolt Morgan Wallen. As the article details, the response didn’t come out of nowhere; it was driven by a group of country artists, mostly younger and mostly women, who have persistently demanded a better, more equitable culture. They have pressed for these strides through their art — notably Mickey Guyton, whose “Black Like Me” was a powerful statement of the sort rarely voiced in country music — and through their advocacy. Meanwhile, Wallen has the top-selling album in the country, for the fourth week in a row. This article is published by The New York Times.

Geek Love (1989) by Katherine Dunn

Katherine Dunn’s third novel was an unexpected bestseller and quickly entered the canon of enduring cult-hit sensations. I can certainly how the book could have taken hold at the end of the nineteen-eighties, the decade when Stephen King fully rejiggered what sorts of lurid, bleakly comic tales were considered palatable — and even deeply craved by — the book-buying masses. It’s possible I would have been won over by the provocations of Geek Love had I read it at the time, instinctively admiring Dunn’s relentless push into grim themes and escalating body horror (Tim Burton was once attached to a film adaptation, but Dunn’s sensibility is far better suited to David Cronenberg). Now, though, it strikes me as excessively gruesome and sadistic, akin to the films of Lars von Trier when his instinct for depicting the darkness of human existence strays from honesty and into outright malice for his characters. Dunn’s craft is impeccable, but it’s in service of a story I found grueling rather than insightful.

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