Adam Hill reads King Zeno
Adam Hill here. I wrote the novel Old Timers Blues based on the Stringbean murder that happened in Nashville in 1973. If you are new to Nashville and you want to know the cities past, my book is for you. You want to see what this town was like in 1973? Before Yoga? Before high dollar mom jeans? Before condos? Then get to The Bookshop in East Nashville and pick up a copy or go Amazon if you don’t like leaving your home.
Last week I read King Zeno by Nathaniel Rich. It's stone cold solid. A mystery thriller with noir feathers set in New Orleans. The writer, must have been in a band at one time, or had a dream because this line hit me square on the chin.
“Music had not respected him, so he could not respect music. He would learn to respect barrels. He would learn to respect mud.” —KING ZENO
I get that feeling. I sometimes wish I lived in Japan so I could completely become a company man. Wear a black suit everyday and get bombed on saki after 12 hour shifts. 996 baby! I never got anywhere with my dreams but I sure kick ass digging the metaphorical ditches. None of the art forms I chase, chase me back. Fortunately, I’ve been good at other things. Funny, in my own life I buy a seed packet and wait too long and end up throwing the seeds in the yard and hoping they take. No digging, no water. But someone else’s stuff? I work hard. I chase it down. You get to where you don’t know where you start and what you do ends anymore you know?
I like this line too-
“The problem was getting people to listen—enough people, the right people. As soon as the world hear him, it would not be able to hear any other music. The music would come first. Everything else—joy, security, life eternal—would follow.” —King Zeno
Nashville sure is about getting the right people to listen. It’s about getting the right people to say something is cool, but only after other people have made it ok for them to think it’s cool. Maybe it’s all going that way. But enough about that old tired gripe, what about King Zeno?
King Zeno is set in the late nineteen teens, right after the Great War and before Prohibition. Jass is turning into Jazz, and moving up stream to Chicago. The Spanish Flu is breaking down everyone’s door. In this book, you can smell the mud and horse shit. You sweat in the heat. I won’t tell you much more than if you need a good thriller with cop vibes, a jazz soul, and NOLA accents this is your book. There’s Bill Bastrop, cop, back from World War I with a suitcase of bad memories. There’s Isadore Zeno, part time stick up man, part time canal digger, dying to be on stage and taking the trumpet down the rabbit hole. For the cherry on top, there’s an ax murderer.
I was in New Orleans once and a street performer asked me where I was from, I told him and he said, “Nashville, that’s where all the rich musicians are from.” It was matter of fact without any disdain. I was wearing a bandana around my neck which I would never do at home but I was cold in NOLA and nobody knew me and I had one in my pocket. I cleaned out my pockets for the tip jars. I could’ve sat there for hours listening to Jackson Square.
I have this strange writer’s block. I have plenty of ideas but if no one wants them then why work on them. I got no motivation. In the last few weeks I’ve gone from never wanting to write another book, to wanting to make a new record, to not wanting to do anything, to getting a note that I sold out of my book at The Bookshop and feeling like I need to get on the horse.
I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m going to start on my second book or make a banjo record. I don’t think I enjoy writing books, because it feels like being in school, sitting at a desk sucks for my back and my main goal is to develop a second source of income to buy exorbitantly priced furniture and custom shirting is not happening.
But, I need to express myself because it’s how my brain solves the puzzle of trying to exist. Maybe let myself have fun with the banjo and write with that? Then translate the songs into open G guitar because me making a record with a banjo would be slightly better than me playing the piano. Or shoot, what the hell, record them with the banjo. Incompetence makes it interesting.
I’d like to be on stage again one day. I really would. I often think it’ll never happen again. If it did, I sure don’t want a banjo. As Walter Sobchak said, “Did you think I was rolling out of here naked?” But let’s be real. I sure don’t have the coin to make a record. My voice let’s me down. It’s never what I need. The rest? I’m competent and the more competent I am, the less punk; and thus the worse I am. I don’t think I could write songs any better than I have before. But I could write a better book. That’s the thing.
“You ain’t no punk you punk
You want to talk about the real junk?
If you can’t dig me, you can’t dig nothin’”
That’s in my head lately.
Maybe I just read the Bible and learn to meditate on scriptures. Listen to Arvo Part. Go to church whenever the doors are open. Work out every morning and every evening. Put all my guitars in their cases. Burn novel number two page by page in the front yard and watch cars go by.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera with many other wonderful Mexican artists are up at The Frist this summer. Go now. She was a superhero whose power was expression.
I’m obsessed with the Carmen Jones version of Habanero, Dats Love.
Oh this damned writing.
Eventually I’ll talk myself out of everything, then I’ll talk myself into something.