Book Review: Phases & Stages
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Sept. 14, 2012
Will Oldham on Bonnie 'Prince' Billyedited by Alan Licht
W.W. Norton & Co., 382 pp., $16.95 (paper)
A notoriously ornery interviewee, wry and skeptical, with a deadpan honesty that's difficult to gauge, Will Oldham boasts a career in both acting and music that seems a constant obfuscation of personality. He appears content to let others project interpretations, or at least seems resigned to the futility of countering those perceptions. The ambivalence of the artist behind Bonnie "Prince" Billy and his many Palace incarnations reflects less Oldham's refusal to capitulate to an easily understood personal narrative than a simple disinterestedness in trying to control the process. Alan Licht's extended interview with Oldham is thus revelatory, most notably in its casual openness and warmth. Despite the transcribed Q&A format, the book proves cohesively engaging to anyone interested in the enigmatic songwriter. Partly due to the familiarity between Licht and Oldham, the conversation reads as a delightfully intimate and even philosophical discussion of the latter's life, work, and worldview as cribbed from a late-night talk on the front porch over beer. From detailed inspirations of songs to his genuine fandom of R. Kelly, Oldham emerges as enlightening and introspective.