Meridian-born Brad Watson's life story reads like a character from a tale from any number of Mississippi writers. Born in 1955, Watson married his high school sweetheart and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. When his older brother died in a car crash, Watson returned home to Mississippi, where he took up writing.
An ad man. A newspaper editor. Watson did his graduate studies and later taught at the University of Alabama. After a decade of toiling away, he published his first book of short stories, "The Last Days of The Dog-Men," in 1996 to critical acclaim. These eight stories about dogs used the animals to personify human traits. Watson's carefully crafted sentences find a way to explore personality and the environment in concise and careful methods.
Watson's writing has a precise way of revealing itself. The short story "Eykelboom" (published in "Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives" from 2010) illustrates his advertising acumen in starting his story with an interrogative prompt and then peeling back the layers to show you the locality of the story, the origin of the storyteller and how the single choice of transport begins to answer the question that opened the story.
Like Eudora Welty, you are quickly surmising the narrator to be trustworthy and perhaps speaking from past experience. Later when he goes even further in his description of Eykelboom's father, Watson offers an O'Connor-esque description bordering on the ridiculous ("Long loose limbs that looked apelike and strong, huge hands and feet, but thin and wiry legs as if he'd descended from a jackrabbit or some fleet herbivore.") but not necessarily ridicule.
Watson's descriptive capabilities are his way to draw you into the stories. By painting these increasingly vivid portraits of Southern life, he is telling you less about his life and more about those around him. Every action has a point. In the "Wild Palms"-esque motif of "Visitation," Watson writes glamorously about life at an old motor court in California. With only small pieces of dialogue, Watson internalizes the storytelling of his characters and leads his down-and-out protagonist into a spiral of gloom interrupted by glints of light from his visiting son.
Visiting a palm reader, the protagonist unknowingly finds himself looking, but not looking, for answers:
"I don't really want to know my future," he said. "I'm not a very optimistic person."
"I understand," the woman said. "You're unsettled."
"It's too dark here to even see my palm."
Like so much of Southern Literature, Watson is confronting the past and how its shadow casts hopelessness on the future of its inhabitants. Watson passed away in 2020, leaving us these two collections of short stories and a pair of novels - his final published work "Miss Jane" shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2016.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
NEW MUSIC THIS WEEK
KACEY MUSGRAVES - Star-Crossed
After sweeping all the major awards with "Golden Hour" (still the best album of 2018,) Musgraves was the first crack in the glass ceiling of Country. Now many more female artists have found chart success in her wake. Sadly, the impetus for "Golden Hour" personally did not work out. So "Star-Crossed" is a slightly more introspective (but still effervescent) glimpse at surviving the end of a relationship. "Justified" is strangely both bubbly and sad as Musgraves questions what comes next. The Spanish guitar-led title track goes even farther into a branch of romantic melancholia. Working with producers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, "Star-Crossed" is shaped around Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, and even surviving the last two years. It is not a downer album, just more down-to-earth.
SPIRITUALIZED - Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space
[BLUE 2LP](Fat Possum/The Orchard)
Speaking of breakup albums, this classic Psychedelic/Space Rock/Shoegaze album from 1997 is back in print. There is a lot of "detachment" in the drone-based music of Spacemen 3, However, when Jason Pierce formed his own band Spiritualized in the early Nineties, he paved the freeway to a new theoretical and cinematic brand of "detachment" over two albums before unleashing this stroke of genius. "Lazer Guided Melodies" establishes the widened vocabulary. "Pure Phase" minimalizes the music while maximizing the sound. But when Pierce and girlfriend/band member Kate Radley split, "Space" took shape their broken relationship and Pierce poured everything he had into this tour de force. There are not very many albums in the Shoegaze canon that vault from that isolated feeling of being alone to being overwhelmed with grief and anger (the Spector-ian drama of "Come Together.") However, just when you think you have it all figured out as Pierce trades psychedelic dialogues (the soulful "I Think I'm In Love") for cosmic pharmaceutical escape, he brings in the thrill of Gospel ("No God, Only Religion) and the stratospheric gris-gris of Dr.John. Brilliant, beautiful, and timeless.
METALLICA - Metallica [reissue]/VARIOUS ARTISTS- Blacklist
[LP/DLX LP/DLX CD](Blackened)
Metallica's commercial breakthrough celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new remastered version of the now-classic "Black Album." After four albums of scintillating true Metal, "Metallica" traded Thrash for "smash" with twelve songs that dominated radio for years to come. After "And Justice For All" finally combined their foundation audience with Rock fans, "Metallica" gave them five Rock radio staples. Listening to "Metallica" today is hearing the starting point for most Commercial Rock and Active Rock bands. What was once "very Metal" to them became more hook-laden and less overtly aggressive. That is not to say they softened their blows. "Metallica" is a concentrated effort at expanding their range ("The Unforgiven") while still flexing their muscle as the dominant Metal species (the final three cuts.) The Deluxe 3CDs edition adds demos, rough cuts, and live versions, while the Super Deluxe goes all out with 3 Live LPs, 14CDs, and 6 DVDs.
Speaking of going all out. Metallica has long been a huge contributor to charitable organizations (even starting their own in San Francisco.) "The Blacklist" is their giving their songs to more than 50 artists from all genres and walks of life. In turn, then giving the proceeds from this "tribute" to each of their charitable organizations. So it's Alessia Cara and Juanez doing their versions of "Enter Sandman," Jason Isbell, St.Vincent, and Royal Blood with their renditions of "Sad But True" and Miley Cyrus singing "Nothing Else Matters" live (as she has on tour for the last few years.) So many different artists doing the same 12 songs is a far reach, but listening to how closely they get (White Reaper on "Sad But True") and how they adapt these songs for themselves (J Balvin on "Wherever I May Roam") is the real draw to this collection.