Saturday, January 19, 2008

don delillo, whiskey, and a blinking midnight clock

I recently read 'White Noise' by Don DeLillo. Every time I would go to pick up the book, that line from 'Gold Mine Gutted' by Bright Eyes would pop into my head. Funnily enough, I always thought of it as "Don DeLillo whiskey", it just recently occured to me that it might be "DonDelillo, whiskey". I thought Don DeLillo liked to include whiskey in his books, or maybe was an alcoholic, and that his name was used as some sort of associative descriptor. Then it dawned on me that this was just a list. Commas make a difference people, but it's hard to hear them sometimes.
If Don DeLillo and whiskey did not prove to have any great connections, then Don DeLillo and Bright Eyes certainly seem to. I was listening to the album 'Digital Ash in a Digital Urn', on which 'Gold Mine Gutted' is found while reading 'White Noise', because getting the song in my head was bugging me, and for a sense of symmetry. Doing this was like a revelation, things clicked and fell into place. Something in the style of the lyrics reminded me of Don DeLillo, but they remained distinct. The interesting thing was the themes. I recall I once wrote a post mentioning that almost every song on this album mentions death. 'White Noise' is about death, and the fear of death, in America. Mostly fear of death I guess, expectations of death. The main characters are preoccupied with it. 'Arc of Time', from 'Digital Ash' has the lines:

To the deepest part of the human heart
The fear of death expands
Until we crack the code we have always known
But could never understand

The fear of death, the talk about code, things that are preoccupations of 'White Noise'. The reference to Don DeLillo makes me believe that Conor Oberst has read 'White Noise', and is in some way influenced. There are several small points of similarity. Reading one while listening to the other creates pleasant resonances, like standing between two mirrors, an accumulation of meaning.

There is something there of the weirdness of America, the gothic, the "sorrowful midwest" to use some lyrics from Bright Eyes, that is found in Don DeLillo's supermarket. Watching a documentary on Mormons on the SBS last night recalled this to me. Because they were making the point that Mormonism is an American religion, made in America, transferring religiously significant events to the land of America. Their chosen land is found in America. And the conflict and the politics and the slaughter of people in log houses- the old timey photos of Mormons from a hundred or more years ago- just created in me a sense of wonder at the weirdness of American history and landscape. The thought that we all comfort ourselves with: "only in America". This is the most interesting thing about America, I think. The gothic underneath.

The next thing that recalled it to me was an item on the news about suicide chatrooms. These are not 'only in America', originating there perhaps but being used world-wide. Where does the fear of death fit in here though? Teenagers on suicide chat rooms. Which brings me back to Bright Eyes, and the lyrics "sometimes I pray I don't die / I'm a goddamned hypocrite". How different is the perspective on the fear of death of a twenty something songwriter from the middle aged academic in 'White Noise'? Is fear of death essential to the human condition? As a twenty-one year old student type I have to say I don't think I think about it that much.
Another thought, that in 'White Noise' the questionable idea is suggested by another professor of killing as a way to stave off death. I thought, maybe that's what all the gun ownership in America is about. The fear that Michael Moore talked about in 'Bowling for Columbine' is deeper than burglers.


  1. It most certainly is a list. This same exact scenario happened to me! HAHA, only it was 'the body artist' instead of 'white noise'! I wonder how many more times this has happened:-)

  2. hey! we're having a discussion on the album at

    Please Join in, I really like your literary perspective on the album.

  3. Thanks! I will take a look.