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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

B.S. Johnson/The Pernice Brothers

 When novelist, poet, and filmmaker B(ryan) S(tanley) Johnson committed suicide at the age of 40 in 1973, his obituary in The Times of London began this way:

B. S. Johnson . . . was one of the most naturally gifted writers of his generation. He was also one of the very small number to commit himself whole-heartedly to the experimental presentation of fiction. His Albert Angelo (1964) included carefully holed pages in order that readers might choose for themselves the order in which they received the writer’s words; The Unfortunates (1969) carried the pursuit of disintegration further by being printed and boxed in interchangeable sections. Throughout his career he believed that to adhere to the disciplines of conventional form was to risk the distortion of truth.

The Pernice Brothers' 2006 album Live a Little includes a tribute to the late writer called B.S. JohnsonStereogum quotes Joe Pernice describing the song this way:

"B.S. Johnson" is simply an homage to the late great writer of the same name.  It's safe to say that he was not/is not widely read here in America, but he should be.  My brother is a pretty bright guy.   He's read a couple books, and upon seeing the title, thought I'd created a fictional character, a Walter Mitty type named Bullshit Johnson.  I told him I had, but that's for the next record.

Jonathan Coe (a master in his own right), upon hearing the song, emailed to let me know I'd managed to sum up BSJ's life in two minutes, twenty-two seconds, and that it took him 500 pages to do so in his spectacular bio of B.S. called Like A Fiery Elephant.

Incidentally, Joe Pernice is an author in his own right, having published a collection of poetry called Two Blind Pigeons in 2001; a consideration of a classic album, The Smiths' Meat Is Murder, in 2003; and a novel, It Feels So Good When I Stop, published last year.

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