Joy Williams on “Country Back” by The Size Queens

[Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from To the Country by The Size Queens, an iBook that combines the music of The Size Queens (Adam Klein and Michael Mullen) with original, accompanying writings by authors such as Rick Moody, Lynne Tillman, and Jim Shepard. Play the song “Country Back” above and download the iBook here.]

Joy Williams typewriting

Joy Williams’s typed manuscript

Adam Klein: Last December, I began reaching out to writers, asking if they’d be interested in writing a response piece to songs from The Size Queens’ To The Country. The band’s manager (and co-conceptualist), Chuck Mobley, and I had discussed the idea of releasing something other than a traditional CD or vinyl record. The iBook presented the option of bringing in authors to collaborate with in the same way musicians, visual artists, and literary magazines had collaborated with us in the past. The writers “responses” were meant to augment the song in some way, and could be as strange as Brian Eno’s synthesizer solos on Roxy Music songs, or blend like a pedal steel on an Americana album. The texts could work as instruments or a spoken word element in — and apart from — the songs.

I had just reread Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead and knew, if I could get her onboard, that she would understand the screwball daddy/preacher voice in the song “Country Back,” a voice that deploys Tea Party platitudes and militia rhetoric and scrambles it up with a little of Ted Kacznski’s anti-industrial, anti-technology, and anti-leftist huff. I contacted the English department at the University of Wyoming, but I was soon informed that Joy Williams doesn’t use a computer. However, I was kindly assured that she thought it likely Ms. Williams could find a way to play it. Soon, I received the following typed letter. The entire interaction took three weeks. It was faster and more efficient than with any writers with whom I interfaced online. The postal trucks must have had snow tires, and to this day I imagine Joy with some Walkman, playing the song in a roadside hotel, approaching her Smith Corona, and jotting down her lines while the heaters whistled, the lamp cast its yellow light over the thin paper, and the white landscape made town after low town of truck stops and Denny’s, auto parts stores and dim, mall churches look celestial.

Joy Williams on “Country Back” by The Size Queens

Daddy didn’t want to be a social being and he didn’t want us to be social beings so here we are.

Animals were here but if they step over the property line they are Palestinians.

We were appraised of this right away. This is holy land.

We were living off the griddle.

Living off the griddle requires watching out for yourself and killing pretty much anything you can eat and even some things you can’t because those things might aspire to something that would not be in your interests. It’s our right to use creatures great and small. It’s our manifest destiny.

What is the meaning of our lives I ask Dad.

For now it’s the continuation of the species, he says, maintaining the freedom of the species. Later maybe we’ll have time for something else but I wouldn’t bet on it. Ask your Ma. Or don’t.

Ma’s got these two ostrich eggs she looks at. She says its her way of living off the griddle.

She uses those eggs to practice devotion.

She says the monks and monkesses of long ago used ostrich eggs in their caves and chapels to concentrate on gooder things because when the ostrich lays an egg and its ready to hatch the ostrich gets off the nest and STARES at it. Then it happens. It don’t happen without the STARE.

But these are empty eggs. There’s nothing in them.

The story’s the story Ma says. It means what it means.

Little pearl has the measles.

I think Ma’s sad. She makes cornbread. It’s not very good but She keeps making it. It sticks in our throats.

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