The wildly inventive, fiercely Southern author Barry Hannah died Monday, at the age of 67, at home in Oxford, Mississippi, where he lived most of his life. His books were truly wonderful things–whether his debut novel Geronimo Rex or the story collections Airships and High Lonesome, among many others. His writing was unlike any other author’s–strange and unfamiliar and comic, all at once, a running commentary on Southern Gothic written in a proudly Southern Gothic voice. Writers who encountered Hannah did not easily forget him. Among them? Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, who expressed great admiration for the writer in a 2003 Believer interview:
BLVR: I think I read in an article once that your writing style was influenced early on by Barry Hannah.
SM: Well, yeah, he has a certain comic style that I really remember being transfixed by. I haven’t read him in a really long time, but I’m still a total fan. I think David [Berman, cofounder, with Malkmus, of the band the Silver Jews] first met Barry down in Mississippi. Barry heard some of David’s work and said he liked it. I think he likes to think of himself as a rock guy: He wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle, and in his first novel the main character tries to have a marching band, and the marching band is an African-American marching band, and the book is all about the beauty or the weirdness of this music. I should stop–I guess I’m kind of making fun of him–but he definitely has a rock and roll thing, and I think we sent him the first Silver Jews CD in appreciation of his writing. We were both really drawn to his characters: You know, the drunken outlaws. You can always relate to them as a young man. Or at least I could.
BLVR: There’s also that tenderness, though, that undercuts, or maybe fills out, the bravado of the drunken outlaw.
SM: Yeah, he’s got a human side. Men are men and women are women, but the men are dumber than the women, usually. He came to Portland to read once and he said [adopts a convincing Southern accent] “I never understood why women were worried about these equal rights–in my family the women were always the strong ones–they controlled everything.” I don’t know, maybe his mom didn’t want him to get an attorney or something.
SM: I don’t blame her.
It’s not surprising, in a way, that Berman and Malkmus liked Hannah, or that he liked them in return. All three are prone to fragments, dark comedy, loner-types. Doubt it? Check out Hannah’s Even Greenland, from 1985’s Captain Maximus, about two pilots in a plane that’s just caught on fire:
You thought of last-minute things any?” said I.
“Yeah. I ran out of a couple of things already. But they were cold, like. They didn’t catch the moment. Bad writing,” said John.
“You had the advantage. You’ve been knowing,” said I.
“Yeah. I was going to get a leap on you. I was going to smoke you. Everything you said, it wasn’t going to be good enough,” said he.
“But it’s not like that,” said I. “Is it?”