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Ride, Fly, Penetrate, Loiter: Barry Hannah on Vinyl

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Barry Hannah RSD Release FRONT COVER ARTWORK

Record Store Day—the world-wide celebration of all things independent music sellers—might be known for weird split 7” singles, the obligatory Flaming Lips release, and the massive Ebay flip rate on live Dave Matthews Band records. But this year Oxford, Mississippi record store The End Of All Music is taking things in a different direction. The record store is issuing a vinyl pressing of a lecture given by author Barry Hannah in 1989.

Storeowner David Swider first had the idea a few years back.

“I’ve been wanting to do something like this—whether it be a zine or a book or something—on Barry for a very long time because I’m such a big fan,” Swider said.

“But when I found this recording a couple of years ago, it just clicked that I should put this out on vinyl.”

Hannah, known for his ecstatic short stories and wild, voice-driven prose, is a legend in contemporary fiction, whose reach has only grown since his death in 2010. A Mississippi native, Hannah also taught creative writing at the University of Mississippi. For the uninitiated, Airships and the short novel Ray are both essential reading. The books are audacious and inimitable, hilarious and devastating, some of the strangest and best American writing ever produced. Simply put, there’s nothing in the world like a Barry Hannah story.

So why put an author—especially one known for his lyrical prose style—on vinyl?

“Well, a lot of people who are fans of Barry’s work never heard him talk,” Swider said. “And that’s tragic because, though his voice on the page is one of the most distinct in the world, his actual speaking voice is unlike anyone else you would ever hear. It’s not just his southern accent either. He had this amazing way of arranging words on the page, but he actually spoke like that too.”

Less a formal lecture and more a bizarre kind of stand-up routine, the record is filled with non-sequiturs, jokes, poetry, and some of the brilliant verbal runs Barry is known for, all punctuated by Hannah’s wonderful smoker’s cackle, a remarkable effect in itself. At turns hilarious, baffling, and honest to a sometimes-uncomfortable degree, what comes through most is Hannah’s deep love of his friends, writing, and the ecstatic life.

“I have no idea what kind of tradition I’m in,” Hannah says, a few minutes into side B. “Don’t care. I do know that the life of a writer is quite beautiful… In literature and art, it seems to me that you meet the best people in the world. The most faithful friends, loyal companions… not just sensitive neurotic artists.”

And later: “Every time you do a guy a good turn, he will remember. Unless he’s a zombie.”

The liner notes are another treat. Written by William Ferris, whose class Barry spoke with at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, and author Lisa Howorth, they paint a warm picture of Oxford, Mississippi in the 1980s, a time when the small southern town boasted a rather remarkable genius-per-capita rate.

Swider hopes that as many hardcore Barry Hannah fans as possible will be able to get their hands on a copy.

“It’s a limited pressing, only about five hundred copies,” said Swider. “It will be first and foremost for sale at the record store, on Record Store Day. You have to be there in person to buy it. If there are any copies left over, they will go up on the End of All Music webstore the following Monday.”