Will Oldham IV

A conversation about life, and living in the world, with one of the finest musicians of our time. Thanks to Michael McDermit, a full transcription of this audio interview can be found below.

Will Oldham

Photo: monsterfresh.com


Ben Evans: I’m Ben Evans and you’re listening to Fogged Clarity. This evening, I’m pleased to be joined again by my friend, Will Oldham. Will acts in films under his own name and records and performs music under the name Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. He lives and works in Louisville, Kentucky. Will, thanks for coming back to talk.

Will Oldham: Ben, thanks for asking me back into your conversational world.

BE: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure. So, you said something in our last talk, about two years ago, that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately as I continue to grow, change, and recognize patterns of potentially destructive thought in myself. You said, “There are ideas that used to be in my head that were a hell of a lot better than ideas that I’ve recently had in my head, and I could do well to spend some time and energy now getting back to those ideas that have been patiently waiting.” I wonder, in the time since you said that, if you’d been able to get back to those better ideas, and I’m curious what revelations, breakthroughs, or setbacks you’ve had lately in regard to your existential outlook?

WO: It’s funny, you know, anytime you get a chance to bump into somebody’s reality, you never know what you’re gonna find, and that includes our own realities. I was looking at photographs today of my mom’s house throughout our lives and mindsets were things I could not necessarily recognize. I could recognize people, but I don’t know who exactly those people were or when the photograph was taken. And I don’t know–I do–I imagine, a fair amount of returning to ideas, although that’s also–do you think that you’re the same person that you were twenty years ago in any way?

BE: I think the core has remained the same, but I think how I perceive that core–and myself as a human being and a participant in this world–has changed vastly.

WO: Do you think it’s healthier to recognize yourself from twenty years ago or healthier to not recognize yourself from twenty years ago or from when you were five years old or twelve years old?

BE: I think when I think of myself at that age, I was more intuitive and living more purely, and I think that’s all I can recognize about that. At five years old, that’s pre-pollution, pre-exposure to the chaos in a lot of senses. I can go back fifteen years and look at a poem I wrote and know that’s how I was thinking of those things then. Those are good markers, but I don’t think you have to take anything or give anything to an identification with a past self. It’s just that: a past self.

WO: It is. It’s a past self. Sometimes I wonder if I’m potentially too connected, that it’s too much of an unbroken chain. Or if I’m fooling myself in thinking that it even is.

BE: I’ve been thinking a lot about meta-cognition lately, and recognizing patterns. Right now in my life, I’ve got some of the darkness that’s creeping in again, and I know what it is, and I know what’s causing it, and I recognize it, and still it hurts. To me, that feels very much like the old Ben. The haunting is the same. I don’t want to recognize that again. I think we’re all unbroken chains, but I think we can choose to forget the already established links.

WO: When I meet folks who spent a significant amount of their childhood or youth or any other part of their life as, for example, fundamentalist Christians who are no longer or, at the present, aren’t, I wonder how much they recognize themselves. Or if they think that that’s such a departure, that being a fundamentalist Christian and not being a fundamentalist Christian is a significantly different enough worldview that: could the same soul hold both world views? That continuum. But I’ve never asked–I’ve had long conversations with these friends–but I’ve never asked them if they perceive themselves the same person or not.

BE: I ask myself if I was permanently impressed by my Catholic upbringings, like I went through Confirmation, and all that stuff, and I disagree with everything in that doctrine, and most everything it represents. I like to think I’ve made a clean break from it, and forged a philosophy in its absence, but can identify some similar principles in it now that align with my beliefs. But it’s scary. I spent some time in Birmingham, as you know, and you wonder how much that lingers in people, and wonder how much they’re still–20, 30, 40 years down the road–imprinted by those ideas because at that time, when you’re young, you are malleable; you are in that kind of plastic state. So, how much takes and how much can you really shed?

WO: Yeah. I do not know. We grew up going to Catholic Church, but left before my Confirmation, and yet, I’ve always fought, even as a child, a pervading sense of guilt. I don’t think my older brother or my younger brother had this feeling, nor do I think the Catholic Church that we went to, which was a pretty modern, liberal Catholic Church. I don’t think they pushed guilt very hard on anybody, but it came from somewhere.

BE: I had the exact same thing and it almost killed me. I ended up by a swampy river about to go to Gary’s Guns on Apple Avenue in Muskegon. That’s kind of the thing–I had it too, for the longest time. It’s gotta have something to do with that, otherwise, I can’t attribute it to anything.

WO: Yeah. I don’t know. Again, in saying that, I can’t think of a single thing from the early Catholic upbringing that resonates in any way except for positively, because it was an interesting, modern building, and the music was good, and they made their own wine and made their own bread, and I liked the main priest. I can remember arts and crafts in Sunday school. There’s nothing about it that resonates as Catholicism to me. I think it’s coincidence that guilt came along, unless my mom transferred her Catholic guilt onto me. Perhaps that’s it.

BE: I’ve come to almost equate guilt with excessive compassion. Is there any sense in that? Can you see a relationship?

WO: Yeah. Sure. Excessive compassion. I read comics; there were comic books around when we were really little–and then I started to buy comics when I was I think 12 or something like that. There was a new, at the time, DC title called The New Teen Titans, which has now been around for a long time, but it was just coming out. There was a character in it; her name was Raven, and her superpower was that she was an empath, which, I remember, it just meant that she had the power and curse to take on other people’s pain. I think, as a kid I even thought, “Yeah, that sucks, doesn’t it?” She wasn’t psyched about her superpower. What is the relationship between those two things: why do I attempt to see things from another person’s point-of-view, where somebody else doesn’t feel compelled to do that?

BE: We’ve talked a lot about this, Will. You’ve said, in our last talk and the talk prior to that, that you have to determine and decide who to let in because if you let too many of these people in, they drain your energy, and you can empathize to the point where there’s nothing left of you.

WO: The people who are in the greatest need of understanding and connection are oftentimes the people who are really potentially beyond ever even re-growing or growing into the capability of connecting. When someone seems as though they’re disconnected or fraught or lost, if you have a tendency toward anything resembling compassion or empathy, you can travel a ways away from safe ground in order to try to make that connection. For me, it took a number of years to realize that, that very, very, very frequently is not going to be a successful journey and it can be really difficult to get back from that place.

BE: You know, we talked once and I said, “Then how does one account for these tragedies, for the people lost in alcoholism or for the kids in Flint to come down with lead poisoning due to government negligence.” You said, “Some must die so that others may live.” That’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Need there be casualties in order for us to wake up, or, on a personal level, to persevere? I saw The Big Short, that movie, and I walked out of it and I was grateful that it exists, and it was a good thing. But I also walked out thinking, “You know, in twenty years they’re going to make this exact same movie about rising sea levels and coastal cities that have been lost. In forty years, they’re going to make the same movie about artificial intelligence and the people are going to gabble in the theater. They’re going to bump the top of their forehead like “OH, should have had a V8; OH, should have thought about this.” Does it take destruction in order for us to have radical change? That seems to be the lesson time and time again. We’ve had 6000 years of history to learn from; we haven’t learned shit. I don’t know how that relates, but maybe there wouldn’t be such need for compassion if we were actually proactive and we actually applied some of the ample lessons that exist in our past.

WO: Hmm. I think if you, just on a personal level, recognize the significance of what you just said, and realize that it’s a different perspective, and potentially even a different language, that you might ought to go into training to adopt, because of the mass of humanity has been presented with things that, to you, appear to be lessons and not learned anything from it, then you’re probably not going to learn anything from it, also. You probably aren’t going to do better. But that’s also identifying lessons, and I’m not sure what the lesson is from the situation described by The Big Short, if it isn’t even just that every single human being is owner of a particular reality that is measurably different from every single other human being. Values are going to differ and be skewed the farther you are away from yourself. Every once in awhile you’ll run into somebody who you can connect with–it’s coincidence. The people with what we call, traditionally in the western world, “power”–it’s coincidence that those people have power and another person doesn’t on some level, and it’s the same advanced and/or petty mindset that control decisions that affect more people because somebody has this thing called “power”; the power to overlook, either with negligence or–god-forbid–with malicious intent, the lead levels in Flint. It’s potentially somebody making a comparable mistake to somebody else who just hasn’t coincided into power, into the power to hurt other people. There’s not a way to check the moral compass of anybody who’s going to be affecting somebody else, because who would be responsible for checking that moral compass? In just looking at the human beings that run for office, the human beings that make records, the human beings that are in your family and realizing that when they do you good and when they do you harm–it’s usually not a decision that they’re making at the moment, it’s the cumulative effects of everything that led up to that moment in their lives, so they do you harm, but you can’t even attribute the harm that they’ve done to you to a decision that they’ve made that day. You can start saying, “Oh, I really hate the parents of the people who were responsible for the lead levels in Flint, or I hate the grandparents of them, or I hate the people who are responsible for the public water system in the town that they grew up in because they’ve obviously poisoned their brains and poisoned their judgement so that they aren’t doing what needed to be done in order to be sure that people were drinking the miracle of publicly provided clean and healthy water.”

BE: Essentially, you’re advocating for David Hume’s theory of determinism, saying that we have no volition whatsoever.

WO: I don’t think so. The volition is something that you participate in, but not something that you absolutely control. If someone says, “Build a shelter.” You’re going to be limited to the tools you have at hand, right? Someone gives you a tarp and says, “Build a mansion,” you’re going to build a teepee and call it a mansion.

BE: Right, but is there no internal capacity for innovation that exists independent of all the factors that led innovation to be? Is there no moment of turning that is ours? Is there any such thing as autonomy? Or do we just work with the tools of rationality and those are what we build the shelter or teepee with?

WO: The tools of rationality and inspiration and viewpoints are coping skills, vision, and optimism, pessimism, and where you see if someone says, “Build the shelter,” you can think, “OK, yeah, it’s going to rain tonight,” or you can think you’ve got this limited amount of materials, you can think “OK, it’s going to rain tonight, but probably be dry for the next three weeks; I want to capture some water when I build this structure,” as opposed to “Just keep the water off of me tonight. I actually want to keep the water off of me tonight, but save it so I can drink it next week, or so I can cook with it next week. I realize that the field mice might come in under the floor, which could be either good food or could carry stench and disease into my living space, so I’m going to create this system of barriers underneath whatever floor I create to prevent these field mice from populating my living situation.” Or you could not think about any of those things, and think, “I just want a good view; I’m going to be out of here by the weekend. I just need to build a fucking structure for the day.” That’s the gift of your community: your ability to look at the structure building in anyway. Your genes, and your folks, and your friends.

BE: Excellent metaphor. The field mice…knowing that and knowing you want to save water and you’ll want to drink it in the morning…those things are all learned as products of experience. If we’re to say, if we keep releasing all of this carbon, then we’re not going to have a planet to live on. Yet to do so, anyway, isn’t that negligent? Doesn’t that represent not acting on what would otherwise be volition available to us?

WO: Yeah, I have to say I’m pretty perplexed and confused by concerns about climate change and carbon because I have never, ever run across a single human being who advocates for less negative affecting upon the environment, who walks the walk. It doesn’t make sense, anyway, because I don’t understand what do people want? Some people imply that they want to live forever, and there are modern philosophers and media thinkers who think, “Well, eventually we can upload ourselves so that we can live forever.” It’s basically saying, “Well, wait a minute. Earth isn’t going to be here forever.”

BE: You’re talking of Ray Kurzweil and The Singularity and whatnot?

WO: Even thinking ahead. It seems like it would be great if it was a more popularly spoken of concept that we are forever short-sighted and self-sabotaging, that everything, everything, but everything is finite. That seems to be something that’s missing from healthy conversation all around.

BE: I totally agree with you. We need to get to a place where we’re building the shelter with concerns beyond just the view and the insides. We’re looking beyond the shelter, we’re looking to drink the water the next day, and we’re keeping the field mice out.

WO: Potentially. But it should be said, I guess thinking specifically: Why? Why do you want to have water next week? Is the answer: “Well, just because.”? Well, that’s not a good enough answer. If someone says, “Climate change is a problem because polar bears are losing their habitat, temperatures will rise, small island nations will become flooded, we will lose more and more species, and then what?” What happens then?

BE: Essentially, you’re saying we should ask the question: “Why do we want to live?” or “Why do we want something else to live?”

WO: Or, “How do we want to live?” and “How do we want something else to live?” and “How long do we expect to live?” For someone to say, “What we would like to do is for people to live on this planet until it’s inhospitable and by that time, we want to have built enough technology and found a way of traveling to another planet. That might be in a million years, or ten million years, but what we’re working for right now is to eventually leave this planet because it will eventually consume itself if we don’t consume it and age out and be destroyed. So what we’re going for here is to create an eternally existing species that can then inhabit other planets.” I guess that’s the idea, right? That’s why people say, “Oh, we want this to be here for our children.” That’s what they’re implying, right? I guess that’s what I don’t always understand. When people say, “Oh, I want the planet to be here for our children and our children’s children,” it’s like: and what is that I-Phone in your hand all about if it’s not about the destruction of morality and the destruction of society, the destruction of lives? Tell me again what’s going on and why are you not spending, just say, fifteen minutes of every day arguing for non-proliferation of nuclear weapons? Fifteen minutes, say. Fifteen minutes! Because you’re lying! You’re lying to yourself and you’re lying to me when you say you care about tomorrow. That’s why. You’re fucking lying. If you weren’t lying, you would spend fifteen minutes. You can spend two hours a day–take eight things that you can spend fifteen minutes on that actually will affect your children and your children’s children. Two hours! Can you spare for the future of humanity!? No. Nobody can. Nobody can.

BE: It’s like running your head against a fucking wall.

WO: It isn’t. It’s just watching other people. It’s like when people say anything. When people say, “Velveeta is good food.” or “Brooklyn is a good movie.” or whatever. It’s just watching people express their opinions, which are founded on as ridiculous foundations as any of my opinions.

BE: Largely founded on ease and convenience in the former sense, though.

WO: Ease and convenience and, ultimately, just an absolutely limited viewpoint; and a willful ignorance of other viewpoints.

BE: I couldn’t agree more. It’s funny, Will, because I’ve come to realize, on the purely human level, truth is subjective, and I agree with that. But because–and you spoke to this–that ever-shifting, very human truth refuses to investigate itself or its origins at any remove, human interaction comes to feel rather trivial and pointless to me, much like the machinations of a mind when engaged in non-intuitive thought. So I believe we can choose to transcend thought, transcend–in a figurative sense–human interaction, but in those cases–in my case–an individual isolates him or herself and appears crazy or “out there” to onlookers. You and anyone, in listening to this, may certainly ask the question “Is Ben’s core belief and certainty in the human being’s capacity for earthly transcendence itself yet another subjective, human truth?” Do you think it is? Can we depart without departing? Do we need balance and ballast?

WO: I think the transcendence of which you speak is undeniable and will happen at the end of your life. That’s when you’ll transcend yourself, and that’s when I’ll transcend myself, and not before then for any appreciable amount of time. Maybe for five minutes here or six hours there–something that I will conceive of as transcending anything. But then I’ll go back. You look at whoever, you look at Tony Robbins, you look at Ram Das, and they speak. They’ve just learned a language of transcendence, but they haven’t transcended anything. They’re capitalists. They’re just using a different lingo to express how their navigating being human and being a part of this world. And how to make a buck, because they both make a lot of money. Tony Robbins says he’s all about it, “I want to make a lot of money.” And Ram Das says, “I want to be at peace.” or “Love is the thing, and so I’ll continue to give talks and I need this much money to give my talks, and I need this great pool in Hawaii to swim in every day because I have achieved a certain kind of level of transcendence.” It’s like, “No, you’ve just achieved worldly success. That’s what you’ve achieved. You’ve achieved worldly success. The people who follow you have worldly success too; that’s why they like you. You clothe worldly success in a spiritual garb.” They can pretend that they haven’t achieved worldly success, but really, that’s it. It’s just like somebody in Louisville, Kentucky might have a Lexus SUV and somebody in wherever, San Rafael or upcountry Maui, will have a very, very expensive piece of property with a meditation pagoda on it.

BE: Will, how do you live with all this amidst all this knowing and believing what you do? What’s your core?

WO: My core is community; my core is music; my core is exchange and love. I thrill at whenever I find–which is often–urges in me that are conflicting or just, inarguably, objectively base or vile. I think, “Oh, that’s cool. Thank God.” Thank God that I have an opportunity to recognize them, more than anything, because the worst things are when the things that objectively you or I or other people that we have a communication with might recognize as being dark or negative or evil or harmful. The worst place in the world, I think, to be is in a place where you are acting on those drives or impulses or those forces and you’re ignorant of it. Those are your Dick Cheneys or possibly your Donald Trumps or your Steve Jobs or your Koch Brothers–people who are somehow so driven that they don’t care or don’t see or are in denial about the harm that they do to other people. I feel fortunate whenever I recognize things that I do that are potentially harmful or other people, especially things that I do because I want to do them. Then I think, “Oh, if I recognize it, that gives me a chance to counterbalance it with another act or another decision; to counterbalance it and try to even go further. So if I do this now, I can balance out myself somewhat.” Anything, like how is it when someone gives you money, when you drink too much, or when you fuck too hard to be called polite, or something like that…think like, “Oh, well, I’m still capable of thinking when I do these things and I’m not going to relinquish the responsibility that comes with anything.” As long as you can recognize your blessings, so that you don’t ever take things for granted, ideally without overthinking anything. I think probably you and I might have a tendency toward overthinking or overconsidering, if anything. The greatest heroes are the people who, to me, are the people that are blessed in such a way that they obviously don’t overconsider or overthink and they end up doing great things and making great decisions anyway. Because those are the cards that were dealt to them, and those are the cards that were dealt to me. I feel like whenever I do something that has any value, I’ve had to put a lot of thought and energy into it. Wouldn’t it be great if that weren’t the case? If you could just wake up and do awesome things that you felt had value without having to consider it and study it and work it and rework it. But I’m not one of those people, and I think that you’ve impressed me as being similarly somebody who walks around something any number of times to look at it again and again, and lifts it up, and weighs it, and pushes it around before finally lifting it and carrying it to its next destination.

BE: I’m often wary of paralysis by analysis. My dad, before he got sick, told me to be wary of that. I’m able to move forward at a much cleaner clip than I used to be. You said something pretty interesting, that we kind of have to meet the responsibility of our own awareness. If we are aware of thoughts we’re having and negative patterns, then that’s not enough. The next step is corrective action. We have a responsibility, simply because we’re aware of those things, to then take the next and harder step to correct them. I think that’s spot on. I’m really glad that you exist in the world because these conversations are very important to me. I’ve been thinking a lot about this formula lately: that fear engenders the desire for comfort, which, that comfort, once attained, engenders a fear of that achieved comfort being taken away. It’s a cycle that keeps going.

WO: Yes, that is right. That was something from the beginning of this conversation in terms of turning back to older ideas or perceptions of frames of mind or what have you. One thing that I’ve wondered, and I think that it’s come up kind of like creeping up a little bit a couple times recently, is there are old states of mind that were consumed by fear that probably are kind of healthy on some levels. I was wondering recently where those had gone, and then, a couple of them came licking like flames at my feet. Remembering specifically being in a theater years ago–maybe fifteen or twenty years ago–in a small theater and the front row was right up against where the actors play. I remember just having this moment of looking at the actor in front of me and just feeling something completely alien watching her. It was something like I was watching the character–I wasn’t watching the actor–and I knew that the character knew what she was going to say. I was so jealous or so scared of knowing that within an hour I was going to be leaving this theater and I had no idea, nobody gave me any blocking or gave me any script. I was just so frightened of not being a character. This person in front of me was a character for a second or couple hours. That character then got to disappear at the end of the play, like disappear!, then reappear the next night at 7:30 and do it again. Just the character. Thinking about that balancing… the fear that then spawns a drive toward a level of comfort and then the new fear that’s spawned by that so that you don’t lose the comfort and fall into the fear again. If I didn’t have money by the time I was 18, 19, 20–if I didn’t have a couple hundred dollars, I would just think, “Ah, I am fucked. What the fuck…I have no…” It’s different now, but I’ve never had a boss, and back then, I knew that I was heading into uncharted territory. I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’m completely lost because I’m making this up as I go along.” I’m to the point now where I always have to have twenty dollars in my front pocket, just as a security blanket. I know that because other people don’t make decisions for me, I’m afraid of being incapacitated or caught by surprise. At the same time, I can’t create a comfortable, dependable situation doing what I do, so (laughs) there’s still a balance of still trying to create a level of comfort to offset the fear in the circle.

BE: I promise you, though: you’re living. It’s wild out there. When you’re out in the beyond, and you are making it up as you go along, that’s what life is. It can be scary, and it can feel dangerous, but you have to know that you’re taken care of, and were something to befall you, you’d have the universe to take care of you, then. People would take care of you.

WO: Yeah, I guess so. I guess I’d like to think that, but then, as we’ve witnessed, there are so many people who don’t take care of other people. And there are so many people who aren’t taken care of, so why would I be somebody who is taken care of? It isn’t actually very logical what you just said because there are so many people who aren’t taken care of. So many people who aren’t taken care of. SO MANY PEOPLE WHO AREN’T TAKEN CARE OF. Why would I be taken care of if I found myself at a loss and couldn’t take care of myself, why should I ever, ever, ever think that I would be one of the people who’s taken care of when there are so many people who are NOT taken care of, you know, who are the opposite, who are left alone, or harassed or persecuted or poisoned or demeaned or brought to a state of incapacity that they wouldn’t have imagined was possible the day before.

BE: I think, in your case, because those are particularly the people that you’ve worked and devoted your life to take care of, or to reach, or to give some solace; I think that we get back what we put into the world. Maybe that’s illogical.

WO: It’s hard. There was this period of time where we had a strange rapid succession of significant losses to our music community here in Louisville a few years ago; but then there’s also this… As I was beginning making records, there were different people who I felt a kinship with, different people that people have associated things that I’ve done with, and somewhere in there is a kind of a group of people who I interacted with and sometimes would feel kinship with, and sometimes wouldn’t, frankly. But there was definitely an awareness and a communication, and a camaraderie with people like Mark Linkous or Vic Chestnutt or Jason Molina and those are all people who are gone. They’re gone, and why are they gone? I don’t know, because people weren’t taking care of them? I don’t really know. On some levels, it’s absolutely totally different; it’s just strange and funny because we were beginning to make records at the same time, and they are records that are side by side on certain people’s record collection shelves, where–not on mine–but on somebody else’s, and they think, “Well, why? What’s up with this person, this person and this person losing these fights?”

BE: Will, I’ve thought a lot about this lately in regard to poets like Larry Levis and Hart Crane and people who did absolutely brilliant things and were unbelievable on the page, but they played in the darkness. They chose to play in the darkness and they chose not to move past it, and that’s where they spent their time. What they came up with was brilliant, but the darkness eventually got them. I’ve looked at people–I’ll put on Sparklehorse’s It’s a Wonderful Life or Songs: Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Company–and I can only do it once in a while. That’s a nice release, but to live there, to live where that music comes from–you can’t survive there.

WO: Yeah. I would agree, yeah. But I wonder at what point did they decide that? From the beginning? Or at a certain point? Or just at the last five minutes, the last six months, the last three years? At what point did they decide that?

BE: I have to believe in choice, and at one point, it existed.

WO: Ah. Yeah, I think that’s right. But how far back did it exist, also? Was it very, very recently, or was it a long time ago?

BE: Who’s to say where the road forks? Do we always have to feel some lack in order to have something to strive for and keep us going? Or does change and progress, in and of themselves, naturally create that lack? Because–and I think this is the issue–contentment never seems to last long enough.

WO: Yeah, I think one place where I am pretty healthy and successful is recognizing the fleetingness of contentment and knowing that anytime when I feel happy, that happiness usually has to do with feeling prepared. Like every once in awhile I feel like I’m spending everything that I’ve got, but usually contentment comes from thinking and knowing that the future is a part of my present, very actively part of my present. Not in a way where I’m just feeling entitled and feeling like, “Oh, everything’s going to be smooth sailing from now on.” I’ve never thought that, but I’ve thought, “Oh, I patched the front tire on my bike so I can go bike riding any time this week that I want to.” Just something little like that, like, “I fixed that,” or “I paid that bill,” or “I sent a letter to my aunt that checked in, that said I love you,” and that’s a good thing. That’s going to mean that I’m going to have a better future, than if I hadn’t sent that letter, or fixed my bike.

BE: Or patch your shelter.

WO: Or patch the shelter, yeah. (laughs)

BE: I know this can change with time, but which of your songs do you most often go back to and say, “Yeah, I got that right. This still resonates. I was right about that”?

WO: Hmm. I re-sing things all the time, and I’m usually thinking about the song when I sing it and think, “Well, what right do I have to sing this?” or “Why should I be singing it?” But there’s a song “Love Comes to Me” from The Letting Go which I get a kick out of singing, and there’s a song “I Heard of a Source” from the self-titled record which came out a couple of years ago.

BE: That’s a great record.

WO: Then there’s things like “I Was Drunk at the Pulpit” which I sing probably a couple times a year, and it’s something that feels like a good thing to sing because it takes me back to a headspace that I’m aware had a profound effect on pushing me along the road that I’m on now. It’s not a headspace that I would own up to now; if you just gave me a questionnaire, I wouldn’t answer any of the questions in the same way that I would’ve when that song came around at first. So, that’s kind of a cool thing, to be able to sing songs and check your head (laughs) on a regular basis. Because they have a decent musical foundation so they can be sung again, and it’s like, “Oh, well, if you didn’t wanna sing it now, you shouldn’t’ve written it then. So, man up, and sing it. Just do something about it because the song still exists out there. It exists on a record, and if you’re gonna pretend that it doesn’t, then you are fucked.” So you have to know it exists, know that somebody may be listening to it, and be somewhat accountable, even if it’s just to say, “Ahhh, youth.” Be able to say something about it and not to pretend that it doesn’t exist. It sucks because you know that we are living in denial all day every day, but, unfortunately, by the very definition, we don’t know what we’re in denial about.

BE: I try to though.

WO: I know, but it’s impossible. We can’t.

BE: So many things.

WO: So many things. And they are things that could really doom you. When you see people, whether it’s The Big Short people or anybody who goes down–Bill Cosby–I mean, what kind of denial has he lived in most of his life? Poor guy, you know? I don’t think he’s an evil person, I think he’s somebody who has a very, very, very, very evolved sense of denial. And it’s fucked him. In such an intense way, what are you doing and what am I doing right now that could bring us down as Bill Cosby’s being brought down? Something probably. But we don’t know, because we’re in denial about it.

BE: (laughs) Fuck you.

WO: It could even be that there’s a revolution that’s growing from somewhere, because there’s stratification of economic disparity in the United States, and maybe we don’t understand how soon one group of people’s going to bring down another group of people, and have a lot of justification for doing so. Or one country doing it to another country and actually doing it to us, and there are people who immediately–when somebody throws a rock at the United States, most Americans say, “Oh, that’s just awful,” but some Americans think, “Yeah, I guess we sorta deserved it.”

BE: What caused the rock thrower to throw said rock?

WO: Or they just know it already. There’s probably certain things where if somebody starts to bring to your attention, you’d just be like, “Yep, you got it.”

BE: I have a question: do you support Bernie Sanders for President of the United States in 2016?

WO: I do.

BE: You have to. Come on. Feel the Bern.

WO: Yeah.. it’s so …I mean…yeah. I do. He’s the only person, even as I feel that he maybe has an incomplete view, at the same time I also think another thing that doesn’t get addressed is the Constitution was written when the population of the United States was a fraction of what it is now, and so we’re trying to elect and have offices that are way, way, way beyond the capacity of human beings to hold effectively because there are so many more people in the world. It seems like he’s incomplete, kind of as a politician, and yet there’s nobody else in any party that I’m aware of, that I can listen to for more than three minutes before thinking, “Wow, this is a scary person. This is not a thinking person.”

BE: I thought about quitting my job and going to campaign for Bernie.

WO: I think that’d be a good idea. I don’t think that you would be sorry.

BE: I don’t either. But I’m getting a dog.

WO: The dog can go.

BE: The dog can go. The dog is a Bernie supporter, even though he’s not born yet. He’s in his mother’s belly as we speak. I think I’m going to call him Wagner.

WO: (laughs) Alright.

BE: Alright, my friend. It was a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time, and Bernie 2016; he’s got the Will endorsement.

WO: Who’s his running mate going to be?

BE: I’m available, you’re available.

WO: Yeah, no, I’m not available as a running mate because I wouldn’t want to bring that ticket down. I want that ticket to win.

BE: (laughs) Get drunk on the pulpit.

WO: Yeeahh. Exactly.

BE: Thanks for talking to me.

WO: When’s the dog going to be born?

BE: It is early February.

WO: Beautiful.

BE: So, I’m excited.

WO: Congratulations.

BE: Thanks. I’ve been getting a lot of grief for not rescuing one, but I want to shape one from birth.

WO: Yeah. Why not? In that way, you’re probably rescuing one, anyway. You didn’t make the dog be born, right?

BE: No, that’s true.

WO: You’re probably saving it all the more, like I always think: I wish it didn’t make me feel sick because otherwise I’d go to McDonald’s to eat hamburgers just because it seems like a nice thing to do for the miserable cow that had to suffer through the existence to end up in a McDonald’s hamburger.

BE: (laughs) McDonald’s is awful. They’re lowering their prices just to get people in. It tastes like chemicals. I came back from Italy January first, and I saw people rail-thin crushing calzones the size of a horse’s head, destroying them. And everyone’s fit, and everyone’s happy because there’s no processed stuff, there’s no preservatives, everything’s fresh. Food is monetized here, and it is so expensive to eat healthy food that’s not treated with chemicals in the United States unless you’re going to grow a garden. Do you grow vegetables?

WO: Yes, we do grow vegetables, and fruit. One thing we grow are passion vines; I never knew you can grow passion fruit in Kentucky.

BE: They come from a vine?

WO: They come from a vine with an incredibly beautiful flower. This is the third year and we really got a bumper crop of passion fruit, like forty or fifty. They’re absolutely delicious and they’re laden with vitamin C and the flowers are these sort of Star Trekky kind of purple, other-worldly flower. It’s a beautiful vine that will create a larger and larger root system. It’s a perennial, so it’ll have a larger root system next year, larger root system year after that.

BE: That’s awesome. I’m thinking about growing my own tomatoes. I have big windows and it’s time I stopped complaining. I did get a Ninja and I’m Ninjaing kale every morning.

WO: What’s a Ninja?

BE: It’s like a blender, but it’s upside down, so you can stuff it with kale, and blueberries, and celery, and stuff, and you fill it halfway up with water and you can put all that goodness in your body.

WO: Hell yeah. A friend of mine got two Vitamixes for his wedding a few years ago, and so he gave me one of them. So, we’ll fill it with spinach, and then juice a bunch of whatever–carrots and grapefruit–and then throw that juice in the Vitamix with all the spinach, and whip it up. It’s delicious.

BE: I feel healthier already.

WO: Yeah! Alright, dog. Be warm.

BE: Alright, I’m going to Red Robin with my grandma. I’ll talk to you soon.

WO: Take it easy, Ben.

Will Oldham is a musician and actor living in Louisville, Kentucky. Since 1993, he has released over twenty albums as Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace Songs, and the pseudonym under which he has recorded for the past seventeen years, Bonnie “Prince” Billy. As an actor, Oldham has appeared in the films Eden, Pioneer, New Jerusalem, Junebug, Wendy and Lucy, and Old Joy, among others.