Death's head, proud flesh

A 'Trouble Songs' addendum

Jeff T. Johnson

Last May we published “Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics,” Jeff T. Johnson’s sprawling “investigation of the appearance of the word trouble in twentieth- and twenty-first-century music.” Announcing the piece on PennSound Daily, our own Michael Hennessey hailed the article as “a remarkably ambitious and capacious project that brings together the all-too-often disparate worlds of contemporary poetry and music.” “Within,” he continued, “we find Johnson deftly discussing John Ashbery, Amiri Baraka, Caroline Bergvall, and William Carlos Williams (among many others) with the same skill he dedicates to St. Vincent, Dock Boggs, Amy Winehouse, and Johnny Cash.”

Now, with so many of us reeling from the deaths of David Bowie and C. D. Wright at the start of this year, Johnson has filed an addendum to “Trouble Songs.” Entitled “Death’s Head, Proud Flesh,” this brief piece pays tributes to these two beloved artists, whose ends came unexpectedly and at high points in their careers. “Death shadows text and trouble emerges, even as it recedes; or the dead recede from trouble, leave it behind for the ones who can’t do without it,” he begins. “In the days after Wright’s and Bowie’s deaths, those who mourn the poet and rock star with the particular, half-guilty displeasure of those who know them only by their works, a number that now includes us all, they dance together into the cabinet. Those left at the station will get there soon enough.”

You can read more here, and if you weren’t already familiar with “Trouble Songs,” this is an excellent time to read the entire piece.