Three years ago, I interviewed Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer. Since then, Frog Eyes has released the harrowing Carey’s Cold Spring; Mercer was also treated for throat cancer last year. (That treatment was successful; Frog Eyes will be touring later this month.) Originally self-released, Carey’s Cold Spring was reissued this summer by Paper Bag Records. Along with the new edition of Carey’s Cold Spring comes an essay collection, Clouds of Evil. I reached out to Mercer via email to learn more about his book, and to discuss his writing in general.
(Also, Carey’s Cold Spring is not to be missed. Carl Wilson makes a very compelling case for why here.)
I’ve been following your writing since the story of yours that appeared in McSweeney’s a few years ago, and was wondering: when did the idea of doing this collection come to you?
My dad left us a four page recollection of his life. It was wild, ribald stuff about drinking bad wine and puking all over his final high school exams, that kind of stuff, and also how much he hated Walt Disney and imperialism. I was sick with cancer, and I freaked out, because my son is four years old, and I have only the vaguest memories from four. So I wanted some way for him to remember me if I died.
And what better way to get to know me, than through my stories? What a gift for a father, too, to disallow the son any opportunity to make up his own mind of who I am: curated, controlled access: the dream of the father.
Our new keyboard player and old friend Shyla Seller worked for a publishing house called Arsenal Pulp here in Vancouver for a decade, so she did all of the editing and layout. It was put together for my son, under sad circumstances, but then the clouds cleared, and I came back to life, and, lo and behold, I had this book sitting on my hard-drive.
The edition of the essay collection I have mentions that it’s in an edition of 300. Are these being sold outside of the mailorder option?
I took some to the local bookstore here in Vancouver, a store that gave me a job and put up with my bullshit for a few years. Employers: hire flaky musicians and artists and writers. Let them leave when they need to take off.
I’ll sell some at our tour, and then I think they’ll be close to being gone?
Were any of these essays written for this collection?
Just one. I was too sick to write anymore than that.
When you were looking back at some of the events described here–I’m thinking specifically of the New York trip–did you need to do any research, or were you relying on memories or journals exclusively?
The only research I did was googling the Science teacher who used to run a hardcore label in Long Island. Everything was plucked from my incredibly reliable and always factual memory.
I don’t keep journals. I keep nothing except my books. I have nothing from before I met my wife, not a single thing. It’s nice.
In some of the essays here, you name the people you’re referring to; in others, they’re mentioned in more general terms. How did you go about deciding who to name and who to leave unnamed?
There was no rhyme or reason to that, since the essays were written over the course of several years, and, of course, the original intention was just for my son, which meant these kinds of concerns are diminished. I never thought about it until you asked.
In terms of prose, what are you working on these days?
I write for a music site that pays me to talk about music called The Talkhouse. In one sense, it’s hard to do. I don’t want to slag anyone whose career I could actually in any way impact, and I don’t care about pop music—I can’t get past it, can’t hear it as anything else than an expression of the popular, which is an expression I only want to tune out. So I don’t write about music that I would feel ethically okay with trashing. But writing that is just gushy praise is horrid to write and read, so I have to find something that I can side-step with: music that creates occasion to pontificate, I suppose?
Do you find any connection between your lyrics and your prose?
Incredibly vague, but: I guess both rely on images?
I’ve talked about this before, but I do divide a line between poetry that is read as poetry and lyrics for songs, which need music to validate the lines that are placed atop the music and frame it, allowing us to better interpret those sounds. That is, really, the only job of lyrics. My prose seems to me to be overly explanatory, betraying my desire to be understood, I suppose.