Barry Hannah, 1942-2010
By: James Parker | Categories: Kudos

Who should sing a funeral song for Barry Hannah, now, quickly? Some whittled old geezer with a six-pack and a fishing rod, making frog-like sounds of mourning from his boat — that might do it until the proper eulogist arrives. Hannah, who died on Monday at the age of 67, had a huge affinity for the disgracefully aged, for those made grotesque by living: “When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another.” He also loved tennis, marriage, Civil War stories and — later in life — Jesus Christ, who appeared at his bedside in a cancer moment, wearing workingman’s overalls. He wrote in a strange, slapstick, short-circuity language that had something to do with the South, but more to do with the private visions of his gimlet eye. He and cliché were lifelong strangers. What other writers find important was of no use or interest to him: the title of a mid-period story was “Upstairs, Mona Bayed For Dong.” He taught writing at a number of schools, which is almost impossible to believe — not because he lacked courtesy, or sagacity, but because his own gifts were so totally incommunicable. I once boxed up and hid all my Barry Hannah books in the basement, for fear that his style would contaminate mine. Ah, silly boy: I was flattering myself.

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READ MORE about the Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation (1934-43).

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James Parker is a contributing editor at The Atlantic.