the other picture view
Thanks to the Multnomah County Library's marvelous hold policy and liberal boxed-set buying policy, I've been gradually devouring The Complete Hank Williams over the past few days (liner note that appeals to the way I like to think about certain things: "To the extent that country music is populated with clichés, they're Hank's clichés"). One thing that's particularly captured my attention (and I know it's old hat to anybody who knows their Hank, but that's not me): the Luke the Drifter stuff. Williams was most commercially popular as a singer, but he also liked doing recitative-over-music stuff; his label hated the idea of anyone putting a coin in a jukebox, punching up a Hank Williams song, and getting a spoken sermonette. So they created the persona of Luke the Drifter, who got to do maudlin spoken-word stuff in a sonorous T. Texas Tyler voice. (The liner notes say that Hank claimed they were for "the take-home trade.") Some of them are not bad--I like "No, No Joe," the anti-Stalin rap, which he delivers as amused advice rather than the hectoring it might have been--but they're much more the records Hank wanted to make than the records anyone else wanted to hear.
Obviously, I like the idea of separate personae to write (or record) something diferent--I've done it enough! I do find it kind of strange, though, when even when jukeboxes don't enter into it, well-known musicians can pursue one direction so far that, when they want to do something different, they have to do it under another name, essentially creating a whole new persona with its own career. (I remember the bad techno record that I think Paul McCartney made as "The Fireman" a few years ago--is that right? And I've wondered in public a couple of times what might happen if Nick Currie recorded a solo album, i.e. not as Momus.) I'm also trying to think if people do that in any other kinds of art. I guess Julian Barnes did it with the mysteries he wrote as Patrick Cavanagh (although, for the kind of situation I'm imagining here, Stephen King's Richard Bachman books don't count, since I'm told King didn't really write differently as Bachman--he was just trying not to flood the market, I think).
Who else? And why?