It’s an interesting time in the life and career of Will Wood. We gladly call Wood a friend of this publication, having featured him several times before, an individual who has worked tirelessly at his craft, never ceasing to impress with his highly commendable creative output. The singer and songwriter will release his new album, and what may prove to be his last, titled In Case I Die, this coming Friday, January 13th. For this record, he assembled 20 songs, each performed live last year during U.S. tours that promoted his last studio record, In Case I Make It. These live dates were an opportunity for Wood to assemble both his best new and old material and redefine them in a live setting.
The upcoming hiatus for Wood does not come as a surprise to fans, as it is something he has been discussing in interviews and press appearances over the last several months. He has been quite candid about his fatigue with the music industry, and his discomfort being in the spotlight, with the opportunity to take a step back to work on himself, without having to worry about writing songs and meeting people’s expectations for new music and live performances. He has not wholly decided what he is going to do during this hiatus, but you’ll still be able to catch Wood as part of the Life in the World To Come podcast he hosts with friend and collaborator Chris Dunne.
We are thrilled to have Wood join us again today for a very special guest blog in which he discusses in detail and at length the In Case I Die album, and his decision to step away from his day job. Included in this blog is the exclusive premiere of Wood’s brand new live video for “Against the Kitchen Floor.” The clip was recorded this past August at a show in Charlotte, North Carolina. We’ll deeply miss Wood’s output and hope this hiatus isn’t permanent.
“I’ve been given complete freedom as to the subject and length of this guest blog, and for weeks I’ve been saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow.’ Not because I’m not interested, but because it’s the last big piece of press I’m doing for In Case I Die before I take an indefinite break or possibly retire from my music career. So, this is my last chance to say anything I’d like and have it in permanent, referenceable, plain English before I go. I’m still doing the Life in the World to Come podcast, but I gotta stop baring my soul long enough to put it back together, for lack of less dramatic phrasing. Explore life away from and possibly kill off ‘singer-songwriter Will Wood.’ My last words, in case I die. So yeah, it’s been tough to get started.
Part of me wants to use this platform to clear the record on every common misconception, bizarre rumor, slanderous lie, and faultless misunderstanding that I’ve ever caught wind of and decided against bothering to correct. Publish an essay debunking claims like how I’m against people covering my songs or dressing up as me, my supposed hatred for my fans or my early releases, my popularly stated inaccurate birthday, Google’s insistence that I have a son, my time in prison. A very broad ‘et cetera.’
But even the most exhaustive essay on that would only do so much. You can blow out a candle with a whistle, but a bellows stokes a flame. That was fun to write. Maybe that’s what I’ll make this blog. Just verbosity and drama for fun like I do in some of my written interviews, which of course, only convinces people I’m actually that pretentious day-to-day, and only adds to the idea of me as this very serious ‘recluse’ who lives alone with rats in a cabin in the woods with no internet. The lack of vocal tone in writing destroys my admittedly often extremely dry sense of humour. I’m rambling. I don’t know what I’m writing.
I’ve clarified some things in recent interviews. I’ve expanded on the story behind In Case I Make It, and lamented the popular interpretation of it being my ‘I’m better now’ album and not basically Goodbye Cruel World: The Musical. The belief that the major key and lack of screaming is proof of well-being, my wackier work was the result of mental illness and an old stage persona, and that the album is just meta-commentary on that is crushing. But I can hardly expect people to not read too much into something if I myself am hard to decipher.
Even without rumour-milling, telephone, disinformation spread by business competitors (of course that’s a thing, don’t be naïve), and innocent confusion, my history of moving the goal posts of the fourth wall of course makes me difficult to pin down. How can people trust me after learning the existence of my daughter was an elaborate prank and that I once nearly cost a radio station thousands in FCC fines for going on air with a fake British accent and dropping F-bombs? How can I clarify misconceptions or stories about me that are often not much more ridiculous than true things about me, and expect to be believed? YouTube comments show that people believe videos of me in character having gag emotional breakdowns on stage are just me ‘before recovery.’ Well, if I’m crazy enough to put on that act, am I not crazy enough for that act to actually be real?
Will people ever be able to tell what’s worth believing about someone who they already either perceive as an Eric Andre/Nathan Fielder fan who’s maybe dropped the act or as an honest-to-goodness madman? And if I somehow were to correct the record perfectly, how quickly would the misinformation just start over from there? Would I even like it?
I find myself drawn and quartered by my simultaneous misery in feeling misunderstood and Kaufmanesque delight in the abstruse and obfuscated (case in point). It doesn’t help that I myself am not always sure what I think and feel. Even when I do, those things are always subject to change, as I’m a fluid and changing being like any other person. I’d argue more so than most. Yet despite it all, strangers still think they really know me.
People rarely consider or want to acknowledge that they’re missing key elements to a story. We love dinosaurs based on what their bones told us, so much so that we still put them in movies as real live dragons as opposed to giant chickens. You can have more bones than anyone but still misunderstand the fossils, but cling to the creature you built, your dream of being a revered paleontologist, or your fear of being seen as a quack. Because of this, it’s often those who have the most interest in seeing me as I truly am, and naturally, therefore, consider themselves my truest fans, who have the most warped view of me. And that warped view and its accompanied passion can sometimes inspire some rough stuff.
The unreality of Will Wood as a construction of the art-audience-artist interaction often creates a one-sided relationship with a constellation of depictions and creations, which people connect the dots on with whatever story grabs them. As a result, they feel both close enough to know me intimately and emotionally, and distant enough to never have a real-world effect on a real-world person.
So ‘singer-songwriter Will Wood’ becomes both effigy and voodoo doll. I end up on a strange pedestal, and the mythologizing inspires a bizarre and unwarranted fervor that leads otherwise decent people to claw away desperately at any boundaries I try to set. But because from a distance, it sometimes looks like what the legacy of the music industry tells us is high status and endless pleasure and power the reaction tends to be ‘boo-hoo.’
Can telling people ‘I’m a real person’ and trying to explain how difficult it’s been over the past couple years, especially since going viral, actually make any difference though? I’ve tried talking about my hiatus as much as possible before actually taking it, because I feel like this is something artists all over go through, and the effects of predatory algorithms and the pandemic worsened it all, and I think it’s something that should be talked about more.
But I fear a lot of this will translate to some as yet another tired and oversimplified declaration of ‘parasocial relationships are bad.’ It’s to the point where some are so sure that they are never a positive thing, that they refuse to like any ‘public person’ (whatever that is in 2022) and just end up in a negative parasocial relationship with all of them without realizing it. No doubt the consequences of parasociality can be harmful; I’ve spent half this meandering, ranting, incoherent dissertation giving evidence of that. It can hurt the subject and the experiencer alike, when certain actions or perspectives are taken. But I’d like to argue they can very much be a good thing.
I know, I know, stay with me here. So far I’ve spent this whole thing giving you reasons to feel like connecting with, caring about, or being interested in someone you don’t know personally is a futile and sometimes dangerous thing and nothing more. I’ve invoked instances of disastrously selfish and harmful behavior and cultivated a sense that I am awash in a sea of horror and identity diffusion, isolated, and misunderstood and abused at large. Which I won’t even say is entirely wrong. And now I want you to take a complete left turn and ask you to ignore all of it so that I can argue in favour of something I’ve already effectively spoken out against and most discourse is already in agreement on the evils of? I must be high.
But I think that the fact that A.I. generated art can look so cool yet feel so empty, and that pieces of media that clearly lack any personal interest from the creator and are designed to do nothing but game an algorithm (looking at you, Netflix’s Wednesday) feel almost offensive, says that the belief in the humanity of the artist is often one of main reasons we value art. It’s seeing the presence of the creator’s humanity, the fact that there’s someone who’s lived experience and emotional world is being expressed that often moves us.
Don’t get me wrong, the suspension of disbelief that makes you forget the author exists is the cornerstone of a good performance, but when the credits roll and you see the name ‘Woody Allen’ what do you do? You say ‘gotta separate the artwork from the artist.’ And can’t help but like Annie Hall at least a little bit less.
I’d wager a good portion of the time someone claims they enjoy the work of a ‘problematic’ creator by ‘separating the artwork from the artist,’ they’re not being entirely honest. Sometimes people relate to artists they don’t want to, other times they just don’t want your judgment. Other times people relate on a level that isn’t direct, or don’t want to try and separate the two elements for other reasons.
For instance, William S. Burroughs shooting his wife in the head in a supposed botched William Tell routine while in Mexico to escape obscenity charges, or the notoriously bestial misbehaviour of Hunter S. Thompson only makes their work more interesting to me. Not because I’ve ever shot my wife or because I think Thompson was a good guy, but because of the perspective that their identities seem to imply, what they say about humanity, and the story told by the meta-character of ‘the author.’
Yes, sometimes the story is wildly inaccurate. But people see my supposed status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community as a form of comforting representation. While some people’s definition of relevant terms would include me in that group, I personally don’t think I should be taking up space in the ‘Queercore’ playlist on Spotify. But would it make some troubled youths feel more comfortable in their own skin if I, someone they look up to, were something that they identify with, in a world that doesn’t always accept them? Isn’t that good?
The impression is sometimes accurate in ways too. When I’m open about my Bipolar diagnosis or my past with alcoholism, it allows me to tell people in a parasocial relationship with me that they’re not alone, that they can pull themselves out of it. Even if they see themselves in me in a way that isn’t at all accurate to my lived experiences, even just knowing these facts about me allows me to do something positive with my platform. Even if they see me in an unflattering light, there are countless people who are lost and confused and a little sick, who see some of their trouble and pain in who they perceive me to be.
Maybe I’m to them what Bojack Horseman was to me at the start of my recovery; a deeply flawed but remorseful wreck that was humanized enough to be cared about, and made me feel human enough to care about and therefore recover. A fictional talking horse, sure, but inspiring nonetheless.
Will people think I’m a drug-addled maniac, think I have opinions I don’t have, believe bizarre and unflattering stories about me that hurt my feelings or my business, try to get close to the person they think I am and in the process become more distant? Yes. It’s the gig. But it’s not like Jurassic Park is a bad movie just because the dinosaurs don’t have feathers. It’s only harmful if you break into the Museum of Natural History and start plucking all the models and knocking over the skeletons. It’s not parasociality that’s the issue, it’s boundaries.
My audience and I simply have specific roles in each other’s lives, and they have their benefits and limitations. Just like how you shouldn’t hit on your bartender (she’s paid to be nice to you), and she shouldn’t keep serving you if you get too drunk, or start stealing sips, even if it’s to dull the pain of hearing your pickup lines. I’m sorry folks, but last call.
I’ve told fans and friends I’ve met as a result of my work that it’s like a rainstorm. Even if you bring an umbrella, even if you stay indoors, it’ll still affect the day of anyone in the area it’s happening in. Even people who know me end up being affected by it all sometimes. It’s not something I am, not something I have, but something that’s happening. It can’t be controlled, it can barely be predicted, and it both makes cars spin out and flowers grow. Yes, I’m tired of getting wet, and it’s time for me to try and evacuate until the skies clear up a bit. But that doesn’t mean I’ve never felt the joy of splashing in puddles, gazing at rainbows, and knowing that plants can thrive.
I’ve had people chant my name. I’ve heard cheers so loud it blows out my eardrums more than the onstage monitors do. I’ve made a living doing something meaningful to me. I’ve had kids come up to me and tell me I’ve saved their lives. I’ve had people tell me I’ve inspired, comforted, or given them an example to follow on their journey through their gender and sexual identity, their mental health issues, and their recovery.
People have cried when they meet me (or ‘me’) because of how meaningful something about how they perceive me is to them. How could I possibly care more about being seen as I am, or as I think I am, or as I want to be seen? As much as it’s been a horror and a nightmare, it’s been an honour, a meaningful responsibility, and an unparalleled joy to be known in whatever way I am. Feathers or scales. Galoshes or barefoot. Real or imagined.
All I can do is just keep living, and hoping people who stumble across me find whatever version of me they see to be the most compelling story possible. If I ever come back to this job, I’ll probably continue to try and be the most authentic version of myself possible, as I think that allows me to reach people in a way that I’m uniquely qualified to reach. Probably.
The feeling of being accepted and understood by my audience has given me a sense of purpose and been the most gratifying experience of my life. I’ve come to feel we have much more in common than I ever previously thought. But the feeling of being misunderstood that comes with it doesn’t undo that, and whether or not we really know each other, the subjectivity of not only art but artist only allows more people to connect and be moved in a meaningful way.
That doesn’t mean you’ll always understand me or that I’ll always give you the precise, real version of me. It doesn’t mean I’ll always share everything or correct a rumour. It doesn’t mean I’ll never tell a bald-faced lie in an interview for poops and giggles, overcommit to another fourth-wall-denying gag, or always have the person onstage mirror the person I am in real life perfectly. I mean, it’s not like I don’t write my jokes and monologues before saying them. But it does mean I’ll try to be real when it counts. It may not all be real, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real, and it certainly doesn’t mean it can’t be meaningful. The parasocial relationship has done a great deal of damage in my life, but it’s also given me a chance to do something really good with it.
Until I can feel comfortable risking taking on the negative for the sake of the positive, I gotta go. Truly even the positive can mess up someone’s relationship with themselves and others sometimes. I need to go and figure out who I am without all of that stuff. Without the confusion, the distortion of my self-image, and who I’ve thought I have to be for so many years. I may find that I’m healthier and happier, and that there’s another life out there for me that I was always meant to live. I’ll probably be back at some point. Just depends on how you define ‘I’ and ‘back.’
This wasn’t very coherent, I know. It was disjointed and messy and far too long, and I’m not sure I even knew what I was talking about. I hope it made sense and that you understand me here. I know some of you won’t. Just don’t come and kill me over any accidental subtext you think was my intention and not your interpretation, ok?
I’m going to get going now. I have to go pick up my son from soccer and my daughter from ballet. Or the other way around. They’re so unhappy. I’m so unhappy. I’m actually a woman. My parents were circus clowns who died after falling into toxic waste. I’m not actually going on hiatus; I’m going to prison for tax evasion. Nothing will ever be ok. I’m already dead. I hate you all.”