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The Beatles Are Dead, Fassbinder Is Alive

My favorite music videos were always the ones that looked like the bands had been locked in a house somewhere, forced to take part in a nightmarish Kenneth Anger or David Lynch movie. James Pate’s novel The Fassbinder Diaries feels like that...
Blake Butler
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Still from In a Year with 13 Moons

My favorite music videos were always the ones that looked like the bands had been locked in a house somewhere, forced to take part in a nightmarish Kenneth Anger or David Lynch movie. The images and sounds would shift so fast you wanted to see it and hear it again immediately to try and figure out what exactly the fuck you had just witnessed. That mutating is also one of my favorite modes in books—where the text is at once so spasmodic and so sure of itself, in its own logic, that where you end up could be achieved through no other means.


There are so many styles and modes at work in the 119 pages of James Pate’s The Fassbinder Diaries that you begin to feel kidnapped. There are many processes and perspectives turned on and left running all at once. The book begins with the description of some cryptic film populated by glass shards and mangled bodies; then suddenly we are watching others watch a Pasolini film before they go to bed; then, just as quickly, we are in the memory of another movie, full of elderly nuns and a masturbating boy, a Nazi flag hidden in a drawer. The book is full of cryptic rumors, half-remembered visions, and everyday images tied into the absurd, like an elevator on a beach releasing pink mist. This world, however, clearly touches the human one: cultural icons like The Beatles and characters from Rainer Werner Fassbinder films appear alongside nameless perverts and on one page even panthers pop up and then disappear, continually reminding us the book’s world is contained within ours.

Page by page the book continues to open and pile on itself, building as it goes a kind of catalog of cryptic films and sound, all of it laced together by the body of the book and coming open in odd places, with sudden images from nowhere like: “A pig can vibrate upon birth.” And “A red smear in an empty house, an isle covered with bird shit.” From jump to jump there builds a strange, hypnotic music, one which by the end has seemed to wrap around the reader like a film that never ends, insisting you stay in it alongside all the other images its captured. By the end, it is an experience more immediate and thrilling than one expects in such a small place, and lingers thereafter like a video you flipped to late one night on some shitty TV in a strange house and felt infatuated with or hypnotized by and never saw again.

An excerpt from The Fassbinder Diaries:

The Double Life of Mick Jagger


There was this one time at a party in Detroit, this Christmas party. In 2003 or 2004. I was in the bathroom washing my hands and two women walked by outside and one said to the other that the other night she’d had a dream where Mick Jagger was trying to seduce her, except in the dream he was a woman. The other woman outside the door said he was a kind of woman. His mouth, she said, was a kind of vagina. And that exchange made me want to write a poem about that idea. About Mick Jagger’s vagina. I tried it the next day. My window overlooked a pawnshop with a shitload of lights flashing in the window. I came up with a poem about a couple, a man and a woman, and they both looked like Mick Jagger, and in a sense they both were Mick Jagger.

In the hotel room in the poem the female Jagger will dress the male Jagger in whore clothes, call him whore names. The male Jagger will think during such episodes of how the meat inside of him could build a massive cathedral should it ever be extracted from his body. That is, if you took the meat and pounded it flat. And used quite a bit of metal wiring. His eyes could be in the center of the cathedral either in the floor and looking up or in the ceiling and staring down. Either way they would never blink. And his teeth. What could they do with his teeth.

You fuck, the female Jagger will say, like a whore. You fuck, the male Jagger will say, like a porn film with the furniture scratched out.


Yet they do not know they are part of the same person. They do not realize their separate essences will only be reunited upon death.

I was rereading Helter Skelter around this time. I was listening to some of the songs from the Manson family around this time, pretty songs sung by young women with childlike and fairylike voices. The two Mick Jaggers would be killed by a hitchhiking serial killer, a thug with a red mohawk. They would die on a bright June morning, in the silence of an Iowa cornfield. Did I hate them, the two Jaggers? I did not hate them. But I liked to think that in some way they hated each other.

The crows will eat the hearts of the Mick Jaggers. Plastic crows. Lipstick hearts.

A Brief History of the Beatles

Mieze said to me earlier in the week that as a teenager she’d been obsessed with the possibility that Paul really was dead, that the rumor from the 60s had been right after all, that a bland fake Paul had for decades lived under the name and sign of the actual boyish and endearing Paul, and that the most haunting lyrics from any song ever was probably I Buried Paul murmured during the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

Mieze said to me later in the week that “Helter Skelter” was the song that turned into a crime that turned into a made-for-TV movie.

Revolution Number Nine

Mieze sits on the hotel bed smoking a cigarette.

By her knee is an ashtray and a pair of sunglasses.


She has recently showered.

Her hair is wet and her cheeks are flushed.

She is tired and sunburned and excited and hungry.

Franz is under the covers pretending to be asleep.

Franz listens to himself breathing.

He is tired and sunburned and drifting and hungry.

From the room next door comes music.

It is a low murmur.

Franz can barely hear it.

Mieze can hear it a little better.

She is younger and less sleepy.

The Beatles.

One of the ballads from The White Album.

The television glows.

The screen shows 7,000 figures writhing in the mud.

Or 8,000.

Because the picture is grainy it could be a cartoon.

A cartoon drawn in a crudely realist style.

Or the actors could be electrified mannequins.

And therefore not even alive.

And therefore not even dead.

Many wear black masks and black gloves.

A midnight ball strewn across the mud.

An evening dance left out in the rain.

The ballad ends. “Revolution No. 9” begins.

The curtains are closed.

The curtains are the color of dried rose petals.

The sun is out.

The sun lights the curtains.

Franz thinks it is around four in the afternoon.

Mieze thinks it is around two in the afternoon.

Extraction #1

The man without air used his stomach muscles to center himself in the middle of the field. He used his jaw muscles to extinguish certain ideas he had only come to understand recently. He used his skull muscles to watch films involving parades of pork moving through cities of delicate snow. He used his spine muscles to extract newer and drier shadows from a previously dribbling haze. Behind the purple curtain the 19th century withdrew. Behind the scarlet curtain Marilyn Monroe prepared for the Day of the Dead Mass. Behind the coarse curtain the sea tossed about like houses tumbling from clouds.


The man was dead and had recently been stuffed with salt and black feathers. The part of him that had been dead longest heard voices that whispered from a closet stuffed with white and lemon dresses. The part of him that had been alive furthest waited for the dresses to melt so he could lick their drippings from the floor.

Neither the alive nor dead part had ever waited longer than cloth. Neither the longest nor the furthest had grown past the customary whisperings.

But other sounds continued. The soundtrack dealt with 17 recurrent noises. Other recordings played through the foggier arenas. The wolves made volcano noises. The owls made bone noises. The snakes made June noises. The vultures made scarlet noises. The panthers made soundtrack noises. The bears made lunar noises. The butterflies made gunfire noises.

Previously by Blake Butler - All My Favorite Narrators Are Women