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The thirty-fifth installment in Rough Trade Book’s rolling pamphlet seriesIt’s Going to be a Bright New Day: Would You Rather, with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy sees Max Porter asking Will Oldham questions. Oldham has to say whether he would rather one thing or another. Many topics are covered, including music, sex, cuisine, literature and travel. Some people believe that the Would You Rather format is better suited to a long car journey than a pamphlet, but the editors at Rough Trade Books tend to disagree. It works just fine on the page. 

Would you rather be fluent in sign language or Russian?

I would prefer to be fluent in Russian. One day, science women will make mechanical ear systems to forever eradicate deafness and then sign language will just be a funny dance craze. Russians will forever speak their crazy language and I want to be a part of that. I’d like to teach my daughter Russian. And the first thing I’d do is translate a bundle of the lyrics from my jammers and we’d ride the rails across that huge place singing songs.

Would you rather be a master of the long bow or the two-handed sword?

Two unwieldy instruments of death! A master of the two-handed sword requires an opposing master of same, therefore I’d prefer to have the longbow skills that I could use to successfully shoot apples off the top of my wife’s head!

Would you rather be reincarnated and feel your soul ongoing and infinite in the living body of another (whether human or non-human), or would you like to stop and rot and end?

Wow, it’s really six of one at this point for me. But I must choose. I guess I don’t really see much of a difference. Maybe I’ll flip a coin. Yes. Coin toss says STOP ROT AND ROLL!

Would you rather study with the serpent or sing confession to the trees?

I’d rather sing than study any day of the week.

Plus I confess that I’ve got some things to confess, just been waiting for the appropriate melody.

Would you rather if you were going to metamorphose into an iconic local tree, metamorphose into a tulip poplar or a Kentucky coffeetree?

Ha ha, you’ve done your research! This is a great question. I planted a tulip poplar from a sapling about six years ago and now it’s a glorious 40-feet high with big beautiful leaves that sail in the wind. I love this tree so I’d like to join it. Ask me again in a decade, though, because I have a sense that I’ll have flipped on this matter.

Would you rather say that CHANT rings true to you and your work, or that POEM rings true to you and your work, if the choice has to be made not on these words or the forms they describe, but on David Jones’ description of these forms: CHANT/ “It makes all other musical forms however stupendous seem self-consciously grand. Airborne, yes, but aware of the engines. Whereas in the chant, the gravitas and gaiety and lightness seem more like the unconscious flight and song of a bird.” POEM/ “In this poetry the form and content, the sound and the meaning, are inextricably one. The words seem to thrust and thud and dilapidate to silence as though they themselves were the effect of what they signified.” ...?


Would you rather have a fifty-foot stylised Neolithic chalk boar or a fifty-foot stylised Neolithic chalk hare cut into the hillside above your home?

Probably the boar. Sorry to say, neither of these images is all that seductive when it comes to imagining them cut into any hillside. I’m really fond of boars though, and there aren’t enough of them around where we live. Plenty of rabbits.

Would you rather adopt a monastic or nomadic lifestyle?

Monastic implies that I couldn’t be with my wife and that would be intolerable. So, nomads we would be.

Would you rather work for a year as a stonemason restoring the subterranean rock-cut churches of Lalibela in Ethiopia or as a diver, uncovering the sunken Lion City of Lake Qiandao, China?

Though I would worry about damaging my fingers, I’d likely prefer the masonry gig. Jonathan Richman is a mason. The thing that makes this a difficult choice is that I do not wish to imply a lack of interest in either place or in each place’s culture or history. I’m torn. If we were in the Ethiopian spot and times were not what they are, we could take weekend trips to Yemen or to Sudan. Musically, Lalibela might be more rewarding.

Would you rather see the emergence of a new morally enlightened philanthropy whereby the world’s billionaires built hospitals and schools and tackled ecological disaster or the end of billionaires through a total redistribution of all the world’s wealth?

I’d much rather see the former than the latter, since the former comes with a spending plan and the latter puts that responsibility into our untrustworthy hands.

Would you rather go on tour for one year with Queen, singing the part of Freddie Mercury, or go on tour for one year with Wu Tang Clan, rapping the part of Ghostface Killah?

I think I’d rather spend the proposed time with the Wu Tang folks and their audiences rather than the surviving members of Queen and their audiences. Plus, in a year maybe I can learn to freestyle.

Would you rather be St Jerome or St Simeon of Stylites (I mean, in terms of their lifestyle choices)?

St Jerome lived a life of greater variety; I’d choose his existence. St Simeon sounds like a bit of a dick.

Max PORTER is a writer.

He lives in Bath, England, with his wife and sons.
He loves to cook.

Will OLDHAM creates songs and recordings and has done for many years. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky with wife and daughter. He has many friends, for which he is profoundly grateful.


Buy the pamphlet direct from the publisher here.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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