Seth Walker Provides Rewarding Read Via Combo of Prose & Poetry On ‘Your Van Is On Fire’ (BOOK REVIEW)

The density of content in Seth Walker’s hard/softcover book Your Van Is On Fire belies its page count and dimensions. In fact, presented in slightly less than a hundred pages and 6” x9” size, this heady combination of prose, poetry, and graphics imprints a positive spin to its title, as in ‘that guitarist is ON FIRE tonight!’ 

On the other hand, though, the subtitle of The Miscellaneous Meanderings of a Musician might imply some mixed messaging in this publication. Except that interpretation gives the lie to what is, by all appearances, a very purposeful interweaving of essays, verse, and reproductions of the author’s oil paintings. Seth Walker’s fervent acknowledgment of editor Leslie LaChance’s astute editing is well-justified.

Witness, for instance, the insertion of a strikingly colorful image titled “Vertical Drop.” It appears immediately following Walker’s account of meeting with the late Mac Rebennack; having seemingly connected with Dr. John the Night Tripper one night, Seth is subsequently dismayed no end to find out he didn’t make that much of an impression on the NOLA icon. But such is the most memorable pieces in this book, that is, the tales of the road and all its varied and colorful inhabitants: as a songwriter, the native North Carolinian has a gift for understatement, a virtue that carries over into most of his verbiage in this context.

The self-consciously clever set of stanzas titled “Jostle” is one marked exception to that rule.

As is the poem “Truth Be told” and the essay “The Gift,” on both of which Walker simply tries too hard to make a point. But, given this is Seth Walker’s first book, albeit a collection of pieces composed over a period of years, he can’t be faulted all that much, particularly when most of Your Van Is On Fire not only provides insight into his own mind and heart, but illuminates that process by which, as Rodney Crowell once observed ‘…the human condition continues as such…’

A self-deprecating story called “Poodies” is just such a piece. AsWalker describes his epiphany in discovering Guy Clark, his words sound like a transcript of the mental machinations that occur as he arrives at the intimate Hilltop Bar (from whence comes this piece’s title), begrudgingly pays admission, then finds a place up close to witness in action the gifts of the late folk and country singer-songwriter. The choice(s) of words brings the reader right there beside the writer in the moments as they happen.

Which is basically the rare feat Walker accomplishes for the major portion of The Miscellaneous Meanderings of a Musician. Consequently, it’s difficult to know exactly how to read this book: in one increasingly engrossing sitting or at intervals that allow the contemplative absorption of truths Walker suggests are not just his alone. Either way, the inclusions that seem to meander or appear as mere miscellany ultimately recall the well-paced track sequencing of one of those excellent long-playing records Walker so vividly remembers hearing as a youth in the log cabin where he grew up. From that perspective, Your Van Is On Fire comes off as a natural extension of the high points in this man’s ten-album discography.

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