I also bought a teach-yourself drums book, carved two sticks, placed some books around me in a circle on the floor, the one on the left was the hi-hat, the one next to it the snare drum, and the three books above the tomtoms. —My Struggle, Book 3
Reporting on a Karl Ove Knausgaard reading last summer, The Baffler wrote that “two young men kept comparing the event to a rock concert and complaining that they should have brought 40s … Knausgaard has become a rock star.” The writer himself has told of a German journalist “who compared me to a rock band. He said, the books don’t really have any focus, it’s just loose, it’s like just having some songs about drinking and they don’t have anything else … he saw pictures of me, he said, ‘You pose like a rock star.’ ”
But all this is soon to leave the realm of mere comparison. On Wednesday and Friday, as part of the Norwegian-American Literary Festival, Knausgaard will play the drums with his reunited college band, Lemen, thus sundering the flimsy membrane that separates him from full-on rock stardom. For this is what rock musicians have done throughout history: sundered membranes.
The performances—on Wednesday at Westway, in Manhattan, and on Friday at Sunny’s, in Brooklyn—will mark, as far as I know, the band’s United States debut. “I think everyone understands that we are not trying to get into the U.S. market with our music,” Knausgaard told Dagbladet, a Norwegian paper. (Their headline: KNAUSGAARD BELIEVES HE HAS NOTHING IN COMMON WITH RINGO STARR.) He goes on to suggest that he’s not a terribly versatile drummer and that Lemen is an ad hoc project.
But don’t let his Scandinavian modesty undercut your expectations. After all, if you’ve been reading My Struggle, you know that Knausgaard has been a musician for a long while. His mastery of such soaring classics as “Smoke on the Water” is well documented. Indeed, his books are full of anecdotes about his restless experimentation, as when, in Book 3, he dreams of starting a rock group with his friend Dag Magne: “He wanted it to be Dag Magne’s Anonymous Disciples; I wanted it to be Blood Clot. Both were equally good, we agreed.”
That they were. Perhaps most important, Book 4 reveals his devil-may-care attitude toward equipment—a must for any serious musician:
At a planning meeting some days later Eva went berserk. We had been given permission to use equipment belonging to the band her son played in, but we had treated it carelessly, a string had been broken and not replaced, a drumstick had snapped and not been replaced … People were so preoccupied with trivialities, they kept searching until they found something and then they went for jugular instead of keeping sight of the bigger picture, here we all are, humans on one earth, we’re only here for the short term, in the midst of all this wondrous creation, grass and trees, badgers and cats, fish and sea, beneath a star-strewn sky, and you get worked up over a broken guitar string? A snapped drumstick? … Come on, what’s the matter with all of you?
Lemen will be joined at these events by The Fun Stuff, James Wood’s band, featuring Knut Schreiner, the lead guitarist of Turbonegro. Wood, of course, is no slouch behind the kit: if you haven’t read his paean to Keith Moon, you’re missing out.
Finally, David Remnick, The New Yorker’s editor in chief, will also be performing. It’s rumored to be his first public appearance as a musician.
Get all the details below. These events are free and open to the public—guitar strings will break, drumsticks will snap, but 40s, I regret to inform you, will not be sold on the premises.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.