Patrick Madden is the author of three UNP books, most recently the essay collection Disparates (Nebraska, 2020).
Every March, Ander Monson and Megan Campbell organize several dozen writers to gather inspiration from 64 songs strategically chosen to represent a phase of recent music history and to battle in an NCAA-basketball-like single-elimination tournament toward a national champion. I’ve enjoyed observing, listening, reading, and voting in years past for March Sadness (sad songs), March Fadness (one-hit wonders), March Shredness (hair metal), March Vladness (Goth), and March Badness (self-evident what kind of songs this tournament “celebrated”?). But I’d never sought to participate until this year’s March Plaidness (grunge songs, obviously). I’d been in college, prime new-music-discovery time, when grunge hit big, so I not only knew but loved so many of those bands and songs. When my lottery number came up and it was time for me to choose a song, I was thankfully shut out from the big four bands (Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam), and I was ecstatic to find King’s X, one of my lifelong favorites, nestled among the options. I had found the band when I was lonely and searching for friendship, and both their music and their personal generosity (they’d always spend time with fans after shows, and I carried on a pen-pal relationship with the band’s bassist and singer, Doug Pinnick, for years) were a real light to me.
Given so much history with the band over 30 years, and a whole lot of bootlegs, letters, photos, and other memorabilia, I needed some constraints on my essay to give me inspiration and shape. When I checked the Wikipedia page for my assigned song, “Dogman,” and found it to be woefully sparse, I had my eureka! moment. I would write my essay in the form of a Wikipedia article, thus affirming and subverting what such a form could do, suggesting the infinitude of connections, especially as King’s X is often acknowledged by their fellow musicians as foundational and inspirational (Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam has said that “King’s X invented grunge”), even though they never got the fame and fortune that other bands found.
I found it amusingly challenging to fit my essay (and to code it!) into the shape of a Wikipedia article. Of course, I gave it a header warning about its lack of objectivity. And I interspersed several “Personal Life” moments not about the band but about myself and my interactions with them. I included thumbnail photos that I’d taken at concerts in the 90s, as well as pictures of some of my King’s X stuff. Best of all, I reconnected with Doug Pinnick for a two-hour Zoom conversation, during which we reminisced about old times and talked about everything under the sun, it seems. That conversation forms the basis for most of my essay, as I quoted liberally from it. I also edited out about twenty short clips and interspersed them throughout my essay.
Whatever happens in the March Plaidness tournament, I had a wonderfully creative time with my experiment borrowing the universally acknowledged form of connectedness to hold my essay. I hope you’ll enjoy listening to “Dogman,” reading my (and others’) essay(s), and while you’re there, King’s X and I would appreciate your vote.
Vote for Madden and King X here: http://marchxness.com/sweet16-fugazivskingsx/