When I opened Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots (1998) I had no intention of reading it – I just wanted to skim and get an idea of what it was like since the only thing I knew about it was that The Hope of the States had named their 2004 album after it and that Korine (Spring Breakers, Kids, Gummo) referred to it as his stab at writing “the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel.” Korine’s broken list of thoughts unfurled in front of me like a car crash, however, and I read the slim volume in one sitting.
Music often serves as a cultural touchstone in A Crack-Up at the Race Riots; there are fictional letters from Tupac Shakur, (mostly) innocuous rumors like “Flavor Flav is a classically trained pianist” and “Diana Ross hated the movie When Harry Met Sally,” and non sequiturs in the vein of, “my funnest memory is when I was travelling with Madonna on the Blonde Ambition tour and I got to meet Cat Stevens.”
Some of Korine’s references, though, are incidental and often brutal – a group of black girls in Elton John t-shirts beating a girl to a pulp in a parking lot, death as a result of snorting cocaine off a Pete Seeger record, two hanged teens with Prince’s name-symbol carved into their flesh. Music usually serves as an escape, but in Korine’s world it only further emphasizes the darkness.
For all the horror contained in the book’s 175 pages, Korine often achieves a style that is both beautiful and garish. The book is more like a gallery of disturbing images than cohesive prose or poetry; his vision is the literary equivalent of the works of Diane Arbus through the prism of methamphetamine. Is the litany of suicide, abortion, abuse, and sadness art, a Warholian Death and Disaster collection for the modern era? Or is it merely pulp, a satire, a foreshadowing of America’s increasing obsession with tabloid culture? Whatever the case may be, it’s hard to tear one’s eyes away.
The reissue of Harmony Korine’s A Crack-Up at the Race Riots will be available through Drag City on April 16, 2013.