Randy Newman’s catalog includes a remarkable song, heard to best effect on his 2011 album “Live in London,” called “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It).” It’s about being an artist whose best work is thought to be in the rearview mirror.
“I have nothing left to say,” Newman begins, “but I’m gonna say it anyway.” The goosebumps part of the song arrives when the audience, as Greek chorus, begins to chant through the melody, “He’s dead / He’s dead.” The song is so exacting and darkly funny that it puts paid to any notion that Newman, as a songwriter, has lost a single step.
Newman’s song drifted through my mind while I was reading “In the Land of the Cyclops,” Karl Ove Knausgaard’s new essay collection. Knausgaard is, of course, the Norwegian writer who beginning about a decade ago unburdened himself of six fat autobiographical novels, the “My Struggle” series, that are justifiably among the literary landmarks of our age. “My Struggle” is like a holiday dinner table to which he kept adding panels.