Life’s Work by David Milch
David Milch is a towering figure on the landscape of modern television. His work on Hillstreet Blues paved the way for the groundbreaking NYPD Blue. Even this Baltimore boy and proud Homicide: Life on the Street partisan has to admit that much. The other crown jewel in Milch’s storied career is Deadwood, a show in the mix of the discussion around the best show ever (for those that like to have that discussion anyway).
David Milch became an addict and a gambler at a young age. His father was an alcoholic and gambler. Milch was abused as a child, something he only realized later in life. When he went to college he became a protegee of the great Robert Penn Warren. Milch was a ferocious bullshitter with the talent to back it up. Milch is a great orator and thinker. Chances are he has thought about writing in a deeper and different way than most. Even for non-writers he’s a fascinating man to listen to. In 2015 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and currently lives in an assisted living facility. Life’s Work is taken from recordings Milch made over the years.
Life’s Work is a multi-faceted work. Part biography and memoir. Part treatise on the generational trauma of his family. Part literary analysis. Part post-mortem of the shows he worked on and created. Some of the best moments in the book are the deep dives into certain scenes he wrote where all of these ideas intersect. The section that analyzes the NYPD episode “Taillight’s Last Gleaming” is particularly moving. After the Deadwood movie from a couple of years ago, Life’s work will be the last thing Milch writes.
Life’s Work is a stunning work that will appeal to many different audiences. It’s well worth seeking out. I listened to the audiobook version, which was fantastic. My only complaint is that I wish I had bought a hard copy instead.