Entry 0083: Savage Rock: a review

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LP: Silence Yourself by Savages

2013 Matador OLE-1036-1, Pop Noire OLD-1036-1

Favorite Track: Husbands

 

The anticipation to see the Savages play live was like a downed wire sparking before my shoes. If I’m lucky, I’ll feel every bit of electrical power paralyzing me as I incinerate. The coming conflagration is awaiting me in Cleveland at the Grog Shop, a venue I heard stories about back when I was in university. My friend and I were already on the road, the cool air blowing our hair back, Dylan on the stereo. It is only a four hour drive, but each yellow line recedes into the infinite middle distance. I could quite possibly never get off this road.

I heard Savages for the first time at a house party. A curly-haired boy with a wisp of a mustache pulled into his living room and said simply, “Listen to this.” Ten seconds into the song, I was memorizing the name of the band and the album title. I began to tremble. Some of the sounds they were making reminded me of being crushed by a garbage truck. Or the impact of a collapsed structure. My curly-haired friend just smile.

When their second album “Adore Life” came out, I bought both of them on vinyl and went home immediately. I had a new favorite band but I hadn’t realized it yet. Not until I saw that they were coming to Cleveland.

Speaking of Cleveland, we roll to a stop in front of a refurbished firehouse. Our host, for the sake of identity protection I will call Mr. Hilarious Wormbody, Third Order of the Erisian Lebron James Society, greeted us with a tour of occult significance: an occult church where a president of the USA preached, a Freemason temple which was kicked out of the order for being too radical, and the hotspot in the séance community that now houses three Emmys. Probably haunted Emmys. We ate outside in the surprisingly sunny weather, enjoying the breeze off of Lake Erie. A visit to the Art Museum only added to the excitement of the day as I stood in front of the musketeer swords daydreaming. Also, my love of ancient Egypt flared an itchy interest I hadn’t scratched in years. Expect a mummy in my next story…

Then came time for the concert. The lights dimmed. The crowd was an interesting mix of old and young, punk leather and dreaded hippie, short and tall, the thrilled and the smug. The band came out and Jehnny Beth immediately erased any notion of a boring show. Just in her greeting, she oozed enthusiasm. The first song “I’m Here” tore through the venue, each note a chain of ball lightning rocking every member of the crowd onto the balls of their feet. Gemma was just as I had imagined: standing in the corner  reticent about letting her hair escape her eyes, but holding nothing back on her instrument, which I rather suspect she was viewing as simply an extension of her fingers and hands. When the bass line and drum beats began “Sad Person”, I screamed and tried to dance in the tightly-packed crowd. Jehnny’s performance was infectious–articulating each word like a gun shot, yet smiling and high-fiving people, making everyone feel welcome and included. The audience is part of the band and the band is as much the audience.

Then she started stage diving. A couple of times she was mere inches from hitting her head on the ceiling above. The Grog Shop is not very tall. While most people’s eyes gravitated to her body being passed from person to person, I snuck glimpses of Gemma, Fay, and Ayse–they seemed content in their own worlds as if they were not even playing a show but just existing. They played mostly from “Adore Life” but threw in some old songs as well. I loved everyone from “Husbands” to “Slowing Down the World” to “Evil”. When “the Answer” came on, I stopped moving, rooted in place by the impressive crunchy sound of Gemma’s guitar. I’m pretty sure the guy at the soundboard pushed the lever to the max for the guitar; on the album, the sound was much more balanced. But live, it was the perfect move. That riff was rough concrete being chewed by a hand-cranked lawnmower. I contained myself before I just lashed out and threw my arms into everyone’s faces. Instead, I started pogoing up and down. Then Jehnny was crowdsurfing again and I was holding her up, the music and blood going to my head, and then everyone seemingly decided to let go at once, did we act like a herd, maybe she was just going to drop to the floor and sing right into our undeserving faces, but she totally is love with us, tonight we are all one, and no she is not dropping but just hanging by those strong arms of hers from a pipe, and I am standing there right next to her wondering is she frightened does she care is she laughing this is awesome oh I will grab her boot and lift and there are so other people and she is back on top of the world again and waiting and watching and I think she just looked at me so I stepped forward and she jumps and for a moment I panic because my outstretched hands are align with her breasts and that would be awkward so I moved them and she lands on me and I’m sure my fingers just poked her in the neck which was awkward and then she up and over me and back on stage and despite her hair slick with sweat the smile is continuing the fantastic drumming is my heart beat the bass line is catchy with hints of groove in it and Gemma isn’t facing the audience anymore she is lost to the superior craft of her musicianship and Jehnny is saying “Fuckers” a lot and they are coming to Cincinnati and I’m going to see them again and the concert is over and I am laying on an orange couch in a haunted room full of Emmys thinking to myself that I am a Savage and what a hell of a concert I just attended.

Entry 0082: Silverfrost Forest, part one

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7-inch: Main Squeeze by Huggy Bear

1994 Famous Monsters of Filmland Trouble03; Rubber Bugger Discs Dump 019

Favorite Track: My Best Kiss

 

The Bob Dylan playing softly from the overhead speaker was annoying him. Normally, Stan didn’t mind Dylan, in fact, was quite a fan of Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde although he could never quite listen all the way through Nashville Skyline after his breakup with Jessi. He could hear her timorous voice behind each blast of the harmonica: why did you cheat on me? why? He never did, never even thought such a thing, but she never trusted him and the relationship couldn’t handle the strain.

And Stan was definitely feeling the strain during this chess match. His opponent was a swarthy, frizzy-haired fellow with sad, brown eyes and an aquiline nose. He hardly spoke, yet each time he put down a piece, he did it with a force that spoke volumes: you are one step away from losing. He was up a knight and a pawn, but had doubled up pawns on the king’s side and left his king trapped in the corner. Stan knew in order to win, he had to lure the stranger into making a mistake, which usually meant making a risky gambit. After drumming his fingers on the tabletop until he felt a wet patch near his napkin, he remembered to take a sip of the cold lager the relatively cute waitress has poured for him. It tasted a tad flat. He wondered if they ever cleaned the tap pipes at Arnie’s. Finally, with a sigh more held in contempt of Lay Lady Lay then his choice of retreating his bishop back to his original rank, Stan moved his piece, tried to smile, and asked, “Are you visiting our small little town? Or did you get rained out on your way to Salonium?”

The corners of the stranger’s eyes seemed to wrinkle up for a second. He flashed a stained smile that bespoke years of habit. “Before I answer your question, may I ask you one? When was the last time you told a ghost story?”

Stan laughed despite the straight-forwardness of the question. He took a healthy swig while he pondered if he ever told a ghost story. He had few friends, mostly girls, spending summers digging up worms and odd insects in the woods and solving puzzles by the fireplace in the cold autumn and winter. After a second sip, he remember a night, his first night at the university, where he had met Zoe. A rainy night where the two pink moons cast a spellbinding warm glow on the puddles scattered across the sidewalks and campus greens.

“Yes, just one. I guess you can say I’m not a scary guy.”

The stranger moved his piece, an innocuous forward-stepping pawn. “There is no tiny person in your eye. The reflection of my face bears no teeth. I would hazard you have plenty of scary stories to tell.”

Stan paused. Dylan turned into the Rolling Stones and then some British Riot Grrrl band whose guitar amps sounded like they were permanently blown-out. What in the hell? The stranger looked back down at the chessboard in concentration. He hovered his left hand over his queen and knight as if he were about to take a second move, but then dropped it by his side. The waitress gave Stan another beer and a forlorn smile.

“Now how am I suppose to take a comment like that? I see you haven’t touched your drink, so now I have to ask myself what kind of trailer park headtrip shit you are on–”

“I came here to see you. And hear your ghost story,” he said gruffly. Then when Stan tried to speak again, he cut him off: “I collect them.”

Stan crossed his arms. The room had a sharp, cold smell to it. Something medicinal; something tinged with ethanol. He remembered Zoe, sweet Zoe with her dark eye, chubby freckled cheeks, and scarred arms. He remembered the way she would hold him, how he would be afraid to fall asleep sometimes in her arms, and how he would watch the candle melt down to a small stump of hot wax until, at least, his strained eyes would close against the sun coming through the blinds.

“I only told one other person this story. It is the only ghost story I know and, I’m afraid to disappoint you, but it is not a very good one. I was born in Maine where I lived in a cabin deep in the woods near Lincolnville and the Camden Hills State Park. We called it Silverfrost Forest due to the heavy snows during the latter months. I lived with just my father, a fly-fisherman, hunter, and town annoyance. No town hall meeting was complete until my father stood on his heels and delivered thunderous sermons about the greed of the local officials, bankers, and business owners. His many trips to incite protest, and many nights in jail, led me to stay up all night in the cabin, shivering at every twig snap, every strong gust of wind, every weird chattering.

When I was seven, I decided impulsively to go outside, into the woods, and learn where all these sounds were coming from. I don’t think exactly that I trying to face my fears. I think rather like a chess game, I had to understand how all the pieces move. I wondered all among the tall spruce and pines, marveled at the bats catching insects out of the air, and even found beauty in the small purple berries among the weeds and wildflowers. It wasn’t until I couldn’t hear the creek anymore that I realized that I did not know how to return home.”

The stranger finally raised his glass and down the whole liquid contents down his throat, his Adam’s apple bobbing furiously as the tides of fermented yeast slid into his stomach.

“May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows your dead.”

Stan nervously tittered. “I’ve never worried about the devil. Go ahead and put down that eyebrow. The devil is fearsome, in legend.”

Then he leaned close to the stranger, “It’s the witches you have to worry about.”

 

to be continued…

Entry 0081: Cannibal Nutrition and Other Nuggets

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7-inch: Bingo-Master’s Break Out by the Fall

2016 Superior Viaduct SV107

Favorite Track: Repetition

 

*There are spoilers for two short stories in this post*

Last night, I read “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft to friends who made me dinner. It was an appropriate dark and stormy night. Some of the sentences or adjective-noun pairings were hilarious: “squatter legend”, “ended in mocking Satanism”, “rode the midnight lightning” and “a loathsome night-spawned flood of organic corruption more devastatingly hideous than the blackest conjurations of mortal madness and morbidity”. How metal Philip, how metal.

I’ve been reading lots of horror short stories lately in preparation for a future library program. For the purposes of this blog, I will review two of them: “The Lurking Fear” and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows”. “The Lurking Fear” is an early tale of Lovecraft’s and suffers from his deplorable racism, but what Lovecraft tale doesn’t? “The Lurking Fear” is basically a cautionary tale against interracial breeding. Le sigh. It also suffers from Lovecraft being new to writing. As a reader who is interested in writing stories myself, it is interesting to see how Lovecraft learned his strengths and covered up his weaknesses. Lovecraft is great at atmosphere, setting, and historic folklore. He is terrible at characterization and complex plots. “The Lurking Fear” has plenty of long sentences with every noun carrying one or two adjectives. He also doubles up every description: the moon in morbid and insane; the primal trees block out the sun and the howling wind; etc. But there are effective moments. The first is the sleeping scene where the protagonist wakes up to find his companions missing. In the night, he felt one of them place an arm on him and he dismisses as the man rolling over in his sleep. But the actual reveal comes later…

The second fright is the fate of poor Arthur Munroe (possibly a nod to Arthur Machen, a weird tale writer Lovecraft adored). There Lovecraft keeps his sentences taunt like the tension building. Why isn’t Arthur moving from the window? Oh, he lost his face. At this point in the story, Lovecraft is suggesting some terrible winged thunder monster/snake. When the reveal happens at the end of the story, I think a good question arises: what really did happen to Arthur’s face? The third fright is when you realize that these  degenerate apes were crawling all over him in his sleep–oh I just felt a shiver.

Best line of the story: “the frightful outcome of isolated spawning, multiplication, and cannibal nutrition above and below the ground.”

“The Willows” is a different beast, but a more effective story than “The Lurking Fear”. Two men take a canoe down the Danube River and wind up ashore a strange island where the willows seem to be moving slowly towards them. Like Lovecraft, Blackwood excels at atmosphere; his descriptions of the trees and river paint a sinister picture causing the reader to fear something will jump out behind every word. But where Lovecraft fails (at least in “The Lurking Fear” whose main character continues looks into a horrific mystery simply because he is curious) “The Willows” is an excellent character study. It could be a stage play. Both characters interpret the  mystical events differently and their clash drives home the true fear. Out in the wilderness, out amid the strange, humans will suspect and turn on each other; we are our own fears. Blackwood has good pacing to the story, perhaps a tad slow at the beginning, but as the narrator becomes more entrenched with the changing environment, so do we curl up tighter in our chairs and read a little bit faster. If I were to say a little negative thing about the story, I would say the ending is a bit convenient, however, it works in the whole of the tale.

My future library program is to read ghost stories out loud. I believe I will read “The Willows” for the first program, but I have to time myself reading it out loud first. On my reading list are the Carnacki the Ghost Finder stories, some August Derleth stories, and a book called the Disciples of Cthulhu. I need relatively short stories from fifteen to thirty-five pages in length to read. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment with title and author. Thanks!