March 2018 Update (archived)

vyz3jh1_qiaewzvzobljamsi3asem92fo_zaa731efgb0w1xm6svgfufd6ht_faiHaloumi is pissed because I won’t let her destroy everything I love. I feel okay with my decision to stop her.

Anyway.

Because I think it’s way more interesting to write about the things I’m excited about versus the things that I’m doing, I’m going to continue my list of on-going influences and motivations.

1. “Baby Retains Faith in Humanity after 45 Years at Bottom of Well” by The Pacemaker

Ranking (in my mind, anyway) as one of the best bands no one has ever heard of, The Pacemaker had this fantastic ability of collaging songs out of random scraps of music contributed by each member—a riff here, a phrase there—yielding a catalog of, not the incoherent patchwork you’d expect, but solid, comprehensive compositions full of beauty and surprise, all lynch-pinned together by Zach Webber’s emotive/absurdist narrative lyrics.

“Baby Retains Faith…” is no exception. Shifting between three movements, the song translates itself from a steady rock-and-roll swing (it’s just a hair too reserved to be a swagger) into a spare post-rock meditation, building finally into a head-bobbing crescendo that is simultaneously victorious and heartrending. But what’s kept this song stuck in my craggy brain lately isn’t the four-part virtuosity of the players, but Webber’s lyrics and—more importantly—the delivery of said lyrics.

As the newspaper headline-esque title suggests, this is a story about a “baby” who has lived nearly a century in an abandoned well. And to start, the narrator seems pretty relaxed recounting his plight. After all, he could still see things (“at least for the first few years”), and he had his brothers and sister to keep him company. Not so bad. But eventually the darkness steals his sight (what is there to see anyway?), and then one by one, his siblings wither up and die. But still, he talks to them, especially his sister Linda, even if she never answers, he keeps talking to his sister Linda. Time goes by. It could be worse.

What functions as the true heartbreak of the story, though, is when the baby is finally rescued. Being blinded by darkness for so long, now he’s blinded by light. Again, no big deal. But then later, a movie is made of his life. And the movie ends with the reunited family hugging and crying, his parents wailing, “O! how we regret leaving all you kids for dead!” If only it were true. Hollywood made a happy ending. But what’s a forty-five-year-old baby to do, starting over his whole life all alone without even the desiccated corpses of his siblings to keep him company?

The story is so absurd as to be meaningless. But that’s why music is an experiential medium. Not words on a paper. Not notes on a sheet. You sit and listen while a thing happens to you. And what Webber does in taking on the persona of the abandoned is terrifying. Not because the character has been alone so long. Because even now, with his rescue reveal as being the true hell, he’s still trying to pretend it’s okay.

2. The Door by Magda Szabo

It’s not the content of the book I want to get into—it’s great, by turns hilarious and viscerally jarring as only Eastern European writers seem able to do—so much as the simple structure of its episodic chapters. Maybe things progressed very organically for Szabo, but it feels like she created a plan and executed it through to completion. These are the characters. This is the situation. These are the particular points that need to be explored (children, generosity, forgiveness, a dog, a fancy dinner, et cetera). Write each point as a sort of encapsulated fable. Stitch them together into a single, oddly complete novel.

This is probably a pretty elementary way of approaching novel writing. By which I mean: this is one of the most basic ways of constructing a book. But having spent a lifetime entering every situation through the backdoor, the obvious always strikes me as amazing. This is yet another way of telling a story. I could, in fact, make this job easier on myself if I opted for just a little bit of planning.

3. Busdriver’s Instagram account

It should come as no surprise to anyone that avant-garde hip-hop shaman Busdriver is among one of the most revered artistic figures in my personal canon these past few years. So you’d think I would have found—or even actively sought out—dude’s various social media platforms. Yet it was only in the past week that I discovered that Driver had an Instagram account.

So what. Everyone posts pictures online. That’s what we do now. And to be honest, most of Driver’s pictures are just fine. Some selfies, some old snapshots of his early days coming up in the LA underground rap scene, images related to projects his fellow artists are engaged in. No, what’s great about these pictures is that Busdriver is subverting the expectation of the platform (a picture with a punch line caption) by writing detailed stories about why this picture is being shared. Sometimes it’s to memorialize a dead rapper who helped guide and encourage him in his teenage years. Sometimes it’s to explain the motivation behind certain projects. Sometimes it’s extended accounts from other artists talking about their process and product. And sometimes it’s about the bullshit his black body and all black bodies have to suffer on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute basis. Busdriver’s way of phrasing the world fucking floors me. I love it. And as someone who hungers for Driver’s language, this discovery has been a feast amid famine.

So these are the things I’ve been chewing on. And while I’d much prefer to end it here, I do need to say that, in addition to getting myself hung up on songs and books and other people’s social media, I also somehow sold two books to two different publishers this month. So keep an eye out for a new novel and new full-length collection in the next year or so. And too, next month a new chapbook, The Opposite of Prayer, will be published by The Head & the Hand Press. I make these things for you. Thank you for letting me make them.

As always, thank you for reading, thank you for sharing, thank you for accepting the fact that this handkerchief is in fact just a shred of old underpants. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for the future promise of an actual handkerchief. And if you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and welcome to join the properly monogrammed kerchief society and help make my nose clean and dignified again. And if your view of the  future looks too unsteady for any kind of subscription, consider making a one-time donation and get the equivalent rewards for one month.

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