Sunday, March 31, 2013

GIMME DANGER! More Music for a Mad Monday Zombie Apocalypse

My gripes about the mega-distorted mix aside I’ve been grooving hard to the Stooges’ Raw Power these last couple of weeks. It really lends itself to my new line of work. That, and reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian before bed. 

Yeah, when all three books of The Saga of the Dead Silencer are done I should probably get help. Meanwhile, let’s rock this crapsack world. It’s Monday, the spring is springing. Summer is so close I can taste the barbecue. 

The Singing Dead

While watching a herd of zombies go by, you see an old friend shambling and moaning among them, and you say, “Hey! You’re still here?”

Henry Rollins sorta-kinda reviews David Bowie’s latest album in his LA Weekly column. I say “ sorta-kinda” because he doesn’t speak of individual tracks. Rollins was mostly struck by the impression of “defeatist bullshit” he got from the album art, which is the cover of Bowie’s 1977 classic “Heroes” with a large square cut out of the middle, the word “Heroes” crossed out at the top, and “The Next Day” printed in the white space of the cutout square. 

The closest he gets to talking about the music is here:

The Next Day has a studious emptiness to it that reminds me of 2003’s Reality. It is musically dense and lyrically dark, but lacks the cool distance of Heathen. The production is solid to the point of being uninteresting. The songs are so competently tracked, it sounds like no one in the band has ever met. There is an after-the fact feel to this album that I have heard on later albums by The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney. They are all great artists, but their records often sound like they are just putting in time at the mill.
Bowie has ceased to risk injury and now issues albums, however sporadic, from a safe place. That being said, The Next Day is definitely worth checking out.

There is a wealth of issues in the above passage I would like to address. First, and with all respect to Mr. Rollins, the only reason to check out Bowie’s new album is to find the One Song worth keeping. If it’s there, that is. Unless you have multiple sources of income like Mr. Rollins you’re best advised to find a stream of the album, find the miracle, then download that one and only song.

Heathen and Reality were notable only for the miraculous existence of one “keeper” song on each. Heathen had Bowie’s cover of The Pixie’s “Cactus,” and Bowie’s driving arrangement and powerful voice (poor Black Francis never had a chance) makes Bowie’s the definitive version. Reality had the pounding, rhythmic hook and catchy sing-along chorus of “New Killer Star”

The rest is forgettable. Not the kind of stuff that makes you leap from the couch screaming to get that abomination off your speakers. You want to like these songs. You hear what might be a promising hook. 

We never make ignition, though. “No life, no gamble,” as the Great Bukowski observed of mediocre literature, and hold that thought. These songs are inert matter. You don’t hate them. But it’s nothing you want to sit through again. Life is short, and this thing actually sucked a little of it out of you for wasting your time, not even being worthy of hate.

“Bowie has ceased to risk injury and now issues albums, however sporadic, from a safe place.” Again, with respect to Mr. Rollins, that’s not it. I don’t hear anyone risking metaphorical injury on Ziggy Stardust or Aladdin Sane when Bowie was at his peak, and certainly not on the fabled Berlin trilogy, which to me was a nice, if spotty postscript to a run of solid albums from Hunky Dory to Station to Station.

It’s the songs. It drives me insane with frustration that people don’t recognize this. It was the primary lesson the Beatles taught us. The Beatles would have faded with their own fashion if all they had was haircuts and boots and collarless suits. None of them were virtuoso musicians. Whatever edginess they had came from reaching into the past for musical ideas, such as the major 6th chord that they ended “She Loves You” on, which producer George Martin initially derided as “too Andrews Sisters” and asked them to leave off. 

But they kept that musical anachronism in service of the song. And it worked, not for its own sake, but because “She Loves You” was a great song. One great song out of many. Thank goodness the Beatles quit when they did. Which, by the way, is the second lesson we get from them. If they had stayed together throughout the 1970s and beyond, the quality would have suffered.

There comes a point that, no matter what your level of genius and creativity are, you run out of juice. We don’t like to admit this but it’s true. David Bowie’s music doesn’t suffer because he doesn’t “take chances,” whatever that means. It’s not the production being so “solid to the point of being uninteresting.” I’m not the least bit interested in the production of “Rebel, Rebel” on Diamond Dogs or anything else I dig. It’s the hook, the groove, the roar of blood—the artist’s and yours—in the ears you can only get from the songs. Bowie’s later albums suffer because he doesn’t have anything as cool as “TVC 15” or “Suffragette City” to work with. He ain’t writin’ ‘em like that anymore. He can’t. 

I have a modest proposal: let’s see if we can get a satellite radio channel for our old heroes. We’ll call it Not Dark Yet after the 1997 Bob Dylan song. (”It’s not dark yet/But it’s getting there.”) It’ll play all the tracks from after the sell-by dates of the artists, which should be a fun game all to itself. For instance, do we start playing McCartney post-1986 or post 1980? Did the Rolling Stones cease to be relevant after 1981’s Tattoo You or 1989’s Steel Wheels?

Rock stars in their prime are on fire. Once the creative
mojo runs out, they’re no more than ashen husks
walking without the sense to fall down.
We’ll have all the latest by McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, the Cars, Steve Miller, Devo, with the modern Frankensteinian reconstitutions of Lynyrd Skynyrd and suchlike to fill things out. We can listen to this with the same sort of duty we have when we visit our aging relatives at the rest home.

And when we click it off—because no one can do this all day, if for a half-hour—we’ll swear to ourselves we’ll never let this happen to us. To become an empty shell beneath time-shriveled skin cranking out stuff that sounds like us, but isn’t. Because at one time we were alive, we couldn’t help but strike sparks when our fingers took to our chosen instrument. But to live and breathe and to not strike those can’t help wondering if the unlucky ones who succumbed to overdose, murder or suicide were that unlucky. 

Entropy is a fact of existence; everyone of us is born to grow old and die. It’s that long, slow fade before the end we’ve yet to deal with. Bowie is finished. So is Paul McCartney. So are Sir Mick and the Stones. They simply haven’t gotten around to dying yet. Which makes listening to them play really awkward. My point is we should acknowledge that.

If we really want to depress ourselves, let’s ask ourselves the question the Great Bukowski asked in regard to himself and Hemingway: Where are the replacements? 

Apocalypse? Youre soaking in it.

This is one of the standout tracks from what may as well have been Bob Dylan’s last album, as far as I’m concerned. The sentiments expressed in the song articulate the general theme of 1997’s Time Out of Mind — and, most conveniently, this post.

Giving Names to the Animals

I’d planned to spend the day working on the yard. But I slept half of it away. And when I got up it was to finish what I was doing before quitting from eyes-on-fire fatigue at oh-dark-hundred this morning: writing Bleeding Kansas

It’s taken me two weeks to find this groove, and now characters and themes are blossoming before my eyes. It turns out I had a breakaway femme fatale and didn’t even know it, but the more I think about her, if Severed Press should ever want a spinoff from The Saga of the Dead Silencer, I’ve got our Red Sonja.

The biggest change was to my main character’s name. He didn’t have one for a solid year since I came up with the character; my original Bright Idea was he’d adopt the names of his favorite American poets as he went from place to place. Fortunately I came to my senses, accepted that the Man With No Name shtick was played-out, and “Whitman” was the name that stuck.

The name “Derek Samuel Whitman” sounds too much like Charles Stuart Whitman, though. (If you don’t know who this is, fine. I do, and it’s not.) Moreover, Derek Whitman is the exact opposite of Walt Whitman in temperament. The author of Leaves of Grass liked people; my man Derek feels better when they’re not around. A change had to be made.

Therefore, as of sometime this afternoon, the titular character of The Saga of the Dead Silencer is now Derek Samuel Grace. No religious juju intended nor implied, but if you buy the book. you can project whatever you like into it. In other news his son’s name has been changed from “Eric” to “Jack.” (Seriously, the dad’s name is Derek and the son is Eric? No. I don’t know what I was thinking either.)

For a strange spell of an hour I came up with the full names of characters who come and go throughout the course of Bleeding Kansas, e.g., Claire, Giselle, Tanner, Krystle, Brandon, Evans, Kerch, Rebecca. I gave them a line each by way of explaining their motivations, etc. I want all these little details nailed down. I’m not running a Punch ‘n’ Judy show here. If I do my job right you’ll recognize some of these people, maybe even miss them when they go.

All right, then. Let’s finish this.
When the Muse attacks, attention must be paid. Along with the usual pound of flesh....

Monday, March 25, 2013

SEARCH AND DESTROY! Music for a Mad Monday Zombie Apocalypse

It took a while to find a YouTube clip with tolerable sound. When Iggy Pop remastered his band’s 1973 proto-punk masterpiece Raw Power in 1996, he set out to “give this thing its due sonically” by overdriving the sound. The stated idea for this was to make the album “powerful and more listenable.” Sadly, it makes a quite powerful band sound tinny.

Still, “Search and Destroy” is a a great song by one of the greatest bands most people have never heard of. Listen to the ferocious energy behind the gauzy curtain of distortion here. This was recorded in 1972. I can’t help but make a connection to the 1960s band Blue Cheer (look up their version of “Summertime Blues”) and see the album as a stepping stone from them to the L.A. punk scene of the late 1970s and early ‘80s. It’s a spirit as old as guitars. Older, really. I imagine cavemen beating rocks with mastodon bones and screaming at the top of their lungs in celebration of dropping the saber-tooth cat that jumped them that day. Yeah, it’s at least as old as that. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

BLEEDING KANSAS Selected for Publication by SEVERED PRESS

I had posted “Chapter 17.1: Good Morning, Mr. Whitman” and was struggling with its followup when I got an e-mail from Severed Press, one of the premier print-and-online horror fiction presses in the English-speaking world. Turns out my good friend and author James Robert Smith  (The Flock, The Living End, the books he’s written as Robert Mathis Kurtz, etc.) had dropped a dime on me to the editors there. They’d looked, they liked, e-mails were exchanged. By the end of the week I had a contract and an advance. 

This was two weeks ago. You’d think I’d have been all over the Internet with the news. Well, here’s the thing: if you’d read Bleeding Kansas all the way from the beginning up until Chapter 17, you’d know I was building up to that end-of-second-act crisis point called the Darkest Hour. The best news of my life came as I was sweating calling “Chapter 17.1” Chapter 17 and moving on (which I did) and making this crucial set of scenes work. 

Yet whatever ideas I’d had for my Darkest Hour would not come together. I’ve managed a little over 4,000 words since that first e-mail from Severed Press. That’s 4,000 words in two weeks when I was sometimes throwing down 2,000 a day, and never less than 1,000.

With all this, and being in a general state of shock from the best news of my life—yes, I was as surprised at my reaction as anyone—I’ve done nothing more with the blog than follow the publisher’s suggestion to take down everything but the first few chapters. I wish I could say I’ve been writing furiously these past few weeks. No, I’ve been floundering. 

That I’ve finally managed to type some verbiage into this Blogger frame is a sign the Great Wall of Anxiety is coming down. I comfort myself knowing that the great Charles Bukowski, when offered a monthly stipend by publisher John Martin to quit his job, fell into writer’s block for several days after he agreed to Martin’s offer and quit his day job. Then Bukowski went into overdrive and finished his first novel, Post Office, in two weeks. When he handed the manuscript over to Martin, Martin reportedly said, “What’s this for?” And Bukowski said,  “Fear.”

Consider ex-convicts and longtime military personnel re-entering civilian life and you might get a handle on this. You get used to living a certain way for so long, no matter how constricted and miserable, and you don’t know how to do it any other way. Even if all you’ve dreamed of is getting out of your misery once you’re out—now what? 

“Well, bullshit on that!” I hear you and everyone else saying. “I’d be hittin’ the ground running!”

That’s what I said, too. But, hey, I’ll bet you’re special. Maybe it’ll be different for you. 

I had been working on Bleeding Kansas for nine and one-half months before Severed Press came a-callin’. And that nine and one-half months of work wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t spent seven months working on Grace Among the Dead. Before that I’d put in hours working on a collaboration with James Robert Smith that fell though. (His side of it became The Living End.) It wasn’t wasted time. Everything I’ve been doing since that day in October 2009 when I put the original Night of the Living Dead into the DVD player and started hassling with writing about life among the cannibal corpses has led to this.

Actually, everything since that January day in 1985 (that’s nineteen eighty-five) when I struggled with writing my first short story outside of college has led to this. And I could go back even further than that.

As the gamers say, I have leveled up. Adjustments are being made for the new level of difficulty. I’ve dreamed the dream. Now I have to live up to its reality.

As crises go, I’ll take it.
The trick, of course, is to keep getting back up.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

“Everybody Happy as the Dead Come Home!”

More Music for a Saturday Zombie Apocalypse

What a week. I watched traffic on this site spike by one hundred hits only to fall to nothing as I struggled with Chapter 16. I finally get that up last night and I’m still waiting for people to realize it’s there. It looks like I’m going to have to troll some Web sites, make my name linkable in the comments, and stir up some—shriekback!

Yeah, it’s a word. Or should be, anyway. Shriekback was an ‘80s band with one notable album you wish your band would make, namely, 1985’s Oil and Gold. Note the year: 1985 was still early enough in MTV’s existence to enable the production and promotion of interesting music videos, of which Shriekback’s “Nemesis” is a fine example. 

Frankly, I didn’t even know a video existed for this song until today, let alone one as entertaining and fitting as this.  I’ve always admired “Nemesis” in particular for the spooky shrieking behind the singalong chorus, in which the word “parthenogenesis” is used. “Everybody happy as the dead come home!” 

That line above might be enough to include this song in my Apocalypse Jukebox, but there’s so much more to love. It’s all there in the lyrics, which lead singer Carl Marsh enunciates with unnerving clarity while lip-synching for the video.

In the jungle
Of the senses:
Tinkerbell and
Jack the Ripper.... 

This sounds almost like a haiku, except it’s four lines and four syllables each.

The burning wax,
The breath of reptiles,
You know it’s never
Been so exotic....

Dark poetic matter you can dance to. This is the point where the average (i.e., dumb) writer adds, “They don’t write ‘em like that anymore,” but the plain fact is most people never did. Ever. Shriekback was one of a kind.