Wednesday, May 15, 2019

194. "...he was a man } marked down."

Why is Compulsory Games, selected stories by Robert Aickman, as it is?

During his lifetime, Aickman published seven story collections (seven, if we include We Are for the Dark). After his death in 1981, Night Voices added five tales to the roster of originals; in 2015, Tartarus Press published The Strangers and Other Writings, a miscellany with a few excellent, previously uncollected (but not unpublished) stories.

When I first noted Aickman’s stories, sometime during the mid-nineties, it was difficult to find copies of his books (at least in the States). Book Club editions of Cold Hand in Mine were easy to get, the occasional Painted Devils (the only selected to be published during Aickman’s lifetime), and Peter Straub’s nicely complimentary selected, The Wine Dark Sea. Aickman’s novels and memoirs were the stuff of legend, especially The Late Breakfasters (1964).

Tartarus published the two-volume The Collected Stories of Robert Aickman in 2001. Not a compendium I could recommend—it was fabulously expensive, somewhere in the vicinity of a hundred bucks. I sure as heck wasn’t going to lend anyone my copy. I was a little afraid to read it myself. (Copies now fetch between $300 and $1000.) Tartarus also published The Attempted Rescue, the first of his two memoirs. Still pricey. (They’ve reprinted it—it’s about $40, totally worth it.)

Beginning in 2011, Tartarus has beautifully reprinted all his collections (about $40 a pop—not at all easy on the completist’s wallet). There’re a couple titles from Faber & Faber that’re more reasonable.

The point of all this is to say that while it’s easier to obtain Aickman’s work that it was circa 1996, it’s still costly, so whenever a paperback appears I’m pleased, and I was more than pleased to see NYRB add Aickman to their roster. And Compulsory Games, edited for NYRB by Victoria Nelson, is excellent—as far as the stories are concerned. But, so would be any handful of Aickman stories. Imagine you had a pile of Aickman collections in your basement, and they all got mildewed, so you could only read a couple stories from each collection—the mildew would have thus edited a selection, and all the stories would be excellent.

Compulsory Games is a selected, but selected from just four Aickman collections: Tales of Love and Death (1977), Intrusions (1980), Night Voices (1985) and The Strangers and Other Writings. That is, from the last four collections, two of them posthumous. Furthermore, Compulsory Games includes every story from Tales of Love and Death except one (“Growing Boys”—a story I love, thank you very much). I think that’s weird.

Maybe it’s something to do with Aickman’s estate, I dunno. I wish NYRB would simply have reprinted Tales of Love and Death. Aickman as Aickman assembled himself.

Nelson’s introduction generally describes what Aickman does, drawing on Aickman’s own notes about ghost stories (gleaned from his Fontana ghost story anthologies); I most appreciate the way she highlights his women characters: “He seems to like them better than men, actually”—certainly true. There’s a little biography in there too. Fortunately, she doesn’t look for his influence in contemporary authors (I’ve yet to encounter an author I’d call his “heir”).

Even though I’m perplexed by the nature of Compulsory Games, and would direct the curious first to the inexpensive Faber & Faber reprints of the original collections—Dark Entries (1964) and Cold Hand in Mine (1975)—I’m happy NYRB has taken an interest in Aickman.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

193. Pitch & } needle.

June 30, 2017, 8:48am, I sent the following pitch to M. at The Smart Set:

“Dear M., …I'm delighted and curious about the phenomenon of posting YouTube videos of an LP played on a record player…. I'd like to write a short essay about how weird it is—the way it blends hi-fi and lo-fi, analog and digital, while also creating a pleasing visual.”

M. liked the idea. She wrote, “At one point, I could only find Elton John’s Sick City in that YouTube format… it’s definitely a weird phenomenon….”

I began to look into that “weird phenomenon,” i.e., the “full vinyl rip” of, specifically, horror movie soundtracks. Consider Alan Miller’s typical (of the genre) post of Waxwork’s Creepshow soundtrack (by composer John Harrison): A shot of a Technics SL-D1 turntable, the Creepshow LP on the turntable, a corner of the LP sleeve visible to the left, and a little of (presumably) Miller’s apartment in the background; the record begins to spin and a hand (presumably Miller’s) moves the tone arm and lowers the needle—we’re about 20 seconds into the video when the music begins. Presentation varies a little. The record, shot from above, fills the frame. Decorations are assembled around the turntable. The LP is removed from its sleeve (often to show off clever packaging) and placed on the turntable. We see the LP as it’s flipped from side-a to side-b. Etcetera.

Generally, the people who publish these videos keep themselves anonymous, but the aforementioned Alan Miller included in his “about” page the name of the record store where he worked (this information has since been removed)—I wrote to his employer and shortly thereafter Miller replied.

I told Miller about the article-to-be-written and added, “There's something peculiar about these videos—watching someone's record on the turntable, watching the record run out and get turned over—It's wonderful.” And I asked a few questions. Eagerly, he answered.

He posts his videos because he “got tired of listening to 128k or less audio streams of some of my favorite [movie] scores” but finds “pointless” the debates from “the old audiophile gatekeepers” about “vinyl vs. CD vs. SACD vs insert format.” He simply wants “everyone to be able to hear how awesome these scores and soundtracks are!” I asked how he chooses what albums to post:

I try to pick albums that are rarer than others. If something has already been posted to YT [You Tube] in high quality audio, it seems a bit redundant for me to do the same. Copyright is a huge factor as well, with some rights holders being more aggressive than others. One of my more popular videos a few years back was the Mondo release of John Carpenter's Halloween on orange vinyl, a beautiful record but ultimately pulled (and a copyright strike taken against me) for using the audio.

A copyright strike, he explains, “are the bane of YT.” He says, “Google has software to monitor the audio/video content of everything posted to YT, so if it detects a pattern that is known to be copyright [sic] they will send you a notification….” According to Miller, a first strike prevents the uploading of videos longer than ten minutes for six months; the second takes away uploading abilities for ninety days; the third terminates the account. Google support states that the first two warnings “may affect your ability to monetize”—Miller made it clear that “there’s no monetary incentive here. I can’t make money off of copyrighted material (nor would I want to)….”

Aside from the pleasure of sharing music, Miller agrees that “we all like showing off our turntables, yes.” Because he worked at a record store, he was able to “trade often”—and thus show off a wide variety of equipment. (A favorite of mine is the Mitsubishi X-10—its turntable is vertical.)

I wrote to music critic Anthony Fantano for a little outside perspective—I saw a kinship between the album reviews he posts on You Tube and the enthusiasm for LPs Miller, et al, exhibit. Maybe my questions were lame—Fantano's answers certainly were. I asked, “In the face of a possible DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown, why do you think people [post full vinyl rips]? He replied, “cuz they want to and don’t care cuz they’re not trying to do YT professionally.” As Fantano once tweeted, “well, yeah, but i’m a youtuber, so i’m going to respond to it in a video.” The written word is not his bailiwick.

I don’t know if these rips are good for the companies that specialize in collectible vinyl soundtracks. I don’t own any records from Mondo or Waxwork—I can’t afford them. Or, rather, I can’t justify paying $28 for Re-Animator, or $36 for Friday the 13th The Final Chapter, or $250 for the Nightmare on Elm Street 8LP box set—much though I wish I could. But I imagine that those who can do, because these records are not just about listening.

Watching an LP revolve on a turntable is a significant part of the pleasure of vinyl. Forget the arguments about audio fidelity. Vinyl is tactile first, audible second. The equipment required to listen to it, cheap or high-end, is simple. Ideally, you’re in the room with it, but the video posts please.

I never wrote the essay for The Smart Set.

[ Photo: the inner sleeve art for Waxwork Records' Friday the Thirteenth pt. 3. ]

Friday, May 3, 2019

192. Clive Barker's babe } & Clive Barker's chair.

Re-watched Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (director’s cut, still a disappointment) and noticed in protagonist Boone’s apartment Peter Blake’s “Babe Rainbow.”

Not “noticed”—Barker cuts from a bottle of spilled pills to a hand-held shot of “Babe Rainbow” on a free-standing, wood paneled wall, surrounded by hubcaps. Cuts to another hand-held shot, this from behind Boone as he takes off his t-shirt and steps forward—toward “Babe Rainbow.”

Search Nightbreed + Clive Barker + Babe Rainbow and find “Now watching Nightbreed with my babe” and this quote from the film: “It’s all true. God’s an astronaut. Oz is over the rainbow, and Midian is where monsters live.”

“Babe Rainbow” is a screen print on tin; according to the University of Warwick Art Collection website, the central image, a woman dressed in a white bathing suit, is “based on a 1967 cover of the French magazine Marie Claire”—a cover image easy to track down (Joanna Shimkus is the model). The woman in the print takes a step forward, from a dark background, beneath an arch. Framing that arch is the rainbow. Beneath the woman are the words “Babe Rainbow.” 10,000 “genuine multiples” of the print were made.

Which means lots of people have an original copy of “Babe Rainbow”—there’s a copy down the hill from me at the RISD Museum. Apparently, Clive Barker has a copy too. And fictional character Boone, too. Why is “Babe Rainbow” so prominently featured in Nightbreed?

There’s lots written about how queer Nightbreed is. Yeahits coding is ABC. That quote about Oz, for one. Then there’s this exchange between two of the Nightbreed, Narcisse and Ohnaka: “Hey. Love those tattoos” [Ohnaka glances at the tattoos that circle his nipples, runs away; Narcisse, to himself, says] “Sailors.” There’s a priest who tries to stop the massacre of the Nightbreed by a mob of police—the sheriff calls him “faggot”; the sheriff is promptly killed by Boone, who warns the priest away, but the priest pulls off his collar and declares, “No. I have to see. Take me with you.” Once he does, he becomes Nightbreed and destroys the sheriffwho so obviously represents unthinking, violent, and frightened adherence to conformity. Read Trace Thurman’s “The Inherent Queerness of Clive Barker’s ‘Nightbreed’” for a light-hearted examination of other queer tropes in the film.

So, I wondered—is “Babe Rainbow” simply another signifier? Maybe. But why that rainbow?

Another possibility occurs to me. There’s Clive Barker the English horror author and film director and there’s Clive Barker the English pop artist. Clive Barker the pop artist made a collage portrait of Peter Blake; Blake and Barker have shown work together. Maybe director Barker was making an oblique shout-out to pop artist Barker?

(I first learned of Clive Barker the pop artist when I saw his “Van Gogh’s Chair” [1966] featured on the cover of Paul McCartney’s 1983 album Pipes of Peace. As you all know, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth executed Paul McCartney’s rough idea for the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.)