Tuesday, October 5, 2021

227. Caitlin R. Kiernan's } unstable "Onion"

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Onion” is about two miserable young people who suffer glimpses of another world. Frank sees it through cracks in walls; Willa sees it in mirrors. They work shit jobs. Barely eat. Go to meetings in the basement of a synagogue where bitter coffee and day-old donuts are served. Willa accepts an invitation from a wealthy man who has an enormous glass tank full of seawater in his basement. Via that tank, some people can navigate to the world Willa only glimpses. Frank is jealous, feels betrayed, is a little bit really worried about Willa’s well-being. His rescue attempt is a bust: he finds Willa in the tank, hideously transformed and simultaneously convinced she’s in her mirror-world.

Only, that’s not how Kiernan’s “Onion” ends. Not this time. That’s how it ended when I first read it (collected in the chapbook Wrong Things, picked up for a couple bucks at a used book shop). When I read it today, I found no tank, no Willa-thing. Instead, Willa bums a cigarette and leaves Frank morose in Central Park.

To be clear, I didn’t misremember the story. The story changed.

[ Image: Richard A. Kirk's "Anguish of Mind" (2017); Kirk's art appears on the cover of the Subterranean Press edition of Wrong Things by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Poppy Z. Brite ]

Saturday, July 10, 2021

226. Resident } Carolyn R.


Unofficially, I was a teacher’s assistant at Emerson College during fall 1997 & spring 1998. My role was minimal. Read stories, contribute to workshop discussion, meet with students assigned to me outside of class. One student taught me to drive stick in her BMW. Another signed over her New Yorker subscription to me when she left Boston (that would be Kate Milliken, author of Kept Animals). Another was Carolyn R.

When I was 17, I went used-tape shopping with my pal Jeremy. He bought The Residents Commercial Album. He told me each song on the album is one-minute long. Maybe he played it for me? It made an impression. Roughly five years later, I must’ve mentioned it to Carolyn & she must’ve replied, Do you want me to dub it for you? I found the tape last week. A TDK SA90 with Commercial Album on side A. On an index card inside the tape case I noted, “Residents dub made by Carolyn R. recorded from vinyl.” Until now, I never really listened to it or spent much time contemplating Carolyn’s cool. In ’98, vinyl wasn’t fashionable as it is now. What was her setup like? Tape/turntable/CD player? Did she buy the record herself? Did she inherit it from her dad? Further establishing her cool, she left side B blank. 

Sometime later, I taped 45 minutes of WZBC. The host says, “All right it’s Martin here, ZBC 90.3. Another day, another evening, another show. This could be it for me for the summer, who knows. But, ah—not going to say farewell. It’s a touching moment. It’s whatever. I’ll leave you with a group called Frontier. It’s a long piece, but you might get into it. ZBC will be signing off in a few.” I think it’s a track from Recorded Live at the Empty Bottle (1996).

Carolyn posts from Rome.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

225. Old brown shoe } shufflers.

Caught George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” on the radio. “Beware of thoughts that linger…”—yes. (As inscribed on a little card plastered on the ceiling at Indica.) “Beware of soft-shoe shufflers.” Ray Bolger sings, “there was just one dance alive / the old soft shoe” in 1957; in 1953 Carol Richards sings that the old soft shoe was “the dance my daughters used to do”—that’s vaudeville. Harrison’s lyric warns of sales pitches—“beware of ABKCO.”

The “Beware of ABKCO” demo was cut in May, 1970; the Beatles finished “Old Brown Shoe” in mid-April 1969. Takes 1 & 2 of “Old Brown Shoe” were recorded on February 25th (along with first takes of “All Things Must Pass” & “Something”); Harrison has it worked out pretty good—what it lacks is Ringo (he’s out of town filming Magic Christian), McCartney’s bass, & Beatle harmonies: “Oo-ah, oo-ah-oo, oo-ah, oo-ah-oo….” A significant lack. A case can be made for the beauty of “Something” sans Beatles, but not “Old Brown Shoe.”

Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe” lyric “If I grow up, I’ll be a singer / wear a ring on every finger” strikes me as fun—a nod toward Ringo, right? But—why “if” & not when?

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Monday, March 22, 2021

223. Color Plates & } Stories on Stage.


Color Plates began with a used copy of Sam Hunter’s Toulouse-Lautrec—to be cut-up, I thought, for poetry; instead, Hunter’s book inspired a short ekphrastic exercise.

Gradually, Mary Cassatt became central to Color Plates. A woman who did not allow other people’s expectations to interfere with what she wanted to do. All the painters whose work the Plates refer were involved with the Impressionists, but also worked outside Impressionism.

It took me a few years to draft the version of Color Plates I sent to publishers, & when a press accepted that draft, I continued to edit & cut. Some cuts were hard won: a story about a pianist who gives birth to a heron shortly before a concert was beloved by the publishers, but I feel what was attractive about that story was all flash. At the time, I couldn’t get it right. Other rejects were too convoluted—they weren’t true Plates.

Color Plates is out of print. A natural course for a book to take. Copies can be found on secondary markets—I see a copy at The Strand, for instance. Maybe another publisher will reprint it, perhaps with reproductions of the art that inspired the stories? (This was the wish I heard most often from readers—they wanted to look at the paintings while they read. Of course!) If Color Plates is picked up again, I'll write a few new stories for it.

In the meantime, Stories on Stage will present a selection from Color Plates read by actors. The folks in charge, Abbe & Anthony, are generous & thoughtful people—it's very satisfying to work with them. As each Plate is read, the artwork will be shown. After the show, the performers answer audience questions; I’ve been invited to join. I don’t know all the details, but the show will be streamed on a platform heartier than Zoom.

I'd also like to thank Isabelle Clark, this Color Plates' patron. She's wonderful.

Originally meant to be performed on stage in Denver, this virtual performance can be attended by anyone anywhere, which is great.

Stories on Stage has been around for twenty years. They’ve done a couple virtual performances since the pandemic postponed their 2020 season, too. The details for the show are here.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

222. Death Wish } & pocket nebulizers.

Investigating why ex-Zep guitarist Jimmy Page covered a Chopin Prelude (“No. 4 in E minor”) during the 1983 ARMS Charity Concert series (raising funds for Multiple Sclerosis research) led me to
Death Wish II (1982)—Page, hired to write the soundtrack, lifted No. 4 & incorporated it into the soundtrack. He called this composition “Prelude.” It’s on the b-side of the soundtrack LP. At the ARMS shows, he performed three tracks from Death Wish II—I guess it was the only new music he had to offer? (I like some of the synth-heavy instrumental stuff. “The Chase,” “Hotel Rats & Photostats,” “A Shadow in the City,” & “Untitled Bow Creation”—all of which could be happily inserted into a horror movie. The rest of the Death Wish II soundtrack? This is no lost gem.)

While looking at Death Wish II, I looked at Death Wish (1974) & noted that Inspector Frank Ochoa, assigned to stop the “Vigilante,” used an inhaler that wasn’t familiar to me. I asked a doctor about it & he had two ideas: “Some of the original Primatene Mist delivery systems looked like what the inspector has—a gray bulb with a plastic conical extension” & “Also the line of DeVilbiss No 41 Pocket Nebulizers looked something like it.”

My money is on the DeVibliss.

Casually, the doctor I queried made an astute observation,
…the inspector is struggling with a bad cold and is using an over-the-counter inhaler, probably with neosynephrine. There were dozens of these in the ‘70s—Oxymetazoline, Ipratropium or one of the other decongestants. There was even one that combined low dose steroid and Neosynephrine. You would use it and get temporary relief and then a rebound congestion which you would again shrink with the decongestant—on and on…. The inspector is just having a recurring problem that makes him feel terrible and for which he seems unable to get more than temporary relief!
That’s exactly the inspector’s situation. The cold he struggles with throughout the film (he frequently snorts nasal spray, reaches for hard candy, etc.—all evidence of some ailment) is a neat symbol for the other chronic problems that face the inspector; specifically the Vigilante, more generally crime. Was this an actor’s decision or in the script or in Brian Garfield’s novel?

[ Screen shot from Death Wish (1974); Inspector Frank Ochoa utilizes a nebulizer. ]

Saturday, February 27, 2021

221. "...as w/ a } quiet life...."

Two virgins, John & his “sweetheart,” adrift on a raft, find a tropical lagoon. Anchored there is a sail boat overgrown with gray fungus. John climbs aboard & explores the deck until he feels “suddenly lonely”; he locates a rope ladder so his sweetheart is able to accompany. Here they live until,

On the seventh morning, my sweetheart woke to find a small patch of [the fungus] growing on her pillow, close to her face. At that, she came to me, so soon as she could get her garments upon her. … When I saw the thing upon her pillow I shuddered, and then and there we agreed to go right out of the ship and see whether we could not fare to make ourselves more comfortable ashore.
Gray fungus covers nearly the whole island. “In places it rose into horrible, fantastic mounds, which seemed to quiver, as with a quiet life, when the wind blew across them.” A small patch is free of the fungus; a patch of “fine sand.” There, John & his sweetheart set up camp.

A month later, fungus begins to grow on John & his sweetheart. They’re starving, too. John attempts to provide fish, but his catch is meagre.
Then I made a very horrible discovery. One morning, a little before midday, I came off the ship with a portion of the biscuits which were left. In the mouth of her tent I saw my sweetheart sitting, eating something.
Both eat the fungus, promise each other not to eat the fungus, are consumed with a desire to eat the fungus, &… it’s too late, “…the fungoid growth too hold of our poor bodies”—irrevocably changed.

Is the island an anti-Paradise? All the fruit forbidden. Knowledge = death. There’s no indication in William Hope Hodgson’s “The Voice in the Night” that John & his sweetheart become sexually aware; they remain as chaste after they eat the fungus as they were before.

Human virgins—asexual? Just like a fungus.

[ Image from Matango (1963), directed by Ishirō Honda. ]

Thursday, January 14, 2021

220. On Bart Lodewijks at } Full Stop.

Among numerous other projects I undertook during the summer, I wrote a sequence of short essays concerned w/ art. Four of these (about Nancy Friese, Susan Schwalb, Harold Redicliffe, & Erin Johnson) I posted here at Little Stories. A fifth, “Bart Lodewijks’ Sligo Drawings: An Artist’s Book” was accepted by Full Stop; I forgot all about it until today—

[ Sligo imitation from porch ]

[ Sligo imitation from sidewalk ]

—— but here it is, published since November 12.

(A sixth essay, about Ellie Ga’s project North Was Here remains unpublished. The editors who read my essay found it too experimental. That’s fair.)

Above, photographs of my Lodewijks’ chalk art imitation made on the front walk in May.