Midnight Prayers

Dollar Store Novels for Free

Month: January, 2013

Day Forty-Six: Some Towns Are Shadows, Fading in the Rain

7:30: Wake up

The sheets are wet.  Again.  I didn’t piss the bed, well not quite.  It’s sweat, which is one part urine, one part water, and, in this case, all parts fear.  So, in a way, I did piss the bed.  Just not in the way my little brother Tommy used to when we were growing up.  “If I have something to drink, I’ll wet the bed.”  He slept on the top bunk.

Waking up to soaking sheets wasn’t new.  It was comforting.

The sun invades my bedroom through two wall length windows to my right.  I haven’t gotten around to buying curtains yet.  I know better than to turn towards the sun.  Instead, I face the white wall opposite the windows.  The sunlight projects a shadow there.  The image is enormous compared to the real thing.  It isn’t a reflection, but not quite a lie.

The shadow on the wall begins to shift.  The lump on the bed stirs, changing form.  It travels across the wall and towards the doorway.

Not a reflection, but not quite a lie.

7:40: Review Schedule

The schedule for the day is posted on the refrigerator.  The black lump stands against the wall beside me while I read how my day will hopefully play out.  Each minute is accounted for.

Dr. Lewis suggested the schedule to me.  He said it would keep me focused.  It would keep me out of my own head.  It would, eventually, keep my sheets dry.

“Being alone in your head is a very dangerous place to be,” he would say, “Always stay focused on completing a task.  Live every minute with a singular devoted purpose.  Have a goal for that minute, and constantly work to achieve each of those goals.  Don’t settle for anything less than a full day of perfect minutes.  Then move onto seconds.”

I haven’t even perfected hours.

7:50: Breakfast

I eat the same meal everyday: ham, mushroom, and Swiss cheese omelet accompanied by two slices of lightly burnt, heavily buttered toast and one glass of orange juice.  Fresh squeezed.  It’s more time consuming that way.  I’ve learned to use as much time as possible on each task, to take the long road.  This is why I grow my own oranges instead of buying a carton.  Self-sufficiency kills time.

Unaccounted for time is the biggest danger.  I have to stay out of my own head.  This is the only thing I’m sure of.  Dr. Lewis told me to make a schedule.

The black lump mimics me.

It’s free to follow me along the unbroken white walls in my house.  Dr. Lewis doesn’t know about the lump from my bed.  Dr. Lewis does know about my dreams.  He does know about my journal, another suggestion, where I write down my dreams.  Or, as he puts it, my “visions”.  Write them down when they’re clear in my mind, right after I wake up.

I didn’t write down last night’s vision.  It didn’t fit into my schedule.  Breakfast is first.  It’s always first.  I have to make a few changes so I can have some time to write.  I should take time away from showering.  Five minutes.  Dr. Lewis told me that one day I could put all my writings into a book.  Make some money off my condition.

Exploit my madness; this could be my method.

Dr. Lewis said that all great artists were mad and that great novels were the offspring of insanity and talent.  Vonnegut had seen war.  Fitzgerald had seen wealth.

I had seen murder.  Once as a bystander, but now as the executioner.  The villain.

When the light is gone, and the black lump disappeared, I dream in murder, a new victim every night.  I’m the one silencing their screams.  I’m the one watching their eyes roll back from this life and into their head.  There is no pattern to my murders, Dr. Lewis says, only the fact that I am the one committing them remains the same.  Each victim is different.  Faces from a crowd.  An extra from the movies I’m no longer permitted to watch.

Dr. Lewis isn’t right about everything, though, because I haven’t told him everything.  I never told him about the warmth that spreads beneath my skin, holding me, when I watch them fight to keep their lives.  I didn’t mention the feeling that I could change the future, that I could control and shape the world.  Most people spend their entire lives trying to make a difference.  I had already achieved that, if only in my head.

I am giving these people a personalized Judgment Day.  Everyone is the center of his or her own universe, and I’m ending each one, destroying it completely within minutes.  Dr. Lewis says people always remember others for their final moments, that there is something special in those fleeting seconds.  I’m giving them these moments.  I give their lives meaning, briefly.

But there’s a monster in there, hidden.  Something that knows God laughs at our plans and wants him to look at what it has done and weep.  I don’t know if they deserve it.  I’m not sure it would matter.  There is a monster in my head, hidden.

Dr. Lewis wants to keep me out of my head.  He told me to always stay focused.

8:10: Write

Last night’s victim was an older man.  He slept alone, didn’t scream too much.  It was almost as if he was expecting me, even hoping I would come.  His eyes were full with tears, but he never cried.   He didn’t even try to escape.

In my head I could manipulate the world however I felt.  I could deny a man his future, a chance to see his grandkids grow up.  If he had any.  In my head I wasn’t a God, but not quite a human.

When he stopped breathing, I woke up, suddenly outside my head.  My sheets were soaking.

8:40: Mow the Lawn

I had told Dr. Lewis about the murders but lied about how I felt during them.  This kept him calm.  If he knew the truth, he would begin to worry again.  It would be just like our first sessions together.  He used to think I was going to start living out my dreams.

After a while, his fears wore down.

My hands aren’t strong enough to do it anyway, to kill someone.  I haven’t told Dr. Lewis, but I’ve never really had that kind of strength as long as I can remember.  I remember hunting with my dad.  I remember missing the deer, shooting the ground directly in front of it.  I remember the force of the shot knocking me back and getting pulled up, “Son, you’re going out a youngster, but coming home a hunter.”  He was wrong.

But I had to stay focused.

The bed lump stalks me while I mow the lawn.  It’s pushing a stroller across the freshly-cut grass.  All the houses in my development are white.  I cut in straight lines.  I’m not hard to lose.

9:10: Visit Elaine

Elaine isn’t a person.  Well, not anymore.  A person is consciousness and thought.  We think therefore we are.  She doesn’t think therefore she isn’t.  She can’t be again.

Elaine was murdered.  Now leaves fall and decay above here.  Her name is the only memorial, a monument of what once was.

I kneel in front of the rotting wooden cross that hides beneath the trees in our backyard.  My backyard.  I stopped bringing her flowers years ago.  They would always die too.  I’d only brought her name.

Elaine, when she still existed, asked to be buried back here so that she wouldn’t be in a cemetery. She wanted to embrace her transformation.  She didn’t even want a marker.  I broke that promise.  I need to know where her body is, where she doesn’t exist.  I hold her name and her words.  “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were old?  We’d have survived all this.”  All I can remember are her eyes, how you could tell she was alive just looking at them.

I was Butch Cassidy.  Roy Hobbes.

I run my hands through the grass she’s helping grow.  Even after death she remained nurturing.  She was nurturing.  She is nurturing.  She always will be nurturing.  But under my knees there is also a memorial to the power of murder, same as the power in my head.

Dr. Lewis has theories.  That’s all he has.  No facts.  No diagnosis.  Just theories.  Theories he uses to help me understand my condition.  The most interesting of these theories is that I developed this condition to cope with my wife’s murder.  He says I want the world to feel how I felt.  I want to take away someone that other people care about.  Not revenge, but not quite malice.

9:30: Clean the House

The schedule is thrown off again.  I spent more than the allotted twenty minutes visiting Elaine’s memorial.  It’s almost time for my meeting with Dr. Lewis.  Before that, I have to clean the house.

Vacuum, sweep, dust, and wipe everything down.  The house looks exactly as it did before.  Exactly as it has since I moved in.  Since Elaine and I moved in.

10:00: Meet With Dr. Lewis

Dr. Lewis is always on time, and I’m never ready.  When the doorbell rings, the bed lump runs after me while I finish putting my supplies away.  If anything is out of place, Dr. Lewis will think I’m not following my schedule, and I would have to start on medication again.  When I first met Dr. Lewis, he had me heavily medicated.  He slowly weaned me off, seeing if my “visions” got any worse.  They didn’t.

I finally answer the door, and Dr. Lewis smiles at me and asks if I’m ready for him.  “Certainly,” I barely get out.  I had been behind on my schedule, but I made up time nicely.  Still, I’m nervous.

“Becoming unfocused again?” Dr. Lewis asks, but I know he’s only feigning suspicion.  He knows this whole concept of time management is difficult for me.  It’s the reason that I could never hold a full-time job.  I’m still living off Elaine’s life insurance.  Dr. Lewis handles that for me, but he promised that I would be fit to work soon.  I just need to prove I can handle it first.

“I took some extra time to write down my dreams this morning.  I wanted to make sure it was all there.  So you could find a pattern.”

We sit on the two white couches in my living room.  He speaks calmly,   “Thank you, you know that’s very helpful, but I’m afraid finding a pattern is becoming more and more difficult.  In every dream, you seem to be going after a person from a different race, social class, and gender.  This is only going off the writings you have given me.  If you could note all of your surroundings in the dreams a little more clearly, maybe the settings could form a pattern.”

I’m a detective in my own crime.

“Would you like some tea, Dr. Lewis?”

“No, thank you.  I just came from Mr. Francois’s house and had more than my fill of tea.  Can we begin?  My son has a soccer game at 4, and I still have to see a few more patients, some that require much longer visits.”

“Please, go right ahead.”

He pulls out a pad and paper and a folder with my name on it.  “Okay.  Other than your dream last night, have you had any other visions today?  Any at all?  Even for a split second?”

“No,” I lie.  He writes this down.

“Have you heard any voices or heard any screaming?  Anything instructing you?  Scaring you?”

I lie again, “No.”  He writes that down.

“Have you had any hallucinations?  Have you seen any people who aren’t actually there?”

This time I don’t lie, “No.”  He writes that down.

“Can you read to me what you have written down about last night’s vision?”

I tell him about the old man, the empty bed, and the tears.  He takes notes and shuffles through his papers while I talk.  I’m distracted.  I look out my window, staring just below the sun.  When I finish, he closes the folder and puts his pad inside.  He stands up.  His work here is done.

“It seems like you’re doing very well, and I’m encouraged by your progress.  Daytime visions are down to zero.  You’re sticking to the schedule.  You should be very pleased with these results.”

“I am.”

Dr. Lewis heads towards the front door.  “Until next time…”

“Wait,” I interrupt him.  I never interrupt him.  It’s a sign of aggression, which is not a good thing to indicate I am capable of.  “You said… I mean, I remember we talked about me returning to work.  When I was doing… I’m doing better.”

“So we did,” Dr. Lewis advances calmly.  “I think it would be best if we gave it another few weeks, see if the visions stay in your dreams.  You’ve made a lot of progress, so it’s not all bad news.  We’ll look into some working options in a couple weeks.  How does that sound?”

“How does it sound?”  My face fills with blood, and that heat, and Dr. Lewis steps in front of the window, into the sunlight.  I can only see where he isn’t.  I stand up.

“You should stay seated,” Dr. Lewis warns.  “I understand you’re upset, but you don’t want to regress.  Show me you can suppress this.  If you want to work again, you have to suppress this anger.”

“I’m going to be angry if there’s something to be angry about,” I snarl, reaching down to launch my teacup across the room.  Its brown contents sweep down the wall, recklessly rolling onto the floor. “I’ve been hiding for years!  You’ve been hiding.  You’ve been hiding me.”  The volume has been turned up.  It’s all in my ears: the birds, the old pipes, but no cars.  There were never any cars.

“Thoughts of anger are as guilty as actions.  You know that.  One leads to the other.”

“But I haven’t done anything!  I’ve never hurt anyone!  You act as if I didn’t hire you.  I asked for your help.  What if I don’t need it anymore?  Would you even tell me?”  I walk towards Dr. Lewis.  I feel like I’m on strings, as if someone is pulling me forward.  I’m just trying to keep up.  My right hand is firm and steady, clenched in a tight fist.

“You never asked for my help,” Dr. Lewis says, still lost in the sunlight.  “Not you. “

“I did.  I remember I did.  That number… 555-9818.  I called you.  That day plays in my head a lot, like a movie reel.  Over and over.”

“You don’t have a telephone,” Dr. Lewis words fade out.  Suddenly I’m in a different house.  It’s all brick.  I’m walking down a dark hallway towards the sound of screaming.  A woman is screaming.  Then I run towards a closed door, surrounded in light escaping through the space between door and frame.  I lower my shoulder, launching myself at it.  The door is thrown from its hinges.  I look up at a woman, still screaming, on the bed.  She’s holding a phone but only screams.  I can hear a faint voice on the other end, so I knock it away.

She looks familiar.

I put my hands on her throat, crushing her will.  I am powerful.  And then: the apocalypse.  She stops moving.  She’s not breathing.  Another universe brought to an end.

I stand up to admire the ruins.  I try to put a name to the lifeless, familiar face, to recognize someone.  Then there’s the trigger.  The face I couldn’t picture even though I try everyday.

Elaine.

The walls fall around me, coming down and leaving me, alone, with her, in darkness.  I cry.  I’m without the visions now.  I don’t want to see anymore.  Then I’m gone.

10:25: Water the Garden

I wake up.  Dr. Lewis is next to me.  Well not Dr. Lewis.  What once was Dr. Lewis.  The memorial to Dr. Lewis.  He still has my handprints burned into his neck.  The ground around us is still warm.  I hold his name.

His folder is open, its contents spilled over the floor beside his body.  I reach over and grab a stack.  There are pictures.  All of them faces from my dreams.  Not drawings, but pictures.  Photographs.  Dr. Lewis’s handwriting is beside them.  I had been identifying victims.  My victims.  My real victims, not just in my head.  It was all a confession.

And then there are the movies, the memories.  The hunting and the words.  Elaine’s hair.  Tommy.  They’re all there on paper in titles I knew I could have recognized before, that I had recognized once.  But not now.  I couldn’t know them.  It didn’t work that way.

I see the front door.  It’s locked.  I lower my shoulder, launching myself.  Nothing.  I keep going.  I feel my shoulder dislocate.  The pain is sudden, but the door finally gives way.

I stumble out onto the sidewalk and into the pure sunlight, falling forward towards the entrance to the development.  I haven’t been outside these walls in three years, maybe more.  For the first time I wish the world could be just these houses, just this block.  I know I can’t leave, but this isn’t about leaving.  It never was.

A woman wearing a white coat, same as Dr. Lewis, is walking on the other side of the street.  She seems to know me.  I don’t recognize her.  She just watches me.  Frozen.

10:35: Laundry

I reach the entrance.  I’ve never thought of it as an exit before.  The gate is open.  I’m a little let down.  Freedom is never an open gate.  But this isn’t freedom.

I cross the threshold and something under my skin starts to pulse, beginning in my head then spreading throughout.  Electricity. It rattles everything, and I fall to the pavement, finally noticing a city in the distance smothered in light.   There’s no control anymore, no free will.  I fall out of history.

Then another trigger.  One more vision.  And it becomes reality.  A new history.  I dream therefore I remember.  Therefore, I always was.

10:45: Self Examination

The sunlight diminishes above me.  My sky fades out.  Then everything slows.  My breath.  My heart.

This is my decision.  I was given a choice, and I made this one.  I never wore a wedding ring.  I always knew this, but the light had been too bright.

The bed lump lies motionless beside me on the pavement.  I stop breathing.  My heart stops.  It all stops.  Everything is over.

Dr. Lewis created the shadows.  Not reflections, but not quite lies

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Day Forty-Five: Soderbergh is Even Captivating in Interviews

Vulture ran an unbelievably captivating interview with Steven Soderbergh today.  The director behind the Oceans series and Magic Mike is a hugely important voice in film that will become even quieter after his 50th birthday when he retires to pursue things such as book-writing, painting, and directing musicals about female Egyptian Pharaohs played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Even after he leaves the medium, his body of work, with its imperfections, flops, and unparalleled visual perfection, will hopefully become a manifestation of his creed.  Soderbergh has always made movies how he sees them as opposed to how the money tells him to, which seems trite and even expected when talking about the man who pioneered the “indie” genre, but in the high stakes industry that is “Hollywood”, an industry which Soderbergh was eventually forced to operate within, it becomes a significant distinction.  Telling your story is the most important part of storytelling to Mr. Soderbergh, and, as an innovative and influential artist in his genre, it feels like he has succeeded.

“Just make stuff and don’t agonize over it. Stop worrying about being No. 1. I see a lot of people getting paralyzed by the response to their work, the imagined result. It’s like playing a Jedi mind trick on yourself, and Smith is right. That’s the way I’ve always approached films, the way I approach everything. Just make ’em.”

Day Forty-Four: Losing Sleep to Electronic Invasion

I haven’t been sleeping well recently.  This fan that normally provides white noise to drift into has started screaming, its mechanics falling out of place.  Something doesn’t fit, and the result is reminiscent of a Spielbergian gremlin laugh.  My bedroom has become silent and dense, the un-broached air above my bed feeling gravitational in its imposition.  I’m hemorrhaging sleep by the hour.

In my insmoniatic desperation, I try to demolish the EDM-based infrastructure that has worked its way through radio rock (which, of course, was already the least palatable form of rock).  Muse emits lyrics into the gas-burning cylindrical machinery that shapes their appeal.  “M-m-m-m-mad-mad-mad”.  The Olympics support radio rock.

Imagine Dragons drop the bass, effectively breaking their brauny hook over substance approach.  Wearing the masks of all possible genre, there is no humanity in this chorus’s eyes.  “Welcome to the new age” while I hope for an Orwellian intervention.  We build these structures, massive and arresting, but take dynamite to them and try to locate a beating heart, a pulse, and you’ll find programming code.

Even that fucking Owl City kid is in it.  I scroll through my Twitter feed and read that The Postal Service is getting back together in 2013.  I wonder where that Owl City kid is hiding, trembling in fear of Benjamin Gibbard’s metaphoric revenge.  I try the fan again; it’s still fucked up.  There’s nothing worse than that sound.

Day Forty-Three: One Minute and Fifty-Six Seconds Till Your Seasonal Allergies Kick In or: The Master of the Trailer

What follows won’t go down easy, I should warn you.

I’m not seeing this movie.  The trailer already won.  And that song?  This 1:56 deserves an award and an MPAA warning (something along the lines of, “Clear the rest of your day so you can regain control of your emotions”).  Trailers shouldn’t be allowed to do this.  I’m not doing anything else today.  Mark Webber is an asshole.

Day Forty-Two: Revisiting “The Best Album You’ve Never Heard” in the Wake of a Revelation

Last November, I wrote a blog post about an album called Comeback Cadillac by a little known Mississippi band called The Weeks.  Over the weekend, I saw The Weeks at the Milkboy in Philly.  Their door-busting riffs redeemed my soul, made a couple bloggers true believers, and all around verified the hyperbolic breakdown of their indie debut I had written more than a year before.  I love this band.  As I also wrote in July, they’ll be important soon.  Take note:

Article: Comeback Cadillac, A Song by Song Breakdown of the Greatest Album You’ve Never Heard, Revised

I will not get into this band’s history as it seems somewhat unnecessary at this entry point.  Just know a few things about them: they are called The Weeks, they are from Mississippi, and they made one of the best albums you’ve never heard.  This is that album:

Album: Comeback Cadillac

The tracks:

1. Comeback Cadillac

A slow, monotone count of “1…2…1…2…3…4” leads into an explosion of six-string chaos and drum kick rage that won’t let the last number escape ahead of it.  The Weeks are a warpath here for initially inexplicable reasons, but you can tell they’re in control and know full well where this furious march is going.  The first lyrics are gnarled in a hard-core punky growl yet manage to entertain the notion of explication.  Maybe this is what the album will be about: “Airplanes and speedtrains and my god she’s leavin'”.  It’s all sudden and hurried but pulls you in with an intensity that could be alienating in another group’s hands yet remains hard to ignore here.  It may be the least-listenable track on the record, but it’s also fucking ballsy as an opener.  Given the rest of the record, this track hardly fits in tone and pace.  It must have been included for some reason.  Stay tuned.

2.  Teary-Eyed Woman

The second song on the album pulls you from the assault of the opener, coming up for a breather and actively slowing your heartbeat with a brief yet wandering intro that draws comparisons to Decemberists-molded jamming.  It doesn’t really go anywhere, finding an abrupt ending to its wanderlust, but it’s a crucial step in what is about to happen.

After the intro fades, a handful of somewhat disjointed muted chords form the gruff root riff of the song, and once again the album transfixes itself to the gas pedal, unrepentantly drawing you right back into the madness of it all.  When the first lyrics arrive and are attached to the drawling, focused depths of a new narrator, it’s not at all surprising.  There’s still urgency here, but a relative calm has inspired order over the beautiful, yet ultimately problematic, chaos of the opener.  This track sounds like a completely separate band, with different goals and influences, but the first verse returns us to familiar territory: entropic climaxes held close by Cain Barnes’s rhythmic pulse.  The lyrics here are somewhat vague but deal directly with a troubled, and troubling, emotional woman.  Her power is in lack of complete definition.  Not even the narrator seems to fully grasp her intentions, and his backing band, forcing itself uptempo while simultaneously attempting to maintain its initial riff-heavy quality, mimics this sentiment.  They each seem to be attempting to convince the other of a truth neither one actually believes.

3.  Altar Girl

Here is the scenery, a song that isn’t overly complicated, but sweet, and sits on the track list as something to enjoy while you venture deeper into the record.  There isn’t so much of a riff here as there is a tender gleam comforting the listener.  Another complicated girl forms the song’s center, and a religious struggle complicates the familiarity.  But none of that seems too important.  This one’s all about aesthetics.

4. Hold It, Kid (Your Heart Just Stopped)

This is when it all changes.  This track, with its unflinching change of genre and pace, strips the album of accumulated identity.  It’s not a fresh start, just a new narrative colliding with the recognizable.  There is no precedent for this change.  It’s never fully explained, but the orientation that is seemingly inherent to the band’s transition is masterful.  This is even before the song fully hits, and then it’ll just blow you the fuck away.

“Hold It Kid” has thick folk roots and structure to it, but what lays you out are the drug-habit infused lyrics that feel truly heart to limb to pen, even if they aren’t.  With it, a brand new perspective is brought onto an album that before could’ve been distilled down to a core of over-wrought thematic elements.  This track widens the album, its scope now adjusted to contain the brutal lives of a Mississippi underbelly you didn’t even realize was there.  The first three tracks before it, at this point, feel like a prologue, an insight into a life that could have been.  Now there are only cold rooms and needles and familial dissolution manifested in the tears being erased from faces.  Despite claims to the contrary, everything isn’t, and won’t be, alright.  There aren’t many songs like this one.

5. Buttons

We’ve reached the heart of the album.  Here’s where it becomes the real deal, where Comeback Cadillac surpasses every other album like it.  The riff on “Buttons” can feel 90s familiar but that plays into the songs favor; it plays more as context than hook.  Here, The Weeks are at their most gorgeously deceptive: confidently leading us into a quaint portrait of two young lovers with a knack for cute dialogue (as most young lovers on rock records tend to have) only to subvert these images and turn them into something distinctively ugly within the same verse.  All of a sudden she’s holding a knife to his throat and death wishes are doled out like affectionate kisses were only a few moments before.  The two still kiss, but it seems different now, the portrait has changed forever.  This is what Cyle Barnes does so well, taking us through the rock thematic looking glass if only to struggle with what exactly that can mean.  Here young love is stunted by the world Barnes constructed in “Hold it Kid”.  Nothing in this relationship is cute anymore, and the ugly reality we’ve been shown exists in tragic contrast to the melody powering everything forward.  But holy shit is it a good song.

Perhaps this song has been written before, but it was never this easy to listen to.  Here The Weeks wrap the emotional context of a Springsteen yarn in Southern Comfort colored paper.  “Buttons”, in many ways, plays how I’d imagine Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest would play if she were a song: a beautiful face, but a fucking crazy heart, mind, and soul; yet, in the end, undeniably engaging and impossible to turn off.

6. Mississippi Rain

You know the scene in High Fidelity when John Cusack walks through the rain for the first time and tries to talk to Laura from a pay-phone?  This is the soundtrack to that part of the movie.  Only, in this updated version, the Cusack archetype is strung out and brandishing a gun.  Barnes is refitting a pop-culture standard to the overly-destructive narrative of the album, and it somehow all works.

7. Dog Days

The Weeks rewrite “Summer Lovin'” for their drug-addicted and innocence-bereft heroes, who may just be anti-heroes depending on where you stand.  Containing lyrics honoring the power of music and love, as well as a moment of harsh clarity where the rapidity of their future appears to care less about abstractions such as those, Dog Days lacks the same happy ending that eventually accompanied the Grease template.  It is in this overt rejection of love song conventions that the song succeeds.

8.  The House That We Grew Up In

Comeback Cadillac is an album born from risks, both big and small, that are mostly egregiously without calculation.  Breaking the fourth wall is one of these immense risks that pays huge dividends for the lyrically powered vehicle this album turns out to be.  The idea of breaking the fourth wall is a complicated one because, when mishandled, it can feel cheap and, at its worst, lazy.  Woody Allen pioneered fourth wall destruction with Annie Hall, but The Weeks take no cues from the comedian.  Their direct relation to the audience takes on a different form, one that creates an undefined relationship between listener and singer, filling up this particular track with a glorious haze of The Real.  It also pushes the album to its breaking point.

The premise of the track, a bar show which The Weeks themselves are headlining, is objectively awful.  Sold to me in just those terms, I would’ve never given it a chance, but Barnes approaches the material with a visceral force that imposes the hungover vagueness that permeates his album without seeming distancing.  Here, Barnes splays out a distrustful narrative made up of the smells and brief memories he can piece together.  It’s a song about the haze following a night as massive as the one he attempts to describe, and the girl at its center is wonderfully enticing despite never being fully formed.  Rising up from “a sea of nicotine beaten teenage”, Barnes and co. rally around an anthemic chorus that peaks with their repeated creed, “They can’t stop us, no they can’t stop us now.”  The song’s conceit might be a little pretentious, but God damn it, I want to be a rock star.

Or at least a local legend.

9. Wishin’ My Week Away

Another entropic trip to the band’s default mode.  Local bars, rough sex, and week-long benders.  This song is fucking awesome.

10. Sailor Song

If “Altar Girl” is the aesthetic track, then “Sailor Song” exists on a plane separate from everything else on the album.  It breaks from the overall narrative while maintaining its tone.  The tenth track elevates the crude, complicated relationships expressed throughout Comeback Cadillac to their illogical conclusion.  It’s a song about the simplicity of love and how it can, in death, be complicated by its ultimately defeating nature.  Separation is the context, but a bleeding, beating heart forms its core.  “Sailor Song” manages to overwhelm you, reforming the album into something that is all-consuming in its bleak portraits but also allows you to accept the most hopeful of lyrics:

“Well if love is all you have
Well then baby that’s not bad
And if love is all you got
Then that’s a hell of a lot”

“Sailor Song” feels like a departure from the Mississippi Barnes has helped us come to know, and had the album ended here, there is a very fair argument to be made about the unfair treatment of its audience: to leave them with this relatively uncomplicated and hopeful conclusion amidst the constant turmoil in which the record exists could come off as a cop out.  Perhaps the best part about this song is that it doesn’t end the album.

11. The Ballad of Tonto Higgins

The perfect ending to an imperfect narrative, “The Ballad of Tonto Higgins” is the album’s final complication, a song that at once refocuses the larger narrative while simultaneously propelling its themes towards questions and problems left unsolved.  The song is harsh and represents the musical antithesis of the track directly before it.  It’s full of anger and resentment and exists completely bereft of the hope mingling amongst the album’s earlier riffs.  Over the course of five minutes, Barnes contemplates suicide, demolishes all girls that don’t believe in him in a way only Drake seemed capable of (“You can sell my things and keep my mother’s ring/You can curse my name, spit on my grave, or fuck for fame” is undoubtedly on the same level as anything off Take Care, including “Shot for Me”), and touches on religion once again.

The most important thing this song does is struggle with the band’s very existence.  In a much more subtle dismantling of the fourth wall, Barnes muses on the idea of fading away into indie rock obscurity.  He sounds urgent in his worries to remain visible and claim some sort of relevancy.  “I will sing until my throat it bleeds” he howls in a return to the opener’s fury.  Here, though, Barnes is fully recognizable in his true-believing lyrical avatar.  But then he counters with “Oh, but I’m pretty sure this voice will be the death of me.”  There are no delusions in Barnes’s Mississippi, only those who inevitably fade away.  If he’s figured all that out now, does he have a chance of breaking the cycle?  It’s a messy ending.  It’s also perfect.

This band will be important.

Day Forty-One: Revisiting an Old Story, Their Guns Fired Bullets (Revised)

They had marched for months now.  It was coming up on a year with only letters from home padding the inside of their jackets, protecting them against the elements.  The crushing of leaves created a rhythm matching their hearts, starting the day rapidly only to slow as it wore on.  Each man suffered two pairs of socks to prevent blisters. A soldier was only as good as the strength in his feet.

The rain had corroded all color from their uniforms, leaving each one a muddy tint of brown.  They could never get them completely clean when undressing and scrubbing at the remnants of the day, filth carried since morning.  Sediment from recent landslides polluted the streams they walked beside.  Reflections were no longer visible in the water.  The men hadn’t seen themselves for months.  They probably wouldn’t have recognized their own faces.

The jagged-faced infantry wore smiles not unlike domestic abuse victims wear turtlenecks to hide bruises.  The men talked strategy and logistics.  Their past was never mentioned.  It was all about the task at hand.  The present was all they concerned themselves with.

Onlookers took pictures.  Thousands would come out to see them march.  It was a spectacle, this recreation of the past, and I was part of it.  I was assigned to follow them and document the practice.  I watched them from a distance, photographing their battles and training.  No part of the past months had escaped my view.  It became odd to see the world outside of my lens.  I had become used to the slightly obscured view, accompanied by constant shutter closings, blocking out everything, and leaving me blind for a split second.

But everything was real.  Their uniforms, intensity, and blisters; all of it was real.  They had endured the marches.  They had fought in battles.  They had left a trail of dead in their wake.  It was all real, to them.  Their guns fired bullets.  Their death was imminent.

They were soldiers.

It was only from the outside that the truth about these men, that they were the equivalent of actors, and each leaf-covered trail and gunpowder-stained battlefield their stage, could be understood.

They had generals.  There was a whole chain of command, and no one ever broke rank.  Teachers gave orders to congressmen.  Some said it was beautiful, but only from the outside.

To the men it was war.  It was life or death, and one mistake could compromise everything they had marched for.  It could be over just like that, a misstep, and they would be forced to return to their real lives.  Bankers would be forced to trade in their uniforms for suits.  Teachers would turn in their guns for a few sticks of chalk.  Death meant facing reality, and none of these men seemed to want that.  They all liked these new lives better.

None of them had kept their actual names.  Not even the German ones.  They all assumed a new persona completely separate from the man they used to be and were doomed to become again.  Each of them had new histories, new wives and mothers.  The letters they received from their old homes seemed to be from strangers.

They never wrote back.

The men didn’t love the Nazis for their beliefs, but for their military prowess.  They were impressed by the strength Nazi soldiers had showed in battle, and this is why they had enlisted to march wearing the uniform of an SS soldier.  A replica, of course.  One man told me, “If any country can take on the world and almost win, then it’s up to us to recreate how they did it.  We have to honor accomplishments like that.  It seems dumb to just let something so important in our world’s history die or be forgotten.”

In every picture I’ve developed, however, the swastika on each of their uniforms burns white against a darkened backdrop.  A symbol so powerful, it seems, could use some mud covering it.  But I guess this is just how it feels from the outside.  Some nights I felt like covering them all up, every white swastika, while they slept, but I wasn’t to interfere.  I had to let them carry out what they had come all this way to do.

The death of Hans Frick occurred two months into the men’s tour.  I use his German name because he would have appreciated that.  We sat down after his death on the battlefield, and he told me his assumed name was the same as a Nazi war criminal, the only executed man to express repentance at the Nuremburg Trials.  Hans, the more recently deceased Hans, that is, said he picked the name to remind himself of what the men who wore the uniform before him had done.  He didn’t want to completely lose himself in it.  “To me, it’s all about the history and preserving it.  We’re all peaceful men with morals, here,” Hans told me during our last conversation.  “All we want is to see what the life of a German soldier was like, how if felt to live in this uniform.”  I didn’t point on the inherent problems with this exercise, though.  I thought coping with his recent death was enough suffering for one day.

After nine months, the battles had become sluggish.  As much as these men wanted to be, they were not soldiers.  Their guns had become too heavy, and a lack of sufficient nutrition left them enervated.  On one particular day, I found a perch well above the battlefield.  I shot pictures of the men as they fell, my camera feeling like a rifle.

The men retreated early that day and fell slightly off schedule.   Morale was low in camp.  One man was considering leaving early, which amounted to an interesting mix of desertion and suicide.

They marched for two months after that.  America had become their own Eastern Europe, and it was almost time for this battalion’s last stand.  This march did have an end date, as the men tried to be as historically accurate as possible.  They were reaching the battle where the particular group they were reenacting, as well as becoming, met its end.  All the faces in camp looked like those of men about to face a death squad.  Perhaps, for the first time in months, the real world was finally invading their minds.

The last campsite was a half-mile from the battlefield where the men would be forced to surrender the next day.  They unpacked something that had been hidden away for the entire journey.  It signified the end of the road, the death of their new lives, and rebirth into the habitual.

They had the white flag with them all along.  It was prepared, and packed underneath their supplies, before they even began to march.  Their fate had been pre-determined, as their current lives were simply reflections of past ones already expired, already lived.  As we walked through walls of morning mist towards the last battle, I began to wonder what exactly these men were learning.

Before their last stand began, I found another perfect perch.  The men looked even smaller below me that day.  They didn’t even look like men until I raised my lens.  I saw them preparing then looked to the other side, the side honoring the Allies.  Those men seemed excited and somewhat giddy.

Then, as all battles began, both sides charged and tried to find cover.  No shots had been fired.  Neither side was ready to die.  Then, after a few moments of tense silence, aman rose up from the German side to get at least one kill before his group was inevitably overrun.  He must have missed because every British soldier remained standing after his bold attack.  Then, with a spark behind a bullet, the history became real.  Caught in confusion, protest, or some sort of demented prank, reality had entered the chambers of each man’s gun well before they had stepped onto the battlefield.  The exposed German fell to the ground, his body seeming to be freed from carrying an unseen burden.

I zoomed in on the man, a stripe of red beginning to form down the front of his uniform.  His face was pale, and I saw the life attempting to free itself from his body.  It escaped from two searing holes.  An entry and exit wound.

Their guns fired bullets.

Both sides held up their hands.  A truce.  Each man came out from hiding to witness what he had only pretended to know.  None of these men had ever seen the real cost of war, blades of grass matted with steaming, moving blood.  I scanned over the crowd through the lens.  It would have been impossible to tell the two sides apart if it weren’t for the white swastikas, which reached towards me like spotlights shining from the German side.  I didn’t take any pictures, but my lens came to rest on one German who hadn’t lowered his weapon.

I zoomed.

I could see his eyes consumed with anger, his own searing hole aimed in the enemy’s direction.  The British soldiers had begun to surround the lifeless man.  I kept my lens fixed on the armed soldier.  I couldn’t warn them.

Then, another spark.  He fired.

I pulled back from the lens.  A dot fell below me.  This led to rapid, chaotic movements on the field and then another dot ceasing to move.  Falling.

Then another.

Soon these dots came to abrupt halts in multiples of twos, threes, and fours.  I didn’t take a picture.  I couldn’t bring the camera to my eye.  The perspective from the mountain was all I could subject myself to.  Soon there were only a few dots moving, and a faint glint of white rose up from the right side.  The German side.  I held the camera out and took a picture of the scene without looking through the lens.  A slight calm attempted to seize control of my senses.  It passed quickly.

I couldn’t bring myself to face what had happened below, but I knew it was important to bring it with me.  It wasn’t something to be left behind and forgotten.  I closed my eyes and held the camera out, allowing it to take a few more pictures.

Day Forty: An E-Mail Conversation with my Dad about Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained

He Wrote:

I found the following story on the NPR iPhone App: very interesting views in the movie you guys saw.  Dad

The Big Picture: The Takeaway From ‘Django Unchained’

NPR – January 14, 2013

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is proving to be one of his most controversial. Django Unchained has drawn admiration and condemnation from critics, and has sparked debates about history, race and violence. NPR’s Celeste Headlee reads from a variey of opinion pieces about the film.

http://www.npr.org/2013/01/14/169343956/the-big-picture-the-takeaway-from-django-unchained?sc=17&f=5

Sent from my iPhone

I wrote:

I’ve actually read a bunch of these Op-Ed’s, and I think this is the most important part of this “event” of a film: that we’re talking about all of this stuff we usually consciously avoid.  What I struggle with, and what I think is the most questionable of stances taken on the film, is this idea that a white man should not make a movie about slavery or about racism.  History isn’t something that is owned by certain groups and relegated for them to tell.  It is something we all share, Tarantino as much as Spike Lee.  Some feel it more than others, and I cannot say I relate to perspectives other than my own.  However, I don’t think this makes history belong to any one person in this country more than it belongs to another.  I am white.  My ancestors were of Irish descent and did not live in this country during the ugly period of slavery, but I was born an American citizen and, as such, inherently accepted this nation’s history as my own.   This movie, for all its faults (which are few and even fantastic in their own way) and anachronisms (which is honestly an absurdist stance to take, that this movie is less important because of the historically inaccurate inclusion of things such as swinging saloon doors and dynamite) is something more than these critics are making it out to be.

This is not a period piece.  It is instead a modern film about a historical evil.  It is revisionist history.  It is not attacking whites or blacks or any other race; it is attacking our sensibilities about slavery.  The film is meant to break us loose from a stasis, one that seems to set in when talking about this particularly shadowy and uncomfortable area of our national soul.  Django is not meant to transport us to a certain time as much as it is meant to contextualize the modern conversation.  When you watch the movie, you are constantly bombarded with imagery that is both ugly and impressive.  Even Rick Ross and John Legend weigh-in via the jarringly modern soundtrack.  This is a movie about where we are today told through an unhinged display of where we were.

The thing I hold onto from this NPR piece is the comparison made to Lincoln, which I think is an exceptionally apt observation.  Our national narrative of the final months of slavery, as is told in schools as well as in Mr. Spielberg’s film, is one of whites, and one man in particular, freeing slaves.  The reason Lincoln is so great is that it makes this narrative more difficult to discern by portraying the man as conflicted in his decisions yet “all men are created equal”-moral above all else.  Of course, he was the man to make it happen, but the movie leaves out significant chunks of slave history as well.  It leaves out the slaves that wreaked havoc on southern plantations during the Civil War, making slavery become less and less sustainable.  It quickly pushes off camera the black soldiers who aided in the fighting, and of course the dying, that lead to the film’s conclusion.  More than that, the black characters can feel at times less human than symbolic, meant to remind us of what the white men are fighting for.

Of course, this too is a product of the times, and Spielberg is smart not to mess with his very-close-to-factual historical script delivered by Tony Kushner.  But why then is Tarantino taking hits for portraying violence towards slaves in the symbolic form of Mandingo fighting?  Sure, whether it existed at all is somewhat murky but seems to be leaning towards “There was no such thing ever”, but the violence towards slaves was also much worse than what is portrayed on the plantations in the film (there are, of course, displays of what slave owners were capable of, but even that seemed somewhat sanitized, relatively).  Again, this is revisionist history.  This form of organized fighting is a manifestation of the orchestrated violence between slaves that was brought about by their masters, violence that may not have been existed physically but more abstractly within people resembling Samuel L. Jackson’s Uncle Tom-type character.

Essentially, I struggle with many of these arguments based on a few short points that this movie does a great job challenging.  I’m not sure if Tarantino answers them all, but I’m also not convinced that he should or even could.

1. Who owns history?  Can we really decide who gets to tell a story?  And why does that story have to be somber and respectful at every turn?  Like it or not, there was ugliness on all sides of slavery (clearly the white side was worst on senstibility alone, but Tarantino makes this point again and again throughout the film, so what the hell is he supposed to do?)  Basically, I’m concerned with the notion that Spike Lee put forth that making this film is “disrespectful” of his ancestors.  Perhaps I am wondering why whites with a slave owning past would be ridiculed for making a similar claim, seeing as their ancestors are mass-murdered in a jovial way.  This is not an argument to be construed as the protection of the motives of white characters in the film or those who perpetrated “America’s original sin”; it’s a challenge to the notion that a filmmaker can’t write on his country’s history.

2. Most of this criticism seems to miss the point of a Tarantino film, which is particularly shocking considering the movie critics sampled in the NPR piece.  His films are meant to place highly uncomfortable story lines in familiar situations in order for his audience to struggle with how they feel about what is appearing on screen.  It’s not exploitation as much as it is constantly disorienting (in the best sense of the phrase).  His films can’t exist in a vacuum, they must be digested with our country’s body of popular culture surrounding them.  People who only see a Western when they look at Django Unchained are simply seeing the light before it goes through the prism.

3.  Why is no one up in arms about Lincoln, a movie about the end of slavery where all the slavery happens off-screen?  Sure, the movie is about the man, but it takes credit for the ending of our worst sin as a nation without fully confronting it.  Some may brush this off, but I think it’s interesting to consider.  Especially when the major black characters in the film are defined by their ability to properly walk away from a situation or walk back into it.

4.  But, most of all, I’m pumped that the film brought us here, to this dialogue.  It put the N-word out there and said, “Yeah, it’s time to deal with this now.  It’s been to easy to hide from it for this long.”  I don’t know, there’s something noble and inherently important in that even if you hate everything else about the film.

Let me know what you think.

Day Thirty-Nine: Play by Play of the Original King Kong

This is the real sequence of events.  Only names, quotes, and events have been changed.

  1. “Where are we?”
  2. “We’re here. Also, I love you.”
  3. It’s time to be pretty racist.  Like, Disney racist.
  4. “There’s a giant, extinct animal.  Let’s shoot it.”
  5. Dude got eat
  6. #WhitePeopleRunning
  7. “Let’s hide on this log over a giant death canyon.”
  8. Small Knife vs. Giant Gorilla; Knife wins
  9. Giant Gorilla vs. Tyrannosaurus Rex-Radio Static Offspring with a Dr. Strangelove Tail; Giant Gorilla wins (Record: 1-1)
  10. #GiantGorillaFoundLoveInAHopelessPlace
  11. Don’t worry, the two main characters are the only ones that survived. You won’t have to pretend to care about the extras anymore.
  12. The birds are inexplicably normal-sized
  13. “Let’s go back into the dinosaur-filled jungle only, this time, we’ll bring a shit ton of guns.”  This is also the plot to Jurassic Park 2.
  14. “Oh, and let’s not stick to the plan we made 2 minutes ago.  We should probably just take orders from this unstable and deceitful moving pictures director. 
  15. Giant Gorilla vs. Snake that also has legs; Gorilla wins (2-1)
  16. This next scene is filmed on location at Pride Rock.
  17. She just fainted for the 14th time.
  18. The Sixers just lost to the Hornets.
  19. This Gorilla is just a good old fashioned pervert then?
  20. Giant Gorilaa vs. Pterodactyl; Gorilla wins (3-1)
  21. Oceans 11-level escape attempt by the humans.  Giant Gorilla wins (4-1).
  22. Accidental escape ends up working out; she trips.
  23. What happened to all those racist caricature villagers?
  24. Oh wait, they’re back.  They heard the gong.
  25. This Gorilla is now in full on Brando “Stella!!” mode
  26. Giant Gorilla vs. Wood Beam; Gorilla wins (5-1)
  27. Gorilla takes out his preverted sexual frustration on the villagers and their homes
  28. Rick Ross should’ve done this soundtrack
  29. Giant Gorilla vs. Firecracker; Firecracker wins (5-2)
  30. Giant Gorilla vs. Broadway; Broadway loses in a TKO (6-2)
  31. Newspapers, apparently, are still relevant whenever this movie is set. #ContextClue
  32. They don’t mention the villager deaths.  This is totally a Disney movie.
  33. In case you were wondering, yes, the Gorilla is striking the Jesus pose.  Is this a completely misguided remake of American History X?
  34. Yeah, no flash photography in the Theater, please.
  35. Giant Gorilla vs. Chrome Steel; Gorilla wins (7-2)
  36. Holy shit, no cell phones.
  37. The Gorilla Creeps
  38. He creeps again. #StayCreeping.
  39. Kong’s first edible train set.
  40. It’s Rivalry Week here on the Empire State Building: Giant Gorilla vs. 4 Small Airplanes
  41. Empire State Building is supposed to be one of those phallic symbols here.  The Gorilla even thinks it’s a little heavy-handed.
  42. “Fuck yo plane”
  43. Planes win! Planes win! (7-3)
  44. 115th “Beauty and the Beast” reference to end the movie.  #Disney #ProductPlacement #Racism

Day Thirty-Eight: A Conversation

“Do you think you could have a pet beaver?”

“What do you mean?”

“A beaver, as a pet.  Do you think you could have one?”

“Like, legally?”

“Well, no, but I guess that’s important too.”

“The legality of owning a beaver?”

“Yeah yeah, that.  But I meant would you be able to keep the beaver as a pet?”

“You mean, would it escape?”

“Yeah, sort of.  Like, would we, as humans, be able to keep it as a pet?”

“So, you’re wondering what kind of cage you would need?”

“No, not a cage.  I wouldn’t want it in a cage.  Could we keep it like a pet, like a dog?  Animals in cages aren’t pets.”

“So no rodents are pets?  No snakes?  Turtles?”

“No, they’re just confused.  They’re not willingly there.  If they knew where they actually were, they’d want to leave.  If you told them, ‘You know this is a cage, right?  This isn’t the world.’  They’d all want out.”

“Cages are transparent, they can see out.”

“Well, sure, they can see the room that they’re in.  They can probably even see a window to another world outside that one.  But they don’t know what those places are.  How are they supposed to know they can survive out there?  How are they supposed to know they can breathe out there?”

“You’re talking about the cave, right?”

“Huh?”

“The cave, you know, accepting the reality we’re presented with?  Plato?”

“No, I’m talking about pets.  I’m talking about beavers”

“What about fish?”

“Fish?”

“They couldn’t live outside their cages.  They can’t breathe outside.  The water inside the cage is the only place they can live.”

“Well it’s the only place they can live of what they can see.”

“Agreed.”

“That’s not the same.”

“Sure, it’s not.  You want to know about beavers?”

“Yes, that’s what I asked about.  Beavers.  Could you keep one as a pet?  Let it roam around your house like a dog?”

“You’d have to train it.”

“Exactly, but could you train it?  How much damage would your house take before you could train it?  Aren’t beavers strong?  Like, ant size-to-strength ratio strong?  Wouldn’t they tear apart everything before you could train them not to?”

“I’m not sure it’s the same ratio.”

“It’s not.  I’m sure it’s not, but they’re still fucking strong in pure destructive force.  Have you ever seen what they can do to a tree?”

“They build stuff with them, yeah.  Dams or whatever.”

“But first they fuck the tree up.  They’re carpenters but don’t have tools.  They can do all of that with what’s on their body.”

“Sure, I guess that’s true.”

“It is true.”

“Sure.”

“So, could you keep a beaver as a pet?  That’s what I want to know.”

 “No, I guess not.”

 “Ok.” 

“Is that the answer you were looking for?”

“No.”

Day Thirty-Seven: 48 Seconds Till Your Childhood Is Ruined

That’s Cary Elwes in the clip.  Yeah, that’s this guy:

Image

I know what you’re thinking, “Why would you show me this?  How could you do this to me?”  Believe me, I get it, and I’m not trying to drag you down with me.  I have a point to make here, and that point is this: I’m pretty sure we’re still in Fred Savage’s imagination, and, if stuff like this magic-bubble-drug-pipe-tuba

Image

or these oversized and oddly colored radiation victims

Image

or this overweight, coked-out Westley

Image

or this irrationally angry and terrifying fish

Image

are any indication, he’s in a dark, dark place.  There’s really no other explanation.  Tuba bubbles are a hell of a drug.