Tag Archives: indie rock

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame

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After seven years of holding down the rowdy and fascinating Drunken Odyssey, literature professor, drinker and writer John King, lately of Florida, has released his novel Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame upon the summer reading market. This writer thinks shame like walk of shame, like you’re wasted. It’s a story about a decadent goth band’s journey to get a decent gig that involves reliving the legend of Gilgamesh for this weird-ass superfan in his fortress in Tennessee that must be modeled on Adrian Belew’s house.

King’s site is full of truly interesting and mostly-useful perspectives on literature, including an entire series on Shakespeare films. Also discoverable is a tender longitudinal document of King’s friendship with Orlando’s Nathan Holic. His name is Holic, people! John’s like breh, I’m a holic too, wenn du weisst was ich meine. I can imagine them together, drinking or eating opium or what the hell King does, and discussing the tough choices of writing novellas.

Where Guy Psycho comes in is its connection to King’s noteworthy love of comic books and B movies, documented on the site under “curatory of schlock.” The reader gets a strong sense when reading down Guy Psycho‘s relatively slender spine that the novel, far from being one of those “serious” books, is to be read as a comic-book ride, which is appropriate since Gilgamesh began as the comic book of its day, as did Faust.

Right away this writer liked how the story is about a fictional band, because fictitious music is some of the best (see hatestep). In the front of the book we get the members of the band conveniently listed, followed by the admonition “style is meaning.” Thanks, professor! The book then drops us into a wheel of speeding events that definitely give flashbacks of harried nights on tour, all arranged to a sort of ritual importance that should not be overlooked just because it’s a crappy band on a crappy tour. Did King play punk rock? “Oh, but Beto O’Rourke did. Did you know he can skate too?” Fuck right off.

Early on in the text we get something of Douglas Adams’ ability to render the prose itself scaled to its significance, oscillating within painstaking precision and hyperbolic decadence, though this attenuates as the plot thickens. King writes to write, and his affinity for comic book slapstick backs up against all kinds of cultural signifiers and name-drops disguised as hallucinations. This writer bets that such economy is probably what he was going for in terms of technique in Guy Psycho. What Carl Hiaasen would read like if he weren’t a boring normy.

The text is at turns cleverly satiric, intentionally “psychedelic,” as some commentators have named it, and often claustrophobically jumbled. Without giving anything away, the whole story is in a series of interiors, and there are times when this writer stopped reading to imagine both how all these vistas would render to the naked eye, as well as how stressful some of these leaps of imagination physically would be. Keep in mind that I did Cumberland Cavern once and am still traumatized. Did King squeeze through Cumberland Cavern before he set this son of a bitch somewhere beneath Rock City? I’ll keep my comments to myself.

Besides our mutual love of Tennessee, ziggurats and made-up bands, I noticed that I easily could grab King’s references to ancient literature, but part of me wonders if the lay reader would get some of the characters’/settings’ intentions/functions. My only critique would be for King to slow down and let us feel it, and to let the characters really work things out. There are some feelings expressed inwardly by the guitar player, but by way of late-placed exposition, instead of an opportunity to test Guy’s ego in front of the family, or make an in-your-face parallel to the relationship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu that many readers might need. Or not! Just thinking on the keyboard here.

As Gilgamesh and Guy Psycho run on epic running-gear, I don’t expect Hamsun’s psychological clarity, but I would like to see the band members really come up against each other’s abilities, will and personalities to provide some kind of tension in need of decision. Without it the book only really pinches at the band members’ high-heel-tortured feet, and reads like one of my 2-Strats comics, where the reader is just along for the ride and doesn’t get to touch.

All in all Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame is filled with hilarious visuals, insightful gags and a brief lesson in ancient epic. What Guy has to be ashamed of is up to the reader. Don’t download it, dickieeeeee, buy a copy and then give it as a gift after you read it!

Fare Thee Well Caffe Pergolesi

Here’s what I’m bringing to Perg’s tonight, as it’s supposed to close this weekend.

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Not that I ever really liked Santa Cruz that much. And I don’t know much about Caffe Pergolesi besides what’s available in the paper and the fact that it’s in a historic house owned by one Dr Miller. But of course I was in the scene for ever, a scene that didn’t so much as end as never really begin and then slowly fade with the comings and goings of those involved. And more importantly, I along with a lot of people are devastated that Logo’s and now Perg’s are closing at the same time. They’ve been stable while so many other promising spaces have come and gone.

The message from landlords, the Canfields, and the owner class in general is clear: come to Santa Cruz, consume, throw trash, give money to private property, and leave; this is no longer a place to start communities. A place to raise kids, but no place to be a kid, or have the values of free expression, inquiry and fun associated with kids.

The do-gooder rich can have their museums of culture: organic food, special-decial schools for their kids, et cetera. Ironically, it was the openness, free inquiry and will to be wacky that produced such as the organic movement, the Santa Cruz skate thing, and many other parts of Santa Cruz now condemned to be “artifacts” or worse “properties.” I knew about 2001 that it was going this way, but hoped never to see the logical conclusion.

Perg’s was the rarest thing in public-space-hating Santa Cruz: a private space that still believed more or less in free-for-alls, a place for kids to post up their art, a place to hear real music made by real people. I never tried their coffee once, since I was usually there at beer time. And only rarely had I the money to hang out there regularly, but I’ll never forget the shows, and the good times.

Is there a hopeful future? How do we get past the issue of merciless foreign rents and pig NIMBY ordinances? Someone can comment below to give this post some sunshine.

Since I Laid My Burden Down by Brontez Purnell

Video by Nick Taplin, Post-Consumer Records

Saw a video a few months back of Brontez Purnell reading from his up-and-coming book Since I Laid my Burden Down and had to get a copy as soon as it came out. Tried to read it with his voice in my head. The book has been doted upon with a marvelous thick library jacket by New York City University’s Feminist Press.

The punk rocker, performance artist and otherwise notable Oakland figure, whom I remember as one of the few interesting people on Earth in the vacuous universal hell of 2005, published the zine Fag School beginning in 2003. He has also published the Cruising Diaries in 2014 with the collaboration of Janelle Hessig, from whose Tales of Blarg I first heard of his exploits, as well as 2015’s diary-style Johnny Would You Love Me if my Dick Were Bigger. Since I Laid my Burden Down is sort of a Bildungsroman framed in a memoir. Is there a word for that?

DeShawn, blessed with the emotional receptivity that marks a faggot amongst his church-centered community, reflects during a funeral trip to his Alabama hometown of his trajectory in making his life meaningful, and not wasting his faggot people skills in the office of a rural preacher. Regardless of his shifting relationship with his mother, there is the feeling that he thinks his mother has limited her life becoming a preacher herself.

DeShawn is drawn as a product of generations raised by women, with men absent or devoid of father quality. The protagonist seeks mentorship and trust naturally, nevertheless, through his everyday channels, even through an older married lover. Despite making his own way, fleeing Alabama for California, DeShawn never really feels like he can stand the weight of his life on his shoulders, and has problems with memory and scale. Like a lot of us.

The book is full of family, church, death, sex, and the perverse distortion of time and place unique to being in one’s early thirties. Particularly rewarding are the terse but deft descriptions of family members, such as “DeShawn’s mother always spoke recklessly when it was unnecessary, and coolly when it was greatly needed.” Wait –how do they ever know when is which? Does the narrator mean this in hindsight or…?

Throughout the story DeShawn visits two funerals and relates cleaning out several dead people’s houses, visits the gracious and lovable mother of both an early lover and an early abuser, and wears out the patience of a girlfriend in New York, all the while taking stock of the relationships he put on hold or fled when he left Alabama. Along the way he sees some ghosts that grow more vivid and some that thankfully fade.

The prose is unadorned and direct, more diary-like in the beginning, with creams of sly humor beaten in. The back of the book features quotes that I personally found a little hysterical, such as “foul-mouthed and evil.” Perhaps these refer more to Johnny. Purnell’s narrator swears a lot, but only in that the book irreverently records the living language, and is meant to be read out loud. This, in my opinion, is one of the book’s greatest strengths. Anyone obsessed with Pitchfork-level simile-spraying could find any great oral art in corners of Brontez’ sentences, from beat literature to Henry Roth to … I don’t even know, I hate that phony free-association name-dropping stuff. Altogether I appreciated that the prose, though steeped in contemporary slang and naturally-occurring humor, betrays none of the lascivious revelry of Johnny but rather a deep and true affection and understanding for most of DeShawn’s characters, regardless of whether he gets along with them.

He knew feeling good was a setup

Reading the sexual escapades and mentions of a youth steeped in punk rock, it was kind of hard for me, at least, not to place Brontez himself in for DeShawn –as he placed himself as close to the fictional glass as can be in Johnny –so I recommend the reader enjoy the book first and then go cyber-stalk the poor, highly-exposed author. The night their post-Loma Prieta freedom punk warehouse gets closed down, even a fictional lover tells DeShawn “everyone knows who you are.”

I also appreciated how Purnell manages to fit the realities of Deep South life into the story in tiny but excellent bites. This stuff is unimaginable for us west-coast types with our Hollywood-deadened intellects, and the author even points that out in a funny moment. He relates how the principal at the school would remind DeShawn, when he got in trouble, that “your great-granpappy used to raise chickens for my family…” This is the medium of DeShawn’s family’s story that must never be overlooked: in the south there are these horseshit relationships that can be evoked as if to show loyalty, but are really just threats of force. In turn, the protagonists internalize this doublespeak and wield it on each other with varying degrees of purpose (we’ve got this out west with Latino immigrants too). Maybe I just found this insightful and brilliant as a dumb Californian beach bum. What am I gonna school the reader with, the abusive roundabouts of various pelagic fish?

It’s probably clear by now that my only challenge for Purnell for next time, should he decide to do a next time, is to work out before writing who the narrator is. This way the key emotion, be it sex-crazed enthusiasm or reflective love, can really shine through consistently. The reader also could really get cozy within the work’s world if Purnell takes the above decision, moving on some from the format that seems to have begun with Johnny. Finally, this will doubtlessly also address some nitpicky tonal issues I have with some parts.

Since I Laid my Burden Down is a document of a unique life within its unique time and place, an effective and efficient balance of the personal and the universal. Cut that self-conscious crap out about “I don’t recommend every book to everyone.” Get Brontez’ new book and have everyone you know read it!

I have to say, for myself, that I feel that more of these kinds of stories are auspiciously coming into my life. Not necessarily being written, but coming to my attention. Maybe I just don’t get out enough, I don’t know.
But anyhow, when I read Since I Laid My Burden Down, I enjoyed it in one way the same as I so immensely enjoyed Malae’s What We Are: in that the books are full of people I would be friends with. It’s not so simple as “an outsider,” because the question would be, outside of what? Rather it’s a member of a certain socio-economic group who has made certain socio-economic choices within the flush of cash of the Bay Area, a consciously growing and becoming, empathetic scumbag, with no time for the oppression of success, health or other bullshit. Stuck in a phenomenological spiral. The kind of people whose extinction I constantly fear after years of living in Santa Cruz and San José. When I read these books I feel like they were written for me!
Incidentally they both dropped Bukowski’s name, who may well have been highly empathetic besides being a scumbag. Some scholar can comment below about that.

I feel, further, that this book’s approach belongs at least in part to the great tradition of “pack all my youth into some stories so I can stop trying to remember every last bit of it and get ready for the all-out fuckery of maturity.” Brontez certainly demonstrates in Burden the wisdom and ability to handle time and memory necessary to do so, and he certainly has a fascinating maturity and decline ahead of him, unlike most of us. The Savage Detectives is also a great example of this approach, and even I myself, at least as concerns dialogue, am dumping all the silly shit I ever heard from fifth grade up into the mouths of my characters in Byebye and Shlort, the thing I’m working on. I’m excited to see what Brontez comes up with next.

2-Strats and Urinalysis

A lot of semi-shit jobs, especially in post-industrial rural areas with service jobs like helping the elderly, require a pisstest, and 2-Strats isn’t standing for it. Sometimes inspiration comes from deeply-rooted sources and isn’t immediately apparent…

2stratsUrinalysis