Matthew Simmons lives in Seattle.
Matthew Simmons lives in Seattle.
This year, I went on a small, self-financed West Coast book tour. As a tool to market my book, it was not terribly successful. Ah, well.
As a vacation, though, it was wildly successful. There were some things on the West Coast that I had wanted to see, and I got to see them. I saw The Winchester Mystery House. I saw The Esalen Institute. I saw The Madonna Inn. I saw molting seals. I saw The Watts Towers. I saw The Museum of Jurassic Technology. And, best of all, I finally got a chance to see and use Deaver’s Great Chain of Being. READ MORE >
Here’s something to keep in mind if you happen to be in Michigan next February.
On February 17, 1974, at a VFW Hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, The Nail Bombs played their only show. They played for 11 and one half minutes. They played three songs. There were 19 people in the audience. All 19 started their own bands within two weeks of seeing The Nail Bombs play. Shows played by the bands formed by the 19 people who saw The Nail Bombs play inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Those bands inspired more bands. Thus, The Nail Bombs are an index case of much of the Midwest’s punk rock scene. (Sure, The MC5. Sure, The Stooges. But remember: with music, multiple ears are available to be infected, and multiple strains infect. The Nail Bombs were a strain. An powerful strain.)
No one knows who The Nail Bombs were. No member of the band has ever stepped forward and said, “I was a Nail Bomb.” No one has even attempted to do so as a hoax. They never recorded a record, or even made a little demo. There was at one point a tape of the show—the only audio evidence of the existence of The Nail Bombs—but it has been lost, and now there remain only some fragments of a transcript. (Fragments will appear at the end of this post.) READ MORE >
One of the things I’m noticing lately is that I’m, I think not just a little sick, but completely sick of narrative video games. Or at least I am sick of games that have big, ambitious narratives.
So that’s why I’ve been thinking about Chaser 2 again. READ MORE >
In my last post, I mentioned that I wanted to write a little bit about the actor and singer Marcus “Marky” Kelly, who had minor-but I think significant-career in show business from the late 1950s through the 1960s. The highlight of it all was, of course, his teen idolhood in the early 1960s. I had assumed Kelly was gone for good, and quite possibly dead, until I discovered a movie called Filtered Water (director unknown, writer unknown, producer unknown, actors unknown) in my mailbox a few months ago. The movie featured an old actor who I think might be Kelly.
But let me make it clear: I am not 100% sure that the old actor in Filtered Water is Kelly. There are, however, clues. There is a physiognomic similarity-Kelly had bright blue eyes, and a signature half-smile. The actor in the film has bright blue eyes, and a familiar half-smile. There is the timeline-Kelly was born in 1940, and the actor appears to be in his 70s. (And I know this because my folks are in their 70s, and if I look at an old picture of my Dad and a new one, old pictures of Kelly and a screenshot of the actor look to have an uncannily similar progression. The same wrinkles, the same advancing tenderness to the eyes, the same added colors in the complexion. If its him, he’s aged like my dad has aged.) And there is the voice. The actor’s voice sounds like what Kelly’s voice would sound like if it fell apart and was rebuilt. Like a voice does when we age. READ MORE >
(Dir. Antonio Johns)
I saw this on a train. I was traveling from Seattle to Portland by train, and the person sitting next to me asked me if I wanted to watch a movie with him. READ MORE >
We had some plans but an unexpected medical procedure canceled those plans. READ MORE >
Hey, I had to go to a church recently. I was doing some childcare for a relative, and it was on a Sunday. Kids of a certain age lead an orderly life. Included in the order of the lives of the kids for whom I was providing some childcare was their regular Sunday morning visit to a Unitarian church in Seattle. Being a dutiful relative, I agreed to keep the child to the child’s orderly life and attend a Unitarian church service with the child.
And I had a pretty good time. It seems I like church a lot.
Turns out even though I stopped going to church 28 years ago, and even though I attended an Anglican church during the years I attended church, I still had all the rhythms of church hardwired in me. I may not have known the specifics of the creed or the words to the hymns and the prayers, but I felt like I knew all the gestures and the sentiments. I knew when to stand and when to sit. The Unitarian service’s language seemed a little strange to me—it was 19th century, and felt American, and seemed weirdly concerned with architecture—but everything else clicked into place pretty easily.
Best of all, though, it gave me an opportunity to sit and really think about death. I mostly don’t really write anymore. I mostly just sit and think about death. I mostly try to sleep and can’t sleep because I start to think about death and then find I can’t sleep because I’m thinking about death. And I mostly feel weird about lying in bed thinking about death because it doesn’t seem like the right place to be thinking about death, so I don’t sleep. I should be trying to sleep. I should be trying to clear my mind. I fight to clear my mind. I fight to clear out thoughts of death. And I fail and fail and fail.
Churches, as I’m sure you are already aware, are all about death! They don’t ask you to clear your mind of all thought of death.
And the church didn’t just give me a place to think quietly about death. It was a place to think about it actively and in a participatory way. It gave me plenty of cues telling me that I was in a place where thinking about death was encouraged. I found myself thinking about death in the proper setting. The right context. It was fantastic.
Many of the seats in the church have little plaques on them. The plaques say that the seats were “given” to the church in honor of someone. And that someone is dead!
Many of the books in the church have bookplates in them. And the bookplates say that the books were “given” to the church in honor of someone. And that someone is dead, too!
The programs they give you when you enter the nave to find a seat are filled with the names of the dead. The songs sung in a church are slow and quiet and mention death a lot. There are moments in a church service when everyone is asked to sit quietly, and during those moments, you can hear little creaking noises and breaths and coughs. Human bodies are filled with gas, and after death they make creaking and sighing noises. And the “death rattle” is a sort of choking cough people near death make when their throats fill up with saliva they can’t swallow because they are dying and all their energy is going to that instead of to swallowing.
And, of course, a church was just lousy with older people who are really close to their own deaths. They’re the ones making most of the noises in the moments of quiet reflection. Because their bodies are getting away from them. Because getting older is just the our bodies getting away from us. Until finally, we can’t stop our bodies from getting so far away from us, they cease to function entirely. Try as we might to stop it from happening, our bodies just give up. Think about that next time you are unable to keep from coughing. Your brain fights and fights, but you cough, because you can’t will your body to stop. You’re going to die someday, and it might be like that. Your mind might be sharp or it might be dulled with medication or decay, but it might still try to will your body to keep going, but your body won’t have you telling it what to do. It will just stop working.
Thinking about that in church felt far less menacing to me than it does when I’m in bed, and the person next to me is asleep. And I’m not asleep, but I’m trying to sleep, and instead I’m worrying about death.
I like church a lot.
Have a good weekend, everyone.
After The Day After ran on ABC in November, 1983, it took me weeks to sleep normally again. The attack scene cycled through my brain, night after night. But not the panicky running and the electromagnetic pulse. Just the mushroom cloud. Just the bright light revealing the skeletons within the doomed. Just the fire and the flash.
Much of The Day After takes place in Kansas City. At the time, my family and I lived in Kansas City. Because of The Day After, and until he left office, I was always at least a little afraid of Ronald Reagan.
This pizza place near our house had some arcade cabinets, and the one I liked best was Missile Command.
Here’s the best decision the designers of Missile Command made on the cabinet: they gave it a trackball. A joystick makes reliable moves. A trackball is about imprecision. READ MORE >
The two best things I read online today are this essay on mushrooms by Daniel Nester and this paper from Hypermedia Joyce Studies that examines the connections between Finnegan’s Wake and Electronic Voice Phenomena.
It really feels like summer. Here’s a video by the writer Juliet Escoria with blood and a bridge and . Feels like it’s going to be a great summer. A summer where we bleed out all that’s bad inside.
I guess I’m never going to be a doctor of anything. I mean, I’ve only ever tried to become a doctor of creative writing, so I only feel a small amount of regret about the fact that I’ll never be a doctor. A doctor of creative writing is a strange sort of doctor to be, anyway. It’s maybe better not to be one, really.
One of the reasons I’m not going to be a doctor of creative writing is, I guess, that the application I sent to places for consideration for their doctoring in creative writing programs included a story that included a section written in the present tense. And this seemed to bother at least one someone enough for them to mention to me that it stuck out to them as a good reason not to bring me into their school to teach me all the things one gets taught when one works at becoming a doctor of creative writing. (I’m certain there are other reasons I will not be a doctor. But that was a reason a person copped to as a reason I was rejected as a creative writing doctor candidate. But, yeah. Many other reasons, I’m sure. I fall short in all sorts of ways. All the time. Ask anybody.) And in response to a query about my ineligibility to become a doctor of creative writing, I was sent a link to this 1987 essay by William Gass which he expresses dismay about all the present tense going around. “Why won’t you be a doctor? Here, read this and find out. William Gass will tell you.” READ MORE >
Mercury, god of commerce and poetry, discovered that for most of the contemporary world, he was just the basis for a class of comic book superhero who ran fast everywhere and defeated terrible, terrible villains by running fast at them and away from them. Mercury, who like commerce and poetry, was of an erratic personality type, slumped into a despondency and decided it would be best to not be at all. Mercury decided to run himself to death, and so he found a long, flat place, and connected one end of it to the other, and made a twist in the center. It became a möbius strip. Mercury ran and ran and ran, waiting in motion for his legs to buckle and his heart to burst. For the knitted together sections of his heart to expand and contract faster and faster until they pulled themselves away from each other and splatter blood inside his chest. READ MORE >
Marc and Eddy were deaf and learned that soon they would both go blind. They were 45 and twins. Because they were Belgian, the option of assisted suicide was available to them. Believing they would no longer be able to live self-sufficiently, and to communicate with each other and family (they had developed their own sign language), they chose death by lethal injection. Before they died, they had coffee. READ MORE >
On May 9, 1961*, Iola Brubeck gave birth to a boy. He was given the name Charles Matthew.
The boy’s father, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck—who died today of heart failure on the way to a cardiology appointment and was a day shy of his 92nd birthday—wrote and recorded a song with his quartet called “Charles Matthew Hallelujah.”
Here’s the story I was told by a music teacher: Embedded in the song’s sections—there are two distinct sections—are, first, the words “Charles Matthew!” And then the follow-up “Hallelujah!” Follow Paul Desmond’s alto sax to hear them. Note that there seems to be an extra syllable in “Charles Matthew!” I always sing “Cha-earls Matthew!” when I sing along. The second section, a rolling sort of piano beginning at the 1:30 mark, has “I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy, I have a brand new baby boy…” in it. The second and following “I have a brand new baby boy”s all start their “I”s on that stalled, heavy chord so the “I” takes a longer time to say. (Like Brubeck, the one who had the brand new baby boy is, in emphasizing the “I,” bragging a little. Or a lot.)
“Charles Matthew Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs because it’s a hell of a birthday present. And a hell of a precise artistic statement about pure joy. It’s like the air in a balloon filled to capacity. The rubber skin is the constraint of time signature and the limitations of the instruments. But the air is stretching it as out as far as it will stretch.
Brubeck is nothing but all right in my book. RIP.
* A mystery: Wikipedia & IMDB say Charles Matthew was born on May 9, 1961. Wikipedia also says Time Further Out—the album “Charles Matthew Hallelujah” appears on—was “recorded” on May 3, 1961. So, six days before the birth of Charles Matthew. is Wikipedia referring to the first day of recording? Was it recorded all in one day, and Brubeck was anticipating the birth of a son? As the story was told to me, the song was recorded on the day of or the day after his birth.