Time to take that next step and address some of the stagnation that I believe has crept into my writing, seek out new modes of expression.
First of all, that means upgrading the technology I’ve been working with. My old Mac no longer made the nut; it was slow and lacked sufficient memory. Obsolete. It had to go. It was an emotional parting. For months Sherron has been pestering me to look into purchasing another computer but the price tag always made me balk. I’m a Mac guy but, let’s face it, there are PCs out there that could perform adequately for, literally, half the price of a new Mac. But…they weren’t Macs and I had a very bad experience with an IBM computer when I first made the leap to the digital age 20 years ago and I’ve never forgotten it.
We pondered on “settling” for a Mac mini but after consulting folks like our pal Rob (who knows more about computers than I ever will), we went for the pricier iMac. More room to grow and expand, better suited for some of the projects and tasks I had in mind.
A couple of Sundays ago, I bowed to the inevitable and we made the purchase on-line.
Then came the hard part: saving the files from my old computer and starting the shutdown process.
That ancient Mac served me well and I don’t know how many millions of words I tapped into it. Never any big glitches and nothing mechanically went wrong in the twelve years I used it to foist my weird visions on the world. Replaced a couple of keyboards that I battered to death, that’s about it.
My mourning period ended abruptly, however, when my new iMac arrived.
Within fifteen minutes of accepting the box from the delivery dude I was up and runnng. That’s hookup, internet, everything. And I am, as previously mentioned, a complete mechanical moron. That’s why I love Macs. Steve Jobs, I could kiss you!
I’ve spent the last couple of days getting acquainted. This machine has everything I could ask for, including the capability to make and edit movies, compose music, record readings and podcasts, desktop publish…cripes, I could put a man on Mars with it if I had the know-how and a trillion bucks.
I’ve promised myself I will be patient, recognizing that there’s a learning curve for a technophobe like me when dealing with a machine of this complexity. Fortunately, Sherron and both my sons are very adept using iMovie and Garageband and many of the other features this Mac offers so I’m hardly on my own, learning by trial and terror. Although that will be part of it too: doing something stupid and learning from my mistakes. So be it.
I. Am. In. Love. Utterly smitten with the promise this machine represents. A fresh start and an opportunity to explore other disciplines that have long held a fascination to me. And you’re invited along for the ride. My first efforts will be crude, unsophisticated, amateurish but I’ll get better, I promise. And I will share the results of my experiments with you, show you my successes and not shy away from relating my disasters. Bear with me, tell me about your own experiences, offer advice…I’m a slow learner but a stubborn one too. I won’t give up until I discover for myself the limits of this machine (if there are any), fusing it with my fertile, perverse imagination to create some original and daring work. That’s my second promise.
And as long as we’re on the subject of new beginnings, here’s my third vow: to interact more directly with people who find and comment on this site. Previously, I’ve maintained the policy of letting my essays speak for themselves and not responding publicly to those who have left comments, positive or negative, on Beautiful Desolation. I felt I’d said my piece in my essays and commentaries and to rebut a reply from a reader would be, to some extent, unfair. If I thought a certain question had to be addressed or a troll warned off, I did so through private communications with those individuals. Not any more. You wanna talk to me, offer praise or brickbats, I’m here.
I hereby declare from this post (#87) onward, I’ll do my best to answer your questions and debate and engage with readers directly and honestly. These discussions will be as well-mannered, fruitful and polite as I can make them…but I will continue to leave the “moderation” function on to weed out the nutbars and those who believe they can hide behind the anonymity of the internet to say scurrilous, despicable things with absolute impunity. The kind of slime Trent Reznor refers to in a recent post on some of the bizarro on-line communities that exist out there. My thanks to Mike Cane for sending me a link. Have a look, it’ll make your skin crawl.
The vast majority of people who pop by here are nothing like the douchebags Reznor describes–they’re curious, seeking alternative sources of fiction, perhaps drawn by my reputation for being, ah, outspoken, something of a maverick, an outsider who seems perfectly content with that status. My work, my life has nothing to do with perpetuating the status quo or offering warm, fuzzy words of reassurance. I’m here to upset your equilibrium, destroy carefully held preconceptions, rip you out of that comfort zone you’re happily immersed in.
I won’t dummy down my writing, compromise my talent or thrust my fists into soft, velvet gloves. That wouldn’t be doing me, you or anybody else any favours. I’ll present what I know, what I’ve experienced, what I’m thinking “with the bark on”, as FDR liked to say. The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
So help me God.
Today, a new page has been turned. Welcome to Beautiful Desolation, Phase II.
Let me hear from you and tell me what you think.
I’d heard that Trent Reznor had included a couple of mood/ambient pieces from his Ghosts I-IV album in his live show. How would that go over with the banger crowd?
To their credit, the youngish (compared to me) audience listened in respectful, if not exactly rapt silence, as Reznor slowed things right down about a third of the way through the concert. During the spacey instrumentals, the lighters came out and most of the of the people around us sat down; even the mosh pit subsided into good-natured jostling.
It was a courageous move on the musician’s part. Rather than play a standard greatest hits package, he touched on all aspects of his career, from the commercial highlights to his experimental side.
The new material stood up well: The Slip is a fine, accomplished album.
The stagecraft was topnotch: the layout fairly standard, providing good line of sight. Metal partitions descended at various points, serving as screens for projected visual effects like rain, shapeless abstractions, things on the verge of coming in to focus…
The musicianship was unbelievable. These are guys Reznor hand-picked to help spread his misanthropic gospel to the great, brainwashed masses. The chosen ones. Guitarist Robin Finck is a wonder and Josh Freese provides thunderous accompaniment on drums…and then there’s Reznor himself, stomping about, whirling, howling; a ferocious performance. It was a form of shamanism, there’s no other way to describe it.
Professional, polished? Yes. Carefully considered, manipulative, rehearsed to the nth degree? Undoubtedly.
But you can’t choreograph stage presence, sheer magnetism. Reznor has it, baby. So does Maynard Keenan (in spades). An unmistakable aura, almost otherworldly in its vibe. It radiates from them and electrifies a crowd of thousands, tens of thousands. How much power does that take?
Reznor has his critics, of course, those who are unimpressed by his music or persona. They call him a phony or a poser–my buddy Chris King had one of the best lines ever:
“Trent,” he snorted. “What sort of fuckin’ name is that for a metal guy?”
“So what’s a better one?” I challenged him.
“Glenn Danzig,” he replied without hesitation and with that we both collapsed into a fit of laughter. Because he was right, of course. Glenn fuckin’ Danzig.
But I think even ol’ Chris would have been impressed by the show T.R. and his lads put on last night. No effort or expense was spared to present Reznor’s fatal, poisonous vision of the world to a very receptive audience.
We were off to the side, terrific seats overlooking the stage–and we could also see the incredible computer control centre the stage crew monitored and operated to keep everything in synch. It looked like something out of a science fiction movie or a missile tracking station at fucking NORAD.
Trent Reznor is at the top of his game right now, his artistry evident in every track on The Slip. He is a man thoroughly in control of every aspect of his music and, clearly, thriving in that environment.
His aesthetic has expanded in the past few years especially and with it his range and depth. Whereas someone like Al Jourgensen (Ministry) will go to his grave shrieking and raging, Reznor’s psyche and sensibilities allow for far more variation, subtlety and virtuosity.
His bleak worldview is enticing, alarming, convincing; all the more so because the soundtrack is constantly changing as the skies darken and the wind begins to rise…
Equilibrium and tranquility have been restored to my life, the pleasant, assuring illusion of balance and order.
All hail the return of my Yamaha GX-500 mini component stereo! This office has been as quiet as an Amish disco for the past month, owing to a malfunction involving my usually reliable Yamaha unit. We took it in to Saskatoon and Chris, a service guy at Audio Warehouse, had a look at it but his initial prognosis was grim.
Sure enough, when he called me at home later in the week, the news wasn’t good. The required part wasn’t available, the system no longer in production (it was nine years old, after all), Chris gave me the part number and I spent one entire morning on-line, trying to track something down. Finally came across a place in New York that was selling exactly what I needed, a traverse deck for a Yamaha GX-500. But in the midst of finalizing the sale, we ran into a slight snag: the company didn’t ship to Canada.
Now, there was no freakin’ way I was giving up on that part, not when I had it in my claw-like grasp. Then I remembered my pal Mark in southern California and gave the operator his address, charging every thing to my VISA. They ship the part to Mark, he ships it to me. Might take a little while longer but at least I’ll have the part and my troubles will be over. Music, that universal language, will once again play on…
Ah. Or so I thought. The part shows up, I get it into Chris at Audio Warehouse…the deck still won’t work. At that point I utter one or two unpleasant words, growls of frustration more than anything else. Chris promises to do what he can but I can tell he isn’t holding out much hope.
What the hell, I decide, go for broke. When I get home, I compose a two page letter to Yamaha Canada and fax it to their head office in Toronto. I suppose at that point I could’ve gritted my teeth and bought a new system but part of me resisted that kind of thinking. It’s this weird culture we live in, where everything is disposable and replaceable and upgradeable. Where getting something fixed costs so much you might as well buy it new. Call it my curmudgeonly streak. My wife says it’s just that I’m cheap.
I didn’t expect a response to my letter but at that point I had gone more than two weeks without music in my office and wasn’t thinking too clearly. I was astonished when I received a call from a very personable fellow from Yamaha h.q. (yo, Matt!), who said he’d do what he could to help effect repairs on my unit. No promises, just an (apparently) sincere promise to try.
I guess somebody at Yamaha called Chris and they were able to dig up a crucial part that finally cleared up the bug…and now my beloved Yamaha unit is back where it belongs, blaring out a cut from the latest in Dylan’s “bootleg” series.
Special citations of merit and resounding huzzahs to Chris (Audio Warehouse), Mark Miller, Matt and the folks at Yamaha Canada for providing exemplary service and/or lending a helping hand. Thanks, folks!
Having music again has inspired a fresh outburst of creativity, granting me the state of mind necessary to leave Earth Prime, contemplate and create vast, new universes of my own. It’s remarkable the effect music has on me, my work; it accompanies every word, every comma I commit to paper.
So what’s on the turntable these days? Turntable? Jesus, when was the last time I had one of those? Really dating myself, aren’t I? Turntable…
Okay, okay, what on the playlist then, what’s on heavy rotation here at Radio Free Albemuth circa the end of November, 2008:
M83: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts. Shoegazer music? Ambient? Dunno what you call it but it sure is fuckin’ great to work to.
The Clash: Just about everything in their discography. London Calling still resonates across the years.
Jesus & Mary Chain: before BRMC there were the naughty-not-nice Reid Brothers. Psychocandy and The Sound of Speed have been making my walls rattle. Sometimes I wonder how this old house stands the strain.
Two Cow Garage: ordered one of their disks after reading about them on PopMatters.com. One of those whims that turns out to be serendipitous. Three is a delight and let me draw your attention to one track in particular, “Should’ve California”. What do you call it? Southern rock? Alt country? How about: great fuckin’ music…
Metallica: Ride the Lightning and their latest, Rick Rubin-produced effort, Death Magnetic, which at least sports some decent licks. But the lads have a long way to go before they recapture the power and greatness of those first four or five albums. Not sure they have it in them any more.
Explosions in the Sky: currently my favorite music to write to. All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone and The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place are melodic, epic, suggestive, multi-layered and thoroughly evocative.
Muse: fans of Radiohead will find much to like here. I found the self-titled 2003 disk in a discount bin; a stroke of pure good fortune. Looking forward to nabbing Black Holes & Revelations in the near future.
Interpol: Yeah, I know I’ve raved about these guys before but I think I have pretty much everything they’ve released and, no shit, this is one of the best bands kicking around these days. Grab anything you can by Interpol, they’re as good as it gets.
Grandaddy: eccentric, unique, too good to last. They released a few albums, could never seem to break through and finally called it quits. Too bad; their disks are, each one of them, original, funny, wise and personal.
Other music that has been serenading my ears of late: The Eels (Shootenanny), The Brian Jonestown Massacre (BraveryRepetitionAndNoise), Jimmy Eat World (Chase This Light), Air (Pocket Symphony), Mogwai, Modest Mouse…
Crazy, eclectic shit, as always.
And…coming up December 1st, music of the live and in person kind. Driving in to Saskatoon with Laird to see Nine Inch Nails at the Credit Union Centre. Whoo hoo! We’re talking about an evening of fine entertainment. Every time I think about it, I get a surge of anticipation—hopefully Trent will be in fine fettle.
Playing a lot of NIN stuff lately too, natch. Really grooving to With Teeth. And there are two fantastic instrumental cuts on The Slip (“Corona Radiata” & “The Four of Us Are Dying”) that I’ve played any number of times. Beautiful stuff, hardly the sort of tunes one would associate with “Mr. Self Destruct”. The Slip was released through Reznor’s on-line label; it is the kind of fine, unclassifiable music eschewed by corporate types. Cutting his ties with record companies, becoming an independent musician, has made T.R. a more well-rounded and far-reaching artist. The Slip is an exceptional piece of work.
Sounds fucking great coming out of those cherrywood Yamaha speakers too. I’m grinning again. I can’t help it. I can barely hear myself think with Dylan’s raunchy live version of “Cocaine Blues” thundering away overhead.
And so now back to work: researching, jotting down lots of notes, photocopying, gradually immersing myself in the warped world of my new novel. But it all starts with music, a soundtrack that precedes what is to come. The overture. To set the mood and “open wide the mind’s cage-door” (Keats)…
No argument. The hours I was putting in, working for weeks on end without a break, shut away in my office, tapping and scribbling like a maniac, was incredibly stupid and detrimental to my health. I was definitely feeling the strain by the time I wrapped up rewrites on Of the Night. Lots of shoulder and back pain but also a sense of being artistically and spiritually drained. The tank right on “E”.
The only problem is, what does an anal retentive obsessive compulsive workaholic do when he has time off?
Answer: he doesn’t take time off.
Oh, I know it’s ridiculous, completely irresponsible but I can’t stop myself. I promised Sherron, swore high and low that I would start thinking of my health first. I’m forty-five years old in October and my family has a long history of heart disease. Not a lot of 90-year olds on either side, if ya know what I mean. It’s time to start devoting more thought to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, a better mindset.
Stress is a killer and I’ve got it bad. Always trying so fucking hard to meet the high standards and expectations I place on myself, pushing myself to get better, improve as a craftsman and artist. I don’t want to write like everybody else, I want my own, unique take on reality, unfiltered and with the bark on. No compromises, no pandering…no exceptions.
My promise to Sherron was honestly made but I think it will be hard to observe “in the breech”, as it were. Habit draws me to my office first thing every morning. It’s directly across from our bedroom and as soon as I’m awake and mobile, I wander in, check out the state of my desk, shuffle papers about…or just stand in the middle of the room, revving up for the day.
I’ve tried to take it easy but over the last couple of weeks I’ve reorganized my office, caught up on paperwork, starting planning my next major project and spent long hours on-line, promoting this blog and flogging my novels So Dark the Night and Of the Night to whoever might be interested. I’ve sent notices to horror sites, science fiction sites, occult sites, paranormal romance sites—if I’ve missed anybody, I dunno who it might be.
And I’ve also somehow managed to find the time to write a twenty minute radio play, “The First Room”. Very intense and personal. Kelley Jo Burke, producer at CBC Radio, dubbed it “Portrait of the Artist as an Abused Young Man” and I think she’s bang on.
What’s wrong with me, why can’t I take a week, a solid week and do nothing more than lounge about in my bathrobe, watching old Bunuel movies and reading fat science fiction tomes?
Well…like Graham Green I am afflicted by boredom. Bedevilled is more like it. He claimed it sometimes reduced him to suicidal thoughts and I can empathize. My brain can’t stand being idle. Even when I’m watching movies I keep a notepad close at hand so I can scribble down good lines or salient plot points, often writing up a short review of the film later on. Why? To what purpose? Because I must analyze, dissect, critically assess. Same with books. I’m on my third book journal, hundreds of reviews no one will ever read. I take great pains with my critiques, have developed a strict rating system…again, why?
Because unlike Sherlock Holmes I don’t have a 7% solution of cocaine to ease me through fallow periods. There’s only my work. It is my purpose, the reason I was put here on earth; it is an essential, irreducible part of my identity:
“Most of us develop and mature primarily through interaction with others. Our passage through life is defined by our roles relative to others; as child, adolescent, spouse, parent and grandparent. The artist or philosopher is able to mature primarily on his own. His passage through life is defined by the changing nature and increasing maturity of his work, rather than by his relations with others.”
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Thanks to one and all for reading and/or downloading my novels over the past few months. I’m encouraged by the number of people popping in, a steady growth in visits as word spreads throughout cyberspace.
This blog has been a godsend to yers truly and has finally granted me the direct connection to readers I’ve been seeking for ages. Back in 1990 I self-published my first book, Sex & Other Acts of the Imagination. It was the product of desperation, a Hail Mary pass that somehow resulted in a game-winning score. The print run sold out in less than five months and the book went on to garner good reviews and excellent word of mouth. Readers loved it and cling tenaciously to their copies—just try to find one available for sale anywhere. It is well-nigh impossible to lay your hands on a copy (believe me, I’ve looked on behalf of friends and a treasured relative who lost hers in a house fire).
The success of Sex convinced my that my future lay outside of corporate publishing and marketing and nothing I’ve experienced in the nearly two decades that have elapsed since has convinced me otherwise. Thanks to the internet, I now have the ability to get my work out there and anyone, regardless of their physical location, has access to it. I’ve got readers in the Philipines, India, Vietnam, Australia…
That still takes my breath away.
The indie musicians showed me the way. I watched people like Ani Defranco seize control of their careers and message and I was inspired…if somewhat slow off the take. Writers, as a rule, are a lot more conservative and stodgy than their colleagues in other disciplines. I don’t know how many aspiring scribblers have responded to postings I’ve made on LibraryThing forums and elsewhere, pooh-poohing the notion of publishing their work on-line because they need the reassurance of an actual physical book, it gives them some kind of affirmation or some fucking thing. This past week we were in Saskatoon shopping for back-to-school stuff and we stopped by a gaming place my kids like to frequent. Its shelves are overflowing with Forgotten Realms books and all kinds of novelizations based on Dungeons and Dragons and what have you. The most dreadful, awful, amateurish tripe you can imagine.
Those are real books: does the fact that they exist as “dead tree editions” give those writers, as execrable as they are, more credibility than me? Are hacks like Margaret Weis, T.H. Lain and D.J. Heinrich superior to me because TSR et all churn out their shite by the truckload to gamers with the reading skills and mental age of an elementary school child?
I dunno, what do you think…
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* We’re still working on the podcast of excerpts from So Dark the Night. Figuring out the technology has been a real learning experience for Sherron. I won’t go near the stuff, I’d fly into a rage and boot the computer desk across the room. We’ve tried loading it on iTunes a couple of times but apparently we need an RSS feed and…aaaaaugghh!
* This summer I have gone to a spa and endured a massage at the hands of someone other than my wife. I know. I’m having a hard time believing it myself. What next? Crystals? Scientology? Membership in Opus Dei?
* No news re: the movie version of my novel “Kept”. I’ve heard rumbles of a summer/fall, 2009 release but that’s only speculation. Stay tuned.
* Lots of good music playing lately…until the much-beloved Yamaha stereo in my office conked out. I’ve been bopping through the latter part of summer with Bob Mould’s “Body of Song” album, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s “Baby 81”, Interpol’s “Antics”, Elbow’s “Leaders of the Free World”…as well as Trent Reznor’s double ambient album and a wonderful instrumental disk titled “The Last Drive-In” by Jo Gabriel. Fantastic to write to—thanks for sending it, Jo, and get well soon!