Trip update 4

Report from a surprisingly really nice motel in Jetmore, Kansas (Pictures forthcoming; not a good enough internet connection it seems?):

San Diego was a great stop. When I arrived downtown the first person I noticed was dressed head to toe like Spiderman. I laughed knowingly, happy to be back in the big city with all its eccentricities – of course there’d be a guy in costume in broad daylight. But then I realized there were more and more people walking around in costume, more than could be assumed to exist naturally, even in the downtown of a major city. But then I saw the numerous banners welcoming Comic Con to San Diego and saw that most shops and restaurants had comic-themed specials and sales. Even the high-end art gallery and an imported rug store had discounts for attendees. I liked the idea of a Ninja Turtle going in and seeing a hand-woven, $2000 8×10 rug he just couldn’t pass up.

Anyway, I was in town to visit Kathi Diamant, a professor at San Diego State University and Kafka scholar/treasure hunter. She is the author of Kafka’s Last Love, a biography of Kafka’s last love Dora Diamant, who up until DIamant’s book, was known only in the context of Kafka’s life. He basically died in her arms, but her story continued long after she shared the best year of Kafka’s life. It is filled with intrigue and escapes and sorrow and is extremely interesting in its own right. Kathi Diamant is also the founder and head of the Kafka Project, a confederation of Kafka scholars and other researchers searching for a cache of Kafka’s letters and diaries confiscated by the Gestapo in the early thirties. If it still exists, the cache is full of letters and diaries that have never been seen before. Every scrap of paper Kafka ever scribbled or doodled on has been published and studied billions of times – new letters and diaries (and the possibility of new fiction) makes this cache essentially priceless. Diamant is currently working with other scholars and institutions in Germany to gain access to a few recently-discovered bunkers filled floor to ceiling with material confiscated by the Gestapo, as painstakingly slow as it might be to sort out. Kathi Diamant was gracious enough to have me over to talk to her about her work. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her archives of photos and letters and diaries and transcripts, but it was unbelievably fun to talk to somebody about something you both know a lot about but not a lot of other people do. I realized that I heard names from Kafka’s life spoken aloud that I’d never said or heard aloud myself – I’d been reading about them for years but wasn’t ever able to nerd-out to the degree I wanted. I finally got to do so and could have continued to do so all day, but I do have enough tact to recognize I was a guest and so I made sure I didn’t overstay my welcome.

I left San Diego to go to LA and promptly hit the worst traffic I’ve ever experienced. LA traffic is legendary for good reason. It took me no less than four hours to drive 121 miles. It was almost worth the aggravation just to see such horrible traffic firsthand, but this (very minor) appreciation would end as soon as I was abruptly stopped again after driving unhindered for forty-five seconds and thinking that traffic had abated. But I made it to LA without incident and was overjoyed at seeing two friends I hadn’t seen in what we realized was seven years. The reunion was a long time coming, and we picked up right where we left off. A couple days later, I saw another friend I had seen in equally as long. A reunion with a third friend who I hadn’t seen in five years didn’t come together, but I’m happy to come back. (Plus my secret desire to see a celebrity was fulfilled – what up William H. Macy!)

After a few days of catching up and hiking and eating, I visited the LA84 Foundation. Despite the usual economic disaster that seems to afflict every city that hosts the Olympics, LA made off with huge profits and used them to start the LA84 Foundation, a group that provides sports equipment and opportunities to kids and coaching seminars, etc. to adults. They also have the biggest library of sports books in the country, ranging from Mankind’s autobiography to tens of thousands of volumes on golf to books that were in turn written using the resources in LA84’s library. One of these latter books is a compendium of California high school track meet statistics from the beginning of the twentieth century through 2006. One of the authors/researchers is Bill Peck, and he happened to be in the library when I was there. We sat and talked for what turned into a couple of hours. He was at work gathering stats for another volume. He had a legal pad filled with tiny but incredibly neat sets of numbers, and said that he and his friends wrote these books as a labor of love for themselves and other fans of track and field. I told him I was from Ohio, and he told me about a runner from Baldwin Wallace that was a personal hero of his. So personal was the runner’s dedication to the sport that Mr. Peck started crying as he told me how the runner trained in a city that didn’t even have any paved roads. This particular story aside, it was very touching to see why this book task was undertaken – track was an immensely important part of Mr. Peck’s life, spiritually and physically, and he wanted to transmit this transcendental love not just for future historians but in honor of the work and dedication shown by thousands of unsung high school students.

Las Vegas was next. I drove through the desert and saw the city on the horizon. Bizarre oasis! But I realized as I got closer that merely two buildings does not a Las Vegas make – it was a town called Primm with its own casinos and the sudden appearance of tall buildings made me think I’d arrived. It did seem remarkably less flashy than I expected (can’t you see it from space?) and a second city tricked me a second time for the same reason. Finally I saw the actual, inimitable, real Las Vegas and I raced to my hotel eager to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as I walked outside I was in the thick of it, staying as I was at the Riviera (huge hotel rooms are only like $20 a night!), on the north end of the strip. It was much less sleazy than I had been imagining (at least at first glance) but it was hard to wrap my mind around a place in which almost everything is open 24/7/365 and is full-speed ahead for most of it to boot. The atmosphere of the strip is that of an exaggerated mall – people go to Vegas to get wealthy, and what is the best thing anyone with money can do with it? Spend it on expensive shit to prove how much money you have. (The 24/7 party atmosphere is less obnoxious to me than the overwhelming, gale-force message that you are better if you are richer.) Accordingly, hotels house casinos and high-end shops, which is in fact why I was there. Bauman Rare Books is a bookseller specializing in rare and first edition books. Bauman’s is in the mall in the Palazzo casino, and almost nothing in the store is less than a couple thousand dollars. I actually saw the single most expensive object I’ve ever seen in my life (barring a house or the errant sports care) – a first edition of the Federalist priced at a modest $260,000.

On the other end of the spectrum, I went to old Las Vegas. The contrast is like Disneyworld vs. a state fair – you go for the same reason but with much different results. Old Vegas seems a little less focused on manifestations of wealth and more the fun of just being there and being able to gamble and drink on the street. Once I conquered a buffet (not quite as classy as the buffets on the Strip – 11 different food stations vs. 8) I really wanted to see that pyramid building (the Luxor), so I went back to the Strip. It turned out that it was on the opposite end from where I was staying, so I got the full Vegas experience, walking from one end of the strip to the other and back at midnight. So many people, the brightest lights you’ll ever see, every building an immense spectacle, every place and everyone immune to the hours and routines kept by the rest of the world – there is nowhere else in the world that looks and feels like this, and certainly not all day of every day. So strange. I also went to a gambler’s superstore – a bookstore carrying nothing but books on gambling and gaming bought a store selling cards and tables and chips and combined the two. One end of the store is all books – books about the mafia and “myths that CONTINUE to destroy a player’s bankroll” and books on the psychology of tells, BINGO strategies, and my personal favorite, ancient numerology and how it can be applied for success at the horse track.)

And finally, I was most recently in Durango, Colorado after Las Vegas. I stopped by the Strater Hotel to check out room 222, aka the Louis L’Amour room. The famous western author used to hole up there because the music coming from the saloon downstairs kept him inspired. The Strater touts its history as a speakeasy and a brothel and it struck me how much we seem to romanticize old school Madams and brothels, especially during Prohibition. It’s like we collectively join the fight to outwit the Man – everyone loves a good circumvention of irrational laws and Madams/brothels symbolize when this was a national pastime. I can’t tell how I feel about this – it’s a strange sort of respect, but that doesn’t change how everybody treats prostitutes today like they are garbage. In any case, the Louis L’Amour room was booked (and cost $217/night anyway) so I wasn’t able to even peek my head in. I did see some amorous housekeepers, though, and I tiptoed away and let them gaze into each other’s eyes and kiss in peace.

Durango is one of those nice vacation towns catering to tourists who like to buy nylon hiking pants and expensive local art and patronize restaurants serving ‘libations.’ As such, it can be expected that in a town with surfeit antique shops and coffee shops there will be a used book store as well. I found at least two, and Southwest Booktrader had the most amount of books I’ve ever seen in a single room, bookstore or not. I’ve seen some pretty packed bookstores – it’s almost a point of pride to clutter the aisles with dusty books – but I’d never seen any where with floor-to-ceiling stacks going at least three rows deep. A sign asked visitors to ‘please leave the stacks in the condition you found them’ and I couldn’t tell if it was because there was some obscure system of organization I hadn’t noticed or if it was for a patron’s own safety. There was obviously something for everyone if you could find it – one guy yelled “Hey! They got books on crystals!” outside to his waiting girlfriend and I found a signed, first-edition copy of the Happy Isles of Oceana by Paul Theroux. The books were irritatingly a little expensive for used books so I didn’t grab that copy, though I’ll probably regret it later if only because it would be kind of cool to have that personal connection to one of my favorite authors.

My host in Durango took me to hang out with her friends, one of whom was a fire-dancer and the other a musician with whom she played flute and accordion and guitar. I was privy to one of their practices, and the eerie, beautiful folk they played made a lot of sense as the sonic counterpart of their many occult tattoos. My first night, I found myself in the deep woods at night with strangers. It was late and pitch black and nobody knew I was there, but I could sense that nothing malevolent was afoot. My new friends disavowed the ignorant perception that they were “hippies” just because they talked about the vibrating harmony of the earth and stars and life – I was not to be a sacrifice in the forest but another person, another lifeforce with whom this harmony and these celestial connections could be celebrated.

Trip update part 3

This update has been a while coming, but going from two weeks of solitude to more than a week of straight hanging out with people threw off my work game. So this is a little out of date, but here is what has been going on since I left off arriving in Roswell:

Roswell Mural

Mural in UFO Center library

My last couple of hours in Roswell were spent interviewing Mark Briscoe, the director of the International UFO Museum and Research Center. He used to be a college professor but took the executive director position a few years ago. He told me that he loves the job and the people who visit the museum are always a pleasure to talk to, but one thing he doesn’t like is reality TV. As can be imagined, there have been a number of “America is weird”-type shows filmed at the Research Center, and more recently the Center was the focus of an episode of Shipping Wars. According to Mr. Briscoe, he will never do reality TV again after dealing with the contract-breaking, disrespectful, unprofessional idiots that are the Shipping Wars crew. And moreover the whole show is a sham – the object being shipped to the Center in the show wasn’t actually for the Center; the thing the Center actually needed to have shipped was deemed too unexciting for TV and so a monument was commissioned by the show’s producers that they pretended to ship to the museum. ‘They made us look like idiots,’ Mr. Briscoe complained. ‘Don’t believe anything you see on that show! They recut dialogue! They didn’t portray the museum correctly! Some little punk called me up, yelling at me, and I said ‘Wait – who do you think you are? I don’t fucking work for you!’ Shipping Wars is trash, and we’ll never do reality TV again!’

Acrimonious relationship with reality TV aside, the museum is a great resource on the 1947 Roswell incident. In fact, it is so document-heavy that a woman at the Roswell visitor’s center said that the museum might not be what I was expecting, hesitating for a moment before telling me that it might not be that much fun at all. It is a lot of text, she said, with not many interactive exhibits or models. There are some animatronic aliens but not enough to sustain the interest of kids. But I liked this aspect because walking through the museum was like reading a top secret file instead of being walked through a ride at an amusement park.

Just outside of Roswell is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, a state park called Bottomless Lakes. The picture below barely does it justice. I went swimming and then ran to the top of one of these rims in only shorts and shoes – the sun, the solitude, the expansive view, the incredible cliffs right below made me literally gasp in appreciation. Being up there in the quiet felt like the sensation that I understand is conveyed by poetry; this sudden insight made me realize my lifelong scoff at poetry might have to be reevaluated, if only for poetry about nature.

Bottomless Lakes

Inside one of the many lakes at Bottomless Lakes

Heat Can

Heat-induced swelling. The bottom done blowed out too!

After the longest drive so far (nine hours), I was in Phoenix and staying with an old friend. The heat exploded a can of seltzer water in my car, but at least it dried quickly. We did a bit of sight-seeing but were also free to lounge around for a couple days. My appointment in Phoenix was a tour of the PHX6 Amazon Distribution Center, one of five in the city. A handful of Amazon warehouses across the country have opened their doors to bimonthly public tours, and m y tour consisted of a group of paunchy middle-management types and a coterie of state representatives. We were walked around and shown the various stations – the picking station, the packing station, the return-to-vendor station, etc. There are conveyor belts running all through the warehouse, which is 1.5 million square feet. For people like me who don’t understand what figures like that mean in real life, it is equivalent to 28 football fields, all of it under one roof. The tour guide said Amazon’s goal is to have one of everything on earth. The PHX6 facility ships only small and medium-size objects. They have over a million individual items in the warehouse, on three stories of shelves that take up what looked like a few city blocks. We were able to reap the benefits of this incredible stockpile of stuff, as we had the choice of a pair of binoculars or a car phone charger as a parting gift at the end of the tour.

Amazon

Parking lot of the Amazon PHX6 facility. No photos were allowed to be taken inside.

Driving from Phoenix to San Diego took me through some landscapes that I imagine are similar to those on Venus. Some of the mountains looked like enormous piles of boulders while others angled out of the ground and showed their many layers, making me appreciate anew the earth’s geological history. The temperature rose to 119, and signs advised that your car AC be turned off lest it overheat in the middle of these strange mountains. Feeling heat like that is unusual and even good – I drove through the desert with my windows down and my shirt off and felt hugged by it. I saw one person changing a tire and gripped my wheel in hopes that it wouldn’t be me next, but I cruised safely through the desert to San Diego (and then through the infinitely more unpleasant and aggravating traffic to LA).

Boulder Mtn

Desert mountains on the way to California from Arizona

 

 

 

 

Report from Roswell, NM

I wasn’t sure how Roswell would feel about it’s UFO legacy – is it an annoying rumor that just won’t die? Does it distract from the other cool things Roswell has to offer? A sign in front of a Valero as you enter the city answered my question: “Official UFO stop!” Roswell is totally UFO’d out, from the more than a dozen kitschy alien-themed shops to the furniture store that has aliens in bridal gear in the window to the offices of the visitor’s center, which have UFOs on them. (That the courthouse has a big stone Ten Commandments out front indicates a different presence as well.) It’s not like I’m opposed to the UFO worship, as I’m here in Roswell in a crusty motel waiting to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center, possibly the world’s foremost ufology library. I got there too late yesterday to warrant a visit but I was able to check out its impressive library. After that I wandered around and looked in a handful of the aforementioned alien shops, since the only places that are open past five or six are alien places. Later I found myself at a cemetery on the edge of town, where I got covered in flies. Covered in cemetery flies – yikes.

Chaircrushers

May or may not have eaten at this buffet, somewhere on 40W in Oklahoma

The drive out of Oklahoma a few days ago took me past the birthplaces of Troy Aikman, Carrie Underwood, and Woodie Guthrie. My next destination was in the northern part of Texas. And for hundreds and hundreds of miles it was one of the most desolate areas I’ve ever encountered. You truly do have an unbroken view all the way to the horizon. There are small towns here and there, but most of the evidence of habitation is in the form of oil refineries or large-scale cattle operations, or at the very least, a field full of oil derricks that look like horse skeletons bobbing in the breeze. The miles of piping and tanks and outbuildings of the oil refineries coupled with the general desolation makes these outposts seem like the first attempts at colonization on a new planet. Indeed, a historical marker on the side of the road (of which there are many) explained that a town used to be settled there but after a while the entire town picked up and left, including loading the buildings and houses wholesale onto trains.

 

Skellytown

Skellytown, TX

I visited Skellytown and Borger in Texas. I had an address for something in Skellytown, but I don’t really know what it was for – it led me to one of the many possibly abandoned houses that make up the town. The Christian bookstore in Borger was kind of a bust (depending on how you look at it), since the bookstore was in fact some shelves in the corner of a beauty salon. I was hoping to at least talk to somebody, but I was totally ignored. There were books for sale like The Bait of Satan, Nuclear Prayers for the Secret Place, and a book by the “ordained prophetess” who wrote Breaking the Threefold Demonic Code. (They also had the “autobiography” of one of those clowns from Duck Dynasty.) There was nowhere to stay in Borger, so I decided to take my chances in nearby Amarillo. As it happened, there was a death metal show going on that night, and I made my way to the far outskirts of town to check it out. I stopped at a restaurant to get something to eat first – when I peeked my head in the door, I saw upturned tables covered in dust and two women sitting on the ground talking, totally surprised when I looked in. The show was nearby, so I went there instead. A little while in, I suddenly get punched in the stomach. I look down and see a little mohawk running away from me – an eight year old was trying to start a mosh pit.

Texas Horizon

Unending north Texas isolation!

The next morning I stopped for breakfast in Texico, NM at a diner in a building that looked like it used to be a municipal building from the 70s. A few groups of people came in for breakfast wearing sweat-stained hats, deeply tanned, and covered in mud/dirt/shit. You could tell they could work. One group had a little kid with them who himself was wearing muddy clothes and boots. He was sitting between two older guys in a miniature imitation of their posture, devouring his meal like the adults were theirs. He answered the waitress with his version of the older guys’ “Yu-up,” though a similar kid behind me was still a kid, ordering as he did a corndog and baked beans.

Speaking of food, that is where I’m headed now. Every day has been totally different from the one that preceded it, and that variety is amazing. I don’t know what I’ll find myself doing, but I like that a lot. Another update in a few days!

Blackwater Draw

Blackwater Draw archaeological site – found this site by chance in NM. It is of inestimable importance for the study of early humans in North America. You are free to walk around the site, though there weren’t any active excavations when I was there. This is a preserved (and covered) site so visitors can see the different layers of soil and their respective artifacts and bones.

Trip Update, part 1

Report from hotel room, Sallisaw, OK:

Despite being glared at really hard by some elderly couples at the continental breakfast, the trip so far has been a resounding success. Every day has brought so many new opportunities to learn and observe. Today will be my visit to Sequoyah’s Cabin, the home of the man responsible for developing the written Cherokee language despite being functionally illiterate. Sallisaw is kind of a bleak environment (already saw one guy being arrested and heard the N word repeatedly yelled by a gang of teens) but it could be the weather that colors my perception, as it has been grey and rainy the whole time I’ve been here. But my host did take me out to the middle of the woods to look at this dam at night; the weather made the sky a little lighter (and scarier), and I was glad to be somewhere so quiet and eerie.

On my way from Bowling Green, KY to Little Rock, AR, I encountered more rain than I’ve ever driven through or have possibly ever seen. A lightning blast stuck no more than two hundred feet away, hitting the middle of a muddy field and illuminating a pack of running cows. The scene was primal and quite terrifying, for it’s not often you see cows prompted to run. Later on, a half a mile of powerlines were downed alongside the highway. (And not just downed; pulled in half.) Traffic was brought to a standstill and I saw an accident happen as drivers couldn’t help but look at the surreal, disaster-caliber damage.

Threatening Skies

THREAT-NING SKIES! I always hear that Obituary song when I see intense stormclouds

Little Rock was action-packed. Mount Holly Cemetery is apparently the “Westminster Abbey of Arkansas” because a lot of statesmen and writers and Arkansans generally of note are buried there. It was a remarkably beautiful and calm place, even more so than the normal cemetery whose peace and quiet I didn’t fully appreciate/respect until recently. The visit was prompted by the guy I was researching, Charles Fenton Mercer Noland, who is buried there. The caretaker told me that the fence around Noland’s grave is as old as the grave itself, designed to keep out cows and wild pigs since the cemetery was fairly rural when Noland was buried in 1858. Noland was a Southern humorist, politician, and duelist who was also tasked with riding the Arkansas Constitution to Washington (though upon arrival he found out it had already arrived via other means.) He wrote a series of humorous letters for a magazine in New York detailing the exploits of his alter-ego Pete Whetstone, and some say he probably would have been canonized in Southern literature had he not died so early.

Mount Holly Cemetery

Mount Holly Cemetery, Little Rock, AR

I visited two bookstores in Little Rock, one very neat and the other boasting bags and bags of books on the ground between rows. In the latter, a place simply called The Book Store, the owner told me that she takes but immediately recycles any books about “witchcraft.” But I was able to get a trashy book about the Unabomber there, so that’s good. I ambled around downtown for a while and later went to the Bill Clinton Presidential Center (and giftshop). It is a fascinating place, and not only for its replica of the Oval Office. My hosts were all involved in the sustainable agriculture community; their house smelled earthy and full of vegetables and slow cooking, a smell I appreciate because it’s one of the smells of the left-wing. A few of them went to a town hall meeting, where one guy called for nothing less than the mayor’s resignation because the city wasn’t doing anything to stop the creosote factory the guy’s neighbor had going in his backyard.

The Book Store

The Book Store, on JFK Blvd. in Little Rock. Don’t worry, no books on witchcraft.

Clinton Demin

Denim jacket for sale in the Clinton Center giftshop – the letters and image are raised.

Anyway, off to the cabin now!

Onwards and Upwards and Across the USA

Well, my dream has come true: the chance to write a book about traveling across the USA will be seized starting tomorrow! I will be driving to California and back for the next month, visiting the country’s used book stores and sites of literary interest. This means I will be seeing Roswell’s ufology library, I will try to talk my way into a visit of an Amazon warehouse, and I will see what a Presidential library is actually all about. It will be a month filled with authors’ childhood homes, a bookstore dedicated strictly to gambling, and an extensive visit with a Kafka researcher and real life literary treasure hunter!

I will be updating this blog with photos and stranger-than-fiction news from the depths of America – stay tuned for these ridiculous developments and the tome that will eventually result!

Below is a photo of me staring pensively off into the sunset as I drive – picture this when you send me well-wishes!

unnamed

Su           7/13       Bowling Green, KY
M            7/14       Black Oak/Little Rock, AR
T              7/15       Little Rock, AR
W            7/16       Sallisaw, OK
R             7/17       Sallisaw, OK
F              7/18       Drive
S              7/19       Dumas/Skellytown/Borger, TX
Su           7/20       Roswell, NM
M            7/21       Roswell, NM
T              7/22      Phoenix, AZ
W            7/23       Phoenix, AZ
R             7/24       San Diego, CA
F              7/25       San Diego, CA
S              7/26       Los Angeles, CA
Su           7/27       Los Angeles, CA
M            7/28       Los Angeles, CA
T              7/29       LA/Las Vegas, NV
W            7/30       Las Vegas, NV
R             7/31       Southern Utah/Northern AZ
F              8/1         Durango, CO
S              8/2         Lamar, CO
Su           8/3         Abilene, KS
M            8/4         Abilene, KS
T              8/5         Hanibal, MO
W            8/6         Hanibal, MO/Ft. Wayne, IN
R             8/7         Fort Wayne, IN
F              8/8         Mansfield, OH

Delirium – Church – Forced to Rot – The Dark and Bleak – Coathanger Abortion: an Overwhelmingly Positive Experience

Bernie’s, Columbus, Ohio
5/17/14

“I’d like to see a small mosh pit.”

FlierBernie’s – perhaps the most odiferous of Columbus’s institutions. It is a subterranean bar/bagel shop/music venue that always smells like a state park pit toilet but whose importance as a venue cannot be overstated. It exists literally underground – just by being there, no matter what kind of music, you have shown where your affinities lay. You have to be in the know, you have to want to go there, you are happy to go there, and this is why I went by myself two weekends ago.

Bernie’s non-descript doorway opens to a graffiti-covered stairwell that in turn opens to a lunch counter and booths and tables. Fliers with the evening’s schedule were taped all over the venue and said the show wouldn’t start until 9. I was there at 7:30, as the Walgreens 5×7 photo fliers said the doors opened at 7. No matter, there were ample places to sit. Time flew by as I watched band members run in and out on desperate pre-show errands and confused college students huddle in a corner of the bar as a form of nervous self-preservation. The substantial wait was worth it, as it turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in years.

Each member of the opening band appeared to be no more than fifteen years old. Delirium were all seventeen (though one kid ruefully owned up to being sixteen) but looked years younger. They played a sort of noodly metalcore, the kind that could be assumed from their high school-shag haircuts and pattern-print t-shirts. Yes, it’s probably be the case that I’m old and think everybody under twenty-five looks the same, but their youthfulness worked in their favor when it came to surprising the crowd with their incredible musical abilities. The first few seconds of their first song proved the larger point that high school bands today are so much better than high school bands when I was younger. I feel that the bar has been raised because metalcore is predominantly a teenage phenomenon and with it has come an overall enheavying of what’s palatable to mainstream ears – kids today learn arpeggios and syncopated double-bass patterns where kids back in the day learned some shitty Nirvana riff and were considered the epitome of greatness.

Delirium’s talent was evident as soon as they started playing: arpeggios, sweeps, scales, and weird tapping occurred with such gratuity that it made me chuckle. It wasn’t like the music of Viraemia or Monumental Torment (intended to baffle you with otherworldly musicianship/brutality) but the product of a band replacing traditional riffing with a lot of little guitar tricks, as if they have no experience with the former because they started out learning only the latter. It was interesting to see that you can transmit the same level of nuance with a series of untraditional guitar playing as you can with chords or riffs. Their abilities, from vocalist to drummer, were impressive enough to gain the approval of the old metalheads in attendance, a notoriously stodgy crowd. (Years ago a gray-haired metalhead wearing an empatched vest over his leather jacket told my friend to take off his flap-eared winter hat because it was an embarrassment to metal. “Did you even know that guy?” “No.”)

Delirium

Delirium – Canton, Ohio

Delirium were clearly having fun and were really excited that people were enjoying them. They were playing like pros while still not quite being able to pose and headbang as confidently as their older brethren. The friends that came with them were excited as well, obviously having as good a time on the road trip as they were at the concert specifically. Delirium: a band of friends having fun and being friends and stunned at how fun being a band can be. Hold on to it my young friends! Soon you’ll have to put up with the flakiness and mercurial personalities of adult musicians.

Delirium stuck around for the duration of the show and moshed and cheered for every band that followed. Every compliment they received was repeated among themselves with wide smiles and disbelief. The older dudes in the other bands had to feel like they were the coolest people on Earth for being so revered by the next generation. Delirium’s bass player was overheard telling his mom that no, no he wasn’t ready to leave – the headbanging must continue!

The show was put on by Jonathyn Arthurs, a 17-year old theistic Satanist who performs under the moniker The Dark and Bleak. He also books shows and shoots promo photos as Crystal Moonlight Studios. TDAB will be discussed later, but suffice it to say that like Delirium’s set, the whole affair had the charming naiveté of an excited kid – the fliers with set times were posted everywhere (“set times are approximate”) as were signs noting that

“Neither Crystal Moonlight Studios or Bernies Distillery are responsible for any injuries or stolen/missing property. Any damages made to the venue or any of the bands equipment is YOUR responsibility and you will be required to pay for the damages within a short period of time. Please stick around for all the bands and just have a good time.”

The enthusiastic professionalism of the signs aside, this professionally-run ship did make for smooth sailing. The show was a little ahead of schedule and nothing appeared to have been broken at the end of the night.

Assorted parents and grandparents were in attendance – what did they think of the name Coathanger Abortion? The name Coathanger Abortion was even conspicuously absent from the illuminated dry-erase board that lists the evening’s bands. Coathanger have been a band since 2000 and have toured extensively since then, so you also had to wonder what they thought of everything, the parents and teenage bands and the promise of a one-man black metalish band playing right before them. It is brutal death metal so it’s always going to be a little weird, but still.

After Delirium was a band from Columbus, and they were unfortunately called Church. The vocalist noted that the band can be found online at facebook.com/notyourmomschurch, leading me wonder if the whole point of the name was to be able to make that joke. They were all metaled out – wallet chains, beards, sleeveless shirts, etc. – and played beer-drinking metalhead-metal, a fist-pumping force one or two steps heavier than Lamb of God. They actually sound a lot like the bands on underground metal comps from the late 90s/early 00s and reminded me of Deceased, if Deceased were actually good. (I recently re-listened to Blueprints for Madness and it is fucking terrible. [Aside from ‘the Triangle,’ which is a killer song with cool lyrics about the Bermuda Triangle.])

Church

Church – Columbus, Ohio

Church is good but the tepidity of their moniker carried over to their song titles: “False Redemption,” “The Lack of God,” “Sheep to the Slaughter,” etc. etc. I want to hear stuff like “The Vault of Ancient Bone & Poison Saliva” and “Genesis of Putrescence” – how is one supposed to lead the charge against moronic religious bullshit when your battle hymns aren’t particularly inspiring? But their bassist is a towering dude who looks like Peter Stormare from Fargo and we all know that guy didn’t need to be a wordsmith, so whatever. But the band was good enough. Delirium loved them and the power of their set made a dad shout something between songs. “What did you say?” his companion asked. “I don’t know – I just wanted to yell!”

Forced to Rot was like Church, but tighter and with better equipment, and they too played no-frills underground Metal. They were a little more brutal overall than the previous band, as they opted for guttural vocals instead of throaty old-school roars. Like Church is one step heavier than Lamb of God, Forced to Rot is one step heavier than Church.

Aside from having a really cool name, Forced to Rot were fantastic. Watching them play made me re-appreciate x100 why metal is cool: it’s unparalleled musicianship, you get enveloped by sound, and there are parts so universally good that you headbang involuntarily. Plus seeing a bunch of long hairs headbanging in unison is super sick regardless of what kind of music you normally listen to.

Forced to Rot

Forced to Rot – Loveland, Ohio

But it is always awkward when only one guy in a band is wearing corpsepaint. One and only one member of Forced to Rot had his face painted like a skull. I guess my feeling is that it is kind of goofy and a little bit distracting, but if it helps him get in the zone, who cares…? I’m personally taken out of the zone when I look up and see not a misanthropic ghoul but a guy who just really wanted to wear corpsepaint. But it’s not really his fault – how many times has a band’s corpsepaint looked genuinely creepy in high-contrast album art only to lost its entire forest-dwelling mystique when you see the band live and you realize it’s just a bunch of sweaty men dripping white paint down the front of their distended tank-tops? (This wasn’t the case here; no sloppy paint, it was just kind of out of place.)

But again, who fucking cares? It was a metal show – it’s not often you get to unabashedly celebrate this thing of ours with a bunch of people who totally get it. Forced to Rot’s vocalist got it and definitely appreciated it. All night he was positive and happy. Between songs he made a point to complement each one of the bands. “Delirium – if I played guitar like that I’d have no fucking fingers left! Church – give it up for the only kind of church I enjoy!” It wasn’t just the music that made this show great – it was cool to see that this thing, the metal scene, an international subculture, a thing that few people inside and outside of metal really understand the value of, continues to exist on its own terms with camaraderie and insouciance.

The singer was positive through the end of their killer set:

This is the last song. It’s time to go crazy. But more importantly, it’s time to have some fun. If that means committing mass murder, then so be it. If it means getting yourself hard and jacking off in the mosh pit, do it! If it means…oh, whatever, just play the fucking song!

The Dark and Bleak

The Dark and Bleak – Columbus, Ohio

The Dark and the Bleak is apparently somewhat of an institution in Columbus. It is the solo project of the aforementioned Jonathyn Arthurs, a young man who epitomizes the idea that working hard will bring success. According to the collection of flyers on his Facebook page, he has played everything from high school battles of the bands to a Used Kids Monday Matinee to the Obetz Zucchinifest, where he opened for Bret Michaels. I can’t imagine how crazy the last show must have been – the Dark and Bleak, in Obetz, at the Zucchinifest, wearing a black leather trench coat and face paint, on stage playing shredding metal by himself, to people who are there to see Bret Michaels. But I was admittedly skeptical – how many trenchcoat and nail polish-wearing teenagers really have decent solo projects? What is the likelihood that a band with a plain font logo will actually rule?

He explained his MO during his set at Bernie’s: “Some of you may be wondering, ‘why is he up here by himself?’ And the answer is because I promote independency. You all have the power within you to reach your dreams. You know that fear you feel? Take that and turn it into motivation!”

The Dark and Bleak live

Jonathyn Arthurs – The Dark and Bleak

Right on, man! I like this message not only for its general application but because it allows him to fearlessly do what he does. But I got nervous for him when I heard him sound-checking his mp3 drum tracks. It was a Casio-keyboardian 4/4 beat, and he was being really particular about it. He walked around the stage, then out in front of it, then smiled and shrugged at the sound guy. He introduced himself, thanked everyone for being there, and started playing. And it was fucking KILLER. I was stunned at how good it was. He was shredding as well as any of the known one-man death metal bands that routinely play festivals and put out records. There was conveniently a brick on stage, and this allowed him to stand with one knee bent, a position taken to maximize brutality. (He reportedly sometimes brings his own fan, for maximum hair enblowment.)

Goddammit, though. I hate to say it, but the second song he played confirmed my initial fears. The song starts with bells that sound like a sample from the ‘Home Alone’ soundtrack, and is followed by a metal-voiced recitation of poetry over mid-paced melodic metal. The stylistic change completely caught me off guard. It’s the kind of metal that people who like metal without getting too hooked by a specific subgenre listen to; the midpaced triplet-driven song is a staple on metal albums, and I guess he wanted to make a contribution of his own. It was well-played and the title “Masquerade” implies an important reiteration of seeing through society’s bullshit, but the gothic flavor nonetheless killed the momentum of the first excoriating attack.

Fortunately the next song he played was more like the first. He said that he wrote the song in 2008. This means he wrote it when he was around eleven: “This next song is about pollution. But first, I’m going to take this [leather trenchcoat] off – this thing is ridiculous!”

He laughed as he said this. He seemed at home on the stage but was humble and appreciative and very polite. His modesty throughout the night was endearing. “I have one more song before we get to the real talent.” Pointing at the kids in Delirium: “I’d like to see a small mosh pit.” More than half his set was ripping death metal, and I was continually impressed and was able to look past a long solo that was only incidentally in tune. This kid rules. Support him in doing what he’s doing: leading a metal life because it’s satisfying on the deepest possible level. (And according to a recent Facebook post, there are “64 things left to finish in terms of recording the new album. But with 3 things or more getting done each day it should be done in great time.”)

Coathanger Abortion was sitting quietly in a corner of Bernie’s. They were manifestly brutal death metal dudes – Gutrot shirts, camo shorts, hawking the requisite color-logo-with-gruesome-white-art shirts almost mandatory in BDM. Stylistically, I knew I would be really into them – they are on Comatose Music and will be touring with Devangelic and Lust of Decay this summer – but I couldn’t help but be annoyed by their name. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Disgorged Foetus and Nailshitter, and that Scatorgy record is great; it’s not baroque grossness that’s the issue but the kind of grossness their the name implies: the kind of really, genuinely eerily violent and misogynist brutal death metal that makes you realize that maybe some people involved with this musick really are terrible assholes and not just dudes trying to outdo each other with scenes of zombie and medical violence. Lividity, Incestuous, Female Nose Breaker – dudes who seem to take pride in being as fucked up as they can as a supremely juvenile form of revenge against women they probably routinely creep out. I was prepared for Coathanger to say something ultra-degrading between songs but they totally did not. They have a song called ‘Leaves,’ about smoking weed, and they have a song ‘Mall Monster,’ whose lyrics are the following:

Now as darkness falls over me, sitting at the hotel waiting to leave
Just waiting to get this night over
Down on your knees
Crawling toward a break
I can’t escape from this place that I hate
I can’t wait to leave this place in the morning
I can’t wait any longer
Waiting for dawn
Mall monster. Muzak insanity, its driving me crazy
Mall monster. Glaring at security cops
Seeing constant pop culture
Yuppie fashions under surveillance
Surrounded by a mass of idiots
Money blowing fools
Dollar signs are everywhere
Pick me, buy me, I am what you want
Food court terrorizer strolls by you
Cover your children’s eyes
The mall monster has consumed you
Shit on sale

CA album

Coathanger Abortion – “Dying Breed”

I admittedly passed on their album “Dying Breed” because of the band’s name, but now realize I was totally remiss in doing so. As a review on Encyclopaedia Metallum goes, “Within the grotesque heap of muck known as modern brutal death metal there are some albums floating around out there that no one has and know one [sic] even knows about that are insanely sick.” (Seriously, get this album. It’s really, really good.)

I like brutal death metal way more than I like regular metal, so the pleasure I derived from watching Forced to Rot play was multiplied tenfold when Coathanger started playing. I was entranced watching everyone in the band go about their business. They are so tight and the riffs are so patently interesting that the brutality almost took second stage to the joy of watching the songs unfold. Almost but not quite, since the fact that it was brutal death metal made everything that much more enjoyable. The drummer was absolutely incredible (and sports killer sideburns), the guitar players were astounding, and the vocals were awesome grunts that sounded like someone was turning on and off a faucet running with the sound of inhuman roars echoing through a drain. (And it wasn’t even the regular vocalist – the bass player handled vocals since the vocalist couldn’t do the tour.)

And within watching Coathanger Abortion play is the essence of Bernie’s – it’s not your mom’s church but an even higher and much more genuine form of affirmation. You feel proud of what you are into; you can’t believe you are witnessing something so powerful – on a small stage in a dank basement in a random city on a random evening, something is going on unlike anything else on earth. You are moved to headbang, to smile hugely in appreciation of an insane riff or Neolithic mosh, to celebrate it all with thirty other people, the number not a poor turnout but a hush-hush klatch that makes the evident secrecy that much more profound. Thank you Jonathyn Arthurs/the Dark and Bleak/Crystal Moonlight Productions for setting up the show – it was totally fucking sick.

Delirium: https://www.facebook.com/DeliriumBandOhio
Church: https://www.facebook.com/NotYourMomsChurch
Forced to Rot: https://www.facebook.com/forced.torot
The Dark and Bleak: https://www.facebook.com/thedarkandbleak
Coathanger Abortion: https://www.facebook.com/CoathangerAbortionOfficial
Bernie’s Bagels: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bernies-Bagels-DeliThe-Distillery/117607638316419

My Kickstarter campaign has started! Please check it out!

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I am writing and researching a book about America and about traveling through it, about the history of coffee, regional folklore, Sequoyah, and a possible descendant of Kafka’s last lover. It will be a rollicking road book full of stranger-than-fiction tales from the annals of American letters and modern life.

Please check out my campaign, and please feel free to offer any advice! Thank you very, very much!

“From ufology libraries to Faulkner conferences to an FBI-raided infoshop to Conde Nast publications to a town of 7500 people with no less than four religious bookstores – the American landscape is as varied as it is wide, and the same thing can be said for its literary heritage. I am writing a travelogue of the old-school, Travels with Charley variety, but with a bibliophile’s twist: my goal is to paint a portrait of contemporary America by traveling the routes that lead to its used bookstores and sites of literary significance…”

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1437197981/as-of-yet-untitled-travelogue-with-a-bibliophiles

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