ON PRACTICE: Note from the Editor (Arthur No. 34, 2013)

Note from the Editor

ON PRACTICE

Let’s have a happy hurrah for Byron Coley, this publication’s longest-term continuous contributor, and as of right now its first and only Senior Writer. Coley earned this title the hard way, not just knocking out hundreds of column inches’ worth of learned music-art-poetry-film-comics-whatsit reviewage over the last ten years with Bull Tongue partner Thurston Moore on deadline for no pay, but also pinch-hitting on other stuff when ye young editor had yet again foolishly over-extended himself. (Plus there was that Yoko Ono feature that shoulda been a cover, back in 2007…) No one has flown the freak flag higher or for longer at Arthur than Byron…or done a better job of explaining why exactly that old flag was still worth checking out.

From what I can tell, Byron has always been like this. I first knew him by his editor/writer byline first, as co-prime mover with Jimmy Johnson of Forced Exposure, an irregularly published magazine that somehow covered almost all that was great and interesting in the ‘80s/’90s in a style/format that didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed since: a sweet combo of smart riffs, ribald japery, ecstatic poetics, subcultural scholarship and two bits of the old hairy shockola. The breadth of coverage, the depth of thought-feel about the subjects at hand, the high quality of the radar in choosing what was worthy of ink, the guts to run ridiculously long pieces regardless of overt commercial appeal, the relentlessly inventive wordspiel that flowed across page after black-and-white page…it all made each issue of FE a necessary acquisition. It was a lotta words to the wise from wise guides.

These are very different times than the ‘80s/’90s. No single independent entity today—certainly not this humble rag—could hope to cover the same cultural terrain as FE did with the same authority or insight, given the overwhelming glut of artistic production unleashed upon us all by our misguided computer nerd lords. You can’t keep tabs on it all. But what the hell. For the advocate journalist-scholar, there’s still the Basic Practice: find good stuff, tell other people about it. And don’t waste effort—try to be of positive use in times that aren’t so great. I know I’m embarrassing him into a startling new shade of pink-purple when I write this, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more personally inspiring figure in America in this regard than Byron.

And there couldn’t be a much worthier, more overdue subject for an extended Arthur cover feature by Byron than Matt Valentine. In a way, I’m glad it’s taken ‘til 2013 to get round to covering MV, because now we get to view such a rich, extended life/art/career trajectory—that is, how his move from college to urban to rural locale has played out, and how a musician with such a singular vision, rooted in so many intriguing aesthetics, has found a way to persist, on his own terms, for so long, in such a trying period for working artists. In short: Matt’s cracked a lot of codes, and Byron has shared them with us with 202 footnotes that only he could write.

Jay Babcock

Joshua Tree, California

LEAVE IT TO THE BEES: Weedeater column by Nance Klehm (Arthur, 2013)

Leave It to the Bees

by Nance Klehm

Illustration by Kira Mardikes

Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (March 2013), art direction by Yasmin Khan

Honey, wax and wisdom is true currency. You can eat, heat, fuel and chew on it, and, hopefully, on this, too:

Two years back, I worked for a fifth-generation beekeeper who keeps bees in the 500,000 acres of wildlands that border Arizona and Mexico. Her 600 hives are located in several handfuls of bee yards scattered across the vast acreage of federal wildlife preserve and private large ranches of the Avra Valley.

In this valley vibrates the peak Babaquiviri, center of the Universe to the Tohono O’odham people. Nearby stands Kitt Peak Observatory. And down below is the favored crossing point of pharmaceutical traffickers and need-driven people, inciting the U.S. border patrol to comb the area with ATV’s, man multiple dusty checkpoints and store buses in the sagebrush for large hauls of captured humans. In the Avra Valley, cattle range, quail nest, coyotes hunt and bees pollinate.

Lady D’s bee yards are carefully situated near rangeland watering holes and on long slopes, offering a diverse spectrum of ecosystems, each supporting its own palette of plants of which the bees forage. She supplements the hives with little else but this well-considered placement—no supplemental sugar feed, no fats or essential oils to deter Varroa mites. Like most commercial beekeepers, she doesn’t strip the bees of their winter food source, aka their honey. D leaves them essentially to do their own thing which, of course, they do very well. Her hives are undeniably stronger than most hives I have ever seen. Her varietal honeys are Sonoran: Cats Claw, Mesquite, Ironwood, Sagebrush… far away from the pale and delicate Clover, Linden or Orange Blossom sold at farmer’s markets and on most grocery store shelves. Her honeys are dark, low moisture and carmelly. They crystallize easily. They are toothy.

D’s own property is piled high with antique, handmade hive equipment—much of it over 50 years old—that needed a good cleaning with a wire brush and spackle knife. Which is what she and I spent hours doing every week while I was there. I would scrub and scrape petrified bee bodies, dusty crusty wax and crystallized honey drips from the ancient wire and wood frames at half her speed. She never neglected to remind me of this. She talked non-stop. I listened and worked. Outside her honey house were 55 gallon drums (660lbs honey) that she would sell whole or pour off into five gallon buckets.

And so, this is where the story stops: Lady D had two barrels set aside of honey from an extraction from many years past. Honey has no shelf life—it’s always good. One day I asked her about why she was keeping these barrels aside from the rest she poured to sell from. She told me to think on it a bit. After a few hours under the cloudless sky, scraping… scrubbing… the answer floated in: ‘TO MAKE FUEL.’ She kept honey around to make into alcohol to run her generator. To have around when the North and South Poles flip.

Now, making alcohol… I assume most of you know how to do this already. But if you don’t, I hope you will consider learning to do so before next month. You don’t do this because of some fear of impending fossil fuel scarcity or some other apocalyptic scenario (no matter how keen that fantasy is or how likely we will see the first of these), but because it is a handy and accessible technology to embody. 

Following are the basics to make a simple and direct sort of brew, not beer or wine per se, but an alcohol that when distilled, you could generate some power with (or use to clean wounds, or make your own herbal tinctures with, or…etc.)

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PIXEL DEEP: Gabe Soria talks with “You” novelist/video game developer Austin Grossman (Arthur, 2013)

The Four Holy Archetypes of the RPG Zodiac: Amazon, Warrior, Magician, Trickster., by Ron Rege Jr.

PIXEL DEEP

Novelist Austin Grossman is obsessed with both the video games people play and the developers who make them. Gabe Soria gets with the program. 

Illustration by Ron Rege, Jr. , art direction by Yasmin Khan

Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April, 2013)

You, the new novel from Austin Grossman, is a testament to the enduring appeal and agony of fictional world-building. Framed as a quasi-coming of age tale, the book is narrated by the prodigal member of a crew of four computer game enthusiasts who create an enduring, Eternal Champion-esque video game franchise while still in high school. Seen through the prism of the video game industry from the homebrew days of the early-80’s to the tech explosion of the late-90’s,You explores what video games mean to us and how they both shape and distort the lives of those who create and consume them. 

Grossman’s first novel, Soon I Shall be Invincible!, played with the tropes of Silver Age and Bronze Age comic books by taking the standard stories of a would-be world-beating villain and rookie superhero and digging deep into the motivations behind each as they move toward a standard epic confrontation. You does the equivalent for the world of a fantasy video game, delving into the motivations of not only the creators, but of the characters in the games themselves. It’s a strange and affecting experience that gets close to the reasons behind why we sit by the console campfire to both tell and have stories told to us. Arthur rang up Grossman—a veteran video game writer and consultant—to have a chat about all this mess.

Q: Video game novels, besides novels actually based on video games, it’s a very small club: Lucky Wander Boy (see Endnote 1), Ready Player One (2), Microserfs (3), Reamde (4) and now You. What inspired you to set a novel in a world that doesn’t lend itself so much to stories about its creation?

A: Gamers feel like an embattled minority. The public think they’re either pathetic or violent, and I don’t feel like that myself. I felt that this was an area of the culture that hadn’t been described too deeply or clearly or truthfully as it could be, so someone should take a whack at this, and I nominated myself. Video games are a really kind of an odd and varied and deep experience, and that needs to be represented. It was an interesting experiment so I gave it a try.

Q: While You is a book about video games, it’s a book about storytelling. It’s a book about the stories we tell each other, the stories we want to hear. And the title itself: You. It seems to evoke that special place in storytelling that video games occupy. Life itself is a first person experience, most novels you read are third person experiences, but video games themselves, as a method of storytelling, are in the second person. It’s all about pointing at you, the player.

A: That’s exactly the sense of the title, that’s exactly the weirdness that the book tries to grapple with. The storytelling of videogames is something that the closer you get to it, the weirder it is. Is a video game telling you a story? Is it telling itself a story? It’s kind of in this weird intermediate state that’s hard to map to anything. When I lecture about video games I talk about LEGOs and Barbies a lot, because you have to go to these places to find good analogies for the storytelling in games. I think that’s probably why storytelling in videogames has kind of lagged behind, because we can’t get a handle on what that moment is, you know, when you pick up the controller and you commit to making yourself a character. It’s really odd, and no one is done figuring out what exactly that means.

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WIZARDS OF OZMA: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on MELVINS’ heaviest record (Arthur, 2013)

As originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)

Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 3.53.17 PM

WIZARDS OF OZMA
What made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built? STEWART VOEGTLIN pays attention to the men behind the curtain…
Illustration by BEAVER

Discussed:

Melvins
Lysol
Boner Records, 1992

Melvins
Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Melvins
Ozma
Boner Records, 1987

Melvins
Eggnog
Boner Records, 1991

Earth
Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Melvins
Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

Thrones
Alraune
The Communion Label, 1996

Used to fight flu in early 1900s. Used as douche, disinfectant, “birth-control agent.” Toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. But commonly consumed by alcoholics as alternative to more expensive tipple. Taken off grocer’s shelf. Popped open. Sprayed into its cap. Thrown back. Used and reused because—or in spite of—its overpowering carbolic taste worsened with a burn weaponized and wince inducing. And, finally, used, infamously—but not orally—by Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals), Joe Preston (bass), and Dale Crover (drums) as title of Melvins’ fourth full-length record, Lysol, released in 1992.

Lysol is Melvins’ biggest record. It’s their heaviest. While being “big” and “heavy,” Lysol inadvertently questions what exactly constitutes “big” and “heavy” records. While being intentionally cryptic, Lysol questions what it means for records to be unintentionally accessible, and why a record’s content must posit a “message” that not only means something, but also purports to uncover some semblance of truth. The dialectic is reluctant. That it’s as “big” and “heavy” as the record itself, and actually does threaten to posit a “message” that masquerades as truth, is an unexpected payoff from a record that satisfies as many aesthetic criteria as it eliminates.

Harold Bloom could’ve been talking about Lysol when he praised the completeness and finality of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book fulfilled Bloom’s idea of the “ultimate western.” All genre criteria were not only satisfied; they were eliminated. Anything published on its heels was not a western at all, but futility in the form of mechanics, ink, paper. Lysol was released in 1992; the two “heaviest” records released that year other than itself are Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering. Their sound is distinct. They work within the confines of their carefully cultivated worlds, and thrive in doing so. Lysol’s sound? Also distinct. Also works within its world. But does so in such manner that the construction that defines its world falls, like a ladder kicked away after its ascendant looks down on what they’ve climbed out of, and becomes not meaningless, but too meaningful.

What Melvins accomplish with Lysol, particularly its 11-minute opener, “Hung Bunny,” is a sort of Heavy Metal as religious music. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t stomping inchoate distillations of “God’s silence,” it’s spreading śūnyatā out as endless horizon. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t indifferent about “theophany,” it’s providing the conditions necessary to understand, or receive, the divine in the first place. Not surprisingly, it’s an attentive record. A concentrated record. A ceremonial record. It’s the most unlikely religious record ever built, as its cover tunes (which account for half of the program) easily constitute the band’s bulletproof belief system, while “Hung Bunny,” recreates Tibetan Buddhism’s ritual music, and stillbirths one of the more unfortunate subgenres, “stoner doom,” without even taking a toke.

It’s a risky hyperbole. (Aren’t they all?) Somewhere in a suburban basement, a kid’s pulling tubes, crushing beers, Lysol spraying through ear-wilting wattage. It may not initially present as enigma, even in the midst of buzz, but it will always require interpretation. How that kid understands Lysol may be no different than how orthodox monks understand the Jesus prayer. In a deceptively simple way, the kid and the monk make sense of their lives through external power, with or without what Richard Rorty calls “an ambition of transcendence.” That we struggle, unprovoked, through these self-imposed puzzles, is what binds us, despite the disparity of aesthetics we are geared towards through fate’s random generation. Ultimately we gravitate towards that which lends our lives meaning—even if meaning is undone in its meaninglessness. Realizing the kid’s and the monk’s “road” to sense is the same path carved out by, and because, of the “big” and the “heavy” is the first step out onto the yellow brick.

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ECSTATIC UPHEAVAL: A conversation with artist David Chaim Smith (Arthur, 2013)

Originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)….

3enthroningblaze

DIAGRAMMING THE DIVINE SPARK
Is there a way to examine the nature of existence at its very foundation? Esoteric mapmaker DAVID CHAIM SMITH say yes—but there’s a price.
by Jay Babcock

I first encountered David Chaim Smith’s remarkable, bewildering work through Pam Grossman’s Phantasmaphile newsletter, a daily email bulletin spotlighting a contemporary or historic personage up to something witchy and beautiful, usually in the visual arts. Smith’s work was particularly striking in its unusual combination of diagrammatic composition, simple media (pencil!?!) and unapologetically rarefied Kabbalistic-Gnostic content. Generally that would be more than enough to warrant further investigation, but it was the work’s difficult-to-grok provenance that intrigued me the most: these pieces looked like plates that could have been included in Alexander Roob’s Taschen compendium of dazzling Medieval alchemical artwork, The Hermetic Museum (alternative title, courtesy of Adam Egypt Mortimer: The Original Face Melter Times A Thousand). They seemed like the kind of work that’s usually brought to light by accident, decades after the a recluse’s death or disappearance (or committal to a mental ward): strange, highly charged devotional work rescued from a trashbin, the details of its artist’s life and practice gone to dust, Iain Sinclair on the case.

DCS2

And yet, the author of these stupefying drawings is alive and well—David Chaim Smith [above] is a contemporary New York artist with an MFA, a publisher and (until recently) a gallery. Despite living a semi-monastic life, Smith seems eager to engage with a curious public. He has a website. He’s on Facebook. Dig a little and you’ll find a few occultist-oriented podcast interviews and accounts of public talks he’s given in the last few years around the publication of his two books—2010’s esoteric exegesis The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis: Commentary on Genesis 1-3 (Daat Press) and 2012’s massive art/text collection The Sacrificial Universe (Fulgur)—and a 2010 gallery show. And now, here he is on the other end of the telephone line in late January, just days after completing his new book, Blazing Dew of Stars, set for publication this springOctober 23, 2013 by Fulgur. A surprisingly garrulous fellow, Smith spoke frankly about who he is, where he comes from and how his day-to-day life and spiritual practice generates such artwork. What follows is a condensed version of our conversation.

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Zig-Zag ZAPPED: Chris Ziegler on California free rockers FEEDING PEOPLE (complete text from Arthur 34/April 2013)

feedingpeople

Zig-Zag Zapped
Orange County, California psych rockers FEEDING PEOPLE left the church and entered the void. Now they’ve returned to sing their tales in glorious reverb. Chris Ziegler investigates.
Photography by Ward Robinson

Feeding People come from the Adolescents’ “Kids of the Black Hole” country, the un-Disneyfied side of Orange County, California. They met in a church band and then spiraled off into the cosmos, putting out a record in 2010 on heroic hometown emporium Burger Records that out-freaked almost all the other extremely accomplished freaks already on that label. It sounded like the battle of all battles—trying to go psychedelic in a place where it would have been so much easier to go plastic.

Don’t get me wrong. They weren’t obviously frothing at the mouth. If you didn’t know your contemporary Orange County bandspotting minutiae, you’d probably have a hard time in the wilds of Fullerton figuring out who exactly is a Feeding Person and who is in Audacity or Cosmonauts or who works buying used vinyl at Burger, indisputable ground zero of Southern California’s teenage weirdo renaissance. They’re all on the thrift store/swap meet vibe, kids who spend weekends prying out the last surviving cool shit from the tar pits of suburbia. Maybe that’s Goodwilled punk and psych records or leather boots, maybe just a decent jean jacket. (Plus band shirts bought from the band, at the show, of course.) You wouldn’t be able to tell if Feeding People were there to play or just there to watch if you saw them hanging out by a stage.

Today, founder and singer Jessie Jones and guitarist Louis Filliger are the last ones left from the first line-up of Feeding People. And even though they’re 72 hours away from the release of their new album, Island Universe, they haven’t quite left that earlier era behind. It’s like they’ve still got ash and dust on them. They’ve … experienced things. They’ve got extra energy so they can muster extra quickness, extra brightness so they can see a little farther into the dark. When they start to talk, it’s like a door is thrown open—you’ll feel the air rush past, hear the slam.

Jessie is dark-haired, slim but not slight because of some not-quite-nameable quality of presence. Even two tables away, it seems like she’s right next to you. She talks less than Louis, but when she does, everybody else shuts up. Louis has the answers, the theories, the explanations. During the French Revolution, he says, they’d start their speeches with certain words that would really HIT. (He pushes some extra power into the word—THUD.) He’s been waiting to get these stories out, he says.

Everybody with sense who writes about Feeding People talks about how something else is coming THROUGH this band. They channel, they incarnate, they let something strange and cosmic come scorching through. It’s like Philip K. Dick—in 1974, he got zapped by some power cosmic just five driving minutes from where the Burger Records stand is now, and it led him to write two million words searching for ultimate truth. (“A: The enigma remains. Q: We have learned nothing,” Dick decided.)

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ON ANARCHO-OCCULTISM, THIS CAPITALIST PLANET AND COUNTERPOWER (Arthur, 2013)

Here is the entirety of the “Applied Magic(k)” column by The Center for Tactical Magic in Arthur No. 34/April 2013. The illustration below is by Aaron Gach.

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Anarcho-Occultism or, A Society Gets All the Magic(k) It Deserves

Like some digital cauldron, our email was all a-bubble this past month with some particularly savory notes. “Do you believe in occult conspiracies?” “How can I meet others who are interested in magic(k) and aren’t batshit crazy?” And, perhaps our favorite of the bunch: “What’s the relationship between magic(k) and anarchy (or anti-capitalism)?” Any one of these questions is worthy of inspiring a volume in its own right; however, we’re going to use a bit of invisible thread to tie them altogether at once.

First off, there’s not one, single relationship between magic(k) and anarchy, in part because there are many different aspects of anarchism and many, many magic(k)s. As a starting point, let’s use some of the principles of stage magic. Capitalism is an illusion. Or, more properly put, it is a system based on illusory means and ends. In the current economic paradigm, corporations increase their wealth through several illusions: by manufacturing and marketing phantom “needs” (i.e., the magician’s “force”), by the engineering wizardry of planned obsolescence (i.e., the use of gimmicked props), by conjuring commodities out of basic necessities (i.e., misdirection), and by manipulating public policy to ensure that would-be costs are mysteriously transferred to taxpayers via so-called “externalities”, often in the form of weakened labor laws, cut-rate resource extraction, government subsidies, and environmental loopholes, to name but a few (i.e., the use of “dupes”). These sleights are but parts of the capitalist repertoire performed in a much larger theater of conflict. The grand illusion is the one that aims to convince the audience that the status quo is the only show in town.

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