T-Model Ford is the 82-year-old, self-styled “Boss of the Blues”, also known as “The Taildragger.” Every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model at his home in Greenville, Mississippi and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from the fellas at Fat Possum, the Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s original badass records (more info at fatpossum.com). If you’ve got questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to firstname.lastname@example.org
T-Model, what should you do if you got some neighbors that are acting rowdy? Having parties late at night?
Well, if it’s worrying you… If you the boss of the house, get you another house, or stay there and put up with it. If you can’t stand ‘em and all, can’t get along with ‘em, and if they don’t wanna move, then you move out of there yourself.
You wouldn’t call the police?
No. Police ain’t gonna do nothin’ about it no way. All you do, talkin’ on the phone… first thing a couple more weeks, or a month, it’s the same thing again! If you get tired of something, move out! Go on ‘bout your business. That’s right. I ain’t rowdy, but they think I is! [laughs]
T-Model, you like whiskey, right? What’s your preference?
I like the Johnny Walker. I drink, but I don’t get ‘toxicated. “Toxicated” means you get high and almost drunk and you don’t know how to treat the people. But I just take me a little shot drink all alone, and I don’t get high. If I smell it, I quit drinking. I can handle myself. Because if you get too much of it in, you can’t handle yourself, and other people neither. I don’t like a drunkard no way. Dope smokers and drunkards—I don’t even want to get in their company. You don’t want it all, you just want a little teeny bit.
T-Model, you’re 82 years old and still playing music, going on tour. You have any advice for young musicians that are just starting out?
I’d tell them to play the blues. Stick with the blues. The blues will forever be here. This mess they coming out with now, wasn’t out when we was coming in the world. Nothing but old guitars, acoustic guitar. But now, it’s the blues everywhere I go, all overseas and out of Mississippi, the people love the blues. All the crack places and the rap places, my style of blues is puttin’ them all bad. They don’t wanna hear that. Like when I go overseas or get out of Mississippi to play, all the people coming there to hear me, they ain’t caring about hearing no other people play! They come to hear T-Model. So I got the best style there is: the blues.
T-Model, is it true that you can play for eight hours straight?
That’s true! It’s like walking in the kitchen and drinking some sweet milk. Ain’t nothin’ to it, man.
T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi.“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur calls up T-Model and asks him for some advice. T-Model gives his sage answers, then we transcribe the conversation with some interpreting help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum, the Oxford, Mississippi record label that releases T-Model’s original badass records (more info at fatpossum.com). We love T-Model ‘round here: his last album, the Jim Dickinson-produced Bad Man, is still on the office Arthur turntable, 18 months after its release. But whatever. If you’ve got some non-math questions for T-Model, and we know that you do, email ‘em to email@example.com and we’ll pass ‘em along if they’re any good.
Arthur: One of our readers asks, “How come an older man can go with a younger woman, but you never see an older woman going with a younger man?” Is that true, T-Model?
T-Model: Yep. Well, the main one problem with the young womens, and then their problem is with the older women. They want a little harder piece of candy. That’s the difference in it.
You see that happening in your life ever?
Oh yeah, man. It’s happening right now. [laughs]
Here’s another question. One of our readers asks, “T-Model, are you a voting man? Who are you planning to vote for president this November?”
I ain’t even interested in it. I ain’t never voted in my life. Anything they do is alright with me. If they do good, it’s alright, and if they do bad, it’s alright. If they do bad, it’s alright, and if they do good, it’s alright. See, when you vote for somebody, it’s like a woman… You see a woman yonder, you get on your head, you want her whether or not. Then when you get her, it ain’t what you thought. And that’s the same thing with you voting for somebody. You vote for a person, he’ll talk sweet to you ‘til you get in, then when you get in, you get SOUR. You ain’t doin’ nothing what you say you gon’ do. That’s the way it happens. I ain’t done bad ever who be the president, and I ain’t done too good ever who be the president. It don’t matter. I ain’t never voted!
Do you want your kids to vote?
That’s left up to them–they grown. [laughs] You know what? My part, I don’t worry ‘bout nothin’. I don’t even worry about a woman. If they do, it’s alright, and if they don’t, it’s alright. Then I won’t have to be thinking about it, worrying about it, grieving about it, can’t half eat, can’t do nothing good, so just don’t let that get in your head. You know what give a man a hard blues? When the bottom wear off his last pair of shoes. He can’t walk on no briars, he can’t walk on the gravel hardly, and he sure can’t walk on no coals on fire if he ain’t got no shoes on. If he do, I want to see him! [laughs]
One more question, T-Model: What wood makes the best walking stick? You ever use a stick when you’re walking around?
Oak ain’t too good. Hickory is the best. You can’t bend an oak like you can hickory. Go with the hickory. That’s what I got in my hand right now!
T-Model Ford says a lot. He says he’s 79 years old. He says he’s “the Boss of the Blues! TheTaildragger! From Greenvillllllllle….Mississippi!“ He says he doesn’t need his cane anymore. And he says he can help us. So, every two months, Arthur’s humble editor calls T-Model and asks him some pressing questions. T-Model gives his answers over the phone, then we at Arthur HQ transcribe the conversation, with some help from Bruce Watson at Fat Possum Records, T-Model’s record label. And bip-bap-boom, there it is. If you have any questions for T-Model, and we suspect that you do, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear T-Model: I’m a father. We’ve got a four-year-old and we’re having discipline problems. My wife wants to get a paddle, to spank the child with, but I’ve always been against that. Lately though this little tyke has been cruisin’ for a bruisin’ is how I see it. What should we do? — A Paddle With Her Name On It, Fontana, CA.
Well, if you trying to raise it right, get you a little cane switch. Don’t spank him. Don’t slap him. Get you a little cane switch and hit him on his little booty back there. Sting him. Don’t get the blood out of him, don’t whip him, just STING him enough til he’s started to crying then tell him that hurts. ‘You hurt?’ Then you pet him and talk to him. Try to teach him, Don’t do that no more, it’s wrong. And you can make a good child out of him. Cuz if you don’t, if he get too far then he gon’ wanna talk back, wanna slap you in the face. You ain’t gonna go for that! So start while you got him young, and let…Get a little cane switch and sting him on his little booty til he starts to cryin’. Talk to him. DON’T slap him or spank him! The doctor will tell you that! Don’t spank him, and don’t slap him. I don’t like it! I don’t like seeing anybody spanking a little child, or slap a little child. Cuz it injures them some kind of way. When you get your little cane switch, if you’re gon’ do anything, sting him on his little booty. It’ll come to him, when he’s doin’ it… You don’t have to do it regularly. But when you do it, let him know you mean business. He’ll come to be a fine little baby boy, or girl, every one. I got Stud here, I raised Stud from the time his mama brought him here, and he’s really fine. I don’t have a bit of trouble out of him. He’s a smart little boy. But the little girl? She’s stubborn. She won’t mind me, but she’ll mind them when they get a switch to whoop her! Like Stud, I don’t have no trouble. I tell him don’t do something, he don’t do it. With the little girl, I tell her, she’s getting mad and poutin’ and keep doin’ it. I’m trying to get me a switch for her. But I don’t whoop neither one of ‘em, but I try to teach ‘em the right way. And that’s the way you do yours. Don’t holler at ‘em and scold at her, or ever what it is, girl or boy, just talk nice to ‘em and TEACH ‘em.
ARTHUR: Do you think kids are disciplined enough in society today?
The drunk people, you know how they get. They gonna go the other way anyway, regardless of how you do. You got to let ‘em know that you don’t mess with drunk heads or stud pieces. You wanna live right, honest to your wife, wife live honest to you, you gonna live and you got a child, you’ve got the child, try to live together to raise the child ‘til he get up where he can sort of provide for his own self. Stayin’ together. Don’t let someone ‘he say and she say and they say and this and them,’ don’t let em come tellin’ you nothin’! If a man come try to tell you somethin’ ‘bout your wife, just say, ‘Look. How you can tell so much about my wife, and I’m watchin’, I don’t see nothin’! You must be watchin’ my wife more than I is!’ And your wife do the same thing. Woman coming to tell her, tell her ‘Why you tellin’ me so much about my husband? I be seeing him, I don’t see him doin’ it? She must be watching your husband more than the wife is!’ So, don’t let nobody come tellin’ you what your wife done, nobody tell you what your husband done! You ain’t gonna live happy. It gets in your head, and mind… You think if she walk out the door, it’s something she’s doin’ wrong. Or something HE doin’ wrong. So don’t let nobody come tellin’ you about your family. ’Fore you married ‘em, they didn’t tell you, did they? Alright, then.
What about teenagers, coming home late, taking stuff, getting into trouble at school…?
Well it’s the causin’ of how the mama and the daddy teach them. They get out there with the wrong, lettin’ ’em run with the wrong bunch. This girl come here, and your girl a teenager, she want her to follow her, go over to somebody else’s house. They talkin’ all kind of mess to her and tellin‘ her. The same way it is about a boy. The boy gonna run away to rub up on it, you gonna have a problem out of it. Girl gonna run with them outlaw girls, you gonna have a problem out of ‘em. Ain’t one thing you do, you teach ‘em, talk to ‘em, you tell ‘em what you don’t want and you’re not gonna have it. And MEAN that. Yeah, maybe every now and then you can let her go out with them nice boy or girl, but let ’em know, “I’m still the boss.” That’s at where you live. “You gon’ stay here? You gonna dance by my rules.” Daughter or son. “I’m the one takin’ care of you. You think you can gather up, you can take for yourself, get you a room, and see how long you stay away from Daddy and Mama.”
Originally published in Arthur No. 14 (January, 2005).
Illustration by Tom Devlin.
CANADA RULES, OKAY?
Thinking of leaving? Arthur catches up with an American in Quebec to find out what life is like on the other side of the border.
Arthur: You moved to Montreal from New York City in 2003. At the time we thought you were onto something. Now, in the wake of Bush’s re-election, with tens of thousands of disgusted liberal Americans suddenly interested in leaving the country, we can confirm it: You’re an early adopter! So, we were wondering, how it’s going?
Mademoiselle X: Canada rules. Well, I live in Montreal, Quebec so I should say, “Quebec rules.” Many Americans think of Canada as this big liberal oasis, which it is to a degree, but the country is different city to city, province to province. Alberta is the Texas of Canada where the provincial dance is squaredancing and cowboys are in, Toronto is Canada’s New York and Quebec and Montreal…well, there is no American equivalent for those two, really. But anyway, different provinces have different policies. At a business meeting in Vancouver last winter, I quickly learned that the social programs that are available here in Quebec—like subsidized daycare and a year’s maternity leave—are not available everywhere. Paul Martin is trying to subsidize daycare nationwide. Can you imagine that ever being on the national agenda in the States?
Wait a second. Who’s Paul Martin?
You’re such an American! Paul Martin is Canada’s Prime Minister. He is the head of the Liberal Party that held on to a ruling minority in the last election. They narrowly defeated, who else, but the Conservative Party. It was like the first time in maybe ten years or so that the Liberals did not have a ruling majority. Unlike the States, though, two other parties played a major role in the election: the NDP, which is an extreme left party, and the Bloc Quebecois, which is also to the left but is always threatening to be sovereign. Since it’s a parliament, the theory is that more lefty initiatives will prevail as the Liberals will have to work with the NDP and Block, rather than the Conservatives. When the Liberals were the ruling majority they tended to be more moderate.
So Canada really is more liberal…
Canadians just tend to be more left. The average Canadian is closer to the average Arthur reader than to the average American. Every single person I know here has seen Fahrenheit 9/11, The Corporation and Supersize Me. It is refreshing to live in a world that has a social conscience, though I wish they hadn’t kicked Howard Stern out! Anyway, we’re pretty surprised at how conservative the election went in America. I can’t believe the same country that voted for Fantasia Barrino also elected George Bush.
How much do Canadians follow what goes on in America?
I get all the news that America gets, so most Canadians probably know more about national American politics than Americans. And of course, if a Canadian makes news anywhere in the world, we know about it.
The CBC rules. Canadians do not know how lucky they have it. On TV, you can turn it on Friday night, and a movie along the lines of You Can Count On Me is on. On the radio, the midnight program “Brave New Waves” is a program that most 20-30 something Canadians can reminisce about what years they thought were best. NPR is great, but I love the CBC.
Personally, I love to watch Canadian Idol: it oozes way more talent than American Idol. The winners tend to wear glasses, sing rock songs and play instruments. Otherwise, with the exception of Degrassi High and the brilliant Corner Gas, Canadian TV is rather lackluster. Of course, I only get three English stations, the rest are French. On one of the French stations, every night after 11 or so, they air porn movies. There is also a porn shop and exotic dance club down the street from the office, about a block away from the library. I feel so Puritan to find it odd and not treat it with the nonchalance of the average Quebecer, maybe all of those years living under the Guiliani administration brainwashed me.
Does it matter that you don’t know French?
It’s not an issue. The east part of the island is French and the West is English and we live in the middle. The fact that we’re Americans means we get a free pass. People just go, Oh well. But if you’re Canadian and don’t know French, they’re not so happy.
So, how cold is it, really?
It’s pretty damn cold here but, you know, there were record cold snaps in Boston and New York City last year that were just as cold. Here, though, it’s a given. If there’s a snowstorm, people don’t wait it out, they just bundle up and go about their business. It’s gonna snow again tomorrow, so there’s no point in stopping what you’re doing. It’s practically a military operation here clearing out the snow: sirens, dumptrucks, and so on. It’s amazing.
How’s the beer?
Quebec beer is sooo delicious, but you have to watch yourself as they’re usually about twice the alcohol content of normal beers. They come in tall bottles with corks, and have the best romantic names like “La Fin Du Monde” (The End of the World) and “Don de Dieu” (Gift of God). Spruce Beer (non-alcoholic) gets a thumb’s down, though—it tastes too much like Pine Sol to me.
There’s a thing called “poutine” that I really love: it’s french fries and gravy with cheese curds. I never had them before in my life, but they are great on a cold day. Le Belle Province is where you go for REALLY good poutine. The Canadian smoked meat makes up for the lackluster French hamburgers. Also, coming from New York City, I thought everyone was full of it when talking about Montreal bagels. They are different and better—less bread, if that makes sense. I live one block away from the bagelerie, and I take any out-of-town friends by there.
It sounds like a European city.
Yeah. There’s fresh bread, cheese and meat on every corner, and there’s the Jean Talon Market, a huge year-round outdoor market where somehow I can find ripe tomatoes and avocadoes any day of the year, for a reasonable price. In New York City, all vegetables looked they rolled off the BQE, and cost $5 each. Now we try not spend over $2 on any item.
For sweets, we have Cadbury’s. I’ve been to Hershey Park and I love Hersheys, but Cadbury’s has them beat hands down. Every store has a full selection of the crazy British chocolates like Mr Big and Wunderbar. Beware: American Smarties are called “Rockets,” and Canadian Smarties are actually M&Ms.
What about coffee?
Every good hockey dad (not such a bad term in Canada) has a cup of coffee and a maple doughnut. The “gourmet’ coffee chain is called “Second Cup”—I swear is owned by Starbucks as it’s an exact replica of everything about it, but it’s actually proudly Canadian. Starbucks here are called Cafe Starbucks Cafe, which in French I believe translates to Coffee Starbucks Coffee. There’s no filter coffee, no four dollar cappuccino. You know life is civilized when your allonge (long espresso) is less than $2 CDN.
What’s your living situation like?
We rented an apartment. Check this out: in Quebec, landlords are not legally allowed to charge anything more than one month’s rent at a time—no security, no last month.They’re also not allowed to ask for any personal information. And tenants are able to do a “lease transfer” where you can give your lease to a friend and the landlord can’t refuse. It’s easy to move here and stay. No one checks. The guy whose apartment we got came here from the US during the Vietnam war. I don’t believe he was dodging – he was just like, Seems like a good time.
Do you miss America at all?
The one time I missed being in the States was during the Olympics. It took Canada five days to win a medal—and it was bronze. I’m sure it all changes with the Winter Olympics, though, so watch out! But you know, at the end of the day I would much rather have my own free membership to the Y pool than to have the money going to train Olympic athletes. So I shouldn’t complain.
Originally published in Arthur No. 25 (Dec. 2006), edited by Jay Babcock
BOG VENUS VERSUS NAZI COCK-RING
Some Thoughts Concerning Pornography
by Alan Moore
Whether we speak personally or Palaeo-anthropologically, it’s fair to say we humans start out fiddling with ourselves. Our improved scan technology reveals that most of us commence a life of self-pollution while in utero, while if we trace our culture back to the first artifacts that showed we had a culture, then we find ourselves confronted by a hubcap-headed humming-top of tits and ass carved lovingly from limestone, excavated from an Aurignacian settlement discovered in a North-East Austrian village known as Willendorf.
The mighty Robert Crumb, back in his awesomely prolific Weirdo days, depicted the creator of the first Venus of Willendorf as Caveman Bob, a neurasthenic outcast with a strong resemblance to Crumb himself, perpetually horny, crouching in his cave and whacking off over the big-butt fetish woman he’d just made: Homo erectus.
Crumb’s point, in all probability, was that while she may well have functioned as a magic icon to induce fertility, and while to modern eyes she stands as an example of the prehistoric genesis of art, Willendorf Venus was an object of arousal in the eyes of her creator, was a piece of stone-age stroke material, primal pornography. He may also have been saying that if we trace culture to its very origins, we find its instigator to be an obsessive smut-hound and compulsive masturbator much like Crumb himself, or me, or you, or any of us if we are to be entirely candid.
Humans, whether individually while in the womb or as a species newly climbed down from the treetops that we’d shared with kissing-cousin Bonobos, discover early on that sexual self-stimulation is a source of great gratification, practically unique in our experience as mammals in that it is easily achievable and, unlike almost every other primitive activity, can be accomplished without risk of being maimed or eaten. Also, it can be acquired completely free of charge, which may well be a factor in society’s subsequent attempts to regulate the sexual imagination, and which is a point to which we’ll be returning later.
This is not to say, of course, that all society is a direct result of chronic Onanism, although I can see how one might come to that conclusion. Rather, it is to suggest that our impulse towards pornography has been with us since thumbs were first opposable, and that back at the outset of our bipedal experiment we saw it as a natural part of life, one of the nicer parts at that, and as a natural subject for our proto-artists.
Lest this be seen as a reinforcement of the view that porn is wholly a Neanderthal pursuit, we should perhaps consider ancient Greece and the erotic friezes that adorned its civic centres; the magnificently sculpted marble figure of the god Pan violating many of our current barnyard statutes and a really slutty nanny-goat in the bargain. Images like these were clearly seen as eminently suitable Grecian street-furniture, depictions of an aspect of mammalian existence that all mammals knew about already and were comfortable regarding, and which no one from the youngest child to the most pious priest needed protecting from. In bygone Greece we see a culture plainly unperturbed by its erotic inclinations, largely saturated by both sexual imagery and sexual narratives. We also see a culture where these attitudes would seem to have worked out quite well, both for the ancient Greeks and for humanity at large. They may well have been hollow-eyed and hairy-palmed erotomaniacs, but on the plus side they invented science, literature, philosophy and, well, civilization, as it turns out.
Sexual openness and cultural progress would seem pretty much to have walked hand in hand throughout the opening chapters of the human story in the West, and it wasn’t until the advent of Christianity, or more specifically of the apostle Paul, that anybody realized we should all be thoroughly ashamed of both our bodies and those processes relating to them. Not until the Emperor Constantine had cut and pasted modern Christianity together from loose scraps of Mithraism and the solar cult of Sol Invictus, adopting the resultant theological collage as the religion of the Roman Empire, did we get to witness the effect of its ideas and doctrines when enacted on a whole society.
If we take a traditional (and predominantly Christian) view of the collapse of Rome, then conventional wisdom tells us that Rome was destroyed by decadence, sunken beneath the rising scum-line of its orgies, of its own sexual permissiveness. The merest skim through Gibbon, on the other hand, will demonstrate that Rome had been a heaving, decadent and orgiastic fleshpot more or less since its inception. It had fornicated its way quite successfully through several centuries without showing any serious signs of harm as a result. Once Constantine had introduced compulsory Christianity to the Empire, though, it barely lasted for another hundred years.
Largely, this was because Rome had relied on foreign troops, on cavalry from Egypt for example, to defend the Empire against the Teutonic hordes surrounding it. Foreign soldiers were originally happy to enlist, since Rome at that point took a pagan and syncretic standpoint that allowed recruits to worship their own gods while they were off in Northern Europe holding back the Huns. Once the Empire had been Christianised, however, that was not an option. Rome’s new Christian leaders had decided it was their way or the stairway, and so consequently, off in distant lands, recruitment figures plummeted. The next thing anybody knew, there were barbarians everywhere: the Huns, the Franks, the Visigoths and worst of all the Goths with their white single contact lenses and Cradle of Filth collections. Rome, effectively, was over bar the shouting.
So, to recap on what we have learned so far: sexually open and progressive cultures such as ancient Greece have given the West almost all of its civilizing aspects, whereas sexually repressive cultures like late Rome have given us the Dark Ages.
Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (August, 2006)
How Comets on Fire and Howlin’ Rain singer-guitarist Ethan Miller got his cosmic Californian yawp
Text: Trinie Dalton
Photos: Eden Batki
Design: Yasmin Khan and Michael Worthington
My adoration for Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance, Howlin’ Rain and The Colossal Yes — all bands that either include or are tangentially related to cover boy Ethan Miller — stems from my love of music that reminds me of the Pot Growing Capital of America, Humboldt County. As a native Californian, any music that conjures up the Redwood forest—its clean, pine-scented air, abundance of ferns and fungi, and a high tree canopy providing year-round shelter from the elements—causes me to pause as I grind through traffic in Los Angeles and wonder: Why do I live in such a hellhole? (This doesn’t mean I’m moving up north to chain myself to a tree or that I bust out bootlegs from cheesy Phish wannabes, however.)
Ethan Miller’s music in his bands Comets on Fire and Howlin’ Rain does yeoman’s work by evoking his native Humboldt region. His guitar playing and vocals attest to a magical and ancient ability to conjure up place, recalling that golden hour in American rock history: San Francisco in the late ‘60s, the heyday of Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead, to name but a few. On the other hand, Miller is audibly influenced by Japanese freak-out messiahs like High Rise, Ghost, White Heaven, Acid Mothers Temple and Keiji Haino. Those inspirations supply the proverbial fireworks inside Miller’s balmy, casual Northern California sound. Consider it a Pacific Rim/Ring of Fire kind of thing.
Comets on Fire have built their sound upon the excitement and uncertainty of impending disaster. Their fourth studio album, Avatar (Sub Pop), sounds, at first, less chaotically punky than their previous records (2001’s Comets on Fire; 2002’s Field Recordings of the Sun; 2004’s Blue Cathedral), but close listening reveals its deeper strangeness. The new album has a more professional studio sound, yet Avatar also features powerful ballads whose lyrics has the power to hypnotize much like magic spells. In “Swallow’s Eye,” Miller sings: “Eye of the moon will turn the tides/Leaves of the orchard beckon the blight/Spite of our circle, ever on/Only a river can carry a song.”
While Comets’ awkward-but-beautiful tendency towards demolishing harmonic riffs and jams with screeching, scary guitar solos still reigns, Avatar has clearer piano, more bass, and, most notably, Miller singing sans effects. His earthy rasp is reminiscent of Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, and Ozzy. But when Comets played ArthurFest in 2005, Ethan was singing at maximum capacity, and it was impossible to understand one word he was saying through the distortion of the Echoplex. Now, the ability to understand Ethan Miller’s lyrics is a breakthrough, adding poetic and political significance to an already heavy experience.
Miller’s lyrics come through even clearer on Howlin’ Rain’s self-titled debut on Birdman Records. Howlin’ Rain is an Ethan-fronted revolving posse including old buddies Ian Gradek, Mike Jackson, Tim Daley and Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Moloney. They have a real California-country feel, part Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, part original Charlatans, with the feel-good vibe of the Doobie Brothers. I sampled the Howlin’ Rain LP while crossing over mountainous Route 299, through Weaverville, deep in the Shasta-Trinity wilderness famous for its thriving Bigfoot population. With the trees rolling past, a river to stop at and dip into, and some beer and trail mix for nourishment, the tunes sounded pretty idyllic. Howlin’ Rain’s lyrics are another matter: doomsday vibes, as in “Calling Lightning With A Scythe,” set far off from pastoral troubadour musings: “We are only slaves/To our ghostly arms and legs/Got us dancing in our graves/And then lay around in the wreckage/Of this pitiful little world.” Bluesy murder ballads and songs about the apocalypse are further disturbed by Miller’s guitar solos that wreck the Neil Young-ian peace and harmony that the songs present on the surface.
Ethan grew up in Eureka, the Humboldt County seat, but now lives in Oakland. I had a fantasy of driving up to some remote redwood cabin to drink gin with him for the interview, but since he’s busy enjoying Bay Area city life with his wife and working a day job, we enjoyed a long, fun phone conversation. Ethan Miller’s lucidity, in his interview as well as in his music, reassures me that there are good things happening, in an age that can sometimes feel overwhelmed by corporate dread.
ABOVE: Roarin’ Rick’s Rare Bit Fiends, Rick Veitch’s self-published ’90s comic book focused on his dream comics, which featured occasional celebrity guests. One repeater was Veitch’s collaborator Alan Moore, shown here finding the best stash ever.
Cartographer of the American Dreamtime: An appreciation of Rick Veitch
by Alan Moore
The Julia Set, unique and intricately beautiful, is an exquisite fractal outgrowth from the mother Mandelbrot arrangement, a specific form dictated by the mathematical peculiarities of its precise location in the overall continuum, the jeweled continent of numbers charted and explored by Benoit Mandelbrot during the 1980s. The Julia Sets are, if you will, distinct and individual entities which nonetheless arise from the unique conditions at their point of origin. As such, they offer us a splendid metaphor; a new way to consider the relationship between ourselves as human beings and the landscapes that we grew from. We are Julia Sets, and our specific natures and distinct psychologies are an elaborate extension of the maze of streets where we were born; the valleys, hills and rivers that defined our world and the topographies that we grew up amongst.
If some supporting evidence is needed in defense of this hypothesis, then we need look no further than Rick Veitch. Born out of Vermont, he spent childhood and youth unaware of the powerful significance of his surroundings, as most of us do. In attempting to find the right path for himself, an endeavor that might lead him past the constraints of his life, he pursued both a passion for comic-book artistry and an increasing involvement with his own tumultuous dream-life. While these two preoccupations have greatly enabled and enriched each other in Rick’s subsequent career, I suggest it is the dreampath that is of the primary importance in that it is somehow closer to the center of his being, closer to the source of his artistic inspiration than the marvelously illustrated pages that grow out of it. By following the shadowy and lunar trail of his oneiric explorations, mapping his own route as he made his way further out into uncharted territories, it would seem that he’s been led back to the very point at which he started out, but with a greater understanding and appreciation of its meaning and its majesty: Vermont. The river and the bridge. The petroglyphs.
This was the landscape that another vocal and prolific dreamer, H.P. Lovecraft, had described after a visit to Vermont, the flooded river and its cargo of gas-bloated cattle lending local color to his tale of ghastly and unfathomable alien abduction. Brains in copper cylinders, extraordinary rendition, bound for Yuggoth. Funnily enough, the isolated cabin where Lovecraft’s protagonist is subject to the conversation of its human-mimicking inhabitant was based upon the residence that stands a little way from the Veitch homestead, owned once and perhaps still by a neighbor with experience of alien abduction who had published books upon the subject. Or at least, something that looked like him had published books upon the subject.
As Rick started to investigate the place that he was raised in, he began to get a sense of its geography as it related to his personal history, to the history of the area and to his own ongoing archaeology of dreams. He learned about the Abenaki, whose own cultural perspectives had informed the landscape once, before the vision of the settlers had been ruthlessly imposed. They’d been the ones who’d scratched those strange horned stick-figures into the rocks down by the river, the same ones that Lovecraft mentioned, with the ancient markings partly smothered by the concrete of the bridge foundations. That would be the bridge across the river to New Hampshire that in Rick’s dreams seemed to symbolize a bridge across the centuries, jet fighters sparring with pteranodons above the central span. The Abenakis’ hilltop burial ground, with bodies customarily interred sat upright, had been razed by bulldozers… decapitations and bisections of Native American deceased… in order to erect the paper-mill where Rick’s own father would slave out his days. America, ignoring the advice of its own horror movies, is entirely built upon the site of an old Indian graveyard and must take its ghosts and hauntings as they come.
While he deepened his inquiries into the rich history of his birthplace, Veitch’s waking life and dream life seemed to synchronize with his material world, seemed to connect with narratives that were those of the streets and soil themselves. He dreamed about a native shaman with a magic bow, his features masked at first by a carved pumpkin head but then revealed as those of an unusually tall man with a goofy and distinctive overbite, a face that was entirely unforgettable. A few days later, in the waking world, he took a walk down by the riverside in search of either inspiration or some new clue to the innate puzzle of the area. Floating in the water was an orange globe that seemed from several feet away to be a pumpkin like the shaman’s headpiece in his dream. Venturing nearer he discovered that it was in fact a punctured child’s ball, thrown away somewhere upstream, upon some previous occasion. Fished out of the water, on the other side was a crude, childish drawing of the same distinctive face with the same goofy overbite. The last I heard, Rick had it perched above the doorway of his studio.
The synchronicities came thick and fast, as they will tend to do when one embarks upon investigations of this nature. At one point, researching his own genealogy he came across a tantalizing reference to a long dead ancestor, a female member of the Veitch clan who had intermarried with the local Abenaki, taking as her bridegroom an unusually tall man if the story was to be believed. Was this the reason for his serial dreams about the petroglyphs, about the Abenaki, some unlikely but convincing blood connection?
Whether the descent be biological or otherwise, it seems that Rick Veitch has been pressed into continuing the role of his shamanic Abenaki forebears, of the ones that walked the land before him, who grew out of it as he did. Through his studies, his experiences and the splendid comic pages that resulted from the same, Rick has fearlessly explored and mapped the dreamtime of his native landscape just as thoroughly as did his psilocybin-entranced predecessors. And let there be no mistake, it is that dreamtime that all our reality is founded on, the mythic bedrock upon which we build our paper-mills, the modem structures of our modem lives.
Also, in Veitch’s case, in should be noted that we are exposed to an authentic vision of the true American dreamtime rather than another dissertation on the American Dream. The latter would seem to have been of questionable use in the development of the United States, too often held up like a brightly painted backdrop to conceal a less agreeable American reality; the promise of a photogenic destiny, of realizing lifestyles that in truth only exist on celluloid, a retrofitted continuity. The former, the American Dreamtime, is the sustaining, nourishing, neglected panorama that is still there, underneath the muddle of contemporary detritus that has piled up in the cellar-rooms of our unconscious, and Rick Veitch is its cartographer.
And in the sempiternal and unchanging Mandelbrot of spacetime, that is who and what he is forever: a unique and fascinating outgrowth of his place, his time and circumstances, an inimitable Julia Set grown from that cemetery dirt, that riverside, those petroglyphs. Or, if that’s not the case, then somewhere in another world there is a butterfly that’s having the most unbelievably strange dream.
A conversation with dreamer/cartoonist Rick Veitch
by Jay Babcock
Born in 1951 in Bellow Falls, Vermont, Rick Veitch experienced the psychedelic late 1960s as a teenager. After overcoming some profound self-inflicted difficulties as a young adult in the early ‘70s—detailed in the following Q & A—he got serious about becoming a professional cartoonist. He succeeded. In the last three decades, Veitch has navigated the comics industry’s ups and downs while creating a singular, deeply weird and challenging body of work: sometimes raw, rough and outrageous in an old-school underground comix way, but more often clever and fantastically imaginative, with moments of startling cosmic beauty. My personal Rick Veitch highest highlights are his visionary run as Alan Moore’s handpicked writer-artist successor on Swamp Thing in the ‘80s; The One, his deeply anti-superhero comics series, somehow published by a Marvel Comics subdivision, that in a better world would have been the final word on the superhero concept; and Can’t Get No, a daring, dialogue-less graphic novel drawn in landscape format that builds from the story of corporate drone’s post-9/11 roadtrip into something truly poignant and profound. (Not for nothing did Fug/poet/historian Ed Sanders himself salute that work with a rare blurb—as did Neil Gaiman.)
Rick Veitch’s most unlikely and enduring triumph, though, has got to be Roarin’ Rick’s Rare Bit Fiends, a black-and-white comic book series he self-published under his King Hell imprint for 22 issues starting in 1994. Rare Bit featured no continuing characters or stories—its entire subject matter, issue after issue, was Veitch presenting his dreams in comics narrative form. It was a remarkable run that continued to resonate long after it finished, due to its enduring, mysterious subject matter.
A few winters ago, suffering from two decades of persistent, distressing nightmares, I visited Roarin’ Rick in his rural Vermont home. Here is our after-lunch conversation.
Arthur: So Rick, when did you start dreaming?
Rick Veitch: [laughter] From the time I was a little kid I was a big dreamer. There were normal everyday dreams but then were these big dreams that seemed like movies. I think that my fascination with dreaming was kicked off by a series of recurring nightmares. I would wake up in sheer terror from this recurring dream of a little girl trying to pick a flower below a skyscraper that was being built, and something happens, and the whole skyscraper starts collapsing. The girders start landing around the little girl, and the sound is COSMIC. I dreaded that dream. I had it again and again and again. I credit it with making me pay attention to my dreams.
Arthur: Did your parents know what was going on with your recurring nightmares, terror?
Not really. I grew up in an odd situation. We were a big Catholic family, I was the fourth kid. My parents had sort of ran out of gas running herd on my older siblings. So I pretty much did what I wanted, with not a lot of input from my folks.
I paid attention to dreams in general, just because this terrifying experience kept coming back. I think that’s how nightmares work. They want you to pay attention. That’s what they’re saying: Pay attention to what this phenomenon of dreaming is.
My older brother, Tom Veitch, who also writes comics and is well known as a poet, had an early interest in dreams and spirituality too. He was ten years older than me. We grew up very differently. He grew up with a normal family, while our folks were still paying attention. I grew up when no one was paying attention anymore. By the time I started becoming aware, he was out of the house already, living in New York, so it isn’t like I saw him a lot, but when I did, I would learn interesting things about the culture, about art, and about dreaming. I was telling him some of my big dreams. He was interested in them. And from listening to him I began to understand that there was a system to analyze the symbolism of dreams, that dreams WERE symbols.
Was there a turning point when you started to pay serious attention to your dreams?
When I was about 20 years old, I went through a personal crisis. I had just sort of ran my life into the ground as 20-year-olds tend to do. I went into a deep depression. I couldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, that’s how bad it was. And in those days you didn’t go to a psychologist. You just sort of suffered these things. And somebody gave me a copy of The Portable Jung, a big fat paperback that collects a lot of Jung’s writings. I read the whole damn thing, kind of obsessively. I didn’t really understand it, but I went through the whole 700-page thing and began to see correlations in the dreams I was having, which were apocalyptic. That’s what was going on with me at the time. I couldn’t get out of bed. But at night my dreams were just unbelievably strong, really vivid. I began to sense that they were trying to direct me to heal myself. I can’t say I sensed all this consciously, but unconsciously, through the assimilation of all of Jung’s writings and the focus on the dreams themselves, I began to see a way out of my depression. And it worked.
I started this really detailed dream diary, writing down every damned thing I could, which I’ve still got, and bit by bit I began to understand the shadow side of my own personality, what was causing me to fail at growing up. I began to see that I had to ally myself with the deeper parts of myself, I had to trust that. I began to understand the nature of the structure of the psyche, which is one of the great things that Jung brought us. And I began to pull myself out of the hole. That was the beginning of my dreamwork.
What had happened? What hole were you stuck in?
It was a whole bunch of stuff. It was just being a teenaged lunatic. I was never a big druggie but I hung out with druggies. Relationship problems with my girlfriend, unable to hold a job, all kinds of stuff.
Focusing on my dreams, looking at them, trying to understand what they meant, I slowly began to heal myself. Got a job, started to make money, pulled my whole life together. Took responsibility for the things I’d screwed up with the people I had alienated. More importantly, I began to realize the reason I was broken, was that I needed to be an artist. I’d known from the time I was a little kid that I was an artist. But except for my brother Tom, the environment around me, my parents, friends, the education system had all basically said ‘No, you can’t do this.’ That was a constant growing up. So there was a real deep and dangerous conflict in me.
I began to understand that if I really wanted to spend my life making art and being an artist, that I could. But it was up to me to make it happen. That’s when my real life began.
This process of dream journaling and study turned me around. I found a school that taught comics, the Joe Kubert School. Even though I was poor, I canvassed the state of Vermont and got a grant to go to school. Within a few years I’d put together a career drawing comic books for the major comic book companies. It really was a case of me making the right moves based on how dreaming was helping me organize my life.
Keeping the dream diary, how did that start?
First it was a series of indelible dreams, just cataclysmic.
The girl with the falling girders?
Yeah, they were on that level. But I was older now.
So they were uglier…?
I think ‘archetypal’ is the best word. They were pointing out both the nature and structure of the psyche. Many were all based upon a borderline, demonstrating how there’s this psychological border you cross, On this side, it’s your personal stuff you’re dealing with. and on the other side things are more archaic and symbolic. The dreams began to map a landscape in my mind of my psychological state. What was extraordinary about this was that the landscape was based on a REAL landscape in my hometown. Naturally you would think of course your psychological landscape is going to be based on where you grew up; what’s familiar. But it just so happened that part of this landscape in my hometown, I discovered much later, had been a place where Indian shamans from the Abenaki tribe used to gather and take magic mushrooms. Shamans and shamanism began to come up in the dreams spontaneously.
In my forties I began drawing these very early dreams as comics and began researching the shamanic connection. There are these petroglyphs in my home town that were left by Abenaki shaman and they’re right on the map in my dreaming! I began to come to understand that information itself had a certain life-like quality. The information that shamans worked with was ALIVE, and this could all be accessed via our dreaming unconscious. That became a focus of my dreamwork and my art while I was doing my series, Rare Bit Fiends.
Where did you get the idea to keep a dream diary?
I probably got the idea to do it from my brother Tom, because I know he was doing it. And he’s the guy who gave me the copy of Jung as well, at that key point. I think he could see what was going on. He handed me the tools I needed, rather than try to teach me himself. He knew that it’s something you’ve got to assimilate on your own.
How does keeping a dream diary work?
You have a little notebook by the side of your bed and you teach yourself to remember what you’ve dreamt. In the beginning I’d write every detail I could, nine or ten pages, whatever. Now I don’t do it so much. When I wake up in the morning now, even before I open my eyes, I try move the dream imagery from the dreaming part of the brain into the part where there are memory cells. That’s the key trick. You don’t want to open your eyes because once light comes into your eyes, you’ll lose a lot of those dream memories. Once they’re in the memory side, you got it. So then I’ll get up and have breakfast and stuff and then I’ll sit down and make little notes. That night, I’ll re-read the notes, and usually upon re-reading the notes, more from the dream comes up.
The dreams you present in your comics are not prosaic. They have cosmic stuff happening. You must have a very vivid and super-charged dreamlife.
I think that everybody does. It’s just a case of paying attention and learning a few tricks. There are different levels of dreaming. One level is the totally cosmic, that seems to happen in the middle of the night. On the other end is the totally mundane which happens nearer to morning. One trick I learned early on was to drink a couple of glasses of water before I went to bed, so I’d have to get up and piss, maybe about 1, 2 o’clock in the morning. That’s when you’re in the deep sleep and the really cosmic stuff happens. Usually we don’t remember that because we sleep right through it.
The dreams that we tend to remember are the ones we are having as we wake….
Yeah. They’re the ones about having to deal with the postman or the boss and stuff like that. And I had plenty of those. And when doing the dream comics, I tried to mix them in too. But what really attracts me to dreamwork is that it seems to be a way to get a handle on what’s really going on. Dreams are like a dialogue between the Ego and the deepest part of the psyche which Jung calls the Self. What the Self is, is no one really knows. You can only see pieces of it. But, using Jung’s model of the Psyche, the Self is the center, and the Ego just sort of floats on it. The ego, our conscious awareness, is maybe like ten percent of the totality of what we are. So I’ve come to see dreaming as a dialogue between those two parts: the floating conscious Ego and the deep, unconscious mystical Self. Once you realize that that dialogue exists, it actually becomes more real, and the characters can actually take on a life of their own. So sometimes you recognize that you’re talking to the deepest part of yourself because there’s just that certain awareness of the character you’re dreaming of.
The “Self” contains the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious…and beyond. I think it’s a way to understand nature too. Like say, you wanted to get a handle on the quantum, you might be able to do it through dreaming because on the deepest level, we are made up of quantum bits, so why wouldn’t we be able to dream about how we interact in the quantum realm. Or at a deeper, even more mystical level, there is Afterlife. Couldn’t we contact that? Wouldn’t it be through dreams?
So, I approach my dreams with an open mind, in that sense. I’m always like, Hmm that dream I had of that guy who’s dead—was I VISITING that guy, or was he visiting me in my dreams, trying to give me a message? You hold that in your mind, after you have the dream, you just try to suss it out. Is that’s what really happening, or am I fooling myself, or…?
Your journaling technique is necessarily different since you are also a visual artist. You can replicate the visual component of the dream, physically. Your description is a bit richer cuz you can use text to describe it – and art.
Yeah. What happens is, when you create art from your dream, you re-inhabit it in a way that you don’t do when you write it in a journal. When you write it in a journal, you’re using the reasoning, linear side of your mind. When you start drawing, the part of the brain that channels symbolism comes into focus. Your artistic intuition comes into play. Writing the dream, you’ve got the facts of the action, like: ‘Here I was on this day, this thing happens, that thing happens.’ But when you begin drawing them, your intuition starts playing with what they might mean, and it starts juggling the potential: it could be this, it could be that, it could be related to this other thing. As you’re drawing the dream, you’re waiting for that moment when you go, ‘Aha!’ and your intuition tells you it’s right. And so by the time you’ve drawn something as complicated as a comic book page of a dream, you’ve got a real handle on what it is your unconscious is talking about.
INDOOR THUNDER: Landscaping the future with Brian Eno
by Alan Moore
Remove ambiguities and covert to specifics.
The first half of the twentieth century saw all energies and the agenda that had driven Western culture from its outset reach their logical albeit startling conclusions in the various fires of Auschwitz, Dresden, Nagasaki, after which we all sat stunned amongst the smoking fragments of our worldviews, all our certainties of the utopias to come revealed as flimsy, wishful, painted sets, reduced to vivid splinters, sharp and painful. There was scorched earth, there was shellshock, there was no Plan B. Hiroshima rang through the traumatized and anxious mindset of the 1950s, through Jeff Nuttall’s Bomb Culture, its shuddering reverberation somewhere between funeral knell and warning seismic tremor. Our response to the bad news carved a division through society, between flat denial on the one hand, paralyzed hysteria upon the other; between those who doggedly refused the notion that tomorrow might be different from today, and those fixated by the mushroom clouds who scorned the notion that there might be a tomorrow. Both these attitudes, you’ll notice, have conveniently avoided any need to think creatively about the future, have dodged any obligation to consider the Long Now. Tomorrow is today with smaller radios or it’s strontium and ashes, and in either case there’s no need to prepare.
Throughout the 1950s there was very little ground between these two terminal visions, one complacent in its sense of stasis and the other in its sense of doom, but such ground as existed was staked out and cultivated by the era’s artists, by its avant-garde musicians, its Beat poets. By the middle ’60s they had turned the thin conceptual corridor between Eisenhower/Macmillan monotony and Oppenheimer Armageddon into thriving, fertile territory where the future tense could once more be employed with meaning, where future itself could once more be imagined, could take root. In England, grown up from the ferment and foment of the moment, an exuberantly progressive Art School scene together with a network of experimental and impromptu Arts Laboratories were the psychedelic backdrop that the next wave of creative talent would emerge from in the early 1970s, once all the counter-culture crackle of the previous ten years had run its course. The fairground ozone glitterfog of Glam Rock with its twilight sexuality and its somehow nostalgic futurism boiled up from the dayglo debris in bohemian basements, happened happenings, a rich mulch of dreams crashed and trampled and ploughed under. David Bowie and Steve Harley sprang from Arts Lab roots in Beckenham. Brian Eno spent the 1960s soaking up the influence of tutors such as the composer Cornelius Cardew or Tom Phillips, author of the treated masterpiece A Humument. At its deepest and most interesting subterranean extremes the hippy underground became the velvet goldmine.
The peculiar electricity that sparked back then amongst the leopard skins and sequins came from tensions that went further than the obvious sexual ambiguity of heterosexual bricklayers in lippy. There were also stress lines spanning past and future, the subculture caught between them like a lurex Janus, one face with its yearning Garbo gaze trained on a celluloid romance of yesterday, the other staring through its greasepaint thunderbolt into the alien dazzle up ahead, dynamic conflict that was evident in Bowie’s mismatched eyes, in the fraught brilliance of the period’s most emblematic pop group, Roxy Music. Here the sound was tug-of-war taut, stretched between the MGM lounge-lizardry of Bryan Ferry’s retro-fitted vision and the squelchy sci-fi shimmer that Brian Eno dressed it in, Noel Coward on the set of Logan’s Run. When the rope inevitably snapped, the synthesizer artist/non-musician, suddenly cut free from the opposing pull of any gravity, seemed to rise instantly to a conceptual stratosphere remote and previously unglimpsed, dragging the decade with him by its iridescent quiff.
It’s difficult to overestimate the manner in which Eno’s subsequent solo career has impacted with culture, in terms of both its complexity and the sheer breadth of its blast radius. Back in the first flush of the ‘70s his manifesto, yet to be unpacked, was nonetheless there to be read in “Baby’s On Fire”’s two-note minimalist flourish, in the cascading metal vistas of his work with Robert Fripp. It could be seen in the inventive pilfering from Chinese picture-story propaganda that engendered Taking Tiger Mountain…, in the thinking behind the ingenious, endlessly useful deck of creative prompts labeled Oblique Strategies that he and Peter Schmidt released in January 1975. It was even apparent in the mantelpiece clutter of Here Comes the Warm Jets’ picture sleeve, the pornographic playing card that referenced the album’s title, the sly and understated sense of humor. Rapidly transcending his considerable status as Glam icon Eno became instead the most coherent and most capable example of a cutting edge that pop culture had witnessed, became something new and without precedent, something refusing definition save in its own self-invented terms.
If there is anything that’s more authentically remarkable than Eno’s almost total single-handed transformation of the way we think about our entertainment culture, more striking than his casual invention of the sample or of ambient music, then it is the quietness and above all discretion with which he’s accomplished everything. It is the unobtrusiveness with which he carries out his dynamitings and his demolitions, the delicacy of his bulldozers that clear way the parlor walls while everybody’s having tea, and no one notices. We pass the sugar and try not to mention the roof’s gone. Many of his pop contemporaries, perhaps mindful of the fact that ultimately they have little that’s original to say and no expectation of effecting any noticeable change within society will compensate by flaunting ersatz dangerousness in their lyrics, their appearance or their lifestyle, whereas Nature tells us that the genuinely dangerous beasts lie low in the grass and do not choose to advertise their presence until it’s all far too late. Working at culture’s liminal extremes, deep in the social utlra-violet, he is taking Tiger Mountain by stealth. Implacably intelligent and utterly unsentimental, he got the job because he was so mean, while somehow appearing so kind.
His function, frequently, is catalytic, sparking a profound reaction in which only he himself will not be noticeably changed. Eno’s collaborations with his former Glam associate David Bowie later in the 1970’s, most notably on Low, were massively important to the shaping of the Punk and New Wave movements without ever being seen as part of those phenomena. His sampled TV news report of Dutch industrialist Hans Martin Schleyer’s death on R. A. F. provided House music with all its aural furniture by way on an anonymous charity shop donation. Even throwaway remarks such as his comment that while only a few hundred people ever listened to the Velvet Underground they all formed bands are endlessly recycled without any real awareness of their source, and yet his sphere of influence continues its expansion unabated. His ubiquity would seem to imply that while only a few hundred people ever paid attention to Brian Eno’s work, they all formed countries.
Propaganda for a state wholly of mind, his oeuvre acts upon the world around it like a beneficial virus, ideas that infect the host, transform it to a vector by which the infection may be further propagated. As with all successful viruses, there is a strategy by which the host’s immune defenses and resistance to the ideas can be circumvented, and in Eno’s case that strategy is one of simple beauty and necessity. His notions, packaged irresistibly within a haunting and transporting drift of notes and tones are simply too profoundly lovely, are too vital and too obviously true to foster any opposition, any barricades. Whether it’s the elegiac end-of-season seafronts of “Some Faraway Beach” or the mesmerizing glass-and-raindrop crawl of “Thursday Afternoon,” the final “It’s the stars…” refrain that ends his wonderfully cross-purposive collaboration with John Cale, Wrong Way Up, or The Shutov Assembly’s tingling, thrilling “Ikebukuro,” there is a sublime, uplifting presence that informs each piece and brooks no opposition, an enlightening eunoia, beauteous thought that changes people and their landscape from the inside out.
Avoiding all classification and restriction by defining himself doggedly in terms of what he’s not, the non-musician has been able to ignore all boundaries, can access areas where musicians are not usually encouraged: futurology and film and fashion. Perfume. Politics. He is tomorrow’s perfect occupant, the model for what humans can achieve when unencumbered by the luggage or the language of the self-set limitations of our prison past, and better yet he makes it all look like such fun. Upon the one occasion when I had the privilege of meeting him, at the recording of an interview for Radio Four’s Chain Reaction series, he turned up wearing the clothes he’d worn the previous day after his daily consultation of the Oblique Strategies pack had admonished him severely to “Change nothing.” Having buffed my shoes up to a fine sheen in an effort to impress him even if the toying with my hair and simpering failed, I was surprised when he insisted upon polishing his own shoes just before we went on air. I pointed out that this was wireless and that nobody would notice, to which he replied by asking if I didn’t think that an impression of one’s dusty shoes could somehow be transmitted over radio? I was transfixed, and honestly had no response to this spontaneous Zen koan. What’s the sound of one shoe gathering dust?
Brian Eno is one of our modern culture’s brightest lights, never more radiant than in that culture’s most obscure and interesting corners, someone we should all be grateful we’re alive at the same time as. He’s the ambient motor hum, the alpha wave harmonic barely audible behind civilization. We should all sit quietly and listen.
Alan Moore recently retired from mainstream comics writing, and will soon be marrying his longtime girlfriend and collaborator, artist Melinda Gebbie. He will be presenting a piece about William Burroughs at this year’s Patti Smith-curated Meltdown festival in London.
It was me that killed Arthur. I kill all the little joys that make life worth living. Brooklyn. Those three Motorcycles. The Master Cleanse. Burroughs quotes an account of the black plague: “Never yet has the plague come but one has first seen a ragged, stinking boy who drank like a dog from the village well and then passed on.” I am that ragged boy, passing villages, expensive coffee brewing in my tracks. And I am still thirsty.
If you’re reading this, you are one too. Takes one to know one. Twitter dat. Now there’s three. Then it’s like rabbits. Within the day they’ll be a hundred thirty of us at the coffee shop competing to write this very article about how our presence erases “ethnic enclaves” with precision worthy of Robert Moses. Detailing the fact that within the passing of three summers of sighting Us in Echo Park the Santeria temple turned to cafe, attracting the record shop, the stench of which summoned the Thrift Stores, The Shops of Obscure Purpose and The Second Coffee Place. Cue Upscale Grocery. Wham! Yoga mats. Suddenly, Doug Aitken is Art and Chloe took your parking space in front of a restaurant so cool it doesn’t have a sign. Rents blow up faster than a Gaza Strip Club. And we can’t go home. Again.
Which is fine. Big rents means it’s time to take the show on the road. But, this time, ragged boy is thinking, “what if we visits a well in a town that sucks, instead of killing the thing that we love?” And in the course of thinking things he hates, thought of Texas. Specifically, a little “Atlas Slouched” sort of a town where artist types claim the light is great, forgetting to mention that all there is to see in the great light are a bunch of Texans drinking beer and taking ten-pound shits.
Ragged boy figured he could take a little sip from the well and the place would be strip malls full of people making coffee and tattooes in no time. But first the ragged boy had to work into the fabric of the place, which essentially meant that he had to, you know, buy some weed.
First problem is people don’t have any. Turns out that the laws are so strict in Texas that people turn to other sources for their buzz like huffing gas, shotgunning beers and abusing analogue drugs with names like Giggles or Mr Greenvibes.
The analogue drugs are packaged for specious purposes like bath salts or plant food, designed to fool the FDA of the manufacturers’ intention to jump the blood-brain barrier. In the course of juking the FDA, they also sidestep any sort of lab research, leaving the testing to be done by teenagers in garages all over this land.
I watched a guy, my age, two kids, purchase some fake drug called K2 from a case in a headshop in which also were kept those horrible things that stretch earlobes out. The man behind the counter said that this particular potion had the Border patrol guys waiting at the door in the morning shifting from foot to foot like they had to pee real bad. My friend figures if it was good enough to null the pain of government work, it was good enough for him.
I knew by the click click of the razor on the mirror and the insistent scrape that this was no cheerleader drug like salvia or that thing where you hold your breath until you pass out. No, this “plant food” was dangerous stuff, resulting in the total loss of sanity. As a bartender, I’ve seen what real drugs can do: blind-eyed alcoholics, weedheads dizzy and coke fiends whose jaws keep clacking long after you cut their heads off. But this plant food stuff was bananacakes.
My “friend” was stupid, paranoid and sensitive to light. The bath salts made all of these afflictions even worse. Whatever evil force was in this powder drove him to rant about how when Texas secedes something called the “Posse from El Pusso” would attack California. He did this while trying to nail “shadow people” to the doorframe. It was horrible. We can only hope that no real plants were given this “food.”
My friend’s actions and subsequent loss of job and embarrassing himself in front of his family forced me to deduce that the ingredients removed from these drugs to make them legal are the same things that God put in the drugs to keep us sane. Stopping people from smoking Mexi-press weed with analogue drugs is like giving someone rabies so they won’t take Advil.
Furthermore, if we damn our border patrol jocks to abuse fake drugs in order to pass a piss test, is it any wonder that there are immigrants everywhere?
Shudder to think how many Christmas gifts have been tainted by the unwitting addition of psychedelic bath salts. How many half-eaten pets must be buried late at night by confused bloody grandmothers before someone lets these poor Texans have the weed that God (okay, it was most likely Jesus) put on earth for us to use? While I’m on the Jesus — Why would Texas bust a state mascot like Willie Nelson for smoking weed? It’s not like he’s driving the tour bus. Marijuana, like Mexicans, was native to Texas before this bunch of asshats showed up and started putting everybody in jail. This fact exonerates All, as neither The God nor The Willie Nelson I believe in are capable of mistakes, mister.
I’ll say it here in Arthur magazine, fresh from the dead, that until Texas allows the Border Patrol to use the real drugs, this ragged boy is going to hang his hat somewhere that is not Texas. Also, fuck Arizona. Good luck trying to gentrify your ethnic neighborhoods without me.
Dave Reeves has an article in this month’s Man of the World Magazine and an article about him in the Russian Travel magazine Mir. He spends his days working on movie drivel, gets fired or quits, it’s hard to say, and then works on other movies. The cycle repeats itself until the magazine industry comes back from the dead. Also, Dave is working on the perfect lamb vindaloo, jogging and listening to WFMU.
Arik Roper is an illustrator and designer who lives in New York. He creates record covers, screenprinted posters, animation, comics, and other vehicles of visual flight. arikroper.com