1972: Bowie is a Soul Brother Warrior Hipster from Outer Space and Marianne Faithful is a junky just back from Egypt and the Black Forest of Germany, where she’d played the role of Lilith in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising:
Three years earlier he was a space alien with a gender-identity issue:
I first read of Derek Raymond in 2002 while camping in Glastonbury, burning through Iain Sinclair’s endlessly rewarding Lights Out For the Territory. It was raining. I couldn’t get over my jetlag. There was nothing to do but read and go for soggy, half-awake walks up the Tor. Sinclair’s book convinced me that once I returned home, I must read Raymond. This is exactly what I did. Having procured an Internet copy of He Died With His Eyes Open, I cracked it open and it blew me away.
A few weeks ago, back in RI, life determined fit to remind me of the incredible distance between now and 2002. Since then, my opinion of Raymond had taken a beating. The last three novels of the Factory series, including the praised & reviled I Was Dora Suarez, are significantly flawed. I was curious if my judgment would hold– so I broke out the books of yesteryear and re-read He Died With His Eyes Open and The Devil’s Home on Leave, respectively the first and second books in the series. I’ll write about the first.
So, in short, yes. He Died With His Eyes Open is still great. I’m not going to give a huge amount of plot summary, but basically: each of the Factory books is told in the first person by an unnamed Detective working out of a police building, the Factory, in the Department of Unexplained Deaths, or A14. The setting is the bleakest time in recent English history: London in the years of Thatcher. The protagonist catches cases of murders with no Fleet-street potential– killings of the dispossessed, the poor and the apparently meaningless. But the protagonist is dogged in his job and in his devotion to the dead, an attitude with confuses his colleagues. This sounds like standard GOOD COP IN A BAD DEPARTMENT cliche, but Raymond confers a strange, almost Messianic quality on his protagonist who comes across as a near-annointed avenger of the city’s forgotten and broken-down, an unstoppable force cobbling together a form of inadequate justice. All five of the books feel like they’re happening in another world and the whole series can be summed up thusly: there is no worthless person, there are no meaningless lives.
Although the Factory series was initially, and continues to be, sold as Detective/Mystery Fiction, a feature of the first two books (and possibly the rest but my memory for plots is spotty) are their complete lack of a Mystery. I’m not giving anything away by saying that you know who’s committed each book’s murder(s) by 40 pages in; what the Detective investigates is the identity, and life story, of the murdered, and, to a lesser extent, the murderers. It’s an inversion of the genre– rather than tracking clues and trying to solve a crime where the victim is a plot device, each Factory book is an investigation of the dead. Of who they were, what they done and how they suffered.
In He Died With His Eyes Open, the murdered man, a failed writer who once lived in France, has left behind a series of autobiographical audiotapes recorded on very dark nights of his soul. Throughout the narrative, these tapes are used by the protagonist as his guide through the underworld into which he has descended. Parallels with Dante and Virgil, anyone?
What I missed in 2002, having no real knowledge of the book’s author, is the similarity between the murdered man and Derek Raymond himself. Raymond eventually published a strange autobiography, The Hidden Files, but I don’t wonder if the story isn’t found here in the transcripted audiotapes.
Some word must be written about the quality of writing, which is top notch and above and beyond what is usually found in any novel, let alone genre work. Raymond seems to have ended up a crime novelist almost by default. Under the name Robin Cook, he had a career in the 60s and 70s as a mainstream novelist, but I suspect exiling one’s self to mainland Europe and coming back an alcoholic is not the best way to stay in the upper echelon. Of course, Cook was born upper class and threw it away to become a Chelsea morrie, so who knows if being in the genre ghetto wasn’t what he had long desired.
In summary: this is a novel in which the Protagonist, a nameless, quasi-religious figure bent on avenging the hopeless dead, spends about 50% of the narrative trying to piece together a vaguely-fictional version of the author’s life. Another way of describing this is: True Art.
I consider Cerebus to be the single most illustratively innovative comic in the history of the form. If there is/was another series as consistently successful at expressing ideas with such elegance, I should very much love to know its name.
The credit here is not only Dave Sim’s. It’s impossible to separate his contributions from those of his collaborator Gerhard: there was a weird alchemy unlikely to be repeated or surpassed. Sim’s design sense and his character work played off the austere backgrounds and gave us Something Else in a truly glorious use of black and white and grey.
That said, I find Cerebus to be deeply, deeply problematic. I would be hard pressed to call it, for instance, “Good.” I certainly would never recommend it to anyone who had not been a long initiate in the arcane world of Comics– and even with an initiate, I could think of probably 50 titles, off hand, that I would recommend before Cerebus.
Since there has apparently been a Homosexualist-Feminist-Marxist-Trotskyist-Situationist-International Conspiracy to prevent Sim and Gerhard’s work from getting the Just Airing it Deserves, let me say, flatly: no. This has nothing to do with Sim’s Theories & Ideas & Truths. Seriously, if there’s one thing that’s been constant through my various stages of life, it is thus: I really don’t care. Anyone can say whatever crazy nonsense they want– and at this late date, I’m way beyond offense. And, again, as I articulated yesterday, I’m not sure that Sim believes any of it. His constant Self-Appointed Gadfly routine strikes me about as a genuine as one by Andrew Dice Clay or Rodney Dangerfield. Could it be that our Form has become a Void?
No, my concerns with Cerebus are best exemplified in its most basic element: there is something distancing about the character of Cerebus himself. Throughout this hugely ambitious work about power, religion, love and every other aspect of human existence, our guide is a cartoonish Earth-born pig that is completely off-model from every other significant personage. This is not to say that Animal Books, or any other type of comic, are inherently unprofound. But books like Goodbye Chunky Rice or Maus work because they are self-consistent. At some point, the little Conan-parody-that-could can no longer bear the weight of 20+ years of Serious Inquiry. If Cerebus himself were merely an avatar, an odd image representing a plausible character, would anyone notice after page 12? Yet, weirdly, Cerebus never loses his initial jokey persona– he always talks like The Incredible Hulk, referring to himself in the third person and flashing one-liners.
This idea is scalable to the series as a whole. For every moment of power or profundity in Cerebus, the reader is expected to suffer through 30 pages of Moonroach. Cerebus is attending to matters of state? Time for a Wolverine parody! Cerebus has just had his heart ripped out? Time to bring in caricatures of the Rolling Stones! And hey, here’s a lot of crap about Oscar Wilde! The entire world is ending? Oh, there’s Alan Moore in a funny hat!
Every major work of literature has its share of digressions and sidepaths– but when these things occur in, say, Ulysses, you know that you’re eventually, somehow coming back to Papa Joyce’s master plan. That’s the key: a plan. A plot. Cerebus wasn’t conceived as a 300 issue series– it ended up as one, and no matter protests to the contrary, it shows. We are in the presence of someone making it up as he goes along. Other people may have an opinion to the contrary, but Cerebus‘s many elements never gel for me. They never add up to a whole.
Plus, for such a character driven narrative, Sim can write some truly awful dialogue.
OK, like yesterday, this post was supposed to be about what many people consider the High Point of the series, Jaka’s Story. Clearly that’s not happening. See you tomorrow, chums!
UPDATE, LATER: Incidentally, this post by Noah Berlatsky, discusses the immutability of Cerebus (the character) and considers it (at least in part) an asset to Cerebus (the series). Which proves: different strokes for different folks.
Each of the last few years has had a strange cycle of Bob Dylan frenzy, generally culminating in a Significant Fall release. 2007 is no different and November offers Todd Haynes’s gimmicky biopic I’m Not There.
It’s hard to imagine a less necessary work. Dylan has long been a master of destroying his public persona through the medium of film. Remember: this is the man who gave us Eat the Document, Renaldo and Clara, Hearts of Fire and Masked and Anonymous. Rumor has it that Dylan kicked around the idea of an adaptation of “Rosemary, Lily, and the Jack of Hearts” and went so far to commission a screenplay. God. If only.
Anyway, the only significant thing to come from Haynes’s project is the commercial release of Dylan’s “I’m Not There (1956)” on the film’s soundtrack. This song was recorded by Dylan and The Hawkes/The Band during the so-called Basement Tapes sessions, and has been available previously only through bootlegging.
Having heard this news, I went looking for internet transcriptions of the song. Each one that I found was atrocious. As such, I’ve gone ahead and put together what I think is about the most reasonable and accurate rendering of the lyrics that can be found, along with explanations of the weirder lines. Words and phrases surrounded by double question marks indicate unresolved confusion on my part. Lines followed by asterisks indicate firm judgment as to what’s being said. Here:
“I’m Not There (1956)”
1 Ev’ry thing’s all right
2 And then she’s all the time
3 In my neighborhood
4 She cried both day and night
5 I know it because it was there
6 It’s a milestone but
7 She down on her luck
8 And she day makes her lone (*)
9 And but ??to make too hard to buck??
10 I be then (*)
11 I believe where she stopping
12 If she wants time to care
13 I believe that she’d
14 Look upon deciding to care
15 And I go by The Lord in ways (*)
16 She’s on my way
17 But I don’t belong there
18 No, I don’t belong to her
19 I don’t belong to ev’rybody (*)
20 She’s my prize-foresaken angel
21 But she don’t hear me cry
22 She’s a long hearted mystic
23 And she ??dare?? carry on
24 When I’m there she’s all right
25 But when she’s not when I’m gone
26 Heaven knows that the answer
27 She’s don’t calling no one
28 She’s the way, a sailing beauty
29 For she’s mine, for the one
30 And I lost her, hesitation (*)
31 By temptation less it runs
32 But she don’t holler me (*)
33 But I’m not there I’m gone
34 Now I’ve cried tonight
35 Like I cried the night before
36 And I’m leased on the highs
37 But I dream about the door
38 So long, she’s foresaken
39 By fate, worse to tell
40 It don’t hang ??proclamation??
41 She smiles fare thee well
42 Now I went out ??(undecipherable)??
43 I was born to love her
44 But she knows that the kingdom
45 Weighs so high above her
46 And I run, but I race
47 But it’s not to fast to ??slim??
48 But I don’t perceive her
49 I’m not there I’m gone
50 Well it’s all about diffusion (*)
51 As I cry for her veil
52 I don’t need anybody now
53 Beside me to tell
54 And it’s all affirmation (*)
55 I recede but it’s not (*)
56 She’s a ??lone hearted?? beauty
57 But she gone like the spot
58 And she want
59 Yes, she’s gone like the radio (*)
60 That shining yesterday
61 But now she’s a-home beside me
62 And I’d like to here to stay
63 She’s a bone forsaken beauty
64 And it’s dont trust anyone
65 And I wish I was beside her
66 But I’m not there I’m gone
67 Well it’s too hard to stake-in (*)
68 And I don’t far believe
69 It’s ??all bag?? for to musing
70 But she’s hard, too hard to leave
71 It’s alone, it’s a crime
72 The way she won’t be around
73 But she told for to hatred
74 But this ??long forsaken?? clown
75 Yes I believe that its rightful
76 Oh I believe it in my mind
77 I been told like I said
78 When I before carry on the grind
79 And she’s on bet to told her (*)
80 Like I said, carry on
81 I wish I was there to help her
82 But I’m not there I’m gone
8. “makes her lone.” Lonely would be better, but alas, that ain’t what the man sang. The -ly suffix is dropped.
9. Fairly certain that “to make too hard to buck” is accurate but can’t be sure.
10. “I be then” is what’s sung. Given the structure of the other verses mostly ending with some variation of “I’m Not There,” it’s possible that this was improvisation gone awry.
15. 95% certain this line ends “in ways.”
19. Other transcriptions have Dylan singing “to anybody.” An accurate listen offers “ev’rybody,” a contraction used throughout his work in the 1960s and at the beginning of this song.
23. “dare” seems reasonable here, but isn’t the sound being made. Update: Sam Tregar suggests “deign.” It’s closer than dare, actually, but still not right.
30. I’m willing to render the final word as “hesitation” because this sounds more like a vocal stumble than a nonsense placeholder.
32. “Holler” sounds closest. Could be something else but I’m hard pressed to say what.
40. “Proclamation” is how everyone else transcribes this. I can’t tell.
42. Absolutely no idea.
47. Absolutely no idea, but it does sound a lot like “slim.”
50. A rare instance of a complex idea tracking from one line to the next. Dylan makes a sound a lot like “diffusion” and this makes logical sense, as the next line ends on “veil.”
54. “Affirmation” sounds right. Could be different. Makes sense with the following line.
55. “Recede.” Dylan starts singing “receive” and puts an “-ede” sound on the end.
56. Best guess.
59. Other renderings have this as “rainbow” instead of “radio.” Rainbow would be nice, as the next line would then inform this one, but sorry. He sings “radio.” Welcome to the world of Bob Dylan.
67. Definitely “stake-in.” No idea what it means.
69. Almost certain this line is as rendered. “All bag” is too difficult to say for sure, but “to musing” sounds right.
74. If anyone knows what kind of clown, please, please, please, email me.
79. An accurate rendering of ungrammatical English.
You learn something new every day.
Here are some random pictures of weird witchy Salem stuff:
More on the Dark Swamp.
Here’s a quick illustrated map. Find the Southern half of Willie Woodhead Rd (3), which is paved but then becomes a dirt trail. (Incidentally, this was marked on the Dept. of Wildlife & Fish’s topographical map as Dark Swamp Road.) Follow the trail north until one sees a very wide and noticeable dirt clearing on the left (1). There’s room enough here to park your car. Walk into the clearing, and follow the leftmost trail into the woods. You’ll go down a hill. This gets you to the woods before the Dark Swamp. These lands are protected by the Federal & State governments, which in theory means there’s no issue of trespassing. There are orange flags tied to trees, marking the land, but the forest is dark enough that the flags aren’t visible until you stumble into one. Continue walking in the general direction west. You’ll get to the Swamp (2).
It’s very possible that there’s darker swamp than we found. A useful tool would be a GPS coordinate thingy; the actual location of the Swamp is 41.89070, -71.76260.
Although the area looks smallish on the map, when you’re on the ground, it seems giant and the woods are very, very thick and very, very dense. Try not to get lost. Or lecture your friend regarding a Fortean Times article that you’d read about the etymology of the word Panic being related to the feeling induced by the Great God Pan while one is lost in a wood.
The footprint of Howard Phillips Lovecraft in Rhode Island is surprisingly shallow: a plaque on the campus of Brown, a headstone & not much else.
But the discerning eye will find many traces of the gent from Angell Street. Often it happens with your knowledge– like returning home as a new Ulysses and being offered Lovecraft’s apartment at 10 Barnes Street and instead taking the one where Donald Wandrei wrote part of The Web of Easter Island. Other times, you find out years later– like discovering that your high school was on the same grounds as Lovecraft’s grammar school.
It accumulates over the years and then there’s nary a thing Lovecraftian you haven’t seen or done.
But there’s always more. We had, in particular, focused on the Dark Swamp of Chepachet, RI, the hardest to find of all Lovecraftian locations. In the summer of 1923, Lovecraft and the Eddys hunted for the swamp and could not find it– this mystery resonates through the letters and the first wave of remembrances & grows into a thing discussed in whispers and scholarly articles. For years I tried to uncover its location– but it wasn’t until USGS Topographical maps became easily searchable that I was able to find and pinpoint its very location.
USGS maps only tell one thing: where a place is, not how to get there. I had given my erstwhile chum, Andrew Harrison, a Google Maps location of the swamp’s GPS coordinates– he’d printed out some half-assed directions, but these were useless. So we drove around Glocester, RI desperately trying to get there from here. We trespassed private property. We mistook White’s Pond for the swamp. At last, we found a Department of Fish & Wildlife topographical map posted to a board and realized exactly what we, as men, had to do: drive the car down a dirt path, find a place to park, and then walk a mile in the woods.
And then, finally, we were there: the dark swamp. Dark because it’s wooded. Light hardly penetrates the dense canopy. A swamp because it’s disgustingly wet and covered in a large moss bed that attacks every living thing around it. It kills trees. It grows mushrooms. We saw no monster. But we had done it; we had gone to the most randomly inaccessible Lovecraftian location that we could– and only one jackass had fallen in the muck.
Update: Go here for directions to the swamp.
For reasons that I hope will become eventually obvious, for about six months I’ve had Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” on the brain. In itself, Dylan on the brain is not unusual, but the song choice is odd– I couldn’t listen to it for about two years, a period that coincided with the dawn of my truly heretical notion that the work from ’64-66 is some of Dylan’s weakest.
The more that I hear the Thin Wild Mercury, the more Dylan sounds like what he was: a callow jerk in his mid-twenties. Having recently been a callow jerk in his mid-twenties, it’s a little too familiar. I prefer the work surrounding the period. Perhaps in my mid 30s I’ll be down on Planet Waves. “I love you more than money!? I love you more than blood? A little touch of your love? I’m goin’ back to New Orleans and puttin’ on Another Side of, dammit!” says the Future Self of 2012, just before the Mayan Calendar blows up the world.
Anyway. Back in the late 90s, I had a laugh with my friend Sam Tregar, author of CPAN module HTML::Template and its companion book, the rivetingly titled Writing Perl Modules for CPAN. The joke was that one should break up with a woman at the exact moment when she informed you that she believed “Like a Rolling Stone” was about her life. The theory being that this association bespoke a deep psychological problem that no amount of Love & Companionship could ever make right. Why would anyone want to be the subject of such a hate filled song? Or willingly admit a narrative similarity between their life and the song’s (apparent) protagonist?
But hello, part of why people are so nuts over the song is its profound superiority to any other piece of music from the First Rock period. God knows it is the best song of its decade, with a quality that prefigures Blood on the Tracks, an album of songs & lyrics of such astonishing quality that one is tempted to believe that Dylan was being ghosted by God. As with any work of Real Art, “Like a Rolling Stone” bares no real traces of its creation; it feels as though it has always existed, like Dylan (in his own words) “pulled it out of the air” and laid it down.
(Fear not, aspiring artists–”Like a Rolling Stone” took a lot to laugh and a train to cry. There’s a very documented history of Dylan struggling in the studio. The Bootleg Series, Vol 1 has an outtake of the song in 3/4ths time & accompanied by a harpsichord. So. Masterpieces are always made.)
I think the confusion of “Like a Rolling Stone” comes from the often unrecognized fact that the song contains two narratives– there’s clearly the very familiar, but never better rendered, venom and bile of Bob Dylan towards an unknown woman who hasn’t lived up to his (impossible) expectations, which is the A Story of the verses, but then there’s also the B Story of the chorus. The writing here is incredibly tight; in five repeated lines, Dylan manages to achieve a story as consistent and well rendered as the first, but one that also bleeds into and seemingly informs the A Story. Which is to say: you can listen to the chorus and think it’s about the same person as the verses.
With that in mind, you start seeing why a lot of people think the song is about themselves. Informed by the A Story, the B Story can be read as a ballad of the open road, of the freedom of being out on your own; it’s almost as if the chorus functions as a counterpoint to the verses– okay, yeah, Miss Lonely, you had to make juice with it, but here you go, you’re away from that darkness now, you’re out living the hipster dream of 1964, and by the way, how does it feel? The inferred answer being: “Well, redemptive and pretty good, actually.”
I’d argue the opposite: that the B Story is, if anything, Bob Dylan’s address to himself. It’s a cry of pain in the existential mirror of the Chapter One in a first novel. It’s about the dark side of the American Dream– I don’t mean some HST fantasy where hobo midgets dry hump your leg while you’re on acid & cops beat you for daring, daring! to dream, but rather what happens when America shrugs and allows you to make it; when you push yourself so far into your own destiny that you’re forced to realize, oh snap, I done done it and it ain’t no different. There’s no direction home because there is no home, and not in some grand delusion of being a pilgrim on the expeditionary road to oblivion, but being so bored & lonely & lowdown that every possible option is exhausted and you can’t figure out where to go or what to do, because ain’t it gonna be the same anyway? And how does it feel?
And where do you go?
To a basement, to upstate New York, where you hide out and reincarnate as a 19th Century Mystic, a slightly less gay Walt Whitman. One of the roughs while everyone’s dressed in ascots & paisley.
Holy! My blog got quoted in the September 7, 2007 print edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education. I’m not sure how long the google cache will last, but let’s hope forever!
Incidentally, this is the post that was quoted on the topic of Mitt Romney, the occult history of Mormonism, and the American double standard when it comes to faiths founded in the New World.
The roof of my garage is one my neighborhood’s major wildlife conduits– I’ve seen feral cats, astonishingly large raccoons and other things unknown.
Finally an opossum:
The famous home of the late Samson DeBrier– 6026 Barton Ave, between Vine & El Centro– is for sale. This is the perfect investment for anyone who wants to own a massively historic piece of 1950s pre-hippie LA freak history. Or anyone willing to drop $1.2M for a beautiful home on a really crappy street.
From this location, DeBrier ran the Hollywood equivalent of a Parisian salon, with pretty much everybody who was anybody paying a visit. One often finds the house mentioned in biographies of ’50s and early ’60s actors like James Dean, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson, etc., etc. Film fans may know the house as the location where the good doctor Kenneth Anger shot his well loved Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome; DeBrier himself plays several roles in the film. It should be noted that the property contains three units– the giant on Barton and two cottages. DeBrier rented the main house for income & lived in middle unit.
I wanted to take a picture of the property, but a combination of trees and bushes prevents the house from being photographed from any angle but one. Rather than take a duplicate, I’ve grabbed the realtor’s photo and cleaned up its colors as best I could. See below.
There’s something sad about having been to Twin Towers & Central Arraignment enough to know the way without having to consult Google Maps– but LA always sucks one into its weird world of law enforcement. Way back in ’05, on the second day of my first visit after a long dry spell, I ended up doing a frantic rush to the Hollywood jail, trying to bail out someone who’d been sent elsewhere & who the cops couldn’t find in the computers, no matter the name given. Stupid times!
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan