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The Gorgon

It was in misty Hammersmith that I first laid eyes against the Gorgon.
She looked like me:
The frame, The brittle structure of her bones.

The Gorgon

 

I

I had been out at last, walking
   without a fear, stalking
      the city of my heart’s mirth:
Begging forgiveness and innocence to dirt,
Shattered, soldered and aching,
As my waking dreams smouldered.

But by Misty Hammersmith, she looked like me:
Through Ravenscourt, and to the tube,
Shot through and through,
A distant stare:

My flesh tingled with slate,
Marble pores at the sight:
I could not move, as if to sate
Her sunken eyes: I felt
   petrified.
Like soured stone.

Harbouring seraphim,
I rooted around in my pocket
   for my keys.
I heard their rattle, but could not find them.
Only scraps of leaf tobacco
   and empty filter strips.

Steps, behind me: quicker, lest
I were caught by the identical
   clatter of our shoes.
A silly game. A childish jest.
Playing tricks on myself
   far too literally.

Those words of pallid truth,
A broken beam of circled light;
In those frames I found such sooth
   reflected many times:

Returned gazes that stare bright as the Star,
Serpentine image bears down on the role;
Lead actor encased in pillar of salt,
Love interest flees in conspicuous car;
Audience soaked in layers of green light,
Flesh crawling with marble architecture;
Seated between a lustful onlooker,
And a bold talent scout of certain sight;
Wooed were I, so sure of blight, I watched it,
Entranced by willing, aching desire;
All dreams I had were in moving pictures,
And the Gorgon spun the tale, as I sat;
      Now in my house, the walls hang bare to see:
      That ritual of thy sweet, darker thee.

My door now locked,
That was sure — but once
   the images started swimming,
There was not a lock on earth
   that could halt the presence dimming
      palpably from the roof.

Down the wallpaper.
Across the carpet.
Like the tapping of drizzle.
Like the foal that kneels
   at the feet of its predator,
A vampire-yellow vapour.

At the basement stair
   I found myself
      as if spellbound,
Enchanted.
Wisps of light and Stygian sound
   gaining ground
      in what was once my home.

Then I looked upon her truth:
I saw her audience, frozen,
Like the foal.
A travertine display
   of erstwhile lives;
Given over to those brass hands.

Her fallen children,
Nothing but marble statues
   travelling down the District Line.
Her greatest admirers, halted in time.

She pushed me aside,
Then pulled my arm,
And led me to my bed:
She tucked me in,
And sat beside.
A small smile hidden.

She released her hair from its tied knot
   and it slithered down her shoulders,
Down her back, across the sheets.
I heard it hiss, and flicker,
Venomous.

She turned around and removed her eyes.
The glassy cyan discarded,
She bowed her head,
So I could not see what was left.

She spoke her part,
And explained in plain English
   the suffering of my heart:

I, Narcissus:
The demiurge of my own downfall.

I, Oedipus:
My very own gynosphinx
   to tear my mind apart.

I, Hamlet:
But my father’s ghost speaks not to me.

I, Perseus:
But no bag of holding
   to store that
      which I could not sever
         even with an adamantine sickle.

No cloak of justice—
No silver bullets—
No helm of darkness—
Divine intervention, too,
Was off the cards.

With her words shared,
Her hair encompassed my bed-ridden form.
I saw her smile again
   as she turned to face me.
Her face morphed,
And yes, I was a fool,
To ever believe she and I were the same.

Teeth of razor-kind,
Claws of brass well-formed,
Rapacious tongue so fork’d.
The serpentine locks that fell all around
   the brace of gold that graced her neck.

Starting from the tips of my toes,
I stiffened.
Trapped in the headlights of my own mythology.

And with Persephone at hand,
The chthonic mouth opened up.
O, Glory.
O, Sweet Queen:
That mezzanine ’twixt gold and dust.
That estuary of Styx, forged by my lust.

I took my final journey,
Gazing through the black eyes
   of the Gorgon.

 

II

When the smell begins,
And the neighbours pry,
And the authorities informed;
When the door cracks,
And the lock shatters,
And the friendly steps set foot
   into this bedroom:
They will find nothing
   but soured stone.

 

Punk, the Internet, and Ballroom Dancing: The Steve Albini Interview

“When I became aware of punk it had no specific style associated with it, all the music was rock music and aggressive, or if not aggressive, at least kind of unschooled. But there were many, many different individual styles of music that bands were playing, and one of the things that particularly invigorated me was that every band had their own quite distinct style and voice and presentation and subject matter…”

Two years ago, on the 20th of November, 2016, I interviewed one of my heroes – Steve Albini, famed and infamous recording engineer known for his work with the Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey, the Jesus Lizard, mclusky, Slint, the Breeders, etc. (and that’s one hell of an etc.), as well as for his own music in Big Black, Shellac. and another band with a very naughty name. I was scouting around for ideas for a university project I was working on, and I ended up emailing and messaging a whole bunch of people in the slight hope of scoring an interview. Among other, I messaged Sean Bonnette from Andrew Jackson Jihad, Ian MacKaye of Dischord Records (plus Minor Threat, Fugazi, The Evens, etc.), and British rock band Savages. Of all of the people I contacted, I least of all expected Steve Albini to get back to me with his direct email and phone number. But hey, it happened, and we organised a day to speak. Then… it actually happened. He gave me an hour of his time, through which I nervously stumbled through ill-conceived questions and occasional bouts of fanboying (2021 update: make that fangirling). He was kind, curt, considerate, clever and cool as fuck. With his permission, I now publish the contents of that interview, slightly edited for clarity, here.

Punk, the Internet, and Ballroom Dancing: The Steve Albini Interview

Artoria: What does the term ‘punk’ mean to you? Do you just think it’s like a musical style, or is it something more than that?

Steve Albini: When I became aware of punk it had no specific style associated with it, all the music was rock music and aggressive, or if not aggressive, at least kind of unschooled. But there were many, many different individual styles of music that bands were playing, and one of the things that particularly invigorated me was that every band had their own quite distinct style and voice and presentation and subject matter. And I felt like it was an almost boundless concept that, you know, people who were enthusiasts were making music without being ordained by an existing music power structure, and I thought that was incredibly liberating and exciting. So when I think of punk music I think of the moment when I became aware of punk, and when I realised what punk was about, and how that changed everything—it changed my perspective on the whole rest of the world.

A friend of mine described as like a really brilliant flash that was over very quickly—its initial inspirational moment was over very quickly—but the flash was really so brilliant that it burned long shadows into everything, and that’s the way I feel about it as well. If you saw that initial explosion of punk creativity, you couldn’t help but be dazzled by it, and then you couldn’t help but have your mind blown and your perspective on the rest of the world changed, and I may not have been there for the very nascent beginnings of it, but I was definitely warmed by that initial explosion, and if definitely changed my worldview, and I was definitely in awe of all of the things that were illuminated by that initial brilliant flash.

AJ: So you think it’s because of that initial flash, that it’s something that is just going to continue?

SA: Well, like I say, I see punk as a thing that happened, and it was a moment in time, a very brief period of extraordinary creativity that changed everyone’s perspective, and that happened a long time ago—people are still being influenced by it, but I think it would be a mistake to say that ‘punk’ as an identity—now—means as much as it did when the idea itself was new. In fact now I’m slightly suspicious of people who have adopted the term ‘punk’ because they tend to apply it to things that are antithetical, like you hear about somebody being a ‘punk rock stockbroker’ or the ‘punk rock lawyer’ or something like that—that sort of thing, and I find that to be depressing in the extreme, that something that was uniquely a counterculture identity has been normalised to the extent that it is an adjective to describing a style. And I have to admit that the music that is described as ‘punk music’ now—a lot of it seems formulaic and reiterative. The fundamental idea of punk rock was that you didn’t have to have your music sound like anybody else’s music, and that to me was the liberating aspect of punk rock, and that seems to be the part that people are most willing to discard in contemporary interpretations of the idea.

AJ: How do you think this whole idea of ‘punk’—usually when it’s being labelled as music—has changed since the turn of the millennium, up to the modern day? Obviously there was the huge ‘pop punk’ explosion, but that finally kind of died down towards the end of the 2000s, and a lot of bands now seem to be smaller.

SA: Yeah, I have to admit I remained blissfully ignorant to most of that, like my musical interests don’t coincide with that of people who were just discovering music in their formative years, and so when something that seems kind of transparently phony comes along, it’s meant for an audience that doesn’t have a perspective to dislike it, and I had a perspective to dislike it—I couldn’t help but dislike that music because it seemed like such a cheap simulacrum of some of the music that was an original statement. I was around when the Buzzcocks, the Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, the Ramones and the Dead Boys were making music of that order—music of that sort of form—and I experienced that I got what I could out of it and I learned from it, and then they moved on and I moved on, so I’m not particularly moved by a slightly dumber rendering of the same form. I mean I like to be charitable and I like to give people credit for finding parallel paths to a good idea, but just as a music fan, as a listener, that stuff left me completely cold. So I had gotten off of the train of formulaic punk music long before then, so what happened to it after that I really don’t know.

 

AJ: You’ve recorded quite a lot of modern bands, you’re obviously still very active as a recording engineer—have you heard any bands lately that you think are like, not necessarily ‘carrying the torch’ to say, but coming from a similar mindset of doing something that’s completely different and new?

SA: Yeah—I mean, there is a very vibrant underground scene, and some people sort of stumble onto some similar themes and ideas, and I like to give them credit for having thought it up on their own, and some of these people are well-informed so aren’t doing it out of ignorance. There’s a band from Chicago called Fake Limbs, and I think they’re a terrific band and you would casually describe them as a punk band—there’s a band from Athens, Georgia called Motherfucker, who I think are an amazing band, a super fantastic driving and very distinctive rock band, and casually might describe them as a punk band as well. There was a kind of a hardcore band called G.L.O.S.S., Girls Living Outside of Society’s Shit, and all the stuff I heard from them was just ferocious, really invigorating to listen to, really ferocious and really ripping music, and much, much, much, much better than all of the bands they were compared to.

 

AJ: Yeah, they’re definitely making some waves at the moment, I’ve seen them around quite a lot—refusing Epitaph and stuff—

 

SA: They’ve broken up.

AJ: Oh, they’ve broken up now?

SA: Yeah, they broke up, they released this statement about sort of like, they were getting more attention than they could handle for the state they were in.

AJ: Well, they got that Epitaph offer, didn’t they?

SA: Yeah, I mean Epitaph could be considered one of the venues for the normalisation of punk that we were discussing previously, that kind of turned my stomach. So I don’t know how flattering it is to have that sort of vehicle approach you, but at very least it’s a sign that everyone, even people who aren’t necessarily the target audience, recognised how good they were.

AJ: Do you think that the audience for what can casually be referred to as punk music has changed since the dawn of the Internet—do you think that the Internet has opened up new audiences?

SA: Oh sure, yeah, one of the biggest things is that places where in the ‘70s and ‘80s there was essentially no punk scene—a lot emerging economies and countries that were cut off by language, now that those people are connected by the Internet, you see punk bands from those parts of the world can now find an audience, and they can find like-minded people even if they’re in different countries. We just had a band here in the studio (Albini’s recording studio Electrical Audio) from Honduras—Honduras is an incredibly poor economy, and it was all they could do to scrape together their lempiras (the currency of Honduras) to come here and make a record—and so I was really charmed by them, and their music seems to be an amalgam of all the different styles of music that have been identified as punk over the last thirty years. So yeah, I found that to be incredibly charming and I’m very glad I got a chance to meet them.

AJ: You did that Keynote address in 2014, where you said that the Internet has “solved the problem with music.” Do you think that this is going to stay like this for a while yet?

SA: Well, it’s very difficult to put genies back in the bottle in the internet era—it’s very difficult to make things that are available unavailable. There’s a possibility with a massive security crackdown that it could be done, but it would require a complete reinvention of the security state on an electronic level, and I think it would be difficult to implement worldwide, so even if it transpired in the U.S., it would not take over everywhere, and then it would be pretty easy to work around if activists wanted to, and they will want to. (laughs) So I think from a practical standpoint, the availability of music is going to remain quite high on the Internet, and I think that enthusiasts and fans are going to be able to find things that they like, and people that make music are going to be able to get it out to an audience. Now, I don’t know how much commerce is going to be involved in that, how much business is going to transact, but people will definitely be able to make music and get it out to an audience.

AJ: Yeah, I mean one of the things you said in the speech was—you were addressing that particular quote—“We need to figure out how to make internet distribution work for everyone”—the idea that these people who were part of the old industry want to gain control over it again. Do you think that they really have a chance with that?

SA: Like I said, it will require intervention on the part of governments into the very backbone of the structure of the Internet. Now, if you change the way the Internet works, so that the internet providers are allowed to know everything that you’re doing on your computer at home, they’re allowed to know every bit of information that crosses your desk, then you could oblige those internet service providers to prevent you from doing or sharing certain things, so it is possible that it could be parented, but at the moment the structure of the Internet allows for people to share things with each other, and I don’t see how that’s going to change.

AJ: I’ve spoken to a few other people about like what they think about how the Internet is affecting music, and generally it’s pretty positive—but this recurring thing is the idea of oversaturation, the idea that there’s so much of it out there that it’s hard to get noticed—do you agree with that, do you think there’s anything that can be done about that, or is that just the kind of thing you have to accept?

SA: I’ve heard that same argument every time there’s been a ground swell of interest in activity in music, I’ve heard that same argument from people, you know like, “oh yeah there’s no space to put flyers up anymore, there’s so many bands, and they’re covered all the phone poles”—you know? (laughs) It’s a familiar argument and I think it’s specious. There’s always room at the top, for a start—that is, if there’s a truly great band that resonates with people, they will find an audience, now that may take some time, and it might require more than one attempt on the part of the band, but the nice thing about the Internet is that it provides for saturation. Once something gets a ground swell of popularity, like once one of those adorable cat videos becomes somewhat popular, it becomes ubiquitous-popular. So I don’t think that there’s a problem with their being ‘too much’ interesting music to listen to. That doesn’t sound like a problem.

AJ: So you see that this whole situation with the Internet as quite positive for what can be called ‘punk’ music?

SA: Oh yeah, if you assume some fundamental things about punk music, meaning that if you assume that it is an inspiration for art forms of the working class and the underclass, then the Internet is great because it doesn’t require any money to gain access, you can shoot a video on your telephone and post it to a bulletin board, or a message board, or a website, or YouTube, and then in a matter of hours it can be spread around the world. So if you become adept at using the free tools that are available to you, then the economics of it are quite viable. You don’t need to make a lot of money to cover the costs of the show if that show has had no booking costs, and no costs of acquisition, if you don’t have to pay a manager to find you a venue, and you don’t have to advertise your show, if it doesn’t cost you anything to advertise your show and it doesn’t cost you anything to print tickets and anything like that—the economics of it can actually work in the favour of anyone who takes advantage of it.

So, I think the developments of the Internet have been great for working bands, and great for people of little means. What they’ve been bad for is the structured industry that exists to make a profit from transactions, because there aren’t as many transactions now. People aren’t buying physical objects as much. The good thing is that when they do buy a physical object, like a record or a cassette or a CD or a t-shirt, typically now they’re buying it directly from the band, so the band keeps all of the money, and that’s much, much more efficient as an operation than having to go through a retail outlet, and a wholesale outlet, and a manufacturer, and a record label, which then apportions shares of the profit toward recoupable expenses, and then eventually some of the money trickles down to the band.

AJ: So it’s pretty much one of the best periods that has ever existed for independent music, really?

SA: As far as I’m concerned, yeah. If I had to choose between being in an underground independent band now, or being in an underground independent band in the 1970s, now is way easier.

AJ: So lastly, I was wondering if you had any advice yourself for any aspiring bands, or anyone who might be a bit anxious about whether to do it or not, and if it’s viable?

SA: The important thing is that you can do it regardless, you don’t need to make it your career in order to do it, I’ve been in bands since I was seventeen—or sixteen—I’ve been in bands now for about thirty-eight years, and at no point in that stretch did I ever consider being in a band my career. I’ve always had some kind of a job, as a livelihood. But because being in a band was important to me, I’ve been able to maintain it for all of that period, and it has given me incredible experiences. And, you know, once it became viable it did become a reasonable second income. But it’s never been my livelihood. So if you think of playing music as something, like ice skating, or playing chess, or ballroom dancing, or something like that, you get something out of it just by doing it.

But there are very, very, very few people who get to make a living doing nothing else, so you have to appreciate the place of music in society—and that place for music is much closer to something like ballroom dancing, or figure skating, or playing chess—it’s much closer to something like that than it is to being a plumber, or being an architect, or a pharmacist. People die without medicine, people freeze to death without homes, people shit in the streets without plumbing, right? Nothing bad happens to them without music, so society is never going to value music the way it values things that make society function normally.

In the general sense, there is always going to be some interest and some support for the arts in general, and music will be a fraction of that, but the important thing about being in a band is that it’s fucking awesome, you know? It’s a fantastic thing that you get to do. So you should do it because it’s awesome, and because it’s an incredibly satisfying thing to do, and occasionally there will be periods where you’ll be able to make it pay for itself or turn a profit—but you can do it forever. I expect myself to be playing music my whole life.

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The Throne of Elias

I had to find myself: that, I knew, but I had only the slightest, mistiest and most oblique inkling of how to do it. I had only just started to realise how lost in it all I truly was, and how time was catching up with me in a manner that could be considered hostile. My grandfather’s voice in my ears: explore, excavate, delve deep – when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself. They were solemn words that I tried to live by, in at least a social sense. However, I had found that my modes of speech often put people off; most people do not like to be so prodded and jostled with requests for deep truths. Thus, I never felt comfortable, and I never felt like myself, which must have meant that I wasn’t living life as myself, as my best possible self, the Self that can be quantified in psychological examination and cross-examination, form after form, check after check; no, it was no wonder that time was crossing the street with dagger in hand, seeking to cut me down: I was losing, I was a loser.

I had to do something, fast. I had been living in the city since birth, quickly approaching my twenty-third birthday, and I had no job and scant qualifications to my name. My parents’ earnings were wearing thin: I had been hanging off of the back of their lives for too long now, and my debt was piling up. Before I moved into the alien territory of employment, I had to open myself to life itself, in all of its glory.

But I saw no glory in life’s pickings: small talk at the coffee table at some distant or nearby office workspace taunted me like a lingering sickness, absent for a day, but here to stay tomorrow. I was the reigning faux-pas laureate, christened, crowned and celebrated in countless pubs and lecture halls; sharp, nervous titters followed my step in lessons and family gatherings alike, and eyes followed me unblinking, awaiting my next drink spillage or drugs-tray disassembly. Many bearded men had beaten me to the punch, and even those with weaker facial hair than I had laughed victorious over my own paltry efforts. Even those fatter and uglier than I seemed to achieve a semblance of success in their own individual groups, whilst I sat alone, drinking too fast and perhaps even blacking out and finding myself drifting to and fro upon a railway system far from home.

There was but one choice: to know myself, I had to know my country. If I felt so aberrant to these people, then it must have been due to my own misconceptions and presuppositions about the direction that encounters should take you: it could not be them – a phrase close achieving cliché says that if everybody you meet is boring, then it is you who is boring; as such, if everybody I met seemed darkly aberrant and appearing to belie through their smiles a deep, endless mood of isolation and cynicism then it was actually I who was the arduous, anomalous and offensive spirit, not those who I attempted to speak to day by day.

The solution was simple: I would borrow one last sum of money from my ailing parents, and make three journeys across England, in an effort to drive this possessive abomination of spirit from my Self. After this, I would spend a week alone in my room, reflecting upon the joys and revelations I had encountered; finally, I would return to the world, finally at one with myself, my Self, and my fellow people. I would finally wipe out the remaining traces of racial prejudice and colonial guilt, learn the mathematic divines of beats within social discourse, love thy goddamn neighbour and love goddamn God him or herself, saunter to the coffee table at work in some faceless call centre and finally feel at home, not prominent but certainly achieving a final sense of loose, soothing belonging.

My grandfather spoke to me of such matters a great deal when I was younger. Through our many holidays to my ancestral home in Derby, where my grandparents lived, I would be delivered sacred, sage advice from my mother’s father; information passed down from generation to generation, lessons that any sane person should heed, else expect nothing but desolation. I welcomed these lectures, temporarily taking the place of the fantastical bedtime stories of my mother’s conjurations; my grandfather’s warm, slightly shaky baritone lulling me to sleep; they were some of the few nights a year that I didn’t experience night terrors, and as such were some of the few nights a year that my parents didn’t have to take turns falling asleep in the chair next to my bed. Even at age sixteen, the unremembered nightmares would rise up, sending me into frenzies that took the lives of countless duvets, pillows and blankets. But even after the night terrors stopped, I still missed the many lectures that my grandfather had stored away in his soul.

My first journey started simply enough: I opened an arbitrary page of a road map of England, and pointed at a random location with a pencil. It turned out not to be too far from the city, just a few trains away, and perhaps a couple of buses, too. My pencil technically struck an unmarked piece of map, so I did move it a few miles to the nearest town: Yuggeshall, north of Dunwich Forest. And so it was to be, my first flying of the coop: a smiling farewell from my steadfast father, not a tear shed by my proud mother, and the family cat, Wermret, almost seeming to nod a blink my way as a parting gift. I would leave a novice of the world, and return a novice of the world; but return one with the first, slightest and mistiest inkling of how to change his position in life.

I packed very little – just three nights’ change of clothes, my toothbrush and toothpaste, my journal to note in and my music playing device to soundtrack my development into a nascent form of Individual Self. I took an overground early in the morning, the train so packed with humans to bring to mind an overstuffed pig-truck headed for the Death House; panting dogs longed for water, and kids restlessly worked their ways through a plethora of lollypops and ice-cream cones. Young adults looked down at their shoes, never meeting my gaze.

A change at a particularly busy stop, and then I was travelling on a type of train I had never been on before. Not to say that it was out of the ordinary; it was just a different type to the one that took my parents and I to Derby, so it naturally felt somewhat foreign to my senses. I chose apt music and scrawled descriptive notes of the landscapes sweeping around me; however, these written descriptions were too fanciful to relay to any critical and discerning audience, and of a form of prose too regally purple to stand beside my more constant, minimalistic and, in my opinion, pertinent literature. After an hour and a half, I arrived in the sea port town of Low Croft.

This town – city? barely – smelt like nowhere else I had visited; it was a stink too distinct to call home to anywhere but Low Croft. I had experienced and grown to subversively love the country smell, that of fermenting manure; but Low Croft smelt like a sewage pipe’s rear end, filled with scum-drowned otter corpses and rusty syringes. I took a quick toilet break before moving on; inside, the floor was wet and dirty, muddy boot prints trailing indistinctly. I noticed around the sink hole a substance that could have been blood; whatever it was, I avoided washing my hands near it, and opted to dry my hands instead in the pockets of my jeans, lest the electric hand-dryer spread some bubonic-originating plague upon my pure, un-pocked skin.

This toilet escapade resulted in my missing the bus by seconds. I looked around to find a bus timetable, but not one was present. A blinking electronic sign told me that the next bus heading my way wasn’t due for another forty minutes. Unencumbered by my usual travelling weight, I felt a spring beneath my soles lift me up and into the main square of the town: although quite small, I found Low Croft to be abundant in specific types of shops: hair salons, nail parlours, and pubs. There was a large Wetherspoon opposite the station, but I quickly struck it from my immediate list and took the main street up as far as it would go; I found a pub signed as the Heart of Darkness, its low-hanging sign emblazoned with a ghostly ship in a storm.

The lights inside were dim, and few patrons stood at the bar; I realised that it was still early, and that most of the regulars were probably still at work. I drank a half-pint silently to myself in the corner, and scrawled confused, scared and immature prose in my journal. A cowering animal, returning to a falsified mental habitat when presented with the truth; how ridiculous I must have looked. I know, now, that this fear was just from lack of understanding; lack of knowledge. But it angers me still, to think of myself as so blind to the world going on around me, the world that had always been there, hidden.

I abandoned the Heart of Darkness and took the main street back down, taking a right that would eventually lead me back around to the bus stop. On the way, I passed a closed newsagents; on the news billboard outside, it read: Second Low Croft Murder, Suspect Not Charged. Steps later, I saw an estate agents by the name of Savege. This struck me for one and only one reason: other than the surname of a once-popular television presenter, it was also my own family name. I had never seen it anywhere else, and had not anticipated seeing it in Low Croft of all places. I felt an urge to go inside and ask for Savege him or herself, but I eventually decided against it.

A creeping sense of intense loneliness was falling over me. I could barely stand it. I had to think again on the words of my grandfather, that stalwart figure he was, that soothsayer and truth-sayer. It was not so much specific phrases that I remembered, but feelings and tones; the man could mull over vast, dark corners of human history and human behaviour in just a few short sentences, leaving unanswered questions thoroughly debunked and unfortunate truths laid bare for only his audience, that being me, to alone understand and benefit from. These unsurfaced realities brought me through the darkness of my sweeping loneliness, and put me back into survival mode: explore, excavate, dig deep. Enact these truths, these realities, upon the world, and upon your own mind: find that desperate, confused notion known as maturity and climb yourself up on high, above all of the Sad Egg Men and pitiful wretches.

But some of my Old Thoughts, those Dark Thoughts, resurfaced once I got back to the bus stop; for at the bus stop, waited three Sad Egg Men. These Egg Men, bulbous and round, grossly plump – why, I thought, if only someone were to crack them open and shed their yolk onto the ground; then we would see, then we would see. And more arrived, all waiting for the bus I meant to take: dumbbells, wingnuts, the ill-bred, the insane and the degenerate…

But I waited all the same, and boarded that bus with a smile for the driver, although he did not have one for me. The bus took speed, and floated across those Low Croft streets, taking me past the sea front and through a series of streets that teased at me the ocean beyond the glass; somewhere out there was a ship sailing, a real, an old ship, a sailboat, a galleon! Its purpose I never discerned, but its form I was so taken with that I exclaimed aloud about how wonderful a vessel she was. An Egg Man replied to me, in a lilting and uncoarse country timbre, that she was indeed a fine lady, and that she sails just beyond these shores often.

‘What life you must have here,’ I said; the Egg Man seemed unsure of my tone, perhaps there was unresolved but unintended pretention in my voice – but he smiled back nonetheless, and I felt a twang of guilt rise up. Of course, I had been judging these Egg Men, these dumbbells and wingnuts by such specific and cruel standards – they were good folk, simple, but honest, and above all, they were people, goddamn it. I did not continue to speak with the man, and instead took my time observing the world beyond the glass; we strode down forested lanes and stopped at quiet country waysides, crested small hills and passed through many villages and hamlets so picturesque they could not have been real. On one of the signs we passed, one signalling the imminence of Yuggeshall, I saw a smaller wooden sign, much smaller than the metal sign to which it was connected: it read Crake’s Hideway.

With my specifically-curated music dancing in my ears, a nostalgia shook me. That name: Crake’s Hideway. It meant something…I could hear it being said in my mind, and the name softly insinuated itself into the rhythm of my music.

I turned to the bus of well-meaning and likely hardworking wingnuts and dumbbells and said, somewhat quieter than I had anticipated, ‘What of Crake’s Hideway?’

Their faces barely met mine. A few moments of short connection, but it was nothing of value. Then, the last Egg Man on the bus said:

‘There’s nothing there. You can’t get there.’

I looked out of the window for another sign, but one did not appear.

‘Very well,’ I said.

The bus soon pulled into Yuggeshall, a town much less threatening than its bizarre name; some bunting hung loose between the houses, and the occupants seemed lively enough to be populating the streets in welcoming numbers. This was it: the first destination in my plan, my plan to evolve, to find myself and my Self. A simple town, but one with a purpose; although I did not know that purpose, I felt safe thinking that this place, so alien to me, so alien to me, was just another place where life happened. People had jobs; people toiled; people met, and spoke, and did their bit, and drank, and got up on Mondays like the rest of the civilised world, and got on with it, no matter what. I thought of these people: each one of them could be suffering, and I wouldn’t know it. And, frankly, that was a good thing: because life went on. Day after day. Life is all around us: it may seem alien to us, alien to us, but it is actually the least alien thing of all; it is, to use a phrase so quickly decaying to cliché, what it is.

I approached somebody on the street, a woman of forty, somewhat round, but who I assumed to be a good person.

‘How do I get to Crake’s Hideway?’ I said.

Her face read little, and her voice betrayed even less:

‘A walk around a few miles, I reckon. Maybe two hours, thinking about it. You just follow…that road.’

And she pointed at a street that swiftly left the town, out into wooded rises and falls led by loose cobbles of yesteryear and the entropy of the centuries; and I followed this path, as if by magnetic impulse, my loose possessions on my back. The day was just beginning to sign its farewell; there were still hours left, but only scant few.

During this walk, I thought more of those stories that my mother used to tell, bedtime stories: of the village of Crake’s Hideway, where the dalliances of romantic nature merge with human strife; where the ants crawl beneath, moving the settlement ever further south; where the blistered and tattered Black Shuck stands by the Throne of Elias, waiting for its former master; where Odin’s deformed bastard son Sigorre dwells and plots in the secret tunnels of the River Rat; a town where Tryth has no sway, no hand in setting things right, no matter how hard she try; and, of course, the impossible and fractal harmonies of the pained gulps of the landrails themselves. Crake’s Hideway may have been a fantasy, but to visit a town of its name seemed such a beautiful coincidence that it had to be the perfect end to this first day, a day already full of learning and examination.

My grandfather had always given me the inspiration to seek my path, and although I had done it wrong all of the years that he was alive, I now had this chance to prove that could fulfil the potential he had always seen in me. It was just weeks after the funeral that I first envisioned my spiritual journey to the three locations, the effort to discover myself, by exploring, excavating and digging deep; and but weeks later still, I was here, walking, talking, exploring, excavating, and digging deep, deep. This was just the first step, but soon, I would know myself; I would know my Self.

Terror twilight settled in, soon followed by daemon’s dusk. It was in this stage of evening that the road finally gave way to Crake’s Hideway: a town out of time, wooden structures standing crooked in the failing light. The winding streets were lined with old gas lamps, every one lighted. Yet, not a single light played behind the curtains of the houses: they slept, I believed; it was a strangely certain feeling. I could hear the corncrakes rasping in the fields, like a sign from God: they buzzed alongside the crickets, a grand toneless melody croaking out from beyond, into the night. I espied not one rail, but I needn’t’ve to have ensured my knowledge of their distinct presence.

I careened through the mystical town, the dusk mist sinking from heaven and wreathing the ancient wooden structures in scarves of silver. How could it be that I felt at home, so far from home? The birdsong in my ears drove me on through the streets, searching for my kin. But for all of my searching, there was nobody: not a soul stirred in Crake’s Hideway.

So many times I heard my grandfather’s tales, lectures and parables that it is no surprise that I frequently dreamed of him, speaking to me; yet, I only remember two instances: the first happened when I was young, just after my parents lost all of their money and our bi-monthly trips to Derby were cancelled; as I lay sleeping, or almost sleeping, I envisioned my grandfather by my side: he said to me some words. Although my memory grows hazy, I feel that I remember most, if not all, of them: Exploring is not the only route. You must also wait. Waiting is our lord’s grandest virtue: it is what defines mankind. Find the Throne: when you have done that, you will know that you have found yourself.

The second dream came just those couple of weeks ago, just days after we said goodbye to him for the last time. He put his hand on my shoulder and said: Young Savege, this is not the end. That was, technically, the last time that I saw my grandfather. It is what spurred me onto this mission of self-discovery, and what I will live by, no matter what. This is not the end.

Regarding the truth behind my mother’s tales, Crake’s Hideway did not reveal too much of itself too soon; as I walked through that croaking town, I heard not the growl behind the barbed knives of the Black Shuck’s dripping teeth; nor the deranged, hysterical whisperings of Bastard Sigorre – but I could feel the town moving with the ants, and I could feel the flirtations of nature’s spirits, and so I railed on, into the dying light.

Through so many alternating paths I wandered, the night finally calling its due and taking control. In this final breath of incandescence, there opened up the last stretch of my journey: the house, so longing on the hillside, breathing in time with my own mortal lungs. I crossed the threshold of darkness, and up the path of my ancestral home; how mighty it stood, such grand architecture! Through the doors I swept, dust billowing as cold wind touched the stale air for the first time in what must have been centuries, the floorboards creaking, finally finding human feet again.

In the upstairs suites I found the paintings: the ones of my ancestors. Elias, Jeremiah, Helen, Barin, Chass, Gerald, Mikeen, Selah: then my grandfather, followed by my mother; both of them captured in perfect oils, their eyes following mine, not seeking to find any missteps, nor judging any of my past failures; then was my own portrait: much older, greyer – my own eyes meeting my own eyes, a distinct sense of belonging…and yet, still…some sense of disconnection, as if I could not quite keep my own gaze. I traced the wrinkles down this vision of myself, of what could be my Self – and without hesitation I moved on, to the pictures of my children, my grandchildren, so beautiful they were, but they, too, were old, and yet somehow could not keep my eyes, as if they could not bear to look at me, their own Godly ancestor! – what terrors swept inside me, and I turned away, away from their judging eyes, my own eyes passed down through endless generations: each gallery led to another, another set of portraits of my own spawn, each one staring me down, the dread passing through me – and finally, I found my way out, and I descended the stairs, leaving the unexplored ground floor, too – and, choking in the dust, I collapsed down the stairs into the darkness and solitude of the basement level of the mansion.

The last story my mother told me of Crake’s Hideway was that of Prince Dunston: it is his purity of soul and his understanding of evil that finalises the Three Moon Prophecy; once he takes the throne, the Black Shuck grieves no more for its lost cubs, and Bastard Sigorre repents his treasonous ways. From out of the Darklands, dancing figures appear, grey flags held in their six-fingered claws; these beings share the stage with the Amber-Eyed Parade, who are the true signal of change, and their appearance is the emotional climax of the story; there was much feasting after the Amber-Eyed Parade had dispersed, but their tricks, their dances, their songs, their chants, they all remain, for they are the Truth at the End, the signal.

In the basement room, a candle flickered below. There was no wind, and yet the candle flickered, drawing shapes in shadow: portents, harbingers of things unspeakable; acts too cruel to look away from. I moved over to it and wet my thumb, ready to extinguish its sadistic shadowplay. But I could not bring myself to do it. Instead, I turned to the darkest corner, and walked.

I soon found myself traversing limestone corridors, the distant candle still offering its dim, shuddering glow to aid my step. Slowly, the limestone broke out into red brick, the path leading deeper into the frozen earth. I inspected the red brick, hidden so far beyond the cyclopean architecture of the limestone: it was of perfect modern design, cemented as if by a three-dimensional printer; not a lick of cement was out of place, and I could discern not a single flaw or mottle in any of the bricks.

I scraped my fingernails along the walls as I crept further, deeper, into this labyrinthine basement. Even if I wanted to turn back now, there was no way I could find the right path; even the candle light seemed to come from nowhere, everywhere; just like me, it had lost its way.

At last, the tunnels broke out into something more definite: this room, a perfect cube of red brick masonry, pulsed somehow; I felt that if I were to cut the walls, they would certainly start bleeding. More definite still, standing so lonely in the centre of the cube, was the throne.

I walked to it, moving around it, inspecting its improbable facets: not one part of the throne spoke to another – a grotesque detritus on first inspection, but an endless gift to the patient of mind and spirit. The brutal patchwork sections also contained their own smaller patchwork sections, revealing a level of fractal detail too intricate for the feeble human eye. I knew that if inspected by one worthy, the Throne of Elias would surely divulge any and all secrets of the universe amongst its tapestries of love and war, life and death, corruption and purity; it was a library for only the divinely enraptured, the worthy, and decisive: things that I could possibly never be.

And I felt a deep anger at the throne, as if it was telling me that although I was descended of Elias, I could not handle the truths of my ancestral lineage; it was as if the throne was mocking me, laughing, telling me that I was not allowed to pass the threshold any further, that this was the end of my journey, my story. I had explored, excavated, dug deep! Did I not deserve the fruits of my personal development, the ones I had planned to reap so thoroughly in the wake of my grandfather’s passing? Yet, somehow, I felt the throne welcoming me; perhaps in a mocking tone, I could not be sure; because the throne’s eyes – which I knew it had, hidden under that upholstery – would not meet mine.

So be it, I thought, and I dared to challenge it: whether or not I truly was Prince Dunston Savege of ancestral legend, this throne was mine, it belonged to me! I alone inherited the name, and so I would be the one to take the rightful place upon its patchwork cushions; the Amber-Eyed Parade would come for me, and the dancing figures would appear from the darkness and twirl endlessly in my honour. I alone would control Shuck the Dog-fiend, and deliver those who wished to do Crake’s Hideway harm into the Shuck’s salivating, starved maw, its razor teeth ready to tear the flesh from the naysayers brittle bones; I alone had the right to pardon or request the execution of Bastard Sigorre, the bitter and hopeless traitor whose mutterings I imagined deep beneath the earth, echoing through the subterranean caverns of the River Rat; and I alone would conduct the Crake’s Orchestra, bringing the cadence to its final crescendo, the croaks and crackles of the landrails finally silenced by the coming of their King, King Savege!

I am here still, waiting in the Throne of Elias, a great deal of time after my ascension to this position of isolated royalty. I am growing weak. My stomach roars in starved dysphoria; silent atrophy is spreading from limb to limb. I can hear not the crakes nor the crickets; but still I wait, for waiting is our lord’s greatest virtue; I am no closer to meeting the lumbering canine form of the Black Shuck, but still I wait, for I have found the throne, I have found my purpose; scarred, twisted Bastard Sigorre whispers not to me, but still I wait…I wait for the Amber-Eyed Parade to sing my glory, to bring me a crown worthy of my name, for waiting is a virtue, God’s greatest gift; and good things – to chance once more upon a phrase teetering on the edge of cliché – come to those who wait. This is not the end. I will have my parade. I will have my feast. I must just wait a little longer…

 

I Am Not Dead Yet

I stab myself through the head with a serrated blade, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

I Am Not Dead Yet

A Novel

 

Chapter One

I stab myself through the head with a serrated blade, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

 

Chapter Two

I am shot six times in the chest at point blank range in a corner shop holdup, but I do not die.

 

Chapter Three

Six cars run me over, one taking the time to precisely drive over my head. My brain meets the morning sun, glistening below my broken scalp. But yet I live.

 

Chapter Four

I feel the weight of the collapsing bridge bend my spine forward beyond repair, and the chord is severed. Hundreds die in architecture’s folly, but yet I walk.

 

Chapter Five

At the centre of the atomic blast, my flesh is stripped from my bones, and my bones are obliterated. This conflict has drawn a hellish landscape. My lungs are naught but dust, and yet I laugh.

 

Chapter Six

Civil unrest results in my clubbing. Every part of me is bruised green in the attack. I am set alight on live broadcast television, and not a soul dares to piss the flames away. People want change, and they believe my death is the answer. But they are fools, for I am not dead yet.

 

Chapter Seven

Society collapses. Shops are looted, families are wiped out on sight. Breeding is no longer viable. Humans cease to exist, returned to an absence far more pleasurable to any sane being. The earth returns to nature’s chaos, cruel and perfect. The sun lights up the sky, and the planet dies. But even in the vacuum of space, I breathe yet.

 

Chapter Eight

Even trapped in Pluto’s darkest icy depths, I do not freeze.

 

Chapter Nine

Beyond Pluto’s Black Sea is the Nostro, and beyond which lies sights unbound – Darlons dance a shadow dance, and the Wheel is turned. The inner workings reveal themselves only to those who watch carefully. Here in the Nostro, there is no light, no texture, no third dimension of which to perceive. But even in the Nostro, I see yet.

 

Chapter Ten

Shath welcomes me into the Conclave of Thirteen. Millions more die, and their torsos ride forever upon ashen mounts down the riverbanks of Hael. The banner of the Elder is raised, but still the Old God sings not. I hear Artemis and Hermes bellow their wretched, tortured howls, their aspects reduced to nothing but carnal pain, their days of gold long over. Upon my escape back to the Nostro, I am apprehended by those that Shath has sent, who are to right what is wrong. My spirit is torn through my mouth, and hanged from the Dog Star for all the Conclave to see. With this, the Elder is appeased: the Old God sings. The voice, serene, sweet, soulful, a touch of Al Green – it breaks my form utterly, and I am shattered to the Very Corners that expand for evermore. There is not a single atom left in my body, but I am not dead yet. The story continues.

 

Essay: The Absurdity of Passion: Nicolas Cage

In this essay, I explore the craft of acting through the work of Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage.

The Absurdity of Passion: Nicolas Cage

 

“There are often lists of the great living male movie stars:
De Niro, Nicholson and Pacino, usually. How often do you see the
name of Nicolas Cage? He should always be up there.”

(Ebert, 2008)

 

In this essay, I explore the craft of acting through the work of Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage, in particular the films Wild at Heart (1990), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), and I explore the manner in which Cage approaches his craft, from the influence of method acting, or “working from the inside out”, in his early days (Gibb, 2015, 20), to his slow refutation of traditional ‘realism’ and embracement of both “working from the outside in” and more surreal styles from the early 1990s to present-day. (Gibb, 2015, 22) It is this interest of his in larger, more dramatic acting styles that I primarily focus on, and I explore his creation of new, personal acting styles: “Western Kabuki” (Gibb, 2015, 28) and “Nouveau Shamanic” (Nordine, 2014). Through this exploration of the many forms that Cage has taken throughout his career, I argue that his range, diversity and fearlessness to experiment places Cage in the highest tier of modern actors.

As a young actor trying to find his place in the business, Cage, after having studied at the American Conservatory Theatre for three months (Cage, 2003), found an interest in method acting, inspired by Robert DeNiro and in particular his performance in Raging Bull (1980) (Cage, 2003). The style of method acting derives from Lee Strasberg’s teachings, which in turn were inspired by Constantin Stanislavski’s idea of “the system” (Hirsch & Bell, 2014). The idea is to get into the character “from the inside out”, so as to fully understand the character you are portraying, and in doing so, create a sense of truth in the performance. Whilst acting in The Cotton Club (1984), Cage decided to take the method acting technique and apply it to real life, so as to get fully into the head of his character, a psychotic gangster – he approached a street vendor selling remote control cars and smashed one of them in front of the man, paying the man after the incident. (Cage, 2003) Another example of his dedication to method acting early on was his role in the film Birdy (1984), in which he played a Vietnam War veteran: to get into character, he had two of his teeth pulled out and wore a bandage over his face throughout the shoot. (Gibb, 2015, 22) It is this kind of method acting that some actors undertake to fully understand their character in search of truth on screen: if they can be this character utterly, then the audience watching will be further able to empathise with them.

But before too long, Cage started experimenting with other styles of acting. He found that the naturalist style that resulted from method acting can be incredibly effective but can become boring, and he did not want to become a boring actor. (Gibb, 2015, 20) By his appearance in David Lynch’s 1990 film Wild at Heart, Cage was becoming tired with method acting and wanted to try new styles. It was through this film that he was able to shed method acting as his primary acting style and move towards the “from the outside in” style that he refers to as being a more British style of acting. (Cage, 2003) This style of acting has a focus on the look and exterior mannerisms of the character – Stella Adler said that “[w]hat you put on […] affects you inside. What’s outside what makes you feel certain things inside” and that as such, “the costume is the character.” (Adler, 2000, 200) One example of this in Wild at Heart is the snakeskin jacket worn by Cage’s character Sailor throughout the movie. Cage owned this jacket himself, and asked Lynch if he could wear it in the film. David Lynch liked the idea, and added it into the script. (Wood, 2015) The jacket ends up having a large connection to the character of Sailor: Sailor is a rebellious man, and a big believer in being himself, and he expresses this through his choice of clothes, saying on a number of occasions that his jacket is a symbol of his individuality. (Lynch, 1990) Another facet of Cage’s performance in Wild at Heart is Sailor’s voice and demeanour, a clear homage to Elvis Presley – as a testament to Cage’s wide range of influences in his acting styles, he claimed to have been inspired to play Sailor as Elvis as a reference to Andy Warhol’s famous duplicates, as well as an attempt to specifically break the rule set by Stanislavski that an actor should never imitate someone else. (Gibb, 2015, 41) Sailor is also an incredibly animated character: he dances, flails around, fakes kung fu moves, sings Elvis songs, beats people up – all of this showing Cage’s physical dedication to his craft, and backing up his view that naturalist, low-key acting was not the way to go for the role, and showing his increasing interest in more surreal styles of acting.

Another example of his use of physicality is in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. True to the idea of outside-in acting, Cage plays the character of Lieutenant McDonagh with a constant limp, due to a back injury attained whilst saving a prisoner from drowning, which gives him a lumbering and threatening demeanour. But another element of this physicality is in the use of his face and voice: McDonagh frequently loses it, shouting and screaming at whoever is close to him, and speaks through gritted teeth due to the pain he is constantly in. In The Art of Acting (Adler, 2000), Stella Adler speaks of the power of words, and the importance of knowing how and when to speak in certain ways. (Adler, 2000, 205) Cage demonstrates his knowledge on the use of words and speech extensively throughout Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, showing a man who has become embittered by, and is angry at, the world, who constantly harasses and abuses the people around him; even to the people he meets in passing, he hisses at them aggressively, the pain inside him too great to suffer other humans. It is the character lashing out at the world due to what he sees as the unfair afflictions in his life – but even in the darkness, he recognises his love for his girlfriend, a prostitute. She is the only character that he speaks to with a quieter, more caring demeanour, showing his affection for her by not lashing out at her like he does everyone else. The only other character that he really treats like this is the criminal he saves at the start, when he meets him again at the end: the man is attempting rehabilitation, and expresses gratitude to McDonagh for giving him that chance. He and McDonagh go and sit in an aquarium, Cage’s voice now hushed to a contemplative mutter: he is given a moment of tranquillity where his pain is not making him lash out any more, his lack of venom showing us the character in a moment of a peace that has been lacking in his life since he damaged his back. It is this use of extremes in his use of speech that help to paint a truthful picture of the character and give the audience some insight into why he acts like he does throughout the movie.

Cage compared his performance in the film to impressionistic painting, in that his character is constantly on drugs but he played the character sober, and instead imagined “how the drugs would affect the character’s vocal quality or facial mannerisms” (Keough, 2010) – he identified each drug that McDonagh was on and added different elements of them to different parts of the performance. To achieve this, he used the technique of sense memory to recall past times where he had been drunk or high, making the portrayal of a man unhinged from drug use blurry around the sides but no less truthful. Sense memory is a technique used in different forms of acting, and was one of the earliest techniques he learned whilst he studied at the American Conservatory Theatre. (Cage, 2003) The idea of it is to draw upon past memories and bring them out in the performance, so as to make the performance as visceral as possible and without overthinking it too much or turning the performance into an intellectual endeavour that could stunt the immediacy of the performance. (Weston, 1996, 150)

In 1995, Cage won the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his portrayal of Ben Sanderson, a suicidal alcoholic, in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas. (Gibb, 2015, 38) This performance finds Cage acting from both sides of the spectrum, both inside-out and outside-in, and also shows Cage being both extreme and reserved. His work from the inside-out came from his research of alcoholism, and how he took to drinking in preparation for the role – but as opposed to what the young Cage would have done, he did not drink himself through the film, recognising that that would have been too much of a gamble. (Ebert, 1995) The outside-in came from Cage finding physical objects that he felt connected him to the character (the character of Ben Sanderson, in both the film and the novel it is based on, is a semi-autobiographical portrayal of the novel’s author, John O’Brein, who committed suicide before the film was made), so as to build the character’s persona around the things that he owned. (Ebert, 1995)

One of the elements of Cage’s costume in the film are his sunglasses: these can be seen as an ‘object correlative’, an item that is linked to a character and which says something about their personality. (Butler, 2007, 58) Sanderson is a man tired of life, who has a wish to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. His sunglasses, which he often wears indoors, show how closed off he is to the rest of the world, as the sunglasses allow him to avoid eye contact and seem distant to the people around him. He is not always wearing these glasses, and as his relationship with the prostitute Sera continues, he wears them less and less, now being more open to human contact. Another more obvious object correlative is the alcohol: he is never without a drink to hand, both when he is indoors and out in Vegas. Indoors, he has a cache of drinks of all varieties, from whiskey to beer, often drinking from multiple drinks at once. This object correlative is the signifier of his desire to die, as it is the tool that he is using to commit suicide.

Whilst playing a more down-to-earth character than the wild Sailor, Cage was drawn to the melodrama within the script, and took to the piece by acting in a style he referred to as ‘operatic’ (Ebert, 1995), playing heavily on his emotions and the mental state of the character. He plays Sanderson in many ways: quiet, loud, happy, sad, tired, restless, living, and, finally dying; it is a role of extremes, where he employs his full “bag of tricks” (Weston, 1996, 160) in an attempt to portray this character as vividly and truthfully as possible. Every actor can bring their own take on a character, as the script is a “skeleton” until the chosen actor has identified what it is that they think makes that character tick, and how most effectively to portray that character and their relationships with other characters (Moss, 2004, 111); as recognised by the Academy, Cage brought to the role something powerfully unique – it was his range of (and love for) extremes that allowed him to play it so powerfully.

It is through these mixing of styles that Cage started to formulate his idea of ‘Western Kabuki’. Whilst the Japanese theatre style of kabuki has gone through many changes, its main components are a “collaboration of acting, sound and physicality” (Gibb, 2015, 28), and can be seen as an avant-garde style of performance – fitting in with Cage’s desire to move away from realism. Cage sees the main part of his Western Kabuki style as the use of his voice, wanting to use it in “a heavy-metal or operatic or baroque way.” (Gibb, 2015, 29) Kabuki plays have been seen as less works of literature and more as vehicles for the central performers to “demonstrate their enormous range skills in visual and vocal performance” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2014) – looking at some of Cage’s later films, such as The Wicker Man (2006) or Drive Angry (2011), it can be seen that Cage’s kabuki style has been taken to the fore of the films he stars in, but in films such as Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas, and later Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, this exaggerated and experimental style is meshed with the subject matter of the film to bring out truths within the characters that he is playing. The side of kabuki centred around dance is evident, too: his mother, a trained dancer, likened his performance in Wild at Heart as similar to modern dance, due to his unbridled physicality and how unpredictable he was in how he used it. (Brockes, 2013) Eventually, his dabbling in Western Kabuki led to him creating another acting method, this one called ‘Nouveau Shamanic’ (Gibb, 2015, 30), in which Cage wanted to find parallels between ancient Shamans and modern actors. Shamans typically used spiritual practices to bring about altered states of consciousness, with rituals being the centre of those practices; rituals would induce “trance, mystical visions, out of body experiences, a radical shift in awareness, [and] soul-journeying” (Dox, 2014, 115). This acting method could be seen as the culmination of his experimentations with avant-garde acting: as a part of the method, Cage would attach ancient artefacts to his clothing, gather crystals and minerals that are known to produce vibrations, and paint his face black and white in the style of Afro-Caribbean shamans. All of this may seem somewhat over-the-top for preparation for the central role in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012), but it shows Cage’s dedication to every role that he throws himself into: if he is to play a being from another dimension, then he will find the means to understand what it is to be a being from another dimension.

Cage is an actor that pushes boundaries, unafraid of results. Ethan Hawke has described him as the only actor since Marlon Brando to try new techniques within acting, an actor who has taken us away from an obsession with naturalism and into a performance-based style of acting more similar to those of the old troubadours. (Gibb, 2015, 31) The idea of linking Cage to an older style of acting is well founded; his acting style can be compared to that of a silent movie star (Gibb, 2015, 31), as well as him being compared to Werner Herzog’s old leading man Klaus Kinski in his movements and use of facial expressions. (Keough, 2010) More than that, he has stated that he grew up watching German expressionist films such as Nosferatu (1922) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) from a very early age. Influences such as these show how an actor like Cage could formulate his own acting styles away from those in the norm, refuting the method acting of the time and moving in a new direction entirely; not just returning to older, more exaggerated acting styles but also finding new ways to express himself, and in the process finding new ways to portray truth on the screen.

Judith Weston, when discussing whether to favour the inside-out style of acting or the outside-in acting style, states that “surely the best actors can do both.” (Weston, 1996, 145) Cage understands this. It is this restlessness in his search for truth that makes him so notable – looking at his body of work, he has played “yuppies, scumbags, honorable rogues, heroes, villains, a gangster, a lovelorn punk, a pair of screenwriters, a greasy weapons dealer, at least a dozen cops and ex-cons” (Gibb, 2015, 74) – the list goes on, and has taken to each role with his own take on it, more often than not fitting the part and turning the character he is playing into something unique. For this, he can surely never be called boring. His breadth of knowledge on the craft of acting indicates a man fully immersed in his craft: his use of voice and physicality, his use of working from the outside-in as much as inside-out, his understanding that costume and props can build a character, his interest in merging theatrical styles with more traditional screen acting styles, his lack of fear of playing characters new to him, his creation of new methods of acting; all of these things show an actor not just fully immersed in his craft but also fully dedicated to it. Weston states that “[t]he really great actors love their craft. They experience acting as a kind of laboratory of the soul, a means of exploration and growth” (Weston, 1996, 141) – this is certainly true of Cage, a man who has dedicated his life to exploration and growth not just in his life, but also in his craft. An actor who believes that it is important to “break as many rules as you can” (Cage, 2003), Cage always pushes forward, even when appearing in low-budget or mainstream films. It is this kind of attitude that sets him apart from most modern actors, many of whom are content to play similar roles time and time again, and it is this kind of attitude, along with his impressive body of work and expansive range, that puts Cage in the ranks of the greatest actors of all time.

 

 

Bibliography

Adler, S. Kissel, H. (2000) Stella Adler: The Art of Acting. Applause.

Brockes, E. (2013) Nicolas Cage: ‘People think I’m not in on the joke’ . [online] London: The Guardian. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/jul/20/nicolas-cage-frozen-ground [Accessed 28 March 2016]

Butler, J. (2007) Television: Critical Methods and Applications. London & New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Cage, N. (2003) Inside the Actor’s Studio: Nicolas Cage. [interview] Bravo. Interviewed by James Lipton, Inside the Actor’s Studio, Feb 16.

Dox, D 2014, ‘Shamanism’, Ecumenica, 7, 1-2, pp. 115-119, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 April 2016.

Ebert, R. (1995) Cage relishes operatic role in tragic ‘Leaving Las Vegas’. [online] Roger Ebert. Available from: http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/cage-relishes-operatic-role-in-tragic-leaving-las-vegas [Accessed 2 April 2016]

Ebert, R. (2008) Adaptation. [online] Roger Ebert. Available from: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-adaptation-2002 [Accessed 29 March 2016]

Gibb, L. (2015) National Treasure: Nicolas Cage. Toronto: ECW Press.

Hirsch, F, & Bell, J 2014, ‘BIRTH OF THE METHOD’, Sight & Sound, 24, 11, pp. 44-51, Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 April 2016.

‘Kabuki’ 2014, Encyclopædia Britannica, Research Starters, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 April 2016.

Keough, P 2010, ‘CAGE UNLOCKED’, Sight & Sound, 20, 6, p. 35, Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text, EBSCOhost, viewed 4 April 2016.

Moss, L. (2005) The Intent to Live: Achieving Your True Potential as an Actor. New York: Bantam Books.

Nordine, M. (2014) Nicolas Cage Explains His Acting Style, and His Legacy. [online] Los Angeles: LA Weekly. Available from: http://www.laweekly.com/film/nicolas-cage-explains-his-acting-style-and-his-legacy-4559572 [Accessed 29 March 2016]

Weston, J. (1996) Directing Actors: Creating Memorable Performances for Film and Television. California: Michael Wiese Productions.

Wood, J.M. (2015) 16 Wild Facts About ‘Wild at Heart’. [online] Mental Floss. Available from: http://mentalfloss.com/article/67686/16-wild-facts-about-wild-heart [Accessed 2 April 2016]

 

Filmography

Coppola, F.F. (dir.) (1984) The Cotton Club. [film] United States: Orion Pictures.

Figgis, M. (dir.) (1995) Leaving Las Vegas. [film] United States: United Artists.

Herzog, W. (dir.) (2009) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. [film] United States: Millennium Films.

LaBute, N. (dir.) (2006) The Wicker Man. [film] United States: Warner Bros.

Lussier, P. (dir.) (2011) Drive Angry. [film] United States: Summit Entertainment.

Lynch, D. (dir.) (1990) Wild at Heart. [film] United States: The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Murnau, F.W. (dir.) (1922) Nosferatu. [film] Weimar Republic: Film Arts Guild.

Neveldine, M & Taylor, B. (dirs.) (2012) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. [film] United States: Columbia Pictures.

Parker, A. (dir.) (1984) Birdy. [film] United States: TriStar Pictures.

Scorsese, M. (dir.) (1980) Raging Bull. [film] United States: United Artists.

Wiene, R. (dir.) (1920) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. [film] Weimar Republic: Decla-Bioscop.

 

Begotten

O, tattered skyline so many miles across

Greens, reds and silvers

Skellein structures and mismatched colours

Begotten

 

O, tattered skyline:
Greens, reds and silvers,
Skellein structures and
Mismatched colours;
The clouds gather
And watch it fall:
It has all escaped, now,
Betrayed,
Once loyal now in doubt—

Listen! The screams above:
The silence—
Their eyes—
Their movements—

Listen! The creaking below:
The sinking, bleeding—
The splinters—
Their creased wrinkles—

O, sunshine, break through:
Blue, azura, horrifying,
The sky now in sight,
Sounding lost:
Hallways;
Corridors;
Classrooms;
Offices;
Bedrooms;
Kitchens:
And inside every one,
A different cry.

 

Black Spots

Walking through black spots, wind […]

Black Spots

 

Walking through black spots, wind:
Sun-palmed trees, wrath of the beach—
The water beyond could drag me down;
Toes cling to sand for dear life.
We noticed the shadow of our friend,
Standing in the black spots,
Dragged by the wind,
Just thinking—

Archiving lists of gates and looms
In a library filled with sand—
Worried only by the leaping of beetles;
Vines, barrels full of beer, bitter.

Damned, deserted, upset:
Heralded;
Welcomed;
Abused.

Lost to the sea, drunk on a lilo, no horizon left
And swimming back to the dense streets of the city,
Where people scream, holler, revel—
And the feeling is mutual
When you say you don’t belong—

 

Essay: Third Cinema – A Cinema of War

Third Cinema purposefully deviated from classical Hollywood stylings; it saw classical Hollywood cinema as “synonymous with spectacle or entertainment: in a word, it was one more consumer good”, and that “[a]t best, films succeeded in bearing witness to the decay of bourgeois values and testifying to social injustice.”

Third Cinema – A Cinema of War

This piece looks at how Third Cinema purposefully deviated from traditional Hollywood norms so as to found a new type of cinema that could serve the people, by being in the hands of the people. It uses The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) as a case study, so as to see how Third Cinema aimed to separate itself from classical Hollywood cinema, or ‘First Cinema’ (as well as European auteur cinema, or ‘Second Cinema’). Third Cinema purposefully deviated from classical Hollywood stylings; it saw classical Hollywood cinema as “synonymous with spectacle or entertainment: in a word, it was one more consumer good”, and that “[a]t best, films succeeded in bearing witness to the decay of bourgeois values and testifying to social injustice” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) – likewise, Second Cinema, whilst seen as progressive compared to First Cinema, was seen to be limited by it still being within the bourgeois society, and as such was “doomed to wait until the world conflict was resolved peacefully in favour of socialism in order to change qualitatively.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969)

Progenitors of Third Cinema such as Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas, who introduced the term ‘Third Cinema’ (Willemen, 1989) in their seminal essay Towards a Third Cinema (Getino & Solanas, 1969), wanted to consciously break away from this style, and create cinema that had the potential to emancipate the lower classes by spreading awareness of the injustices being perpetrated against the people by a corrupt system – it was to be a cinema “committed to a direct and aggressive opposition to oppression” (Gabriel, 1982).

The Hour of the Furnaces, an actively revolutionary film made by Getino and Solanas before they wrote their formative essay, first debuted internationally at the Pesaro Festival in Italy in the June of 1968, (Mestman, 2013) and was one of the cornerstones in the process of forming the concept of Third Cinema. Getino and Solanas wanted to create a piece of cinema that actively moved directly away from escapism and entertainment, and instead highlighted the plight of those oppressed in their home country of Argentina. To do this, they decided that this film would have to be totally resistant to assimilation by the bourgeois system, by making sure that it not only had nothing to offer the system, but that it was also directly setting out to fight this perceived system. (Getino & Solanas, 1969)

This approach to filmmaking is perhaps the biggest way that The Hour of the Furnaces differs from mainstream Hollywood: it was a political act, not one born of a desire to make money, or even to create art just for art’s sake. Notions of a star system and the promotion of wholesome family values had no relevance to what Getino and Solanas wanted to achieve, and instead the ‘stars’ of the film were their subjects: the people of their home country. The film could be seen as a ‘subjective documentary’ – within the film, many Argentinian people of lower class are interviewed, and speak of the troubles that they are subjected to. In showing these real scenes, the film wants to put across its beliefs of inequality, and engage its intended audience – i.e., those seen in the film as well as intellectuals unhappy with the state of the country – into a violent, armed revolution. We are shown the massive social divide in Argentina, where the wealthy of Buenos Aires enjoy a comfortable, Westernised lifestyle and the lower classes and natives live in poverty, unable to change their situation. The film argues that the time for complacency is over, and that every citizen of Argentina should take a stand: “[t]he worker who goes on strike and thus risks losing his job or even his life, the student who jeopardises his career, the militant who keeps silent under torture: each by his or her action commits us to something much more important than a vague gesture of solidarity.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) This point of view can be seen in contrast to the Hollywood system, in its utter refutation of the status quo; generally by the conclusions of the Hollywood movies of the era, the status quo would be reinstated, backing up a lack of desire for change or not seeing a need for it in the world that these films represented. With The Hour of the Furnaces, Getino and Solanas aimed to break this status quo not in fiction but in real life, by refuting the positive view of the status quo in First Cinema.

Although the film is primarily a documentary, it still tells a story: by chronicling the oppression of a native people and the lower classes, we are still being subject to a narrative. However, unlike First Cinema, it is not structured in a typical way. The use of title cards, narration and music keeps the film’s sense of flow, but the film moves from place to place and from topic to topic freely, allowing us to take in the full breadth of the environments and situations that the film is addressing. It is not characters that the film centres on, but real people – so unlike traditional Hollywood, it is not fiction that drives this film, but something genuine. This could be seen as the filmmakers wanting to show the audience a full portrayal of the oppression in the country, so as to allow those less educated on their positions to start actively questioning the parts of their culture that are oppressing them. American culture permeates the film, but not in an unconscious way – the film bombards the audience with American adverts (including one scene intercut with the slaughter of cattle, thought to be a reference to ‘Second Cinema’ director Sergei Eisenstein (Schroeder, 2007)), and displays scenes of Argentinian youth who are dressed in highly Western-styled clothing and listening to American music. “We are taught to think in English” (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968), the voiceover says – and they want to change all of this, and allow Latin America to form its own identity free from Western influence, particularly the perceived neo-colonial influence of the United States.

Again, the story they are telling is true, and they want people to pay attention to it. The mode of address in the film is indicative of this: it speaks directly to its assumed audience of the people of Argentina, imploring them to bear arms against the oppressors. Whilst Hollywood films regularly employed voiceover narration, it was never as direct or incendiary as the voiceover work in The Hour of the Furnaces. This is cinema as war – Getino and Solanas saw themselves “acting as the cinematic insurgent patrol in the armies of liberation fighting colonialism and imperialism” (Brenez, 2012). The reality presented in the film was theirs also – a far cry from the distance between a Hollywood producer or director and the fiction of their film.

Third Cinema did not attempt to achieve the perfection and mass popularity that First Cinema strived for: in The Aesthetics of Hunger (Rocha, 1965), Rocha describes it as “a project that has grown out of the politics of hunger and suffers, for that very reason, all the consequent weaknesses which are a product of its particular situation” (Rocha, 1965). In fact, it was this technical perfection and need for appreciation that it railed against: it aimed for “a new kind of distribution, outside the circuits still dominated by Hollywood products.” (Armes, 1987) As opposed to the large, public theatres that Hollywood films would be shown in, The Hour of the Furnaces was screened at clandestine meetings, where the film could be stopped and be discussed (Shroeder, 2007); something that would likely have never happened at a screening of a Hollywood film. But again, it is not for entertainment that this film was made: it was to incite revolution, and every screening of the film ran the risk of being caught by the dictatorship that they lived under (Brenez, 2012). Hugely distinct from the family-orientated appeal of the Hollywood film, The Hour of the Furnaces transformed its audience “into responsible historical subjects, not because they did or did not agree with the content of the film, but by virtue of the very decision to attend, despite the threat.” (Brenez, 2012) To Getino and Solanas, “in Latin America, the war is waged principally in the minds of men” (The Hour of the Furnaces, 1968), so to allow discussion of their film during showings was a way of getting their audiences to think, which could lead to them enlisting their support to help overthrow the ‘System’. The imperfections in the method of distribution for the film were as important as the message they were spreading, even being a part of that message: the point of seeing this film was not to have an evening out with family or friends, but to take part in a social and political activity.

The production of the film, too, was in opposition to that of a Hollywood production. It was filmed clandestinely in between 1966 and 1968 (Schroeder, 2007) by Getino and Solanas, with them not only filming interviews with citizens of the lower classes and revolutionaries, but also collecting archive material and newsreels to splice into the film. (Mestman, 2008) The guerrilla nature of their filming made completion difficult, as they explained: “A lack of foresight which in conventional film-making would go unnoticed can render virtually useless weeks or months of work.” (Getino & Solanas, 1969) But this way of shooting a film shows how with the right amount of dedication a Third Cinema film can be produced; through careful planning, and by using whatever you have at hand or can find, the creative limits of the Hollywood production budget can be defeated. A Third Cinema film can “be created equally well with a Mitchell or with an 8mm camera, in a studio or in a guerrilla camp in the middle of the jungle” (Espinosa, 1969) ­– these limitations can be used to create art that consciously deviates from the norms of the art of the bourgeois – art that is inherently and proudly imperfect. Getino and Solanas harnessed their limitations and were able to create something truly unique with it, something one likely wouldn’t have found in any of the Hollywood films of the era. In The Hour of the Furnaces, “uncompromising raw footage is transmogrified into art, just as the alchemy of sound-image montage transforms the base metals of tiles, blank frames, and wild sound into the gold and silver of rhythmic virtuosity.” (Stam, 2003)

In conclusion, Third Cinema wanted to distance itself from Hollywood because of the oppressive bourgeois society that it helped to promote in Latin America; as seen with The Hour of the Furnaces, to achieve this it utilised as many techniques as it could to distance itself from the First Cinema, from the basic format of a story and using a realist and social documentary style to convey its message, to its guerrilla production methods, to its stance as a political and revolutionary movement. It is these approaches that allowed it to succeed in it breaking away from traditional Hollywood’s norms, and allowed it to become its own, unique form of cinema, one that could be used by any oppressed group around the world to make a statement about their condition of life. Seeing the camera and projector as a gun (Getino & Solanis, 1969) – a tool of war (and of change) – was a revolutionary step to take in the advancement of cinema, and it is this aggressively revolutionary stance that helps to make Third Cinema what it is; a cinema for the people, a cinema by the people, and, most importantly, a cinema that can strive to genuinely change the world; the fact that Third Cinema films aren’t always going to achieve their social or political goals is fine – it is an imperfect cinema, after all.

 

Bibliography

Armes, R. (1987) Third World Film Making and the West. Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Brenez, N. (2012) Light my fire: The Hour of the Furnaces. [online] London: BFI. Available from: http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/features/greatest-films-all-time-essays/light-my-fire-hour-furnaces [Accessed 15 December 2015]

Espinosa, J.G. (1969) For an imperfect cinema. In: Scott MacKenzie (ed.) Film Manifestos and Global Cinema Cultures: A Critical Anthology. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gabriel, T. (1982) Third Cinema in the Third World. An Arbor: UMI Research Press.

Getino, O. & Solanas, F. (1969) Towards a Third Cinema. [online] Documentary Is Never Neutral. Available from: http://documentaryisneverneutral.com/words/camasgun.html [Accessed 13 December 2015)

Mestman, M. (2008) The Hour of the Furnaces: Crafting a Revolutionary Cinema. [online] Vertigo/Close-Up Film Centre. Available from: https://www.closeupfilmcentre.com/vertigo_magazine/volume-3-issue-9-spring-summer-2008/the-hour-of-the-furnaces-crafting-a-revolutionary-cinema/ [Accessed 13 December 2015]

Mestman, M 2013, ‘The worker’s voice in post-1968 Argentine political documentary’, Social Identities, 19, 3/4, pp. 306-323, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 14 December 2015.

Rocha, G. (1965) The Aesthetics of Hunger. [online] Amherst College. Available at: https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/38122/original/ROCHA_Aesth_Hunger.pdf [Accessed 13 December 2015]

Schroeder, P. (2007) Violence and Liberation in The Hour of the Furnaces. [online] Senses of Cinema. Available from: http://sensesofcinema.com/2007/cteq/hour-furnaces/ [Accessed 14 December 2015]

Stam, R. (2003) Beyond Third Cinema: the aesthetics of hybridity. In: Anthony R. Guneratne and Wimal Dissanayake (eds.) Rethinking Third Cinema. New York: Routledge.

Willemen, P. (1989) The third cinema question: notes and reflections. In: Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (eds.) Questions of Third Cinema. London: British Film Institute.

 

Filmography

Getino, O. & Solanas, F. (dir.) (1968) The Hour of the Furnaces. [film] Argentina.

 

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around.

Voted Most Likely to Succeed

Drawing near to the end now. I’m ready for it. I think. Been waiting for them to come for me for a while now. It’s a nice room – not too cold, not too warm. Full air conditioning, what a rarity – and it’s quiet for miles around. It’s not my room. It’s far too messy. It’s far too neat. I can’t stand this silence. So bored of it. So bored!

There’s this word I’ve been trying to think of for weeks now, and I want to achieve this one last thing before I go. Waiting for a word. Waiting for the start of something new. Stand up now. Pace the room. Sit down. Pace the room. Pace!

There has to be a way to link this word to the present. I was jumping on a trampoline, in a sports centre, after school. No, no – that’s not it.

I was sitting in school, at some desk or other.

Scratched onto the desk were phrases:

            I was here.

            Get me out.

            I’m going to fail.

            Please let me die.

            Graham luvs Lucy.

It was during a test. Biology, or physics, or history, or geography. I did well. Sub-par for me, but I did well. Teacher walked past, checking to see if anybody had finished, even though they were supposed to put their hand up if they had. Maybe that was it, I don’t know. But Graham did love Lucy. They walked through the corridors together, perpetually, and probably still do. They made a fuss of each other on Valentine’s Day. It was actually pretty sweet. Florets, wrapped presents. Some kids thought they should just leave it for when they got home, but I thought it was sweet.

The wallpaper in here is disgusting. It’s not a colour I’d ever care to give a room in any house I owned. At least I don’t have to be here long. They’ll be here for me soon enough. The room is scattered with items: a stainless steel travel kettle, two lamps, a Bible, and for some reason an ashtray. There are ‘no smoking’ signs on the windows. I’m getting mixed signals. Good thing I quit smoking last week. I meant to do that earlier, and it’d have saved me all of this hassle if I had.

So last week I was driving home, a little faster than usual, when a homeless guy stumbled out into the road. There was a bit of a crunch, like I’d just hit a stack of extra-large boxes of cornflakes, and there’s this loud shout, so I got out of the car to see if he was alright. Turns out the crunch was just this big bag of luggage he carried around all over the place, people said he never took anything out or put anything in, but he always had it dangling off of his back. He didn’t sleep on it, or even rest his head on it – that’s what people told me. He wasn’t dead, but he looked a bit worse for wear. I apologised to him, and even though he was in a massively drunken state, he still muttered out:

“S’all right, yeah.”

He was a tough cookie, for sure. Nice guy. When my car collided with him, the first thought that went through my mind was that I had just killed someone. I can’t say I felt anything about it at first. When I discovered he was alive, I didn’t feel anything then, either. But when he brushed off the vehicular attack with such simple words, I felt grateful that I hadn’t killed him. Before then, I couldn’t have cared less, tell the truth. The whole scenario got me thinking…

None of this helps me remember this word, though. I haven’t got long, so I need to make sure I get this last little thing. I’m sure there’s some memory out there that’d just kick start my thoughts into a chain reaction that leads to this erstwhile piece of my lexicon.

Picking daisies in school. Best friends. Boyfriends. Summer evenings, fields. Rolling fields. Grass so green it looked like it had the contrast turned up digitally. Bales of hay as blonde and scrappy as my old dumb dog, that lanky old thing that lived to twenty-one and never learned to sit on command. Burnt toast in the morning that my brother hated, but I just couldn’t get enough of.

Not to say school wasn’t hell, I just don’t have time for those memories. Why waste precious time on bad things that will be irrelevant in an hour or two? I even have time for a cup of tea, I think. I have my bag on the bed. I rifle through it, taking out a couple of things, placing one on the desk and the other by the door. Pacing the room again. Making the tea, drinking the tea. Tea grew on me after a while, but for years I couldn’t stand it. I suppose you just have to find a brand or strain that agrees with you. The Trents next door drank all of those crazy herbal teas, but they did all of that kind of stuff. Not in my house, I’d only buy straight teabags from the local shop. But then eventually I was left alone in my house, and had nobody to deny other varieties of tea.

I sit down on the grubby single bed. The walls are too bare. It should never be this way – a room needs a personality. I take out a little pocket knife and carve into the wall, around knee-height and quite small:

            Holy motors make the world go ’round.

Time stands still for a moment as I look at the words. If it’d stand still forever then I would never be unhappy again.

It was only after me and my brother found the body did things start going wrong. It seems so long ago, and in reality it is. Many years now. But I think I could have found that body at any age and just accepted it. Maybe not the best reaction, but it was the one I had. I guess that was the start.

My brother and I, down by the riverside. The body washed up, bloated. Somehow its eyes were still open. It was propped up on a rock, staring at us. Took us a while to realise the person was dead. Seeing that once-human really struck me: it made me realise that I had no sympathy for the dead. I guess this line of thought isn’t proactive either, though; that word I still haven’t remembered won’t be found there. I’m pretty sure it starts with an ‘R.’ Three syllables – it shouldn’t be this difficult to remember.

The worst thing right now is the car that’s been running in the courtyard for the past five minutes. They won’t turn the engine off. The sound reminds me of the car my husband drove. That was before our crash. Before the driver of the other car had an argument with her family and drank a bottle of whiskey and started driving, swerving between lanes. Before our seatbelts jerked into place and bones were broken. Before the visits to the sterile rooms. Before the tubes, and the drips, and the sores. It was before the intermittent became the constant.

I guess she thought that she’d get away with it. The courts certainly let her. Well, eventually, she didn’t. This morning, she finally found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of four avenging wheels and the Devil’s engine. You should have seen her face.

But this isn’t helping. The last day of school: Antony charged up to the stage in the middle of the head teacher’s parting words. He made a fool of himself, gloriously so. It caused anarchy. Uniforms were burnt, schoolbooks added to the pyre. The police were called. There were no arrests at the scene; nobody knew what was going on. We weren’t violent, or violently treated. It was the last time that that many people I knew were that happy at the same time. You could feel it in the air: it crackled. It was our youth in full effect, and it was happening then, in that immediate moment. We had everything ahead of us, the whole world laid out in sweet chaos. Yes, I remember. I remember it all.

 

Paroxysm

The tower block collapses in the distance.

A lonely high-rise condemned

Just like we have been.

Paroxysm

 

Tower block collapses in the distance.
A lonely high-rise, condemned.

One side of a fifty-pence piece smiles.

You told me to be there at three,
But the roads were piled with the cars,
And the bodies:
Set off too late, and I could do
Nothing but stand.

Fires begin across the city.
Soon, the countryside burns, too.
The petrol that soaks the streets
Lights up in a line—

The sky is beautiful
And blue.