Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Duncan's Patent Remedy

So it's been an... interesting month or so here at the Geek Show, since I came back from the Czech Republic, with more ups and downs than an uppy-downy thing. The biggest down? Broke up with the Boy Kitten after, well a long period of mutual dissatisfaction, in-depth discussion and reluctant re-evaluation. Tis not business to be blathered on the interwebs, but suffice to say, it's all for the best and we remain the best of friends. Not that an amicable split precludes one from the pain of recognising that "it just ain't gonna work", the... mourning for those moments of infatuation and intimacy when you thought it was "meant to be", but c'est la vie, as they say when that's gone away, and Duncan's Patent Remedy to all such ills comes into play, this being, of course, to get yerself a nice big box of red wine, and drink through the night while listening to this over and over again:

Only one night is allowed here, mind. Because step two must be initiated while that red wine is flowing, said step two being a marathon DVD session of Black Books as part of the attempt to perform that all-important personal transformation. Be warned; the first stage of this reforging of the soul is not pretty, because it involves turning into this:

The consequences of this debauchery and dissolution may be unpredictable on some level, but rest assured, they're not permanent:

Or at least, they shouldn't be. The aim here is, of course, catharsis rather than actual alcoholism, and the use of Bernard Black as a sort of totemic symbol, an archetype to be adopted, to be mimicked as in a shamanic metamorphosis... well, it's all about the humour. The wallowing in self-pity is inevitable. Don't fight it. No! Rather, throw yourself into it with utter abandon, with such ridiculous extremity that you become a parody of pathos. This is one of the secret, sacred rites of Dionysus, you know; it's the reason every trilogy of tragedies performed in ancient Greece was capped-off with a satyr play to send the audience home in stitches after slicing and dicing their heart with the pity and terror of reality.

OK. Once the self-satirising Bernard Black persona has become fully inhabited, stage three is to employ it. This can be achieved to the required height of ridicule by means of, for example, a small excursion with one's fellow boho waster friends to visit a mutual friend now married with their second child just born, living in the leafy suburbs of SUVs and lacy curtains, fresh-cut lawns and pebble-dashed cottages. Like Bernard Black dropped into an episode of Desperate Housewives, a shambling tramp of a wanderer in Wisteria Lane, clad in yer long black coat on a fine and sunny day, a fag dangling from yer mouth (a glass of red wine in one hand is optional, as this may well be a step too far for the fair citizens of suburbia), you're aiming for the apotheosis of absurdity, amigos.

Childe Bernard to the White Bungalow came.

Oh, in order to achieve this effect properly, one should -- as one has managed to do on all previous visits to aforesaid friend -- manage to get on entirely the wrong train and have to change at a station along the way, thus reinforcing the awareness of one's bohemian irresponsibility and general disorganisation. One must revel in the role of the reckless wanton. As the Church of the SubGenius tells us, too much is never enough; and fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

Step four may actually be implicit within stages two and three, since the partner of drink is, of course, song. In the previous clips, in fact, the role of Neil Diamond and one's own tuneless "sinigng" needs no further comment (my own equivalent of Bernard's Irish songs, btw, being the absinthe and Aeschylus sodden soundtrack in my head to me own "gay punk Orpheus musical" Nowhere Town... in case ye were wondering). But I separate this out as a distinct stage in the process because what is required is more than just saccharine sentiment and maudlin mumblings. What one needs, amigos, is Rock and Fucking Roll.

So it was that, with my good mates Francis and Andy, I wandered up to Eruption, an evening of bands and burlesque at the Halt bar in the West End of Glasgow, where the support act, The Fnords, set the tone for the evening with some in-yer-face surf-punk garage-rock, loaded with vim, vigour and viscerality. This would have been well cool as it was, but two added bonuses were thrown into the evening for good measure. The first of these was bumping into James "Beard" of drone rock band, The Radiation Line, a fine fellow with a fine line in facial hair who came up to me months ago after the Mono charity gig to suggest a collaboration. More of this later.

The second bonus of the evening was the headline act, Rob K and Uncle Butcher, who I can only begin to describe. Here's a taste first:

To give ye some context, after The Fnords, the burlesque portion of the evening consisted of a charming wee lass doing her not-too-seedy strip-show in that modern mode of burlesque that seems to have grown out of the Glasgow easy listening and DIY cabaret scene. We're talking cheese rather than sleaze here, kitsch and cute rather than tawdry and tacky. More bawdy fun than bare flesh. But imagine that in the background, as this wee slip of a lass is performing, this dude in leather trousers and lounge-singer frilly shirt is wandering about, looking louche and lusty. Is he part of the act or just some passing punter? Tom Waits hair and John Waters moustache, he looks sprta like a dissolute Lyle Lovett. There's an air of debauchery that might be a show or might just be for real.

Then he comes on stage.

Hailing from Hawaii, in his fifties and on the verge of quitting the whole music thing entirely, we'll find out as the show progresses, Rob K (for Kennedy) started getting these songs emailed to him over Myspace from a fellow madman in Sao Paulo -- Uncle Butcher -- who accompanies him now on guitar and drums (yes, simulataneously). And what they launch into is a set of raw and rocking Stooges-style solid sound. The bar is not that busy, the crowd a bit blase, but Rob K doesn't give a fuck. He sings, he preaches, he rants, he reaches, he wanders out into the audience, does handstands on the stage, climbs up onto the bar. He may look like the ungodly offspring of Tom Waits and John Waters, but, baby, that child was born possessed by the spirit of Iggy Pop.

I could rant and rave about it, about how he grabs a largely impassive audience by the balls and, by the end of the show, has them roaring for more, about the encore that nobody wants to end, about the fuck-it-let's-just-keep=playing-while-the-bar's-still-open sheer bloody energy of it all, about chatting to Rob K after the show about his Scottish roots, buying the CD and urging him to come back to Glasgow, wishing I had some booze back in the flat so I could invite these dudes back for a drink. But it wouldn't do it justice. All ye really got to know is that he gave us a good old-fashioned fucking *show*. Rock and Roll, motherfuckers. Savage, sexy, snarling salvation, testified by Brother Rob with backing by the sainted Uncle Butcher.

Best gig of the year, Francis and I agree as we depart.

Little do I suspect I'm going to see a show to rival it in under a week's time.

Before we get to that though, back to James Beard and The Radiation Line. I haven't seen these guys perform, but check out their MySpace. Those of a more delicate sensibility may want to skip the first track which is bona fide noise rock, not for everyone's taste by any means; listen to any of the other tracks though and ye might understand why I'm really rather digging our plans to do some shit together. What kind of shit exactly? Well, there's one project that I'll keep under wraps at the moment, as I don't know whether it'll come to pass in the way we're hoping, or even how public it's meant to be just now. What I can say is that I went into the studio with James and Ewan from the band the other week to lay down my ranting recitations of Sonnets For Orpheus and Still Lives, the plan being for them to take those tracks away and add in some ambience and atmosphere. Might be quiet, might be loud, might be soft and sweet, might be dissonant and disturbing; but I'm damn sure it's going to kick arse. If I recall correctly, James told me, when we were first chatting about doing something like this, that his favourite lines in the sonnets were those about Old Nobodaddy Zeus and the power of music:

What sort of threat to Him was Orpheus's lyre?
Only the greatest, motherfuckers, since a lightbringer's theft of fire.

Heh. I think we're on the same page of the book, meself and The Radiation Line.

One nice side-effect of this was a wee spot on Glasgow University's student radio station, Subcity Radio, on "The Self-Raising Flour Hour of Power" (to which I'll add a link as and when the recording of the show is posted as part of the "listen again" malarky they have going). Which was fun. I think this was my first live radio appearance, but it was nice and straightforward, with me reading the first four of the Sonnets For Orpheus and, thankfully, not having to mumble ill-considered responses to unexpected questions. They just pointed me at a microphone and let me spew some vitriol. Cool.

Music, music and more music. The icing on the cake of it all, the cherry on that icing, was getting a text message from another mate, Mike who turns out to have a spre ticket for Amanda Palmer at King Tut's. Now Tut's is a small venue but it's one of the best in Glasgow -- as much because of that as despite it. It's the stage where Alan McGee discovered Oasis. It's the stage where I first saw British Sea Power. It's the sort of venue that bands play when they're not quite up to the point of filling a ballroom venue like the Barralands or the Carling Academy. It's the sort of venue where a level of intimacy can be achieved that you just can't get in those larger gigs.

Now, it goes without saying that Amanda Palmer is fucking awesome (though I will, needless to say, be telling you more about it in a moment). But if you haven't heard of Jason Webley, the second support act touring with her, man, you're missing something wonderful. Like some absinthe-sodden accordian-playing busker, ripping songs of death and drink from his broken heart, the man both rocked and ruled. Who couldn't love a song titled "Dance While the Sky Crashes Down"? Highlight of his set though, is probably this drinking song:

The strange ending of that video, btw, appears to be his solution to the problem of an audience not quite enthusiastic enough because they don't feel quite pissed enough. Said solution, in Tut's, involved getting the audience to point directly upwards and stare at their fingers while circling twelve times... his count to twelve running about half the speed that the audience were turning at... and running backwards on a couple of occasions just for good measure. The result wasn't just an incredible set with an audience completely into his brand of raucous... alt folk? cabaret rock? fuck knows what you'd call it. The result was also me buying all three of his CDs at the merchandise table and blathering embarrassingly at him afterwards about how cool it was while I got him to sign them. I think it's safe to say he has a new fan. I may even have drunkenly emailed him after the gig in order to enthuse even more embarrassingly. But, hey, I have no shame, and *I* like those sorta emails, so I can only assume others get the same kick out of them that I do.

But it doesn't end there. The incomparable Jason Webley was, after all, only the support for the amazing Amanda Palmer. Fuck knows, if I couldn't do Rob K and Uncle Butcher justice, if I can only give you a vague notion of how great Jason Webley was, it's totally fucking hopeless with Amanda Palmer. I mean, I'm assuming that ye've heard The Dresden Dolls. Fuck, if you haven't, go out now and get yerself the CDs. Listen to "Coin-Ooperated Boy", "Girl Anachronism" or "Bad Habit". Fuck it, just listen to this pair of songs from her solo album:

The way this was done on stage... well... the first song was done with a different spoken word bit at the start, one more pointed and pertinent to the Columbine inspiration; to say it was more powerful is the understatement of the century. Also, part of the whole set was a group of Australian street performers adding an element of cabaret to the proceedings. Having them walk on in single file for "Strength Through Music", in school uniforms, hands on heads, was a different kind of theatrically though, and with the sudden segue into "Guitar Hero", the use of miming in that song... man, the effect was skin-tingling, and the finale electrifying. I say "finale"; I mean the finale of the song, cause that was just the middle of the set. The actual finale of the set I sort of lost track of between the multiple encores -- with the sudden appearance of a full brass section from the edges of the audience, the impromptu rendition of "Living on a Prayer" by everyone involved in the night's proceedings, audience included, and the heartbreaking rendtion (as the final, final, *final* song) of "Hallelujah" which weirdly enough was playing on the jukebox downstairs earlier in the evening, as I waited for Mike to arrive with the tickets. I'd sat there thinking just how poignant the song was, how touching. I'm not ashamed to say that her performance of it brought tears to my eyes, though this may have been due in part to the (apparently impromptu) accompanying performance by two of the Australians, who came on in silence just after the second verse, with its... terrible, tender lyrics:

"she tied you to her kitchen chair
she broke your throne and she cut your hair
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah"

And one of them with dreadlocks sat on a chair while the other cut them, this simple action, *surely* spontaneous, somehow crystallising the sense of loss, transforming the entire gig into something more than music and theatrics, into a ritual communion. It was one of those rare moments when you sense that your hoarse-throated applause, your stamping feet, your hands clapped till they're painful, that all of that has been truly recognised, that the night has been as special for the performers up there on stage as it was for the audience, that when Amanda Palmer joked about being kicked out of the US is McCain and Palin got in, and you shouted out "Come here!" and the Glasgow crowd roared their assent, their ferociously competitive hospitality, their insanely committed welcome, that when she said she'd be seriously tempted she was, indeed, seriously fucking thinking about it.

Watching that performer having his dreadlocks slowly snipped off one by one, I couldn't help thinking that this was something they just *couldn't* do every night, that you can't grow dreadlocks back in a night, that we were on the third encore here besides, and the song being sung a song played on the jukebox just a few hours earlier; couldn't help but wonder whether Palmer had requested that song with the thought "just in case" in mind, or simply been reminded of its beauty as it was piped into her dressing room, perhaps, or whether it was all just beautiful chance. Either way, I couldn't help thinking that I was witnessing something profoundly personal, symbolically so, in the cutting of those dreadlocks, that this third encore song was a *true* encore, entirely unplanned, and that, as caught up in the moment as the enthralled audience, the performer had chosen to make a... one-off sacrifice for this crowd, this club, this night, this moment. Fuck, maybe I'm just a sucker for good showmanship, but frankly I don't know and I don't care. The effect was incredible. A good gig doesn't just entertain you; it enraptures you, transports you; it lifts you up out of your dull cares and shows you what really matters in life, offering meanings that are more than mere moral messages, passion that washes over you and through you, fires you up with a fierce desire to grab onto everything that the music is telling you is there in life to be grabbed, everything that *must* be grabbed in order to be living at all.

And, that, amigos, is how you deal with a break-up that leaves you kinda down no matter how much you knew it had to be that way. That's stage four of Duncan's Patent Remedy for Lost Love and a Sorrowful Soul.

Stage five? Well, that's everything that comes after, which is entirely up to you.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hal Brother
We are BACK in Glasgow this weekend. The eleventh at Stereo and the 12 at Halt 2 again. I hope you can make it! Maybe we can go to Maybole - we have a day off on the 13th. Write us or my home mail It would be great to see you again!

7:35 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Excellent news, man! And email winging its way through the aether towards you as we speak. We should totally grab some beers together, amigo.

And as for anyone in Glasgow reading this... you heard the man: Stereo on the 11th and The Halt 2 on the 12th you want to be in this brother's congregation, trust me.

8:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oi Al
When we come back we gotta a Brazilian film babe (City Of God!) following us around filming us. We also got a couple days to kill before Brum. So wanna have a party in Ayreshire? We'll play ANYWHERE for free on Mon or Tues if anybody can figure out how to get us there and back. HOUSE PARTY BROTHER!!!!

1:35 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Cool! Talking to Francis and he's muttering about a plan. No idea what it is yet, but *I'm* intrigued. Feel free to email me direct, btw, on hal AT halduncan DOT com, and I'll get my cellphone number to you for contact purposes.

Cheers, brother!

5:57 pm  
Blogger J m mcdermott said...

This is always such sad news.

I hope things get better sooner rather than later, for you, muchacho.

2:52 am  

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