Tropical Appalachia

January, and it’s that proper cold
Flick my tongue out, taste the snow
Cold Reassurance of a world spinning on
Offered from the gray expanse above

A throwback
To the kiss of winters long gone
Icy winds blow ill
Crossing the threshold of my lips

Wishing to breathe the clock backwards
Before that cataclysmic industrial thaw
Ushered in the unease of
A Tropical Appalachia

71 degrees in January, Just last week
Everyone knows something is very wrong
As the minute hands crawls
Ever closer to that colossal Midnight

My best friend’s paws
Hallow
Hold
Every inch of ground
She walks upon

I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready.
I’m not ready

World Burns To Death

The lead up to another yet another war in the Middle East has me thinking a lot about the young punk rocker I was 17 years ago, and the music that provided the soundtrack to my small acts of resistance to the war machine. The recorded output of World Burns To Death came into sharp focus. Releasing 3 LPs and a handful of EPs before they faded away at the end of the 2000’s, World Burns To Death were at the forefront of American Hardcore Punk.

World Burns To Death wrote some of the most crushingly brutal D-Beat to grace our turntables, including a sonically harrowing concept album about the failures of state communism. Finding their EPs always felt like such an exercise in giddy horror, so much so that I remember finding one I didn’t have in the summer of 2004 while traveling and carefully wrapping it up in spare black crusty shirts in my pack and hopping trains all the way home to Denver with it in my pack. Stark black and white covers, and some of the most straightforwardly ugly lyrics, in the grand, desperate tradition of Discharge before them. Exactly what I needed. Exactly the ugliness I felt roiling inside of me every single day.

That whole summer, I struggled with a sense of despair so massive that I was quietly suicidal, though I told none of my friends. A sense of apocalyptic failure haunted my dreams. The Iraq war had entered its second year and the torrent of opposition to it that had flowed through the streets had dwindled to all but a trickle. That winter we learned climate change truly would be the doom of us all, and the burning world spun on. We drank like our livers wouldn’t last and the poison would let us forever opt out of a futile future. I made a tape of someone’s Sucking of the Missile Cock LP and listened to it on repeat, fantasizing about an ending in self-immolation every time Apparatus closed out the LP, so tired of all the horror, the hurt and the desperation for my life to mean something.

A friend said something to me the other night that really resonated about feeling all the same anger and motivation that we felt when we were young people circa 2002-03 during the lead up to the Iraq invasion, the weight of age having done little to dull those feelings, but they just come accompanied with so much more fear and absolutely none of the optimism nowadays. A feeling of “this could be it; the final war punks have been screaming about, living in fear of for our entire adult lives might be here” hangs heavy on the hearts of all the youth of yesterday I know.

It’s hard to look back at the years between then and now and recognize the ease with which the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually became relegated to the white noise of atrocity in the background while we all just tried to survive and make it to our thirties without catching felony charges or going to an early grave. There’s an undeniable privilege there, but if you’re reading this you probably know that already.

I feel that same despair today, but with almost two decades worth of cynicism and existential depression added to the pile. Whatever horrors those in power are readying to unleash on the world, I have little faith the left will mount any real resistance to. My cynicism and distrust make it hard to connect with community, in a time when we all just need each other. I’m in a new city alone, trying to live like the world isn’t collapsing. So I get up in the morning, eat my breakfast, walk my elderly dog, go to my dumb job, and try and find a dentist that will take my insurance in the feeble hope that my teeth will stop rotting out of my fucking skull, despite how regularly I brush and floss.

In solitude, I turn to music for solace, and these records still give voice to the seething revulsion I feel at the way power maneuvers throughout the world. The anger. The hopelessness. The Despair. I’ve realized lately that I’m at that age where I think I’m at that crossroads of settled into the music I love in a way that makes me less interested in newer punk, and finding myself drawn to music made by people my age or older who are still trying to be creative. More and more, I feel alienated from younger punks, too. With punks not always being the most long-lived people, 40 is roughly “ok boomer” age in punk rock.

It is what it is, but I also miss punk and need that shit more than ever lately.

If you are a creative person out there making music and art despite your despair, please keep creating.

CRUSHED!

I first encountered the music of Olympia, Washington’s Clayface during the summer of 2016.  At an early show show at the long since shuttered Obsidian bar to, be precise.  The music moved me for sure, but it was more of a gentle sway, and not the kind of elegant goth in black lace with a raven’s nest of hair sway, but just a “Hey, this sad music is pretty alright.  I’m fucking old and my back hurts and how come it’s so hard to go anywhere in this town without feeling like a thousand eyes are on you?” sway.  In fairness to Clayface, my inability to properly goth-sway had nothing to do their music, and everything to do with the sunlight creeping in through the door.   You see, dear darklings, these gloomiest of gloomsters, the heirs to 40 years of darkness and forgotten bedroom recordings with the feeling of a cold grave in autumn (in the best way!) simply had the rotten luck of opening the gig just after the 7:30 door time.  ‘Round the Pacific Northwest in the summer, well the sun doesn’t go down until 9:00.  We were stuck watching music I would later affectionately come to refer to as “Like if Robert Smith had way less money, and way more genuine misery” while the sun was still up, and goddamn if it wasn’t hard to feel the darkness a little less in the presence of the sun.  Creatures of the night don’t stalk the streets during the light of day, and I can all but gurantee you Peter Murphy would throw an absolute prima donna shitfit if Bauhaus had ever been asked to play a gig beneath the burning day-moon.

Somewhere in the years that followed ( I don’t remember when, because so many gray days long since blurred together and I always joked that every year spent in Olympia aged my pretty face twice that.) I came to actually know the music of Clayface and call Jacob a friend.  I couldn’t tell you when, but I’m pretty sure I was standing on the back table next to the devil statue at Cryptatropa watching the band absolutely scorch through Sister Is Dead, the title track of their sole LP when I just sorta got it.  The story behind the record is not mine to tell, but I will say this:  Lots of people experience tragedy.  Sometimes its hard to not feel like life is just a series of reprieves between the tragedies that define us.  I can also say that I know few people who people who have come out the other side of their tragedies making art as painfully honest, vulnerable and beautiful as Sister Is Dead.  It remains one of my favorite records to come out of Olympia.  A quiet and sadly dignified, criminally overlooked slab of wax sulking in the shadows between your RVIVR’s and your G.L.O.S.S’s and your Wolves In The Throne Room’s.

I was lucky enough to go on tour with Clayface and Harsh R, an equally beloved project making fucked up abyssal noise in the dank and dark venues of Olympia.  To this day, I count that week traveling up and down the west coast just at the end of a dry summer, heavy with wildfire smoke lugging heavy ass equipment and boxes of records as the highlight of my 2018, if not the entirety of my time in Olympia.  Last spring when I left for an extended absence, my last night in town, I went to see Clayface play and stood at the soundboard next to Avi laughing and crying all at once.  Thinking “Goddamn, if this song doesn’t just rip my heart out every time, and I love that Avi is all grins anyway.”  A perfect sendoff from a town I loved and hated to drive three thousand miles through the rain into uncertainty.  I wore my Clayface shirt the whole drive.

The morning was already hot and dry this July when Jacob and I caught up at a vegan restaurant on Capitol Avenue.  I was sad to hear him say he was thinking of retiring the Clayface moniker for something fresher, maybe a little less heavy.  I was relieved to hear him say the project already had a name and was beginning to play gigs.  Only recordings so far are a nightmarish soundtrack to a short flim made by Jacob.  I haven’t seen the film, but after listening to this, I fear the images that might haunt me in my sleep when I inevitably pass out as soon as I’m done typing this mess.  The first track is deceptively soothing, drawing the listener in, lulling them to a false sense of rest before the nightmares move in.  My first thought was how much this too short of a recording reminded me of the Hellraiser Themes by Coil without sounding derivative.  I mean that as a compliment of the highest order.  I’d like to think John Balance and Peter Christopherson are smiling from whatever acid-laced glitched out afterlife they inhabit.

Listen to Crushed here!

Clayface

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Clayface, September 2018.  Riverside, California.  Photo by Sass

HARSH R

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Harsh R.  September, 2018.  Arcata, California (I think) Photo by Sass

 

A sadness spell.

Close the blinds in my room
Blackout curtains drawn against the gray
Morning light greeting the world outside
Last night, the hands of the clock hovered at 2 AM
For four hours straight
I’m on my lonely bedroom bullshit again
Spirit whispers scratch pen to paper
A poem written to no-one and nothing
Save for the safety of locked doors
Shelter found behind four walls
A monument to empty rooms

A recurring theme, for sure
I just need the quiet tonight
With the sound of East Carson
Ringing in my ears for hours
After I punch the clock

The smell of smog and exhaust
Coats my throat
Sticks to the inside of my lungs
I love this city, or I don’t
Or I like it as much as anything else
That passes for home these days

I fear the cold hand of death reaching down to collect
This tired body, sending it on its way
To greet the heart I long ago discarded
Visions of the end
Out here on the pavement, alone
Crushed under under the tread
Of indifferent wheels running
The race to nowhere fast
A casualty cast to concrete canyons
With those mountains so beloved
So far gone to shadow
Of memory and time running low

Pedal to the pavement, anyways
Playing the odds
It’s the end of days
Or so they say
And nobody can think
Of anything better to do.

Falling Asleep to 1990’s marketing Extravaganza Dick Tracy

The plot isn’t much to speak of
Scattered and hard to follow, but the colorful and garish
Sets, they just soothe the edges of my soul
Eyes adjusting to the darkness ahead of rest

I might always live like
A faceless wraith stalking my way
Through the avenues and alleyways
And haunted spots of anytown, USA

I liked that about the movie
How those obviously painted hulking
Concrete and steel monstrosities
Static and frozen, yet still somehow in motion

Could be a metaphor for the underbelly
Of any city, the concrete canyons of New York
The cold labyrinthine streets
Carving the wastes of Chicago

Okay, those are actually the only
Two cities that come to mind
When I think about just where
“The City” might have been based on

Not nearly enough sunshine
For the soulless sun soaked streets of LA
But I’ve always been such a sucker
For a hardboiled detective anyway

I love the two-dimensional villains
Out to get theirs at any cost
All physically deformed and amoral
Impeccably dressed in tailored suits all the same

After a day’s worth of eating shit and air pollution
Cutting two wheels across cold pavement
For a hundred bucks and some exercise
Knees that creak and wrists that ache

I think I understand
Just how busted hands
Could reach for a gun
Trading the violence wrought

On aging bones
Through toil and exhaustion
At the end of every workday
For the violence of

Striking out into the cold
Of this heartless world
To take what’s rightfully yours
Instead of what those hogs at the top say you deserve

So meet me tonight at the docks
Underneath a yellow moon peering
Indifferently though the smog
Down at streets seeped in soul and sorrow below

I’m a sultry songstress
Bruised but unbroken, just like you
Always on the same side
With a loaded .45

Pressed against my thigh
Sticking to circles of streetlight
Until the hour arrives
To slink back into the shadows

Of The City and strike
Out at its black heart
Because in this life
There are hard truths they teach us

Before we can even grow
First and foremost
We come to know
That only suckers fight fair

Divination I

Tonight I’m a screaming skull
Filled with racing thoughts
Sheltered in the silence
Of these four walls
Hidden, always hidden
From the world outside the window

The gray and the rain
Remind me too much today
Of the that place
Home, never quite a home
But close enough for half a decade

I left it all behind
With no small amount
Of shadow songs and regret
The great loves
The half-friends
The gossip, pettiness, the cruelty
An insular (cult)ure
Of curated disposability

Back against the wall
Turning away from the crowd
Never knowing just
Who to trust
Waiting by the phone
For calls that never come
In the company of
That damp cold that
Seeps into your bones
The nights spent
Hungry, paranoid and alone

The world revolving around
That tiny town
Feels such scripted
Pageantry now
All the young rebels
Marching up and down
4th Avenue playing their roles
Under careful control
The cops crack skulls
The kids slink home
Sedate for now
While the wars
(all of them) Rage on

My first day of driving
I pulled off the highway
Somewhere outside of Spokane
I cried for an hour like that
While semis sped past
Letting the last five years
Pour out of me like a hard rain
Washing over the rumble and roar
Of that long road forward, searching for safety
Then I drove to a motel
And cried the night through

I thought about turning around then
Maybe this was all a mistake
I thought to myself
With a motel room television flickering
Soundtrack for panic upon panic piling
Up to the ceiling

Wondering how to make
A city born without a heart work
Maybe I didn’t swing hard enough
Dig in, stay long enough
Carve a place to belong
In hell’s gray mouth
While the years bled from one into another

Maybe if I had just found
A room that had ever let me rest
Found a way to escape the circle chase
Of low-intensity class warfare
Finally thrive instead of just survive

Our goodbye was tedious, at best
Going through the tired motions
Of burning love I’d long since
Grown cold towards
A kiss goodbye
The words “you’re killing me”
Pressed sadly against my lips
The hard as nails awareness
Of just how softly love
Melts into cold indifference
Or mere curiosity

I read in another poem once
That the recipe for murdering
Someone is as follows:
Kiss that person
Then never speak to them again
It wasn’t the intention
But it was the outcome nonetheless

You made a joke years ago:
“I can’t wait to see what
You write about me when we’re done.”

Well, love
Here you are
This is your poem
An afterthought to an epilogue
For something else
A shadow of a shadow

An ode to cities that
Never quite lived up
To the promise they held
Communities that care forgot
and love left to rot.