Monday, November 7, 2011

In the Van: "This Illusion": A story based on "Feel" by Big Star

This week's story is up over at Prime Number Magazine, a great little online journal that you should definitely flip through for awhile. The story is based on the song "Feel" by Big Star, one of my favorite bands. This is my first attempt at incorporating a female magician into one of my stories. I like her a lot, so maybe she'll be back.

Check it out!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Updates and Downtime

In the past two months, I've done 53 submissions, mostly flash fiction. Of the responses I've gotten so far, I've gotten 22 rejections, 6 acceptances, and 1 acceptance that had some conditions I didn't agree to, leading me to politely decline publication. Also, I had to make three retractions due to the rules of simultaneous submissions: if something get picked up, let the other journals know immediately so they don't waste time reading bullshit they can't have.

From work on this project, in addition to other writing I've been able to squeeze in when I can, I've amassed quite the backlog of work: 70+ pieces of flash fiction (of varying levels of quality, of course). I'm glad I'm finally getting an opportunity to spread it all around. With this deluge of good fortune, I'm anticipating the inevitable drought when all my quality work is (hopefully) snatched up and I'm back to square one.

For now, another week with no new story. I'll be back next week with something new. For now, check out the harvest . . .

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"Always Say the Person's Name" is based on "Ode to Billie Joe" by Bobbie Gentry and was suggested by writer Jenny Diski, originally for OBCBYL story 013. It's up now in issue #31 of The Legendary. This is my big Amy Hempel rip off. Or at least as close as I'm going to get to one.


The Legendary


"Look At How Fast I Can Go Nowhere At All" is based on "Life Passed Me By" by Super Stereo and was suggested by Jersey Devil Press Assistant Editor Monica Rodriguez for OBCBYL story 027. It's up now on I was totally lost on this story--the original draft was more of a shitty extended scene that didn't make much sense--until some veteran at work randomly told me the story of the USS Indianapolis. I went right home after work and came up with what is now the actual story.



A first sentence I wrote for 50-to-1--they only publish stories under fifty words or the first sentences of stories that don't exist--is up right here. I wrote the line a year or two ago as an exercise in a workshop and never really planned on writing the whole story. At least some good came from it.




"When There Is No Road" is based on "Rock N Roll" by Paleface and was suggested by Monica "Mo" Samalot of Paleface for OBCBYL story 019. It will be appearing in the next issue of Literary Fever, under the theme of "Fortune Favors the Bold." I love boxing stories, and they always turn out pretty well for me. Kristie at Literary Fever said they were missing "the fight" for this issue, and "When There Is No Road" totally did it for them.

Literary Fever


"Layers" is based on "Undone (The Sweater Song)" by Weezer and was suggested by two girls in a young adult writing workshop I was moderating. It will be up as of December 5th on the short short section of the Fiction At Work website. I had the kids write to music they had never heard before, and in trying to get me back they picked out "the weirdest song" on one of their iPods. I've played this song in front of crowds more than they've heard it. I think I wrote the story in about fifteen minutes.

Fiction At Work


"This Illusion" is based on "Feel" by Big Star. It will be appearing in the next update on issue 13 of Prime Number Magazine (Prime Decimal 13.2). This is the publication I'm most excited about, as I really dig a lot of the work PNM puts out, including this killer story by OBCBYL contributor Kevin Wilson.


Prime Number Magazine


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Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Magic In Reverse": A story based on "If You Love Someone, Set Them On Fire" by Dead Milkmen, as suggested by writer Danger_Slater (43/100)

Magic In Reverse

Life had felt backwards for so long that when the police asked me to start at the beginning, I told them, “I set her dad on fire,” which was actually what I had just gotten done doing. The real first thing was sitting in Leah’s room, me naked and her in knee-length socks. She’d light my leg hair on fire and we’d watch it curl up from its ends in long strips all along the meat of my calf and shin. She liked the smell of atmosphere tangling with actuality, like old body wrestling new air. We’d try to save some of my leg for the next time, but after I’d go through and light up the static and fuzz of her socks, we’d move on, all the way up past my thigh. The knobs of my ankle and knee were ruby colored and pulsing with warm irritation. We stopped and looked down, one leg normal, the other smooth and dappled with black hairs pinpricking out of splotches of white and red skin. She begged me to do the light blonde hairs on her arms and then, after that, the almost invisible swatch of white hair on the small of her back. It all went up like magic in reverse: the poof, the sprinkle of dust. She laid me on my stomach and went down my shoulders and back where there was hardly anything to burn. She flipped me over, did my chest and armpits slowly so I felt the flush of heat go through me and then back again. She took off her socks and then spread her legs. The hair was trimmed but still feral and mostly untamed. As if painting with light breaths in winter, I took the flame and lapped away at it. We were hot to the touch and her bed was covered with tiny balls of ash. We went to the garage and found some oil rags and a tank of kerosene. We lit them on fire and let them slide down our chests quickly, the warmth like opening an oven and then closing it immediately. I tore a strip off one of the rags and tied it to her finger. Nobody did anything for a moment and then she tied a rag around each of her ankles and wrists. I lit the rag on her left wrist and then she touched it to the rag on her left ankle before bringing her feet and wrists together like closing a book. She ran out of the garage and into the front lawn. We still didn’t have clothes on. She did naked cartwheels and the flames made her look like a circle rolling around the yard. I stood on the front porch and sprayed kerosene onto the legs of the wicker furniture. It was then that her dad came out. He was the doctor who delivered me when I was born, and when he came at me with open arms, I could only remember the thing I surely couldn’t remember from my first seconds of life, his covered face and hands-on greeting that pulled me into the world. That was the real first thing. I loved him, and I flicked the lighter once, twice.



The Dead Milkmen are a punk rock band from Philly. The are probably the silliest band to ever be named after something from a Toni Morrison book. I'm meeting Joe Jack Talcum next week, so that's pretty cool.

Danger_Slater is the world's most dangerous writer. Much like The Ultimate Warrior, he is from Parts Unknown. Much like Queen Latifah, he resides in New Jersey. Danger_Slater is an agent of the theater of the absurd. As a dude who really gets his rocks off writing and reading work in the style of traditional literary fiction from the 1970s and 1980s, I'm often completely lost when reading a Danger_Slater story. Sometimes there's a guy with a banana for a head and sometimes someone takes a shit that isn't actually their shit. (I'm proposing that last sentence for the official Danger_Slater biography to be released in fifty years or so.) You can buy his debut novel Love Me from Amazon and then head on over to Jersey Devil Press and tell them they did a wonderful job putting it out.

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Next week: Uhh, something.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Is That You John Wayne? Is This Me?": A story based on "It's a Long Road" by Dan Hill, as suggested by musician Topon Das of Fuck the Facts (42/100)

Is That You John Wayne? Is This Me?

The tall girl with roses on her dress rubs a hand up the inside of Deacon’s thigh and grabs him firm in the crotch. She’s spilled peach schnapps down her chin and neck and breasts, where it’s dried in a narrow stream and soaked into the top hem of the mostly white dress. Instead of that, Deacon thinks about Vietnam and how he got drafted, how he didn’t pass the physical and isn’t actually going.

“The way having no arches works is that there’s a minor-but-ignorable discomfort when spending long stretches of time standing or walking,” the doctor told Deacon, “and the arrival of the overall pain is not unlike a hand grenade with a two decade waiting period.”

He’ll need a cane within five years, a wheelchair within ten. So, Deacon’s not going to Nam. The girl with roses on her dress has two friends, one tall and one short, who are drinking whiskey out of champagne flutes and trying to get Deacon to go take pictures of them playing dress-up back at the short one’s house. He’s going there.

The girls are college freshmen with undeclared majors. Deacon follows them outside and hails a cab. The women pile in first, followed by Deacon crunching in next to the tall one with the lilies on her dress. He wants to change out of his tux first but the girls tell him not to. When he goes to loosen his tie, Lilies takes his hand and puts his middle finger in her mouth, removing it slowly around the circle of her lips.

The girls are talking amongst themselves. Roses pulls out a joint and passes it to Shorty, who lights it up and drags deeply. Lilies is waiting for the joint, and in the meantime she massages the sides of her thighs with her thumbs and palms and manages to wiggle out of her panties. The other girls laugh and do the same.

The cab pulls up in front of Shorty’s house, a mile outside of downtown, a place where the protests have tapered to one woman with an acoustic guitar sitting on the curb and strumming the chords to “One Tin Soldier” and “Waist Deep In the Big Muddy.” Deacon pays the cab driver while the girls stumble to the house, lifting up each other’s skirts and laughing obnoxiously. As soon as they get in the door, Lilies kisses Roses on the cheek clumsily and then licks the side of her face. Roses takes two steps forward and shoves her hand up Shorty’s dress in slow motion and then shoves her entire hand in her mouth.

They throw Deacon a camera and take turns running in and out of Shorty’s room with different outfits on, none of which fit the two taller girls. Deacon snaps picture after picture and the girls mostly ignore him except for the few seconds they stop to strike a pose in front of him. They’ve given up on undergarments and come out of the room with a breast hanging out or their pubic hair puffing up from the top of unfastened polyester pants. After about twenty minutes of the girls rotating outfits and revolving around the camera like a cyclone, Deacon doesn’t even bother aiming his shots anymore. He holds the camera to his side with both hands and clicks the button as if he’s in the war.

“Let’s go kill someone,” Deacon says.

The girls have started drinking again, relentlessly and without purpose. Shorty is the first to say something, which is “Let’s fucking do it.” Everyone’s quiet for a second until Lilies pushes Roses and then laughs. They all start laughing and shoving one another, throwing fake punches and then real ones. Shorty takes a right hook to the eye and throws haymakers out like hummingbird wings until, within seconds, everyone but Deacon has a bloody nose. They won’t stop laughing.

They don’t call a cab this time, they just take off toward downtown, blood and booze staining their faces and clothes. Deacon’s left his cummerbund and tie and jacket back at the place, but he’s still wearing everything else, the long shirt with cufflinks and the suspenders. The cheap plastic shoes begin to hurt his feet halfway to the protests. The girls have formed a messy v-shape, Shorty flanked by Lilies and Roses, and they’re following Deacon toward the noise and light.

The first guy they see is a wannabe hippy whose aggression is real and far less rheumy than the actual passive hippies. The girls call him over and he walks right by Deacon. They walk fifty feet to get to a parking ramp and then start walking to the top level. Deacon’s far behind the girls and the fake hippy. Lilies is in front now, turning it into a game, telling the fake hippy to come get them if he thinks he can catch them. Deacon stops for a second to take off his shoes. He starts to rub his feet and by the time he meets back up with the group at the top of the parking ramp, Roses is already down on her knees in front of the fake hippy, unbuttoning his pants.

“Get the fuck out of here,” the fake hippy says to Deacon, loud enough to travel across the top level of the ramp and not much further. Lilies punches the fake hippy in the back of the head, which doesn’t do much of anything. When he turns around, Roses stands up and shoves the pointed heel of her shoe into the side of the man’s neck. The three women begin to pummel him. The shoe won’t fall out, but as the seal of skin around the leather begins to loosen, spurts of blood shoot out in two-foot arcs every second, keeping time.

Deacon turns and runs. The girls have forgotten about Deacon and would have forgotten about the war if they had ever considered it. Deacon runs and doesn’t stop, not when he begins to cry and not when he begins to vomit, letting loose with hot bile and wedding food all over his stomach and legs. He runs until his steps begin to falter, his non-existent arches burning up his heels and shins. He runs with no destination, with no possible end of the road.



Dan Hill is a Canadian musician who has a bunch of albums, but who gives a shit because he wrote the theme song for the first Rambo movie, so nothing's going to be as badass as that. Also, he's not the Dan Hill who married Faith Hill before she got famous--that was some Nashville guy who people somehow manage to give less of a fuck about than the Rambo Dan Hill.

Topon Das
is a Canadian musician who has a bunch of albums, and you should give a shit because grind is awesome. He plays guitar in the band Fuck the Facts, my personal favorite album of theirs being Disgorge Mexico, in which they keep a lot of the same baby-punching elements of grind/death and add some space to breathe. Then you get hammered in the balls again. Everyone wins. Also, he likes Secret Chiefs, so he's cool as hell in my book.

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Next week: a story based on "If You Love Someone, Set Them On Fire" by Dead Milkmen, as suggested by writer Danger_Slater.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

"To the Gills": A story based on "Terrapin" by Syd Barrett, as suggested by writer Misti Rainwater-Lites (41/100)

To the Gills

I started thinking a lot about unrequited love not the summer my brother drowned, but ten years later, after I had just turned thirty and there wasn’t really much else going on to think about. In the time between, I tried to do everything right, but not for very long and not with a lot of gusto.

Duane was two years older than me and above all else I desired his looks—his jaw was squared off more than mine and it brought all the elements of his face together—and his girlfriend, Rose, who fell between us in age and had dated me for two weeks before deciding, finally, on Duane. I couldn’t fault him on matters of taste or turpitude, so I blamed no one and assumed myself to be all the better off for it. After the current grabbed him, I ended up transferring to a college in Utah. I never moved back even though I had exhausted my chances with most of the girls and all of the trout, and on occasion I felt as if I missed home. It’s possible that I didn’t, that I was just being sentimental for my own selfish needs. It was impossible to tell: any sort of longing manifested itself in my brother the same way one might see a dead-end from miles away and avoid the road altogether.

Still, there were deep, clear lakes spotting the upper peaks of the mountains and towering light-haired women of Northern European descent to keep me distracted. Often, it was enough, to simply not desire more than what was available. I could live for days off the brief, undivided attention of a waitress who would laugh when I intended her to, and then for a few days after that stand at the cusp of the Great Salt Lake, never quite feeling as if I’d given enough back, but content nonetheless.

It was without warning, then, that I tracked down Rose and decided to start pursuing her romantically. Soon, I had cashed in my vacation time to drive to Mississippi and turn something that was practically nothing into a large-scale bad idea—always considerably easier than the inverse.

* * *

In a way, we had been together twice already, albeit the second time was both brief and in a haze of crooked mourning. It didn’t take long for us to consider the feelings of the deceased, and soon we had thrown bags of wrenches into the cogs of what may have been working between us. It was better left as it was: the first time a hiccup and the second nothing more than a dozen or so underwater kisses at the public pool after it had closed.

Those times were spent mostly in various stages of nervous movement, sneaking over the fence and then, once in the water, pushing off opposing walls with our feet and almost chipping our teeth against one another when our faces met. When we were too tired to swim but not ready to leave, we’d sit silently together underneath the counter of the concession stand. What was there to say?

* * *

Toward the gray and uncertain third quarter of the drive to Mississippi I had a type of dedication to time-management that took precedence over my feelings. I didn’t want to cut my losses and spend three more days getting home—I was sick of biscuits and gravy, the minor variations on the thickness of sauce or lightness of biscuits, but always the same taste, more or less, no matter which roadside diner it was—so I drove on.

I made an appointment at the salon Rose worked at. No name, just a 3:00 who needed a haircut. I sat down in the chair and looked at her in the mirror while she threw a cape over me and made small talk.

“Do whatever you want,” I told her. “I need a new look.”

She was wearing sandals and shorts and she had the same legs I remember, tan and hard. Her upper body had changed a bit, as if she had put on weight and then lost it and now she was getting used to the unusual places it remained, under her arms and breasts and neck.

A few years ago, I started going by my middle name, Joseph, which is the name I gave her when she asked. She didn’t recognize me otherwise, and after awhile it got to a point where it would have been awkward to bring up history. It seemed perfectly moral to be both who I was and who I wasn’t completely not.

She had turned me back around so I was facing into the rest of the salon. “You don’t swim, by chance, do you?” I asked her. It was then that I think she figured it out. Not the half-truths of my plot, but the loose threads joining back together over large amounts of distance. She walked away slowly off to the side of me and went through a door, either outside or to the backroom. I spun around and looked in the mirror. With my hair half done, I looked like my brother. I took my fingers and slicked my hair back a bit, stubborn all over, and though it lay down for a second it soon began to rise to its ends.

It was getting dark early, and when I went outside and looked around I was washed over with the blue of the moon. Science dictates that the stars were sharp and shaking with energy, but when I looked at them they seemed as smooth and calm as still water.



Syd Barrett is that crazy dude who Pink Floyd wrote a bunch of songs about. Some folks stand by Piper at the Gates of Dawn as the best Pink Floyd album. Even though I'm not one of them, I still call dibs on the name Rowdy Roddy Piper At the Gates of Dawn for my solo album.

Misti Rainwater-Lites is a wild Texan, sort of like Terry Funk meets Hope Dworaczyk. Her writing has appeared all over the damn place, and you can check out her videos on YouTube. (Might I suggest "Anal Lollipops" for y'all?) (And since it came up on the YouTube search, might I also suggest "Tampon Lilliopops" by Skinless for y'all?) Some of you might know her as the person behind the coolest pen-name ever: Roxi Xmas. Some of you might not. If so, you're fuckin' up. Do some Googling (and visit her blog, Chubacabra Disco).

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Next week: a story based on "It's a Long Road" by Dan Hill, as suggested by musician Topon Das of Fuck the Facts.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

"Drench Your Bad Ideas In Diesel Fuel": A story based on "Parting Words" by Backwoods Payback, as suggested by musician Mike Cummings (40/100)

Drench Your Bad Ideas In Diesel Fuel

Light them up like the 5th of July. Fireworks. Half off. Put a roman candle in your mouth and repeat the worst things you’ve ever said. When you get to the end, start over.

Pull out a tooth—a canine from your bottom row—and stick a firecracker in there. Don’t light it. It’s stupid to light it. It’s something else entirely to lick the tip hanging near the end of your tongue, picking out the flavors, dividing them into categories. Phosphorus: chemical. Anticipation: criminal.

In the movies, Arnold or Sly drive the motorcycle out of the airplane while the fuselage explodes behind them. They land in the canopy of a redwood or the deep end of a swamp. When you take off, do it over open land, agoraphobia be damned.

Here’s what you do when you get motion sickness in a car: slow down or close your eyes or stop. When you’re nose-diving at a hundred-and-something feet-per-second on a third-hand Harley Davidson and you get motion sickness, rip the side-mirror off and bite down hard. It'll look like the glass is falling up. It won’t do anything to help you, but think of it: first the glory and then, the glory.


[No Video]

[No Lyrics]

Backwoods Payback is a band from Pennsylvania who put out a demo called Whiskey and Arm Wrestling, so you already know they're cool as fuck. Their sound is one of fuzzed-out power, giant riffs and rhythms that sound like they're from, where else, the darkest parts of the deepest woods. Their new album, Momantha, sounds like someone filled a dumpster with peanut butter and Jim Beam and then plugged a Sunn head into it. Buy it or die.

Mike Cummings is the guitarist/vocalist for the band Backwoods Payback. He likes motorcycles and Black Flag and he has a Zakk Wylde guitar. Much like previous Small Stone contributor Gideon Smith, Mike is a writer himself, having put out the book Confessions of a Lackluster Performer, wherein he goes over the peaks and valleys of being in the underground music scene for the past couple of decades. Buy that, too.

(I'd like to extend a special thanks to Scott from Small Stone Recordings for hooking Mike up with this project. He runs a great label with some of the best heavy rock there's ever been. Without a lot of the bands on Small Stone, I wouldn't play the music I play or listen to the music I listen to. Thanks for everything, Scott.)

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Next week: A story based on "Terrapin" by Syd Barrett, as suggested by writer Misti Rainwater-Lites.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

"Let's Go Shoot Her While She's Crying": A story based on "Black Coffee" by Sarah Vaughan, as suggested by writer Dena Rash Guzman (39/100)

Let’s Go Shoot Her While She’s Crying




Sarah Vaughan was an American Jazz singer from New Jersey. I don't know much about her--I know--vocal jazz never hooked me--but she seems like all the other extremely talented people in the jazz world who led a tragic life we were all charmed and horrified by. I read a long essay on Anita O'Day once, and she seemed to be the most sane out of all of them, and she was still batshit crazy. Still, that voice, those voices. Damn.

Dena Rash Guzman is the second in a trifecta of talented, cool-as-fuck knockouts to participate in OBCBYL this season. (Chloe Caldwell was the first, and Misti Rainwater-Lites is on deck in a couple weeks here.) Dena currently resides in Portland with her family and her dog. She's got a bunch of irons in a bunch of fires, so make sure you visit her at H.A.L. Literature (not music, but definitely rock & roll lit project out of Shanghai, for which Dena is the North American Managing Director) and Unshod Quills (an everywhere-all-the-time lit journal run by Dena). She's working on her manuscript(s), too. And she's a literary pin-up! That's it, I'm pulling a 1998 and telling people she's my internet girlfriend. Yell at her on Twitter and read everything she writes.

ALSO, in an OBCBYL first, Dena has also written a story about "Black Coffee." She did hers first, but I didn't read it until now, and it's pretty damn cool, so you should all hop over to Redneck Press with Fried Chicken and Coffee and check out Dena's story.
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Next week: a story based on "Parting Words" by Backwoods Payback, as suggested by musician Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Refund": A story based on "On To You" by The Constantines, as suggested by musician Kevin J. Frank of Haymarket Riot (38/100)





The Constantines are the most Canadian band ever other than The Weakerthans. They sort of remind me of Lucero when Lucero reminds me of The Replacements, so they pretty much kick ass. Steve Lambke has that Jawbreaker rasp in his voice and the songs are mighty tales of personal achievement/fuck-ups that never err on the side of sentimentality or whining. Features former members of the band Shoulder, who sometimes did err on the side of sentimentality, but still kicked plenty of ass.

Kevin J. Frank
sings and plays guitar in Chicago's Haymarket Riot. In 2007, I saw the band in Dubuque, Iowa with Tornavalanche (same day I saw William Elliott Whitmore and met the girl I'd date fir the next couple of years). Personal attachment aside, they were really nice dudes and they kicked total ass. Their tunes are angular and frightening, the mood is as unstable and the beat is not. I don't know if this is the same Kevin J. Frank who played drums in Silvertide, but if it is, that's pretty cool too. (I liked that "Ain't Comin' Home" song!)

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Next week: A story based on "Black Coffee" by Sarah Vaughan, as suggested by writer Dena Rash Guzman.

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Monday, August 1, 2011

"B Sharp/C Flat": A story based on "Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle" by Be Your Own Pet, as suggested by writer Kevin Wilson (37/100)

B Sharp/C Flat




Be Your Own Pet was a garage-rock band from Nashville, TN. They were around for about four or five years before breaking up. In that time they put out a string of EPs and two full lengths, all of it pretty much the most fun nihilism ever. They sing about riding bikes and fucking shit up, for fuck's sake. That's pretty cool. Jemina Pearl is the scariest dream girl ever.

Kevin Wilson, while not the scariest dream girl ever, is still a pretty dreamy artist from Tennessee. His debut story collection, 2009's Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, is a combination of Rick Bass and Donald Barthelme's powerful absurdity. "Blowing Up on the Spot" is about a Scrabble factory, spontaneous combustion, a woman at a candy shop, and a pair of brothers--the youngest of which who won't stop trying to kill himself. More importantly, it's completely believable and endearing, the ways in which Wilson shows people at the end of their wits, and the situations we all know that come from being in such a position. He's got his first novel, The Family Fang, coming out this month, so pick it up. While you're waiting, check out some of the stories he's had published online. (I suggest “Blue-Suited Henchman, Kicked Into Shark Tank” over at SmokeLong Quarterly, who are awesome even if they've rejected me over a dozen times. Maybe that's why they're still awesome, actually.) (Also, looking through that list, I notice references to Lori Carlson, The Who, and others. KW was OBCBYL before there was OBCBYL. He's the Iggy Pop of lit. Sort of.) He blogs here.

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Next week: A story based on some song that's been suggested by musician Kevin J. Frank of Haymarket Riot.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sittin' In: "We Can’t Even Elegantly Bleed" by Melina Rutter, as based on the song "Failure" by Swans

I've been on and off for the past month or so, but I've got an excuse. A few of them, in fact.

1) I'm editing and contributing to a local zine. It's called ruix. Saying that ruix is a monthly zine by a collective of Dubuque musicians and artists who share the common goal of promoting and sustaining local music, art, and literature gets you close to an explanation. Saying that ruix is for those looking to capture and consider original sounds that are bent, but pure, gets you even closer. The collective behind ruix has not gathered by chance. Its brain—its brawn, too, for that matter—is borne from the natural forward motion of the arts community, the progeny of community and imagination. Everything is happening now.

If it's local and original, we want. No cover bands, no arts and crafts fairs, no bullshit. This project is consuming my life right now, editing all of the content in addition to writing original articles, show reviews, blurbs on new albums, and other odds and ends. If I've done any writing lately, it's been for ruix, which you can find on Facebook or on the plain ol' world wide web.

2) I'm in two bands, both of which are in the process of recording albums. My main project in which I play guitar and do vocals, Legal Fingers, spent most of last week recording the drum tracks for our debut sleaze rock album, No Time For Tenderness. (Featuring the hit single "(I Just Wanna Get All Right) Tonite!")In addition to that, we're breaking in a new vocalist who is talented as all get-out (and a hot chick, to boot). I'm teaching her the old ones when we're not at practice working on new songs for her to sing, and I've written four songs in the past five weeks that I hope will all make the cut when it comes around to throw her into the full-band mix. I also play bass in a street punk band called Bucket House Hooligans. I joined the band a couple months ago, and I'm still getting a handle on the tunes, which I'll be recording here shortly for the band's debut album, Dubuque (That's not me in the video).

3) I'm running a six week YA writing workshop. I've done this every summer for the past three or four years, for all the reasons anyone cites in doing something like this: teaching kids not to be dickheads who suck at writing is a good way to give something back and keep up on the basics myself, in the process learning something, teaching something, and being looked up to as a mentor. Warm fuzzy whatevers all over the place. But, as much as I love them all, it takes time to figure out what we're going to talk about, what and how I want to explain my comments on their written work, and the hour round-trip commute (and hour and a half spent in the actual workshop). They're great and it's satisfying, but I'm on week six of six here, and I'm getting to be glad my English degree has nothing to do with traditional education.

This is in addition to thirty three hours a week working as a janitor, between four and eight hours a week as a door-guy at some music bars in town, and still trying to do cool shit like meet Hacksaw Jim Duggan (and Terry Funk!) in Waterloo, Iowa. That said, I hope to get back in the OBCBYL game full-fledged once the workshop and recording process are both over. The zine is still taking a lot of time, but once we get used to deadlines and figure out the best ways to work alone and with each other, things will smooth out. Until then, here's one of my absolute favorite stories that's been sent in to me, Melina Rutter's "We Can’t Even Elegantly Bleed."


We Can’t Even Elegantly Bleed

We used to have to stand in rows while the nuns checked out our fingernails. There was a kid named Shane Braddock whose father was a miner in Wyoming, and his hands were clean, the cleanest. Every day we watched the nuns shine their approval all over him because of his clean, square-cut nails, his long, tanned hands. To us, it was the way he wore his jacket, too, the dark disconnection in his glance, the bump on his nose that made him look like he’d just come up from a fight. Their approval was endless, all-encompassing. It made everything about Shane Braddock enviable, no matter how amiss it was.

He saw his father only once that year, and when the time came around we knew, because he had his pockets full of gravel that he brought out in the yard, pointing at some near-invisible sparkling flecks. It was a warm, windy day, and we were all squinting and restless. “Gold,” he said. “It’s gold my father brought for me.”

The day Shane Braddock brought his so-called gold to school was the only day that year he was punished. When it came time for the inspection, his hands were smudged black, nails full of dirt. Some of us leaned forward in line to get a better look. “That gold is dirty stuff,” someone whispered and a few of us laughed.

But in truth we were undone that day. Shane Braddock with black hands, Shane after his once-a-year-father, Shane who had special rocks dug up from the earth, was more enviable than he’d been with the nuns’ approval all over him. We looked down at our own washed-quickly hands and saw our dishonor.

* * *

We were eleven that year and had stashes of shameful, beautiful things hidden wherever we could make them last longest. We’d stolen cigarettes from our older sisters, chewing tobacco from a cousin, small nips of whisky straight from the liquor cabinet, ink bottles from the counter at the art store, ten bucks from a drunk aunt’s wallet, the key to the basement, some poker chips, baseball cards, and always the magazines we weren’t supposed to know about, a few we’d found used in a dumpster behind someone’s building, and those we’d dug a hole for in the yard and buried. There was a girl on one page called Sweet Tooth Savannah and she was our chosen one, the girl we wanted most. She lay in a bathtub filled with licorice, her eyes sullen, breasts exposed, dark hair indistinguishable from all that candy. She had black licorice ropes wound between her fingers like snakes or jewelry.

* * *

We heard about the mine collapse on TV during dinner. We knew it was Shane Braddock’s father’s mine because one of our mothers took their dresses to Shane’s mother for alterations and it was certain, tragically, unbelievably; it was Shane’s father’s mine, yes.

Some of us were stupid enough to ask about gold.

The mine was called Freedom but it was a coalmine. A coalmine, and nine men were dead underground, their faces blackened like Shane Braddock’s hands the day he was punished.

We went to sleep feeling too full from our dinners, babyish, hemmed in. We wanted to climb out the window and run the seventeen blocks to where the Braddocks lived, near the train tracks and the highway, where we could sit in the warm, dusty night on the porch and share our sleeplessness. Instead we turned over and over in our beds, unsure of what we had lost.

* * *

Shane was not in school the next day and we circled his empty spaces hungrily, in packs. The closer we imagined ourselves into his life, the more adequate we became. We took turns collecting his schoolwork for him, hoping to bring it by his house ourselves, but it was always collected by some adult or another—“the neighborhood pulls together in times like these,” was how one of our mothers put it. After some weeks it became clear to us that Shane would not return. We were told the mother couldn’t afford the city anymore, much less the school, and had moved Shane and his two younger sisters back to Wyoming.

Years later, we’d still be in the old neighborhood, just blocks from the classroom where we were made to stand in rows, compare ourselves against each other. We hadn’t seen the Badlands, the Rockies, the Snake River. We knew there were Indians who lived on all this land farther back than we cared to envision, and we’d have told our well-schooled kids about their battles and horses and visions without ever having met one.

We saw Shane Braddock one day, coming down long and loose from the elevated tracks; we knew that look of his even with twenty-five years piled on it. He was more torn up than we were, pinched, lined, underfed. He rolled a cigarette as he walked. He moved outside of the city-rhythm, any native could see that. He was there, coming down the stairs, then stopping to look far down 125th street, and then he was almost gone, his back to us, moving into the crowd.

He had gone down with his father in some pit unknown to us, he had left us, his stolen pocket money, his Sweet Tooth Savannah, who was his as much as ours; he had faded into some margin of half-existence. “Gold my father brought me,” he had said, and we could laugh for days.

But there were our washed-quickly hands, again, and there was the certainty that it was we who had given in, we who had been tricked, strung along, and we watched him go—quick in his old canvas shoes, his cuffs falling past his fingertips—again.



Swans are a band led by Michael Gira. Imagine the pants-shittingly downtrodden and tortured you've ever felt in your entire life. That's what listening to Swans is like. They're probably the best band I can hardly bring myself to listen to sometimes.

Melina Rutter is a slender girl in Germany who writes awesome stuff at bark (a culture, literature, and art blog) and her own personal blog, Invisible Adventure. She likes tattoos and good tunes. Born on Earth, dead on the moon.

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Next week: A story based on "Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle" by Be Your Own Pet, as suggested by writer Kevin Wilson. (For real this time, hopefully.)

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

"A Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Car Crash": A story based on "Love" by John Coltrane, as suggested by musician Steve Marion of Delicate Steve 36/100

A Priest and a Rabbi Walk Into a Car Crash

When Father Garrison and Rabbi Kohn both stepped onto the accident scene at the same time, they were surprised to see each other, as though they'd walked not into chaos, but into the set-up for a joke. The cars had collided at their front corners and then slid around each other in such a way that their tail ends touched, like two people in the beginning stage of duel. Garrison and Kohn each had their instincts: the Father to the knocked-out mother and crying child in the station wagon and the Rabbi to the nervous and harrowed teen in the Saab. They thought nothing more or less of each other for this, and in the odd spaces that appear in times of disorder, were thankful for the efficiency of their reactions.

They'd met a few times before in passing, at interfaith events or conferences. After the accident, realizing their previous appointments were as good as cancelled, they decided to go to a nearby café and discuss the accident. Neither mentioned the ways in which they followed another instinct, to bond over grief and reflect on what is gained when nothing is lost.

* * *

Earlier in the day, before the accident and the café, a woman had come into the church and done a tarot reading for Father Garrison. He was in the confessional finishing up with one member of the congregation when the door opened and then immediately closed again.

“Touch the cards,” the voice said.

Father Garrison reached up and placed the tips of his fingers on the cards and then leaned over top of them to peer through the screen. A dark figure, like everyone else on the other side.

“These things usually start off with something along the lines of ‘forgive me father, for I have sinned’ and not a request to touch a deck of cards.” He had become more serious in these later years, for the first time feeling as if he were forced into the priesthood by his family and then, after time, by convenience.

The figure on the other side of the screen was still, but Father Garrison could hear shuffling and, on the small shelf reserved for the folded hands of kneeling confessors, the laying down of five cards. He sat back in his chair, curious.

* * *

Father Garrison came over to the table and lightly placed two cups of tea in front of him. “Rabbi Kohn, do you know much about tarot cards?”

“Is that what the disco singer says she’ll do on those late night infomercials?”

“Not exactly. A woman came in today for confessional and mentioned something about them.”

Rabbi Kohn nodded, but was obviously thinking about something else, already having passed off the situation as a non-sequitur, a way to not talk about the accident.

Father Garrison’s card in the first position was the Knight of Wands. “The horse is riding through the desert,” the figure said. “Constant movement is necessary so you are not burned on the hot sands. If you stop, you burn.” Her voice wasn’t that of an old crone or a young gypsy. She was as worn out and non-descript as a news anchor or a waitress in a big town. “The horse is moving to the left, the path of non-traditional thought.”

“Miss, this is an obvious fabrication, and I don’t feel it’s necessary to make a mockery of my life as I’ve lived it for our lord and savior Jesus Christ.” Father Garrison’s tone was level and stern, but he didn’t even bother to lean forward, a defeated edge in him that made the woman continue, unabated.

“Your card in the second position is what you cannot see: the Hierophant. You may be feeling a lack of respect for ceremony and the law, perhaps doubting your knowledge of tradition.” She drew for him the Ten of Cups in the third position, showing that he is able to do away with what he’s comfortable with. Then the Two of Swords in the fourth position, his inability to change intuition or rely on other senses, blind in his situation but unafraid and, in fact, centered.

Father Garrison moved his head from against the wall and took a slight glance through the screen. He quietly asked if they were finished, but he was ignored again. “Your last card in the last position is your overall outcome. The Fool.”

“Wait just a damn minute,” Father Garrison burst out under his breath. He did not realize until a long lull in conversation with Rabbi Kohn later on that he had swore in the house of the Lord.

“Now now, Father,” the figure said, for the first time sounding as if she were deviating from a script. “The Fool in the final position it not bad. Look forward to a new beginning of simplicity. A fresh start with a straightforward heart.”

Father Garrison stood up and then sat back down when the woman said, “Doesn’t that sound nice?”

* * *

“Do you remember why you became a rabbi?” Father Garrison asked Rabbi Kohn.

“Ah, boychick, what a heavy question!”

“I used to think so myself, but . . .”


“But now I don’t.”

“Well, I mean, I had a good education as a young Jew in the Midwest, that was a good start. I learned early on that the Jewish peoples have a rich history, one of sorrow and longing and, above all, hope. I just wanted to learn and teach, be burrowed in so deep to that one thing that it surpasses faith and become knowledge.”

And like that it became quiet, God as uncomplicated and sensible an intangibility as love itself. Father Garrison sat back slowly and thought of the baby crying in the backseat of the car, pieces of the windshield shining like heaven in her hair.


John Coltrane was a jazz musician who pretty much ruled. He made a tenor sax sound heavier than any metal band. He died of liver cancer at the age of 40. He also did a shitload of drugs and was sainted by the African Orthodox Church in 1982.

Steve Marion
is the main creative force behind the band Delicate Steve. He likes doing yoga, which I tried to do once, but stopped after finding out it's more breathing exercises than Tae-bo. The new Delicate Steve album Wondervisions is cohesive not despite of its wandering, psych-melodies and soundscapes, but because of them. You can buy it here.

"Butterfly" from Wondervisions

"The Ballad of Speck and Pebble" from Wondervisions

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Next week: A story based on "Bicycle Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle" by Be Your Own Pet, as suggested by writer Kevin Wilson.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

"Over, Easy": A story based on "Buriedfed" by Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, as suggested by writer Chloe Caldwell (35/100)

Over, Easy

In the gas station by the river, there’s a guy who works third shift and sees more dead people than most other folks do. The dead ones come in to buy Marlboros or a Pepsi from the soda fountain and they never want a receipt. It’s not fair to say that they’re alive when they come in, but obviously they’re not as dead as when they jump, gainers and swans and belly-flops from a few hundred feet up. Almost all of them do it into the water, but every once in awhile there’s someone who goes off into the rocks like a lawn dart and, then, at the bottom, like a Slinky.

The trend was comparable to layering Day-Glo socks or buying Spin Doctors albums. Embarrassing, but, hey, there it is, a good idea at the time. They found a guy at the top of the bridge who had gotten so drunk he passed out and choked on his own vomit. The clerk sold him the vodka a few hours earlier. Suicide hotlines say not to take any threat of self-harm lightly, but what was there to say? The clerk told him not to do it and the guy said, “Don’t you think I thought about that already?” They answer all questions with questions. That’s what answers have become at that point: more questions.

The next ones almost happened. Some guy shot his wife and felt terrible enough about it to tell everything to the random clerk, who would have recognized the wife as the woman who came in looking like a jumper, but ended up bailing on the plan after buying a bag of generic barbeque chips, eating half of them at the top of the bridge, and then walking home. It doesn’t matter what the clerk asked him, but here’s what the guy said back: Shouldn’t my aim be better? More questions. He bought a hot dog off the roller and started heading up the hill, where the cops cut him off about halfway up. He told them he didn’t care what happened and then he set his hot dog on the ground, kept calling to it like it was a real dog. “Not much for fetch. But stay? Hot damn.” The clerk got the confession and the police got the apathy. It’s how the Midwest works.

They took him to the jail before he could jump. His wife came to see him when she got out of the hospital. She was dirtier than he was and even more unimpressed with his aim. “Way to blow it, William Tell. All I wanted was to die.”

He said, “Didn’t William Tell hit his target?”

“Can’t I just die already?” she asked a guard at the jail. The guard gave a straight answer like the living are known to do, and told her, “No.”

The jumps petered out after a dozen more, but nobody really felt better. It just didn’t seem like a viable option to anyone anymore. The clerk was especially confused. All those last meals of Fun Dip and Funyuns. He began going home each night and eating baked potatoes slathered in butter with dollops of sour cream speckled considerably with salt and pepper. He grilled thick rib-eye steaks and New York strips and put bacon on almost everything, zested citrus fruit on everything else. It was so easy to do that one thing right, to lie down in a casket with your gut heavier than gravity.

Some girl came in sometime near the end of everything and bought a Whatchamacallit and a yo-yo. “Know any tricks?” the clerk asked her, pointing to the yo-yo, a Duncan Imperial Butterfly that had been sitting on the shelf for years.

Her eyes were puffy and red from crying and her cheekbone was swollen on the right side of her face. She had a hairline fracture around the base of her eye-socket. The doctor asked her where it hurt earlier on in the day and she pointed to her heart and said here. “Why would I buy a yo-yo at a gas station if I already knew enough about them to do tricks?” She dumped her change into the penny tray and walked out the door, winding the yo-yo tight with the smell of juniper and chocolate buzzing off her tongue.



Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is some dude from the Pacific Northwest who gets really fucked up and sings songs about how he gets really fucked up. He's apparently had a tough life, but I don't know the guy. I hope he's doing all right. He's got a couple albums out, with his eponymous debut being produced by some dude from Grizzly Bear (who, despite being a big deal to a lot of people I think are dickheads, are actually really awesome). He put out his second album in 2009, entitled Summer of Fear. It came out on Saddle Creek Records, the messageboard of which my friend Toots used to hang out on and argue about Bright Eyes with other girls in their mid-teens, providing yet another reason for me to seriously consider no longer being her friend.

Chloe Caldwell
, much like a John Cheever story, is from a small town in upstate New York. Her musical crush is Will Sheff of Okkervil River. Her writing is often hyper-sexual and intense, and, if I can say so myself, she's quite the emotional little firecracker. Her first book, the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray, will be released in the spring of next year by Future Tense Books. In the meantime, you can keep up with her at her website and her weekly "Love & Music" column at The Faster Times. She ran the site Sleep.Snort.Fuck. where I had an essay accepted for publication around the time things fell apart over there. The archives are still up, though, so get reading. Chloe was really nice when I wrote to her, so I'm glad it wasn't in person, because girls make me nervous and I most likely wouldn't have had access to a chemistry notebook with which to cover up my unsightly erection. In our correspondence, I had to go back and delete the "DeVille" I kept compulsively writing after the "CC" I used to address her.

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Next week: A story based on "Love" by John Coltrane, as suggested by musician Steve Marion of Delicate Steve.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

"A Painting of a Woman On a Motorcycle": A story based on "Shimmering Rain" by Gideon Smith & the Dixie Damned, as suggested by Gideon Smith (34/100)

A Painting of a Woman on a Motorcycle

After three days of non-stop rain, a man showed up at my door trying to sell me a painting of a woman on a motorcycle. The painting was wrapped in a thick piece of clear plastic like an oversized sandwich bag. I could just make out the blues of the sky and the grays of the road.

The man himself stood no taller than five feet. His face was swollen to bursting, like a glove filled with turkey and dressing. He was balding, his head like an egg in a hula skirt, and for the first few minutes I was distracted by it, the way the rain sat there as if his skin had recently been sealed with wax. When I invited him in, he removed his jacket and gave it a shake above the rug he was standing on.

He was nervous and said little. After he finally rubbed the water from the top of his head, he repeated the act several more times as a matter of habit, looking around my sparsely decorated living room as if he were considering renting the place. I could understand why he felt sheepish and was unable to conceal it. There was only a couch and a folding chair to sit on. In the corner were two broken televisions stacked on top of one another. I unwrapped the painting and examined it in the light before propping it up against the televisions. I know nothing of art but everything of looking at something slowly. The woman’s eyes were slightly crossed and there was a lake in the background, far enough off that it was almost lost, a single swipe of the brush. I owned no other art at the time and hadn’t even really hung up anything on my walls since the centerfolds of my youth.

I paid a meager sum for the painting and sent the man on his way, both of us content. My head was burning, but not in any way I could help with medicine or rest. The woman on the motorcycle had never felt frustration. I could tell. It wasn’t the freedom of the road, the biker clichés. It was the way her knuckles, white at their centers, wrapped around the handles with the satisfaction of revenge. But her eyes! There was not the silence of precision. One eye refused to follow the other directly and the resulting clash made her face a mass of harsh, beautiful noise. I fell asleep in the folding chair that night wondering how heavy her love could be.

The man showed up again a few days later. It was still raining and we went through the same procedure as last time, he acted no less awkward and embarrassed for my living situation. By then I had started recreating the painting on the longest wall of my living room. If he noticed, he didn’t say anything. He needed the painting back. Apparently, there had been a misunderstanding. I made it clear that I didn’t comprehend, but that was all he said. Surely he didn’t work for a company selling individual paintings door to door. I was sure he’d sold the painting in haste, a painting that belonged to either him or someone he was momentarily upset with, and he was then trying to undo what he had done out of dissatisfaction.

I told him no. He didn’t beg or attempt to explain his situation. But he didn’t leave. I asked him if he’d like to help me finish the painting on the wall. At first he declined and said he’d watch me paint instead, but eventually he made his way over and began painting a tree in the far off corner. “I watched Bob Ross,” he said. “When I was younger.” I nodded and told him that he was doing good but that he must keep consulting the original. We painted through the night, the rhythms of the rain against the windows lulling our brushes into a sort of fluidity. In the morning we were finished and as I stood back to look at the finished product, I noticed that I had made her mouth open, not in a smile, but in a laugh. In the original it was closed. I looked at the pudgy salesman and told him to mix up white and blue with a drop of black. “Like this,” I said, dipping my pinky finger into the mixture and setting it down lightly on the wall, lifting up into a wisp on top of the dot. The rain came down on her like a marching band. Oh, how little she cared.


[No Video]

[No Lyrics]

Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned is a band from North Carolina, also known as "Horsemen Country" in the world of professional wrestling. Somewhere between the Allman Brothers and mid-period Corrosion of Conformity is Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned, vocals and riffs both grizzled and authentic, unable to be spoken about without using the word "swagger."

Gideon Smith is the leading force behind Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned. Not only is he a musician, but he's a writer, too, having released the book Way of the Outlaw Spirit. He's also done spoken word and poetry in the vein of a shamanistic southern gothic troubadour (so basically, he's badass across all mediums). From my personal dealings with him to everything I've read about him, Gideon is the coolest, most positive dude in the world. Rock and roll need more guys like him. Everything needs more guys like him. If he's ever in Southwest Wisconsin, I'll buy him a burger and let him crash on my couch. Buy his music through Small Stone Records here.

(I'd like to extend a special thanks to Scott from Small Stone Recordings for hooking Gideon up with this project. He runs a great label with some of the best heavy rock there's ever been. Without a lot of the bands on Small Stone, I wouldn't play the music I play or listen to the music I listen to. Thanks for everything, Scott.)

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Sittin' In: "The Falling Trees" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Get Back" by Laibach

If a rough first draft that is halfway compiled into a single MSWord document constitutes as done, then the Our Band Could Be Your Lit book is done. I wrote the last three stories this past week: an 865 word story based on "Snow & Lights" by Explosions In the Sky, a 585 word story based on "Bostons" by Have Heart, and a 636 word story based on "This Charming Man" by The Smiths. I also went through and re-edited the original 33 stories in the project itself. In the meantime, I'm just waiting for comments back from Sam and Alice, my two man readers/unpaid editors, on the 22 supplementary stories, compiling a mock table of contents for the manuscript, and writing an introduction. I'm on the home stretch, though, and by mid-July, it should be done as it's going to be on my part.

For his last hurrah, I sent Sam the songs "Prince of the Rodeo" by Turbonegro, "Get Back" by Laibach, and "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)" by Fu-Schnickens f/ Shaq. He enjoyed the Turbonegro song, but couldn't figure out how to write a story about rodeo as a metaphor for gay sex that wouldn't wind up sounding offensive. "I try not to write things that'll piss people off without some deeper purpose. (I don't mind pissing people off — I just need a good reason to do it.)" I was really hoping "What's Up Doc?" would have been the one, but I guess not. "And the other song featured Shaq rapping. Screw you for that one."

I should have known he'd go for Laibach. "I'm actually kind of a sucker for weird German industrial metal, and I love bizarre cover songs. You know I love Tori Amos's cover of Slayer's "Reign in Blood." This felt like doing the reverse. So it was fun." The story, too, is fun. I've known my fair share of guys obsessed with pure sound, so it hit close to home. I described it as John Cage's 4'33'' meets The Twilight Zone, a description I'll stand by.

Sam's done a great job babysitting OBCBYL, in addition to helping me edit all of the stories that appear with the OBCBYL tag. I'd feel bad making him do so much work for me, but he's a full-time writer, and for that luxury, he must be punished. Thanks, and play it again, Sam.


The Falling Trees

While others were making clever overlays and mashups,
he went in the opposite direction and extracted, subtracted. He said he was searching for the essence of the song, trying to strip it down to its heartbeat. He broke down all the frequencies in “Sympathy for the Devil” until he had just the bongos, and then he played them over and over. Listen to that, man, he’d say. There’s so much hope in that sound.

He started following people around with a digital recorder, stooped low with the mic to the ground, recording people’s footsteps. This is what life sounds like, he said. We’ve stepped away from ourselves and this is the sound of us returning.

But then the rhythms became too forceful, too periodic. For the true nature of sound, he would tell people, he needed the sound to be constant. Movement, yes, but movement without breaks, and so he turned all his radios and televisions to static and stared at them for hours, his ear against the speaker. Shhh, he’d say when people came into the room, and at first people thought he was silencing them even though they hadn’t spoken, but then they realized he was simply repeating what he heard.

Eventually he constructed a waterproof microphone case, from scratch, and he would walk to the river early in the morning to submerge it. If it had rained upstream he stayed home—there was too much noise in a hurried current, he’d say—but in dry periods he was down on the bank every day, squatting till his knees gave out with his arm held over the water, the microphone cord drifting like a fishing line.

He announced he had reached a discovery and would perform for the city. He wanted to share the pure nature of sound, the true music of the world itself. He took out full page ads in all the newspapers and magazines, he posted flyers on every telephone pole, slapped stickers on garbage bins and fire hydrants all over the city. Few people even knew what he’d been working on, that he even existed, and among those who did, most ignored him. But he had accrued a few dozen acolytes over the months, computer geeks and philosophy students and underground musicians, even one former Hare Krishna, and they helped him rent a small community theater and set up a stage. It would be him and nothing else. He said equipment would ruin the effect, that the truth of sound required only its own acoustics. They arranged the few dozen chairs in concentric semicircles so everyone could see.

On the ascribed night he stood on stage for four hours and did nothing. Someone coughed and was ushered hurriedly out of the room. Two people nodded off but did not snore. Several people looked at each other nervously but said nothing, worried they would miss it. And at the end of the four hours, he died on the stage.

They argued for weeks afterward about what the true nature of sound had been. Some said it was the silence of standing there. Others swore they’d been able to make out his breathing and it was his breath they’d come to hear. A small cluster of people insisted that it was the sound of his body hitting the stage that was the intended performance. Those who disagreed argued that he could have slumped on stage at the beginning, but the die-hards maintained that only his dead body could have produced the correct timbre.

But these were all just theories, and no one ever agreed to only one of them. Today, if you were to ask anyone present at the performance what the ultimate nature of sound was like, they would only stare at you. Some might move their lips as though trying to find words, but none of them would say a thing.


Laibach is a band of Slovenians who look like the evil parts of American history books.

Samuel Snoek-Brown is Dutch or Scottish or something. His Beginner's Mind looks like the evil parts of American chemistry books.

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Next week: I'm back, with nothing in mind. So look for that.

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sittin' In: "Colony" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Brave As a Noun" by Andrew Jackson Jihad

For better or worse, Sam's run here at the forefront of Our Band Could Be Your Lit is coming to a close. For his penultimate performance, he's turned in "Colony." He had a lot to say about his choices this month, so let me just spew some copypasta all over this . . .

"I was listening to the sound bites in the Metavari tune and heard a deep, dense story in there about the collapse of blue-collar America and the slow decay of formerly great American cities, but also about the possibilities those cities still hold and the great promise of the middle class.


Which is why it wasn't coming together—it was TOO rich, and I wasn't going to be able to write the story I wanted to write in under 1,000 words and/or under a week. Maybe I never will—it's too big. But damn, I wanted to.

Anyway, so I tried the other track (Ed. note: "Jane Doe" by Converge) but it just never grabbed me (that style of music never does, really), and by the time I got to AJJ I knew I'd better like it. I actually freaking loved it. Totally checking out more of their stuff.

Plus, it helped that I'd been reading that photo blog about pretentious hipster schmucks all week, so when I got to the line about art I knew where I wanted to go with it. In fact, the story I wound up writing was as much about this blog post as about the song, because—and I'm not making this up—I was listening to the track while scrolling through the blog and I saw this post in the first minute of the tune.

So anyway, that's what all that was about.

Here's why I didn't like the story: I liked it too much. Or rather, every time I worked on it or reread it, I thought it was too fucking clever. I still do. I actually really enjoy the gimmick of this thing, but looking at it from the inside, I can't help but wonder if it's cheap. But hey, as long as you dig it, and maybe one or two other people, then cool. "

I do dig it! So, yes, all cool.

With any luck, the stories for the book will be done this week. I said last week that I hoped to have finished off three stories over the course of the week, and I ended up getting four done: a 418 word story named "God As a Jigsaw" based on ".001%" by eyehategod, a 750 word story named "This Illusion" based on "Feel" by Big Star, and two as-of-now-untitled stories, one an 843 word hockey story (sort of) based on "Crowded in the Wings" by The Jayhawks and the other a 353 word piece of meta-fiction based on "The Beginning and the End" by ISIS. I've got three left, and then it's back to the weekly grind right here. But until then, here's more Sam.



The first one who turned up was some thick-chested guy in an open-collared shirt and khakis. He had a mustache black like the grip of a gun and an unmistakable aroma of cigarettes about him. I found him in the kitchen of the house I shared with my brother, my friend Jake, and my girlfriend. I went downstairs and there he was, sitting at our kitchen table, goddamn typewriter and everything, banging at the keys. Jake joked that he looked like Hemingway, but it wasn’t a fucking joke. This guy never said a word, just sat down there all goddamn morning typing away in the kitchen as if we weren’t even there. At least he made us all coffee.

Then Whitman showed up. He liked to sit in a wood deck chair and stare at the trees in the back, bleak in the late fall, the limbs creaking in the wind as gray and wiry as his beard. The Hemingway barely acknowledged him, but the Whitman sometimes sneaked a longing glance into the kitchen.

I thought someone was fucking with us, paying their buddies to put on thrift-store clothes and show up unannounced. My brother swore he knew nothing about it. I was a little annoyed because my girlfriend kept eying the Hemingway. He looked back at her infrequently, but enough.

Two days later, Gertrude Stein pushed through our front door. Squat, domineering, and, unlike the men, loud as hell. “The light in here is terrible the light is wan. The light is the light and needs to be lighter.” She pointed at a Vermeer print my girlfriend had hung over the couch, this big poster of a woman at a table in the sunlight. Stein pointed like she wanted to cut the thing, her finger sharp in the air. “You call this art?” she said.

I liked her immediately, but all of us were starting to freak out.

We had a meeting in the garage, where Jake discovered Kerouac sleeping in the back seat of his car, and we discussed what to do about all these writers. My brother looked over at Kerouac, sound asleep and smelling like fortified wine, and said, “I tried to kick some of them out, but Austen. She lit into me. It was so bad I got weak in the knees. I ain’t saying shit to anyone.” He ran a nervous hand through his hair. “And I am not pissing off Hemingway, man. You know what that guy is capable of?”

My girlfriend said, “I wouldn’t mind seeing you fight Hemingway.”

“Sell them,” someone said and we all yelped there in the garage. It wasn’t that we weren’t used to new voices by then, it was just rare that any of them talked to us. We crept around the back of Jake’s car and found Charles Dickens hunched on a milk crate, writing by candlelight on a stack of cardboard boxes. “Sorry,” he said. “Everywhere else was taken.”

He didn’t say much else, but we got the gist, and the other three loved the idea. So they put out ads, cleared furniture from the living room, roped off pathways like we lived in some royal manor. Come watch the authors at work, the ads said. Five dollars, and later fifteen dollars, a person. Jake moved his car out of the garage and set up tables, and sure enough, more authors came, men, women, men we’d never realized were women writing under a penname, people whose language we couldn’t speak. They rented a pavilion tent and set it up in the front yard, and more authors came.

I wanted to move out, but no one would let me. I even tried to break up with my girlfriend. She said, “What the hell is the matter with you? This is why we came here. We’ve finally got the company of writers and you just want to fucking run away.” I’m pretty sure she was sleeping with Hemingway by then.

They’d moved a bunch of the furniture into my room to clear more space for the writers and the tourists. The refrigerator was in there, the stove, both the washing machine and the dryer. A couple of hall tables. Even the other bedroom furniture. I had three beds to wake up in each morning and I couldn’t get out of any of them.

But today, I don’t know why, I’d had enough. The partying and drinking and vocalized philosophizing keep me up all night. I opened the window and started throwing out bedding, quilts floating like parachutes into the lawn, pillows sliding down the canvas slope of the pavilion tent. I disassembled each bed, even my own, and threw out all the pieces, and I tossed out all the artwork then leaned the mattresses against the wall. Out in the yard, Stein was eying the wrecked paintings then nodding approvingly up at my window. I threw my stereo at her, then I threw my brother’s television and all my girlfriend’s clothes. I shoved the appliances out into the hall and all afternoon I could hear my brother explaining, “Sorry folks, detour!” But I didn’t care. Fuck Hemingway.

I’ve cleared out everything and moved a mattress to cover the door. I had what I’d actually moved here for: an empty space, plenty of light, and a little quiet in which to write.



Andrew Jackson Jihad is the best band in hardcore. Or, at least that's what the shirt I bought from them says. Their instrumentation--upright bass and acoustic guitar--doesn't necessarily bring to mind Gorilla Biscuits, but punk and hardcore and rock roll have always existed as the audible result of a certain kind of attitude. By these criteria, Andrew Jackson Jihad may just be the best band in hardcore.

Samuel Snoek-Brown has never been in a band, but he did buy a bass at one time with hopes of being Bobby Dall or, you know, whoever. He also refused to sing some Danzig with my band one time, though I know he could pull off a pretty mean "Blood and Tears." More time to focus on his writing, I guess, which can be read at his blog, Beginner's Mind.

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Next week: Sam's last story, as he chooses between "Prince of the Rodeo" by Turbonegro, "Get Back" by Laibach, "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)" by Fu-Schnickens f/ Shaq.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sittin' In: "The Voice You Throw, the Blow You Catch" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Little Drunk Fists" by Slobberbone

More from Sam, with my favorite story of his little series here. Slobberbone is such a cool band, possibly my favorite band at this point in time--summer jams abound! I tossed him "Rollerskate Skinny" by Old 97's and "V" by Golden Smog, making this an alt-country shoot-out. You can't pick wrong, really. I've actually based a recurring characters in my fiction off the woman in "V" already, so I was curious to see what Sam would come up with. That Old 97's song just rocks, and I think it's Rhett at his quirkiest (though lots of my friends hate the song). Sam says he picked Slobberbone as a shout out to Denton, TX (Sam's from Boerne, a scant 5.5 hour drive away, considering how big Texas is). He passed on "Rollerskate Skinny" because he "kept picturing Heather Graham in Boogie Nights, which is not a good thing." (The song was actually written about Winona Ryder.) He was all set on doing the Golden Smog song, but in talking to his wife, she mentioned something about a ventriloquist's dummy, which sent Sam back to Slobberbone. "That take on whose fists we're talking about was too cool an opportunity to pass up."

I made a bit more progress this week, despite too much time spent in book stores--I had a total of $120 spent at three different Half Price Books for their 20% off sale this Memorial Day weekend--and at shows. Both of those things rule--especially the extra James Leg show I caught on Thursday in Madison, WI and the beautiful country-tinged rocking pop of Chicago's Death Ships I was lucky enough to see in Iowa City, IA (first time I've seen them in three years, and the new songs are excellent). As far as finishing this goddamn manuscript goes, I'm two stories closer: a 1024 word story named "After I'd Read Raymond Carver" based on "A Little Longing Goes Away" by The Books (the extra words will surely get cut upon revision) and an 824 word story named "It's Been Far Too Long Since You Woke Up In Someone Else's Shoes" based on "Misunderstood" by Wilco. I'm at fifteen stories "finished"--four older ones are in various stages of revision--meaning I've got seven left. This week will be slower than normal, so I'm hoping to finish three stories instead of just two. All right, let's rock.


The Voice You Throw, the Blow You Catch

Every new guy in the bar took a chance with LoAnn. From behind, she was a fox. The heart of her ass rested firm on the barstool, her body thick where it matters. The ventriloquist dummy never turned them off.

Some of the old boys might have warned the newcomers. Carlo, the bartender, could have waved them off or refused to let them buy her drinks. No one said anything. Almost everyone in there, even the married ones, had taken their lumps making passes at LoAnn, and it had become a right of passage. Any man who took his chance and still came back the next night, well, everyone knew he was one of them, that he would return every night thereafter to watch for the next poor idiot who caught sight of her.

The sad part of it was, the dummy actually lured some guys in. He was a conversation piece, or a gag. Even when he spoke out, defending LoAnn, it was a joke and a challenge. Some guys like to fight for a girl, and what a great story they’d have if they won her away from a dummy.

Sometimes, LoAnn seemed to invite it. She’d argue with the dummy and pretend to want to make him jealous. She’d hold the dummy away from her like she was leaning out of earshot and whisper. His little jaw would fall open then slam upward in an angry clap of wood. “She already has a drink, jack, and her free hand is in my pants” was a bar favorite. No one believed the few guys who said they saw her lips move.

Maybe two or three a month would make headway in the game against the dummy, and when they did, she’d slide from the barstool and saunter outside. She held the dummy behind her back, like he was following her, and this is when his voice became the loudest. “LoAnn, why’re you doing this?” Sometimes you could see her wrist flick and his head would turn to face the poor guy following them. His caterpillar eyebrows would dip in the middle, a perfect mockery of a scowl: “Who the fuck do you think you are, buddy?” And, “You’re gonna regret this, jack.”

Everyone in the bar stopped talking, stopped drinking even. Everyone scooted forward on their stools, in their booths. Carlo leaned over the bar.

* * *

The bruises were always small, and they never lasted more than a day or two. No one ever talked about what happened between the three of them—LoAnn, the guy, and the dummy—in the parking lot. Never. Most people assumed she used the dummy like a weapon, just went batshit and chased them out of her car with that dummy’s voice screaming from her lips.

For two years this happened. At least a couple hundred guys tried their luck. Several dozen got unlucky. But everyone came back for the show.

* * *

When LoAnn missed a few nights in a row, the bar grew restless with rumor. When she’d missed a whole week, the bar went silent. A handful of guys stopped coming around. But when LoAnn returned without the dummy, the whole damn town turned out to watch.

It took maybe two weeks before anyone had the nerve to approach her, simple questions from regulars, just some people wondering if she’s all right.

The only thing she would say was “usual” as she first slid onto her stool. Sometime during the third week, one of the former abused, rubbing his jaw where he remembered old bruises, crept over to her and leaned on the bar, a few feet away, and watched her. When she didn’t look at him he dipped his cheek down to the wood and peered up at her. He was far enough away from her that everyone heard him: “You’re looking a little lonely tonight, baby. Maybe we could try again?”

From the back, a snicker. Then a few more. Soon, the whole bar was laughing. LoAnn leaned over the straw in her vodka until the glass was empty, then she slipped outside. But she was back again the next night, pulling down five, six rounds in a night, getting drunker and drunker, and the jokes kept coming.

That happened five, maybe six times, before LoAnn stopped coming around. No one had seen her in months. But about a week after she left, her dummy turned up on the front stoop of the bar, propped against the door. That first night, the bartender brought him in and everyone gathered around him, a wide circle like they’d found a wounded dog and no one was sure what he’d do. Everyone spoke in whispers. They stood like that for who knows how long. The dummy lay in a pile on the floor, limbs twisted, his face a mess. A couple of the older jilted men finally stepped into the circle, bent like pallbearers, and lifted him to the bar. Carlo set him on the highest shelf, put a bottle in his hand. A man leaned over and shut the dummy’s mouth. Then, opened it.



Slobberbone is a band from Texas. Right around the time Uncle Tupelo called it quits, Slobberbone came around to be the new kings of cow-punk. And thank fuck they did. It takes a special band--or person, like Warren Zevon--to make rock and roll fun without being pointless, funny without being stupid. I'm not saying throw away all your Drive-By Truckers albums, because they're great, too, but if you don't have any Slobberbone albums, you're doing yourself a disservice.

Samuel Snoek-Brown is a man from Texas. I could say nice things about him like I did Slobberbone, but I'll let him embarrass his own damn self, which he does on a regular basis over at his blog, Beginner's Mind.

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Next week: More from Sam, as he chooses between "Brave As a Noun" by Andrew Jackson Jihad, "Jane Doe" by Converge, and "Kings Die Like Other Men" by Metavari.

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