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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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sittin' In: "Sun-shy" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Potted Plant" by Cast Spells

Sam's back again this week with a song based on "Potted Plant" by Cast Spells. I had originally planned on writing a story based on this song myself, but I just couldn't come up with anything that worked. So, I pawned it off on Sam, who did a fairly admirable job (though I don't know how he came up with something so much darker than such a happy song). He passed the Zappa song, because he couldn't think of any way to do it that wasn't obvious and/or an insult to Zappa. ("He rules too hard to fuck up.") He says he really dug the Integrity tune, too, but the video got in his head and wouldn't let go enough for him to come up with his own story. Just as well, we get a neat little story here that reminds me, in some ways, of a distorted Barry Hannah story--"Eating Wife and Friends" from Airships, to be exact.

On my own literary front, I made a small amount of progress since the last post: a 545 word story named "Jests At Scars" based on "Hard-core Troubadour" by Steve Earle and a 985 word story named "Ritual" based on "The Druid" by Sleep. I've got nine stories left to write, and if my yet-to-fail writing process of 400 words of fiction a day leads me in the right path, I'll be done in about three weeks. I also took some time this past week to speak to a few high school classes about creative writing, in addition to the normal schedule of band practices and full-time employment. Plus I got to catch a few killer shows, most notably the post-metal band Northless from Milwaukee, WI and funky fuzz-piano killer James Leg from Port Arthur, TX. Read Sam's story and then check out both of those great, great bands.



No one knew the cult existed until their bodies were found. When we first opened the house, two of our crew vomited immediately, and that’s when they brought in the rubber suits and gas masks. We suited up and each took a spotlight, prowling the area as if it were the surface of the moon, our legs slow and heavy, the sound of our breathing loud in our ears.

At the time, we thought it strange that they’d starved to death, since we discovered the whole back half of the house had been turned into a giant grow room. They’d walled in the back porch and hung the room in black plastic; they’d boarded up the windows in the kitchen and dining room in addition to hanging heavy black drapes over them. A utility closet, a mudroom, and a bathroom were all wrapped in black and all the windows in each of these rooms were sealed off, no sun allowed.

The fluorescents swinging from the ceiling or leaning on poles near the plants gave off plenty of light. There were tomatoes growing in overturned barstools, cucumbers climbing the walls, bean sprouts in the sink and potatoes in the top-loading washing machine.

We stared at it all for a long while, moving among the rows and caressing the food through our gloves, careful of our boots among the strawberries and mint.

There were six men, four women, and seven children, we think. They’d all shrunk so much it was hard to tell the adults from the teenagers. The youngest was maybe six. Later, we’d talk about how it would have been possible to fit one of our gloved hands clear around the abdomen.

People think that was the hardest part, but then I tell them about what happened when we pulled them outside, the skin flaking and blackening in the sunlight, the hair evaporating in wisps like incense. Scared the hell out of all of us when the first one went, and by the third all of us were getting superstitious. Around the sixth or seventh body, we started experimenting: one bare foot out the front door and it turned black. The rest of the body was fine. Up to the knee, the same. And so on.

Someone cut a hole in the black draping and made a kind of sun-spotlight on the floor, and we covered and uncovered it until one of the bodies was spotted like a Dalmatian.

We had no idea at the time what important things we were discovering, though we might have guessed once we got back into the kitchen and dining room and porch, started pulling down the plastic from the windows and saw the green corn flare up like tiki torches, the mint go blue in flame, the tomatoes burst and the strawberries shrivel and blacken.

We salvaged what we could, covered everything again and spent hours picking the last good fruits, sifting the ashes and the muck for viable seeds. All part of the research. Everything into cold storage, a morgue for the food as well as the cult.

So this is how it started, how we first learned what the sun was preparing to do to all of us. How our own fields would burn half the year, how the rain would stop and our skin would dry and burnish. Umbrellas sold out, laws against window tinting disappeared, and soon we all lived indoors.

The sun-shy food would not take to sunlit soil. We began to starve.

To honor those people we found, who first hid themselves from the dangerous sun, we withdrew the seventeen corpses from the morgue and buried them in the indoor fields, in a special plot at the back, away from the food. And those bodies have sprouted. Zucchini, cabbage, wild onions, even an apple tree. They are flourishing in the warehouse field, and already they are beginning to spread, root systems and new sprouts shooting up past the cemetery fence, becoming the harvest they never had.



Cast Spells is the newest project of David Davison of Maps & Atlases (and Hey!Tonal, who don't get talked about nearly as much, but are awesome as fuck). I had the pleasure of seeing him in a coffee shop in town, and I was taken with the conciseness of the songs, the way he was able to pack so much--melody, smart lyrics, hooks--into a two-minute song without making it sound like it was stuffed too full or, even worse, just an empty bundle of melody, smart lyrics, and hooks. Also, when I met him, we talked about David Lynch and Daryl Hannah movies, so he's a pretty cool dude outside of music, too.

Samuel Snoek-Brown constructs, but more often deconstructs, a bunch of stuff that exists mostly in his head. He has a website, including a blog, Beginner's Mind, where this all goes down.

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Next week: More from Sam, as he chooses between some songs I haven't decided on yet.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sittin' In: "How Many Tylenol Does It Take To Kill Myself?" by Samuel Snoek-Brown, as based on the song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John

I've got some big stuff brewing for Our Band Could Be Your Lit: a book. The idea was brought up around the same time that the idea for the project itself was invented, but more in a "Wouldn't that be rad if you this turned into a book?" Since then, I've pictured an Our Band Could Be Your Lit print version to be spread out over three volumes. Since the idea is to write one hundred short stories, the first volume would be the first third of those--thirty three stories--along with twenty two supplemental stories based on songs of my choosing. I've had someone at a small-but-dedicated publishing company solicit a manuscript from me, which means there has to be a manuscript to submit.

So, Samuel Snoek-Brown is one babysitting duty for the next month while I finish up a first draft of the manuscript. I'm sending him three songs each week and he's picking one of them to write a song about. This week he had a choice between "Limerick" by Bardo Pond, "Jack Pepsi" by TAD, and, the song he ended up choosing, "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" by Elton John. In his defense, he wanted to do "Limerick" but his ideas were too similar too his previous OBCBYL guest post, the story "Buzz" (As based on "Omens and Portents I - The Driver" by Earth). He also wanted to do the TAD song, but the narrative was already so complete. He thinks I set him up to do an Elton John song, but really, that song rules, so I don't feel bad at all. And you know what? The story he pulled from it is pretty great as well, so scroll down a bit and read it. I'll be back next week with more from Sam and an update on the manuscript. Let's rock.


How Many Tylenol Does It Take To Kill Myself?

Does it make a difference if they’re children’s chewable? I have half a box of those, maybe a dozen of the adult kind. And another bottle of wine – I’m pouring the last of this one now. I say bottle. Does it matter that it’s actually a box?

She’s screaming again. She’s so damned small, the size of a carnival prize, but all those sounds she can make in the night, all that volume. Christ. Thirty minutes ago I went downstairs and unfolded the hide-a-bed, flipped the mattress up against her closed door, tried to stack the couch cushions after it but they kept falling down. I can still hear her.

If the police come, maybe they’ll find me in time. Maybe I’ll be curled up in a ball, a chrysalis in my own sweat and vomit. Pupating. Isn’t that the word? I don’t much like the image, wouldn’t want to be found that way. But it’s the only way I have left to be.

Barbara knew what she was doing. She got one look at our tiny daughter, a moment in the arms, and then she slipped away, peaceful as you please. Transformed and fluttering free from all this. I lose my wife but I still get the girl. It’s not a happy ending.

What in hell does she want? It sure isn’t sleep. I have nothing left to feed her. I changed her diaper an hour ago, and if she needs it changed again I’ll have to move the mattress from her door.

If I had beer instead of wine, maybe I’d have a clearer head.

It’s three AM. I shake the box and think I might have half the wine left. It won’t be enough. I could go outside and just leave her in that downstairs room, screaming till all her air is gone. I could just leave everything, tuck the box under my arm and swagger into the night, free as Barbara, fly away. But for a long time I can’t seem to stand up, my ass heavier than my legs. I lean over in my chair for fifteen, twenty minutes, all the blood in my face, until I manage to tilt forward far enough that I come up out of the chair and I’m standing, but I’m trapped in the middle of the room. I try to reach for the doorknob but my arms are heavier than my ass, too. I just stand there, the cries echoing and surrounding me, my body so dense I’ve achieved my own gravity, my heart the heaviest part of me and the air revolving with her voice. It’s the only sound I have left.

In the corner of my office I have a stereo, an old component system with stacks of black-and-chrome equipment. I grab one of Barbara’s cds from the wall and drop it in the disc tray. I can’t hear it eject or retract; I can only hear the cries. I turn up the volume. Now it’s four am. I can’t find the children’s Tylenol. I think I kicked them under the desk. There are maybe a dozen of the adult kind. I take four. I turn the music up. Louder, higher, play it again. Shuffle, repeat, that same chorus, over and over, and I can’t tell anymore which is his voice and which is hers.



Elton John is a musician who really had his shit together in the first half of the 70s, but has now become known pretty much as a flamboyantly homosexual man who writes songs about Princess Diana, lions, and rock star assholes in Cameron Crowe films.

Samuel Snoek-Brown's scribblings, thought patterns, and flat-out scatterbrained ideas can be followed at his website, including his blog, Beginner's Mind.

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Next week: More from Sam, as he chooses between "Potted Plant" by Cast Spells, "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes" by Frank Zappa, and "Micha (Those Who Fear Tomorrow)" by Integrity.

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Sunday, May 8, 2011

"The Vikings": A story based on "Smoke On the Water" by Deep Purple, as suggested by musician Kristian Dunn of El Ten Eleven (33/100)

The Vikings




Deep Purple are playing at a state fair near you.

Kristian Dunn is the guitarist/bassist for the band El Ten Eleven. I think he suggested Deep Purple as a joke (I actually love Deep Purple), but he's a killer musician, so it's all right. If I could work a loop pedal half as well as him, I'd be in heaven. I still wouldn't be able to write songs as well as he does, but I'd have a foot up, at least.

"My Only Swerving" from the album El Ten Eleven

"I Like Van Halen Because My Sister Says They Are Cool" from the album These Promises Are Being Videotaped

"Indian Winter"
from the album It's Still Like A Secret

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Next week: I take a break from OBCBYL to finish a manuscript, but it keeps on rolling with guest posts by Samuel Snoek-Brown.

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Flood": A story based on "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" by Bob Dylan, as suggested by musician Patrick Fleming of The Posion Control Center (32/100)




[I couldn't find a video, unless you want
to see some dickhead covering it in their
mom and dad's living room (trust me, you
don't). Besides, if you have never heard Bob
Dylan you either don't give a shit or you
have no interest in music, in which case,
you're in the wrong place.]


Bob Dylan is the dad of that guy from the Wallflowers.

Patrick Fleming is one of the guitarist/vocalists for the Iowan band The Poison Control Center. The first time I saw them, Patrick did the splits for the majority of the first song, then did a solo on his back with his legs in the air. He then went out into the crowd, smoked someone's cigarette before putting it out, drank someone's beer before throwing it down, and then kissed this meathead dude right on the lips. It was rad as hell. Also, the band has a great combination of pop hooks and weirdo guitar freakouts. They're the band I'd listen to most if I took a bunch of pills and figured a Frank Zappa album might kill me. But, since I don't take pills, I'll have to settle for enjoying the band in an unaltered state of pop rock bliss. Flip through their discography page and pick something to buy!

"Make Love a Star"

"Torpedoes On Tuesday"

"Shot In the Face"

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Next week: A story based on "Smoke On the Water" by Deep Purple, as suggested by musician Kristian Dunn of El Ten Eleven.

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