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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Next week: Still gathering responses from musicians and writers. Stay tuned.

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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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