Friday, May 30, 2008

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

We learn lessons from many different places. I, for one, learned to what extent the desert is a harsh, dangerous terrain by watching the Patrick Swayze movie Steel Dawn. Sure, I had an inkling beforehand, how could I not? It’s really dry and has few inhabitants. Fair enough. But it took the sight of Swayze dancing filmic ballet to the sound of Brian May’s soundtrack to really concretise what were hitherto merely fleeting thoughts. Nomadic existence coupled with mullet: is there a more profound statement on the terror lurking behind each and every dune of the sandy ocean?

I doubt there is. I doubt even more that I could have been better prepared for Paul Bowles’ excursion into the wilds of North Africa. Swayze laid a foundation into which Bowles placed his opus, The Sheltering Sky.

A travelogue of sorts, The Sheltering Sky follows an American couple (Kit and Port) as they travel around North Africa, moving from one obscure settlement to another. Accompanying them is Port’s buddy, Tunner, a rather dull fellow, indecisive and weak, who Kit generally dislikes. The story focuses on the couple as they try to cope with both the foreign environment and each other. Neurotic and inclined to over-think seemingly trivial events, they become distanced, bifurcated by a hostile landscape brimming with the new and the unexperienced. They stand as lone figures on a sheet of sun-raped earth, links severed by the coarse wind, irrecoverably isolated with only the deepening darkness of the desert lying ahead of them.

Paul Bowles in many ways straddles the line between the Lost Generation and the Beat Generation. Ousting himself from the United States at an early age, he spent most of his life outside the country, primarily residing in Tangier. Over the 50s he became friendly with various expatiate poets and artists, ones frequently glazed with the label of Beat – Bill Burroughs being one notable visitor to his Tangier abode.

Yet, at least as far as The Sheltering Sky is concerned, a more accurate point of reference is that of Albert Camus. The meditations on the nature of the human and the sufferings of existence that fill The Outsider, typical of a Camus preoccupied with the individual ripped from the claws of religion and set down in front of a potential freedom, paint stark pictures of persons lost and exiled as they endeavour to function in the world.

Kit and Port are wayfarers in a sea of alienation, cut apart from each other, unable to bond with others except by the most tenuous of threads. The barren terrain of the desert perfectly allegorises the existential condition: the subject stripped of all social clothing forced to endure the elements of the world. Characters, failing to connect with the other, retreat into their own solitude – a solitude both geographical and mental. The fixity of Kit and Port’s marriage becomes as eroded as the sand upon which they tread. Locals are momentary decorations on their aimless journey, mere objects to colour the scene. The land is an abyss of dejection and physical torment, the bearer of disease and wanton disfigurement. Port’s illness, which emerges some halfway through the novel, spawns as if from nowhere, its sudden darkness swallowing him whole – the illness of isolation transfigured into a ravaging of the body. Kit’s descent into a cauldron of instability and tears also traces a progression from mental pain to physical pain. Kit and Port assume ‘an existence of exile from the world.’

What is worse: to be locked off from the mind of the other, or to be treated insignificantly by the world you never chose to be a part of? Both emerge as a double whammy of estrangement for our two protagonists. The gulf between the thought and the said is repeatedly used to show the discord between the interior self and the surface, and generates even more distance between one character and another. Dialogue scenes are marked by these snippets of interior reflection where Kit, say, will think what she wants to say to Port, but will then say something else, a banal mask for what she really thinks. The subject is concealed from the other, like Swayze enshrouded in his nomadic ways in Steel Dawn.

The web of social relations and the furtive eyes of the other may be off-limits, but the physical world of spaces and smells remains similarly a fount of despair. The desert assumes the form of another character, given body by long, winding descriptions flowing ruthlessly in and out of chapters. The desert is the site for loss; it takes and does not give, spiralling its prey further and further into its heart of darkness.

Bowles’ novel – as if the foregoing synopsis isn’t clear enough – is a bleak picture of people lost in the world. It can be quite harrowing at times, plummeting characters to terrifying depths, especially as the narrative reaches a climax. These later events work to such brilliant effect because by that time one has already become enraptured by the antics of the pair, of the curios of their minds, of their robust adventuring.

To go alongside the diegetic estrangement – the clawing remoteness separating Kit and Port – there is an odd reader estrangement prompted by the amount of foreign tongues not translated into English: the fragments of French, Arabic and countless other local dialects spoken throughout the book. This and the subtle use of ambiguity make an alien world for the reader also.

There are some moments of humour over the course of the novel, such as when Kit and Port attempt to ditch Tunner, but on the whole The Sheltering Sky is a dark tale. Here, the snapshot is sepia-tinged with edges frayed by loss. Bowles’ best known work is a wonderful creation in the vein of existential fiction; a joy to read and think about.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Living & Dying

Reservoir Dogs has a lot to answer for. At the top of the list, chic crime, casual death and morose moral temper look penetratingly through the glaze of the celluloid. The film brought back a violent realism, spun in fibres of cool. But it earned its reputation by creating a knowing, stylised aesthetic, visually compelling and coupled with the sharpest of razor-edge dialogue. What the imitators do is take the blood ballet and firearm posturing of Tarantino’s firstborn and forget to include the elements by which it earned its kudos.

Living & Dying is no different from these copyists: it rapes and pillages from a clear set of antecedents, deriding influences left and right, almost in a snivelling attempt to mire by association. Thursday did it well, weathering the malady of QT to create a decent, enjoyable film, parading Tom Jane around the screen in a patchwork of comic fashions. It held on to the black humour and playfulness vital for the whole to work. Whereas Living & Dying lingers at the opposite end of the spectrum, a place for scorn to be expelled and invective spat forth.

Edward Furlong and some others rob a bank. While escaping they are forced to take refuge in a small café. Hostages are taken as the scared troupe expect the cavalry to arrive any time soon and of course little time is wasted by the cops in surrounding the building. But things get worse when two of the hostages turn out to be vicious ne’er-do-wells, shooting one of the bank-robbers and taking over the situation, using Furlong as a dummy to hide their criminality from the eyes and ears of the cops. Outside, Arnold Vosloo endeavours to lead the negotiations while combating a surly superior and the self-important owner of the bank.

Tensions remain non-existent and heartstrings slack as the film fails to deliver any excitement. Clichés beat down upon every scene, taking potential and nullifying it. Cinematic hostage situations of yore are presented onscreen saturated of any and all merits – it’s the negative images of remembered quality. No Dog Day Afternoon worth, no Airheads hilarity, not even any Mad City Travolta. Drab are the images fed us by writer-director John Keeyes. Lacklustre scenes include Furlong secretly calling Vosloo behind the backs of the villainous twosome, a co-opted news reporter entering the building to film live footage confirming the hostages’ well-being, and a shoddy western showdown for a finale. Scenes are poorly shot and constructed, with whatever hint of energy therein evaporating quickly.

Whilst there are a host of potentially awesome bad movie moments, they too tend to evaporate quickly. The shoot-out scenes are particularly funny as one character shoots at another a few feet away only to hit nothing but a potted plant. When the trio enter the café for the first time, they are surrounded by four or five cops all shooting blindly at them, while they shoot blindly back. It’s fairly amusing, looking like a low-budget student film that’s intent on having exciting action sequences. Even the actors look awkward seizing the firearms in their hands – they should just have cast infants and played it out like a gory episode of Rugrats.

Another key bad movie moment occurs when Michael Madsen appears. Not only does he lurch around the décor as an irascible government agent, sexist and gung-ho, but he also wears a cowboy hat. His moments are good, coloured in finely-tuned swathes of stupidity. Had he been granted more screen-time I’d be inclined to whisper sweet songs of tribute to the film. But alas it wasn’t meant to be.

The one good thing about Living & Dying – yes, there is one – is that it facilitates the return of Trent Haaga to our screens. You may remember Trent from the Troma archive, from the fine cinematic artefacts whittled by Lloyd Kaufman and associates. Cast your mind back to Citizen Toxie: wasn’t Haaga’s turn as the leader of the Diaper Mafia one of its highlights? Or Terror Firmer: was this not Haaga’s finest acting hour?

Here he plays one of the two evil-doers, the passive, slightly-emasculated one. Moments to be imprinted on the retinas include his numerous guffaws spawned by the killing of hostages and his vitriolic outbursts against the elderly owner of the café. But the spotlight truly floats his direction when he gets a chance to rape a busty news reporter who comes in. It’s like the guitar solo of the film, one of those overlong numbers executed in the key of bad taste. Ah, but it’s Haaga; others we wouldn’t excuse, but his wispy beard and camp, rubber acting get a free pass.

Take from this film nothing of worth, no humour, nor thrills. Tears can be shed elsewhere, Living & Dying leaves the eyes parched, stealing the minutes that could have been spent crying over some other nugget of shite cinema, one embroidered with the finest jewels of cheeseball nonsense this side of Van Damme’s Van Cock.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Five Scenarios Involving Lou Diamond Phillips

Wilder Strawberries

On the table lay sprawled out and unread a screenplay. But there was no table. The office belonging to Lou Diamond Phillips – inconspicuously located above a food market in downtown LA – bore not a single furnishing, save for a waxwork of Kiefer Sutherland and a reel of claymation shorts modelled on Young Guns 2.

The screenplay lay on the floor, a white indentation on a desert of dust and rogue fire-ants. On its cover read in bold type the words: Wilder Strawberries – a screenplay by Dolphin Jones.

Lou Diamond strode through the door, coughing up a wad of sputum as he passed Kiefer. He looked at the screenplay, and then bent his knees to take hold of it. Knelt down in the middle of the barren room, the document clutched in his mitts and the harsh LA sun stabbing the room through its one window, he showed questions in his face. Questions such as: should I read this thing? do I really need to do another low budget, schlock-fest? why oh why doesn’t Woody Allen draft me for his next romantic lead? should I regrow my ponytail?

The seconds ticked past as dust particles danced visible in the rays of the sun.

The ants scurried as Lou Diamond sat down on the floor, cross-legged, the screenplay open upon his knees. Slowly the words entered the vortex of his mind, one by one sliding in and out of his beating mind, sloshing across prairies and obsidian recesses. He captured every fragment, idea and motif, numbing the screenplay’s unread mystery with ease.

The proposed film – inspired by Bergman’s tale of a retired university professor who travels across Sweden with his daughter-in-law to collect an honorary degree, during which time hallucinations and flashbacks prompt him to ruminate on his life and mortality – went some way to exciting Lou Diamond Phillips in the groin.

He would play Miguel the Human Flamethrower, a drug-dealer who travels across Mexico to do one last deal. Days before the trip, Miguel learns he has a daughter, a prostitute by the name of America. He is eager to initiate some father-daughter bonding and invites her along. She assents but with the condition that her pimp accompanies them, a cannibalistic midget known only as Jim. Together, the three of them head off across the Mexican country in Miguel’s pink Cadillac. On the way, they stop at sites of personal importance to Miguel: a small village where he fought rival dealers for control of cocaine supply routes linking Columbia and the United States; an abandoned factory that was once a most productive source of heroin; the graves of assorted politicians he had tortured and murdered; a town that witnessed his crowning moment where he single-handedly defeated a gang of Irish arms-dealers, turning himself into a weapon by attaching three flamethrowers to his body, one on one arm, another on the other, and a third on top of his head, secured by ropes and a series of pulleys that allowed him to operate them – an event that earned him his nickname. Flashbacks in the film dramatise his reminiscences, while America and Jim sell the former’s wares to local hombres.

Problems arise as Jim’s vicious nature and reckless drug habit spawn confrontations with the locals, and Miguel must fight to keep America out of peril. The road is not easy, Miguel’s path is lined with many banditos, and all the while he is pursued by a hitman seeking revenge for past deeds. But over the course of the film, he learns the spirit of family, the loyalties that accompany friendship, and rediscovers the great skill by which he acquired his moniker.

Lou Diamond Phillips sits on the floor, eyes bright and silvery, pushed wordless by the screenplay he’s just read. A single reaction zips through his mind, groping and gaining magnitude. It flies from corner to corner, bounding off and on to panels of fleshy pulp, hindered by nothing beyond its own importance, skipping south and ferocious, tunnelling ever closer to its end, skipping in lust driven forward, on and on and on, veering in motion to the mouth of Lou Diamond – and he expels the fragment from his lips gaping and salivating: “Yes!”


The Writing of Lou Diamond Phillips

He’s not Joyce. Don’t let people tell you he is. He most certainly is not. Nor is he Dickens. He’s not, and lies are those words that say he is. But words are not foreign to Lou Diamond Phillips. He says them every day – sometimes two or three times.

The words are select, chosen from many, snatched from lingual banks by mighty mental fists. The words curve up from his mouth, floating to the heavens, off to orbit minds faraway. No word is wasted, not one, each and every word is essential.

Words don’t have to be written down to be literature, this is what Lou Diamond Phillips teaches us. Utterance and utterance go unbroken in his films, through the dialogic imagination he moves unimpeded, summoning meaning to his palms.

Words don’t have to be words to be literature, another lesson taught us by Lou Diamond Phillips. Kicks and slaps, hair and sweat, common features in his films, all of them. Connotation drifts from gestures and sneers, every flinch is like music.

The mediators are few, translating the power of Lou Diamond Phillips into a language he himself has no need for. But they exist, latching words to the jolts felt in the light of his cinema. Jolly enjoyable it may be, but important it most certainly is not.

For the actions that grace the screen, a moving literature, require no transposition to letters and syntax. Lou Diamond Phillips doesn’t mock the minion caught attaching words to his wordless play, he merely admonishes with a warm wink of the eye.

Lou Diamond Phillips writes every day. But not with a pen. Every time someone watches Renegades, Lou Diamond is writing. Every time someone watches Young Guns, Lou Diamond is writing. And so it will go, long into the twilight of cinema.


Dialogue (Waiting for Lou Diamond Phillips)

[Two men stand at a bus stop. In the background a flute plays.]

BRONCHO: It’s five o’clock.
WILBER: Is it?
BRONCHO: Isn’t that what I just said?
WILBER: Just clarifying.
BRONCHO: Open your ears next time.
WILBER: I heard what you said.
BRONCHO: Then why the question?
WILBER: I wanted to be sure.
BRONCHO: What a needless inquisition. [He shakes his head]
WILBER: You hear a flute?
BRONCHO: I hear something.
WILBER: It’s definitely a flute.
BRONCHO: Well okay then.
WILBER: Where’s it coming from?
BRONCHO [angered]: You’re the one hearing it!
WILBER: Wish it would pipe down.

[The flute fades to silence]

WILBER: Where is he?
BRONCHO: He’ll be here. You know he’s always late. Five minutes time we’ll see him sauntering up the road.

[The conversation ends. The two stand aimlessly at the bus top, WILBER with his hands in his pockets, throwing his hips out every few seconds, BRONCHO scratching a burst vein in his cheek. After a moment, BRONCHO sits down on the low wall behind the bus stop, straining his neck back to see the river that flows out from under the road. A second later, he gets up and resumes standing by the bus stop.]

BRONCHO [to himself]: Ah Lou Diamond, Lou Diamond. [He cracks his knuckles] Lou Diamonds in the sky.
BRONCHO [looking towards WILBER]: What?
WILBER: What did you say?
BRONCHO: Nothing.
WILBER: I heard something.
BRONCHO: Must’ve been that flute of yours.
WILBER: Words. [Pause] Spoken words are all I hear.
BRONCHO: Save the poetry for later – when Lou Diamond arrives.
WILBER: He’s late.
BRONCHO [sullenly]: I know.
WILBER: Where is he?
BRONCHO: Give ‘im five minutes.

[Silence again cuts across the scene.]

WILBER: Did you ever see The First Power?
BRONCHO: One of my favourite Lou Diamond movies.
WILBER [getting enthused]: A classic thriller. A classic dark thriller. It has such a great mood, atmosphere. Really should be more well known.
BRONCHO: Russell Logan.
BRONCHO: Lou Diamond’s character.
WILBER: Ah yes. [Pause] Russell Logan…
BRONCHO: The film has everything that defines a Lou Diamond Phillips flick. It’s got the action, it’s got the grit. An original narrative that progresses through stages, each stage revealing more story, building up to an exciting climax. The First Power adds to that, that foundation, a strange aura, unsettling but wholly in tune with the film. Exemplary is that scene that has your boyo crucified by the dam. [He makes an understated crucifix gesture.]
WILBER: It’s a magic.
BRONCHO: Ever notice how everything tastes and feels different after watching a Lou Diamond Phillips film? Like the senses become altered, anew.
WILBER: Bit like how everything tastes mint after brushing your teeth.
BRONCHO: Yes, in a way. But…uh…at a more ontological level.
WILBER: Hate the way I get fuck all taste off a Crunchie after brushing. Really gets me riled.

[A bus goes by, but does not stop. BRONCHO turns to look at a poster stuck to the timetable notice.]

BRONCHO [reading]: “Born of goat is the man who fails to see in the eye of God salvation and neverending life. The glories of heaven and the prophet’s tears are two sides of the essence of man, over and under, one and two, levied upon the soul till his eternity beckons, yielding judgement and the final revelation.”
BRONCHO [still reading]: “Satan’s tentacles are a continuous malady to which we must be opposed. Never before has a civilisation been so vulnerable to the temptations of the ungodly. Sinful ways are the mores of our day.” [Pause] “Resist devilish lifestyle and fight the harbingers of iniquity - visit our church this Sunday.”
WILBER: Make a great Lou Diamond movie that stuff would.
BRONCHO [curious]: Yeah. Would.
WILBER: He could have a goat as a sidekick.
BRONCHO: No. Weren’t you listening? Goats are bad.
WILBER: Okay. Goats could be attacking the Pentagon and he has to fight them off.
BRONCHO: Um, maybe.
WILBER: And Al Pacino could play Satan’s tentacles.
BRONCHO: Why Pacino?
WILBER: Wasn’t there a scene in Frankie and Johnny where a tentacle monster eats Michelle Pfeiffer’s character?
BRONCHO: Frankie?
BRONCHO: A tentacle monster ate Frankie?
BRONCHO [furrowing his brow]: Dunno. Never saw it.
WILBER: Think it was Frankie and Johnny. [His gaze slowly floats away from BRONCHO.]

[A pigeon flies by overhead. The two men stand around the bus stop. WILBER puts his hands back in his pockets and looks at his feet. BRONCHO yawns.]

WILBER: Where is he?
BRONCHO: Give ‘im five minutes.

[A flute sounds in the background.]

WILBER: You hear something?
BRONCHO: Just your noisy yap.

[The flute plays, clearly audible. WILBER stands arching his head up and around, as if looking for something. BRONCHO sniffs and puts his hands in his pocket.]



Happiness (Electrodes)

There was no happiness in the situation. Fear, trembling, isolation, these were the notions ravaging Lou Diamond Phillips. Shudder and more shudder. Happiness occurs in the present. Yet presently absent is the happiness that buoys us.

It wasn’t a dungeon but it was dark. A night of the mind with no dawn. In his head but no longer, strapped to a vertical board is he. Secured by leather and unable to move. A light presently appears, shining sight’s new vision for the hapless hero.

Without clothes he stands, motionless. An additional shudder, for what vision brings is no happiness in the present. Electrodes attached to his balls. Not good. Thoughts of escape overtake confusion but are themselves curtailed by helplessness.

We’ll be happy when we do this, that, accomplish, succeed, eyes cast upon the future. The present strives for a happiness only the future can supply. But no. Aims become supplanted by others, renewed, continuing the struggle against nothingness.

The balls tingle but the electrodes are still, no current is passed. The minutes tomorrow are contingent. The electrodes could fire up any second. Or not. Being is not the carrier of happiness: a continuous becoming sanctions happiness.

Change and growth, difference and the new, these are nodes sutured to happiness. It comes in the doing, the present work. The end and being are illusions, forever bred by the mind. Overcome the frivolous we might, but the electrodes remain.



The panda bent over, face crinkled in revulsion, wiped forcefully then threw the wad of paper into the toilet. It tilted its head up, checking its master’s reaction, what side of the coin would await the poor creature: clean and finished and no more, or still filthy and repeat? So much rested on the answer to this question. The eyes and brow looked calm, content for once that the panda had done its job – the time for bathroom labour was over, finished until next time.

The rumour was clear. What wasn’t clear was where it originated. But that didn’t matter much to Lou Diamond Phillips – the truth was of principal concern. And this truth was true, or it turned out to be so anyway.

Throw a bamboo plant in your bathroom and a panda will take up residence there, they said. Not only that, for it will also, as a gesture of thanks, wipe your arse for you every day.

Lou Diamond was sceptical at first, how could he not be. But since he’s an incredibly busy man with no time to wipe his own arse, he thought he’d try it out.

It was a mere matter of days before the panda showed up. He’d strategically placed the plant in the middle of the bathroom, in full view, and removed the air fresheners so the plant’s scent wouldn’t be nullified. Lo and behold, in walks Lou Diamond one morning to find a panda sitting on the lino chewing a bamboo shoot.

The deal, like a good business agreement, functioned well for both parties. The panda would have its bamboo goodies renewed when exhausted and Lou Diamond would be able to use his bathroom time as a chance to read over scripts. There was no transition period, each adapted perfectly to the situation. As soon as Lou Diamond stepped into the bathroom, the panda would be up and ready, perched precariously on the edge of the toilet.

Alas, the poor panda found as the years went by a great depression envelop its being. Daily cleaning took its toll on the creature. Its personality became warped as the panda turned cantankerous and began to resent the master. But it was forever chained to the deal, imprisoned in a thankless profession, fruitless and perpetual, that functioned to generate gains that it would never share.

Yet the fault did not lie entirely with Lou Diamond. He was as much a victim of the deal as the oppressed and exploited panda. Sure, the yield went to him and no other. But the gulf separating him from his underling worked to conceal their true relation, that of master and slave, blinding Lou Diamond to the reality of the situation and the misery of the panda. He was concerned with the state of his arsehole, all else paled in significance. In the end, the panda’s happiness was sacrificed so that Lou Diamond could work on making a new opus: Bats 2: More Bats.

I ask you, which was more important?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Vanishing Point - The Fourth Season

Sometimes, when summer rays drift down from above and the sky is cloaked in blue, the discerning metal listener feels the urge to switch off the pummelled tones and furious tempos of norm. Cast against the fresh light of sun dancing in the background, juddering and callously wrought sounds born from a Nile album can seem incompatible, disharmoniously distant from the prevailing mood. The war caresses of Sodom, the guttural rants of Deicide, these wonderful purveyors of noise fit a purpose not aligned to the simple need for shimmering melody and decorous sing-song.

This is where The Fourth Season comes in. The fourth album (as if you had to guess) by Aussie prog metallers Vanishing Point delivers us some fifty minutes of sun-kissed delight, a collection of upbeat songs adorned with catchy choruses and consummate musicianship – all that good stuff we used to love.

Thrown on with little expectation, I was surprised and shocked to find an instantly likeable soundscape nestling under the grandiose bollocks of the album cover. Normally progressive metal numbers take a few listens to really gauge the quality – a positive and negative effect of an often complex and multilayered music – but Vanishing Point required no breaking-in period, no long nights spent sleepless trying to wrestle a concept to clarity, to map the contours of a sprawling 20-minute epic. No, instant gratification flows out from The Fourth Season. Simple structures underpin the coiled instrumentation, a linear trajectory running verse-chorus verse-chorus, dipping into solo breaks, before finally reprising the chorus. It’s a straight-ahead pattern, a welcome novelty, basic perhaps, but it’s not as if the Blotted Science album can’t be flung on at a moment’s notice to satisfy the need for wiry compositions and convoluted playing.

Prog metal, in many ways, but with a more direct approach.

It would be amiss, however, not to mention that Vanishing Point are in actuality a combination of power metal and prog metal, suturing the former’s airy histrionics to the latter’s penchant for intricate musicianship. In fact, they are often seen supporting power metal bands like Helloween and Gamma Ray.

Regardless of labels, The Fourth Season sports eleven songs starting with the svelte movements of “Embodiment” and ending with the subdued meditations of “Day of Difference”. No song goes by without a boisterous chorus erupting into life. Soaring vocals backed by multiple harmonies peak at regular intervals, singer Silvio Massaro successfully pushes his voice to the sort of sublime register visited heretofore by figures of the Geoff Tate ilk.

The album simmers with melodies, the guitars crisscrossing and copulating over driving drumbeats. As if the glorious sparkle of chanted choruses didn’t lift the ambience to a high enough plane, the sweet notes weaved by the guitars underpins and propels the joyous odyssey. The vulgar torqued fretwork of other, lesser bands has here been rejected in favour of tasteful arrangements suited to the song, the scalar treks discreet and effective.

On tracks like “The Tyranny of Distance” delicious keyboards smooth the edges of metal guitars to create a rather symphonic aura that works only to enhance the song. Had this synth layer not been the subtle entity it is, the music could easily have slid into a fug of mediocrity. Thankfully, the symphonic tendencies are used wisely and where appropriate.

Vanishing Point’s The Fourth Season makes perfect listening material for the summer ahead. Packed with juicy melodies and scorching songs, we can happily group it with albums such as Pearl Jam’s Ten or, staying with the prog metal theme, a Pagan’s Mind album, musical mosaics custom-made to suit the heated air and hovering sun.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fragments of Fahey

The kids were queued up outside a club, a liquor brothel bereft of light, rocking with the hum of drunken debauchery. Melodies coiled in the air, a copulating of inaudible speech and bass frequencies. I say kids, these figures were grasping a lost youth with office-stained hands, tobacco residue dangling from their three-day beards, tufts of stress and photocopied memories, lies inscribed on a Bullet For My Valentine t-shirt. The talk was of sisters or cisterns or some other offhand topic easily linked to a punchline. Swaying garrulous to a whiff of whiskey treasures, they dandered towards the bouncer, the gateway standing behind him. Just then, in the hazard ambience, a cascading wind flows down from above, circling at mid-torque over the crew. They break conversation, struck by the eerie whispers wrought by the wind. A summons of blue and chanting mumbles riffed and rocked. Then the wind assumes a form, stealing mystery from the air. The onlookers blink their eyes, amazed in space, for what floats in the air above their heads is none other than Jeff Fahey.

Yet before phone-cameras and digital soul-catchers can be retrieved, Fahey dissipates into the ether. Glances are fired around, person to person, did you see that? was that a face? was that him from Sketch Artist 2: Hands That See hovering in the air? They all shuddered querulous, lacking the faculties to comprehend the event. In the end, they went into the club and got pissed and fumbled a conquest or two, but never for a second did any of them forget the image of Fahey above their heads.

It’s not a rare occurrence for Fahey to appear in odd, seemingly arbitrary places at unexpected moments. Peppered throughout history are numerous such instances, Fahey flashes before Napoleon for three seconds when he’s in the bath, Fahey travels on one of Hannibal’s elephants, Fahey hangs over a crevice opened up when Pinatubo blew a few years back. History is embroidered in Fahey’s must.

But terrestrial history isn’t the only plane subject to Fahey’s fleeting visitations. Reading Don DeLillo’s Underworld we can find some 200-pages in the penetration of Fahey into the fiction. A veteran nun named Alma Edgar runs errands in the name of the Lord, driven by a young nun named Grace Fahey. Naysayers see this as Fahey invading the intimate spheres of our fictions, our fantasies and cherished dreamworlds. But Fahey has no pernicious bone in his body, his disclosure comes with the most virtuous of motives: to enlighten while effecting pristine pleasure in the eyes and ears. Grace Fahey is a fragment of Fahey interpolated into DeLillo’s opus to remind us that even when Too Hard To Die has finished, even when Epicenter gets thrown back into its box, Fahey remains nestled next to your soul, spitting up piety in a liver shadow.

One would presume a search on Google for ‘Fahey’ would bring up legions of web-altars dedicated to Jobe’s blonde and JT’s barbeque sauce. The truth is that other Faheys come up, Faheys not preceded by Jeff. Just another instance of Fahey’s fragmentation. John Fahey is a constant example, forever ready to lurch forth when you’re trying to acquire information on that one-liner Jeff said in Maniacts, the one that had you flicker ablaze with laughter.

Siobhan Fahey as well, another particle on the prism of Fahey, her name arises from the mold of Google Enterprises, reminding us that Fahey is, essentially, sexless. In fact, the Shakespear’s Sister song ‘Stay’ was inspired by Fahey yelling a “Fuck off” to his kids in Darkman 3.

Irksome so this omnipresence may seem, it is merely Fahey brilliantly permeating everything. Why would you want this state of affairs to be any different?

Kant once wrote that Fahey appears in the interstices of our world. His form twists into sight in the gap between the look-alike and the looked-like, in that moment of judder squeezed into reality by a stifled laugh, in those dwindling seconds between love and lust, wet and dry, pleasure and displeasure – he swells existence into one gargantuan Fahey-shaped monolith.

Fahey remains a surplus of the dialectic, neither thesis nor antithesis, but as an arbiter between both, and he also makes a damn good cowboy, as evidenced in Ghost Rock.