781.66 Rock music

A couple months ago, a nice young man named Nathan, who reviews music at a site called Weirdo Music, got in touch with me about writing about my experiences with Government Issue. That was 25 years ago. Maybe in another 25, I’ll have enough critical distance to give that subject the fair treatment it deserves. Or I’ll be able to sort out all the thoughts I have about those years in some sort of coherent fashion. Something like that.

Nathan and I did decide, however, that it would be cool to take a look at the whole punk thing from the point of view of those of us who aren’t household names. At least I think that’s what we decided. I haven’t talked to Nathan in a while, so it could be that I’ve bolluxed the whole thing up. But anyway, I asked a friend named Chris to kick the whole thing off with 500 words on “What Punk Means to Me.” And I think she did a damn fine job. Herewith are those 500 words:

What Punk Means to Me

1979 was when I discovered punk, so I was really “post-punk” in my tastes. That didn’t matter. It still had plenty of meaning for me. My first punk album was the first Pretenders album. It was extremely raw and important. I was so sick of mainstream rock; I knew all the words, the drum breaks, the boredom. Punk was like a big surprise party that went on and on. But it was more than that: it was an eye opener and gave me a reason to think there was hope for the future, through personal growth without the need to always be nice to people; “nice” meaning being a perfect girl that didn’t talk about the shit going on in the world and pretending everything would be okay if we just kept smiling.

Through punk, confrontation was encouraged: confrontation of injustice, mediocrity, apathy, phoniness and prudishness, to name a few. Punk also encouraged (and still does) individuality, self-exploration, and self-identification by urging you not to look to others to give your life meaning or to give you the ways to define yourself. Screw keeping up with the Joneses!

There was no need to be afraid of “standing out.” Being different was a goal. Clothing was very do-it-yourself (DIY): buy a pocket T, dip liberally in bleach, or add a safety pin here and there. All those trendy people now might not realize that piercing eyebrows and other areas started as a DIY thing in the 70s (I pierced my second earring holes myself).

I was very shy and insecure before I got into punk, new wave, goth, what have you. It came into my life just as I graduated from high school. I definitely could have used the mindset during high school. The songs themselves ran the gamut, with many different instruments, more synthesizer, amazing vocal styles from operatic to guttural crooning. Mostly they were much shorter than the arena-rock tributes. What a relief that was to me. You could be enraged, amazed, saddened and amused then happy after 10 minutes of listening to the radio. So often, you’d hear several new songs a day. I feel there was no other time in music history like it.

Every day, there were new bands coming on the scene. WBCN in Boston was actually really good and played new stuff from inside the US and tons from Europe. I wrote all the names of the bands that I knew of on my bedroom wall (the wallpaper sucked anyway)!

It’s funny, but every generation thinks their rebellion was the best (since the 50s, I suppose, with the beginning of recorded rock), and I am no exception. I truly feel that if it weren’t for the punk/new wave rebellion, I probably would not be here today. Life was just too stifling and dead-ended (and would have been literally) if I hadn’t had that outlet, and especially the opportunity to be me without apology.

813.6 American fiction since 2000

The Associated Press reported today that novelist and essayist David Foster Wallace apparently hanged himself this past Friday. I had stupidly ignored him because I had an image of him as a hipsterish, archly clever and trendy young artist, the kind for whom good fortune seems to drop out of the sky. I say stupidly because I too easily bought into the image that reviewers had built up of a postmodern, ironic and inscrutable author whose ideas I could never hope to comprehend.

I heard an excerpt of an old interview with him today on NPR where he lamented that all these glowing reviews failed to mention the seriousness, the passion and the sadness that fueled his work. As I come to more fully understand the reasons people write, and the reasons I write, I see that no legitimate writer, or musician, or painter, etc., can really do much of anything worthwhile without such basic elements as truth and lies, love and hate, hope and despair, life and death and success and failure. I see now David Foster Wallace clearly had all these feelings, qualities and experiences in spades.

American fiction 1900-1945

Career woes continue to plague “weird fiction” author H.P. Lovecraft, in this latest installment of the notes for the screenplay that will, at some future date, lead to a motion picture, tentatively titled The Providence Detective Agency.

Lovecraft and his new bride, Sonia, continue to have professional and financial setbacks. In 1924, she leaves to look for work in the Midwest, and he pursues the life of a bachelor. At first, Lovecraft enjoys his new found freedom. One night, he stays up until dawn on an impromptu architectural tour of Manhattan with his literary buddies, the Kalem Club, so named because all its members’ last names begin with the letters K, L or M. But penury wears Lovecraft down, so much so that he loses weight, and the novelty of his all-nighters wears off as he finds it hard to maintain a stable creative output.

The following comments are based on notes I am taking as I read Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, edited by S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.

Page 138 — Sonia closes her hat shop. She goes to work at another millinery. Her new employer, the Bruck-Weiss Millinery, asks her to prepare a letter that will go out to all of her clients, letting them know that she has taken a position with another establishment. Next, she gets two weeks off. This makes Sonia think her boss is going to sack her, but not before this “woman with more ability than conscientiousness” tricks Sonia into giving Bruck-Weiss her client list. “Such is modern business, as practiced by the rising and exotic commercial oligarchy of bad manners and vacant background” that has taken over the rag trade, Lovecraft writes.

Pages 139-140 — HPL tries writing ad copy for new companies, though the companies haven’t asked for these ads and apparently don’t even know they’re being written. Salesmen will then take the brief pieces he writes and try to sell them to the companies in question. Lovecraft doesn’t express much enthusiasm for the venture: “Rapid hack work is demanded…. These business vistas turn swiftly to mirages….” He hasn’t given up hope, though that hope sounds vague and tenuous: “I can see myself…with an actual income and possible future….”

Page 141 — HPL gets a temporary job addressing envelopes in Samuel Loveman’s bookshop, March 1926.

Page 143 — Poverty forces HPL to go on an austere diet of bread, beans and cheese. Three days’ worth costs 30 cents. He drops nearly 50 pounds, going from a robust 193 pounds to a bony 146 pounds. He tries to make it sound like he’s doing it for his health. “[M]any vigorous Chinamen live on vastly less,” Lovecraft says.

Page 144 — In the evening of August 21 and the morning of August 22, 1924, Lovecraft goes on his predawn architectural tour of Manhattan. He notes the differences between lower Manhattan and the rest of the island: below 14th Street, remnants of its colonial past survive, and a few farmhouses remained on Mott and Mulberry Streets at the time Lovecraft wrote this letter to his aunt, in September 1924. He and his friends visit the Planters’ Hotel, the home of Edgar Allan Poe “in seedy old age,” and Tom’s Chop House, “which has been open continuously since 1797.” Lovecraft finally heads home at around 8 a.m.

Page 147-148 — Lovecraft visits Samuel Loveman’s apartment, where he meets Hart Crane, who lives in the same building. In the same September 1924 letter, Lovecraft describes looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. He remarks on the weird lights and sounds of the port: “Fog horns, ships’ bells, the creaking of windlasses….” It turns out Crane is working on a poem about the Brooklyn Bridge.

New York, March 1924.

Wedded bliss for Lovecraft and Sonia Greene quickly gives way to the realities of supporting themselves in the big city. Her hat business fails, and Lovecraft is a washout as a salesman.

124-125: Weird Tales publisher J.C. Henneberger hires HPL to ghostwrite a story in which an Egyptian tour guide ties up Harry Houdini and traps him in a pyramid, just to see if he can get out. Henneberger says he heard the story from Houdini himself. Houdini is “supremely egotistical,” says Lovecraft, who doesn’t believe the story is true.

126: HPL marries Sonia Greene, 3.3.1924, in NYC. Writes his aunt on 3.9, suggesting marriage may have been an escape from boredom or a way to quell thoughts of suicide.

127: He also hoped marriage would stabilize his finances. It seems like he really likes Sonia, though. He credits her with bringing him out of his funk, making him want to live and work.

128: Sonia likes him, and everyone else bores her, he says.

130: Lovecraft says he may find work with a Miss Tucker, from old Baltimore stock. She works for a journal called The Reading Lamp. He says she’ll get him a job in publishing.

131: He and Sonia go to a “Dago joint” for dinner.

Sonia wants a cheap wedding ring. He persuades her to get a more expensive one. He says he’ll pay for it with the money he makes off the next Weird Tales job.

132: Following their civil ceremony, HPL and SG have a formal ceremony at NYC’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, at Broadway and Vesey. It makes him feel really British or something.

134: No more “facial trouble.” He tells his aunt he can shave now just like everyone else. What was the facial trouble? Folliculitis? Ingrown hair? Jesus, that must’ve hurt.

Sonia makes Lovecraft do Walter Camp exercises.

Sonia’s millinery business fails, and HPL can’t find a job.

136-137: Lovecraft tries a job in sales, working for a debt collection company that serves businesses.

“A gentleman born and bred has very little chance for success in such lines of canvassing salesmanship…where one must either be…magnetic…or boorish,” Lovecraft says. He quits before the week is up. His boss, a Mr. Bristol, wants HPL to write letters for him.

741.5 Comics

How was Clark Kent as a journalist? How was Peter Parker as a photographer? Why are their names alliterative?

813.52 American fiction 1900-1945

At this point in S.T. Joshi’s Lord of a Visible World, Lovecraft’s mother has just died. Depression hits him so hard he can hardly move. Before long, however, he recovers. At his aunt’s urging, he attends some meetings of the United Amateur Press Association and quickly rises to the top of the group’s leadership structure. Membership in the group not only brings him out of his funk, but also out of himself: he begins to come in contact with the world beyond Providence. Even if it repulses him at first, the change may do him good in the long run.

Lovecraft was not unique in his open, unashamed bigotry. Ezra Pound was a world-class anti-Semite. Actually, Abraham Lincoln was no great fan of non-whites, either. Sometimes it seems hard to believe that things have changed as much as they have, even if it’s not very much.

85—HPL writes about suicide. He put it off while mother was alive—now he wants to go through with it

says only his mother understood him, maybe Galpin
he admired her for speaking French, playing music and painting

2nd graf—depressed—no interest in things because he can’t talk about them with his mother
postmodern—“This bereavement decentralizes existence—”
no one pays attention to him now

86—never displays emotion
for a time, couldn’t even get dressed
at little, had trouble walking, but still no emotion—somaticized his pain
met with UAPA member at aunt’s urging

87—spirits seem lifted
fond of Sonia Greene, a Russian Jew who recently immigrated to New York City and joined the UAPA

88—shows her around Providence
89—she’s not Anglo
she meets his aunt—they hit it off
has to apologize to aunt for amateur journalism’s “extreme democracy and occasional heterogeneity”
has dinner with Sonia at hotel
more sightseeing

[If I ever write this story, I will have HPL saying stuff like “nigger” and “chinaman” a lot, just throwing words like that into everyday conversation without a second thought. I will try to find examples of HPL and contemporaries using words that would be totally unacceptable today. To my Protestant (Lutheran? Methodist? Presbyterian? Who the fuck knows) grandmother, even my nice, white wife took a little getting used to because she’s Catholic.]

90—Sonia is smart, sophisticated and hard-working, even though she’s a non-Aryan

91—she is “certainly due to make the greatest stir in amateurdom of any recent recruit; for unlike the majority, she takes the institution seriously enough to put real cash into it . . . ”

typical New Englander—At this point, he hasn’t traveled further from his home base than Hampstead, N.H.

Sonia gets along with HPL’s aunts despite “racial and social chasm”
She seems to have $

[My impression, baste on one of the HPL books at the Newton Free Library, is that of a nervous man, someone who has a hard time keeping still, and not in a good way. Yes, he has a lot of energy, which explains all the writing, but he doesn’t display emotion, and so his anguish (which I’m not necessarily sympathetic to) comes through in other ways—shaking, nervous tics, difficulty making eye contact (this is all supposition which should be supported with more documentation). He is sympathetic because he is trying to keep it under control, always minding his manners. Never phony—not sophisticated enough for that. Less Vincent Price, more Boris Karloff, but even more genuine, no cliché. Youthful enthusiasm fighting for dear life.]

H may have found SG’s independence intimidating and threatening, and certainly alien to his culture

93—goes to NYC for 1st time in April ’22
meets SG in Penn Station
they meet Loveman
H reads “Hypnos” to warm reception


95—loves MOMA—Greece, Rome, Egypt

98—infatuated with NYC like I was with Boston 20 years ago—cool little green trains on the T. Ten punishing years here has taken that out of me.

[Here’s where he starts to get really objectionable, offensive and unsympathetic; is he beyond redemption?]

102—horrified at Lower East Side

“We walked—at my suggestion—in the middle of the street, for contact with the heterogeneous sidewalk denizens, spilled out of their bulging brick kennels as if by a spawning beyond the capacity of the places, was not by any means to be sought.”


“ . . . a bastard mass of stewing mongrel flesh without intellect, repellent to eye, nose, and imagination.”

104—Poe house

105—knows Cyrillic alphabet

106—goes to Cleveland Aug. ’22
visits Loveman, Galpin
meets Hart Crane, bookseller Geo. Kirk
(then to NYC)

107—Loveman collects antiques, rare books

108—hideous drawings of Clark Ashton Smith—“grotesque, unutterable things”

109—no headaches or depression

114—loves Marblehead—that figures, fucking hellhole

115—announces his support for Mussolini

116—ready to accept anything as long as it’s true

“democracy . . . is a false idol”

“there is no earthly reason why the masses should not be kept down for the benefit of the strong, since every man is for himself in the last analysis”

This and the following quote really give a sense of what drives HPL. His every-man-for-himself nihilism probably springs from at least the following three sources:

1) His interest in science, which leads him to reject religion and an Earth-centered view of the universe. Rejecting those beliefs probably put him at odds with the Classical poets and philosophers he loved, as well as his family.

2) His ignorance. He may have been thoroughly modern in rejecting belief in God and belief that the universe revolves around the Earth, but he was also thoroughly New England in not knowing or caring much about the rest of the world. (The success of any story I write, at least artistically speaking, hinges on whether he comes to care more about the world beyond these six tiny states.)

3) Family problems: His family’s financial setbacks following the death of his father, the cause of which still stirs up debate more than 100 years later. His mother’s death causes HPL to go into a deep depression.

4) Personal setbacks in school, career and relationships.

118—“the blood of a million men is well shed in producing one glorious legend”—this is HPL’s thinking in a nutshell—a proto-neocon ideology. Every time I wonder under what rock the Bushes, Cheneys and Rumsfelds of this world crawled out from, I think of this quote.

[Again, the key thing to look for, the frame on which the rest of this story hangs, is whether this thinking changes, how much, and why. If the change is not that deep or lasting, you may not have much of a story.]

“Freedom of press and speech sound well—but these vague principles cannot be allowed to interfere with the fight of a race for the values which are its only solid possessions.”

No wonder he was depressed. He was delusional. People want to live, even if they don’t look like you. When you push them down, they push back. WWII should have proved that, but there are still and probably always will be people out there who think their race or religion or economic system is better than someone else’s race or religion or economic system.

If HPL had ever bothered to speak to any of the immigrants he avoided on the streets of NYC, he might have found many of them were just as conservative as he was.

119—“Ease, amusement . . .”—that’s all that really matters.

119-120—writes cover letter to Frank Baird to Weird Tales—says he doesn’t care if his stuff gets published. He even denigrates (or damns with faint praise) the magazine—gets published anyway

Loveman edited 21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce.

121—paraphrase: “I don’t expect much from the likes of Weird Tales. Only Machen can write scary stuff.”

“true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto”

122—“Only a cynic can create horror—for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and its illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them.” [That’s why I thought Alien worked.]

Looks like two more entertainment venues here in Maynard have hit the chopping block. First, the Sit ‘n’ Bull Pub closed its doors last year, though Ted still owns the place and hasn’t given up on it just yet. A few weeks ago, CD Willy’s called it quits. The sign in the window has “50% off” crossed out and “75% off” in its place. They’l be out of here at the end of the month. And the other day, I saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of AssabetStrings.com. I thought that guy had a pretty good business plan—buy guitars off eBay, recondition them and sell them up. Except that probably no one’s buying guitars right now.

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