What’s your damage?
The artistic process is a driven one, and often, the driver is some trauma. The particular driver of Slint — the legendary Louisville quartet that spawned as many bands as it did hyphenated attempts at finding a genre to explain its particular brand of precise, lurching, brainy, mathy rock (or is it post-rock? See, there’s one) – has been a matter of speculation since their largely posthumous rise to prominence. Their albums’ stark imagery and minimal information added an air of mystery to the band’s already singular aura.
Touch and Go Records is set to rerelease “Spiderland,” Slint’s most well-known and –revered album, and with it release “Breadcrumb Trail,” a documentary by filmmaker Lance Bangs which seeks to flesh out the band’s story. It’s from a fan’s perspective that Bangs provides a frame: he’s a guy who, like many of us, kinda stumbled onto the band’s work, reached the same dead informational end, and started seeking out the few-and-far-between, almost apocryphal performances by ex-members (going so far as to geek out on camera when he bumps into one of them at a Louisville party). This framework is endearing – this dude is one of us! – and effective, as the film backtracks to the early and mid-eighties, when drummer Britt Walford and guitarist Brian McMahon, both at the tender age of eleven, start a hardcore band called Languid and Flaccid and play shows with older, more established Louisville hardcore bands, who are roundly amazed that this band of kids too little to lug their own gear into the club can hang. From there, we learn about future Slinters joining the various permutations of Squirrel Bait, and marvel as eventual Slint guitarist David Pajo’s band Maurice manages to network to Glenn Danzig and tour with his post-Misfits outfit Samhain.
As “Breadcrumb Trail” unfolds, Bangs’ directoral choices effectively straddle the line of Slint’s intention: Britt Walford’s charming parents, on a couch above the basement that served as the band’s practice space, calmly but proudly discuss the hours the band spent perfecting every sonic detail of the handful of songs they wrote. This attention to detail adds fuel to aura of mystique that has typified discussions of Slint. But even as the band practices their time changes, they hand-draw J-cards for self-recorded cassettes of themselves taking noisy shits.
Slint records their debut LP “Tweez” with Steve Albini – a recording which contains sonic choices that alienate bassist Ethan Buckler, leading to his departure. Both Buckler (who later recorded decidedly more light-hearted fare as King Kong) and Albini are forthright in their respective discussion of the recording process and their mindsets at the time. In fact, all of the film’s interviewees are articulate and down-to-earth, though seeing a skinny Jason Noble and a typically jovial Jon Cook, both of the Louisville powerhouse Rodan, both unfortunately deceased since their interviews, adds a somber note. (And the requisite Ian MacKaye cameo, describing something as “insane,” can be checked off the list, as well.)
After “Tweez,” and during the band’s college years, they reconvene to record “Spiderland,” their creepy watershed. If there’s a criticism to be made about the film, it’s the level of detail in which each of the album’s six songs are dissected. With that said, the Spiderland discussion ultimately works: the level of attention and detail lavished on the album by a variety of narrators serves to illuminate both sides of the solemn/goofy dichotomy – and to pull viewers unfamiliar with “Spiderland” into the album with enough background to somehow transcend the music itself.
On the brink of Slint’s first European tour, intended to promote the Touch and Go release of Spiderland, the band breaks up. For years, the rumors swirling around the band had some member, or members, going insane during the recording process. It’s nothing quite so dramatic. Bangs briefly and tastefully describes the incident which proves to be the clean break in the band’s spine. In thinking back to the film, this part of it is most remarkable. In the story of a band – any band – there are always little things which later prove to ripple out into larger tremors, complete with aftershocks. Lance Bangs, as shown in his first-person introduction, is a fan, with all the sentimentality and geekery that comes packed into the word. But he doesn’t dwell, and he doesn’t overemote: with a light touch, he gives viewers everything they need to reconstruct Slint’s breakup from both the trauma side and the other side. It’s a wonderfully deft, wonderfully real way to begin the wrap-up of Slint’s narrative, one befitting the legacy of the band itself.
“Breadcrumb Trail” is screening around the world. Go see it:
April 4-6 - Missoula, MT at The Roxy Theater
April 6 - Dallas, TX at the Texas Theatre
(Skype Q & A w/Lance)
April 6 - London, UK at Institute of Contemporary Arts
April 7 - Brighton, Dukes at Komedia
April 7 - Austin, TX at Alamo Draft House - the Ritz
April 7 & 8 - Nashville, TN at the Belcourt Theatre
April 13 - Louisville, KY at Dreamland Film Center
April 14 - Louisville, KY at Headliners Music Hall
(w/Lance and Slint band members)
April 15 - Portland, ME at Space Gallery
(Skype Q&A w/Lance)
April 15 - Phoenix, AZ at FilmBar
April 16 - Chicago, IL at Music Box Theatre with Lance Bangs and Slint band members
April 16 - Lexington, KY at Farish Theater
April 16 - Columbus, OH at Gateway Film Center
April 16 - Kansas City, MO at Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet
April 19 - Pittsburgh, PA at The Hollywood Dormont
April 30 - Cambridge, MA at the Brattle Theatre
May 22 - Memphis, TN at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art
May 13 - Derby, UK at Derby Film Festival
June 11 in Minneapolis
Michael T. Fournier
The First Murderer
He will come to you
bird-named and point
and say, I know you.
He will have horses
for friends. He will
be an idiot. You will
run forever and even
eventually win. You
will fishhead. You will
walk and lie down slowly.
Blood bashed out of you
fishhead, boat. He will
come for you and will
have friends. You will
dream of very insincere
men who nevertheless
lead planets to war.
After the bombardment,
the man told us to praise
our war and we all clapped
and hooted. We regurgitated
the pellets of one another. We
went back to college. It didn’t
seem so bad, in the cafeteria
with friends and with pepsi.
The killing was indiscriminate.
Some people ran out of missiles
and had to go back to base
for more. They said, Goddammit.
They fought in the sky in whirligig
helicopters; how could they stay up?
And we normal down
below, drink pepsi and hum.
Some even hungover
from the night before.
bio: Liam Swanson graduated from the University of Pittsburgh. His
poetry has appeared in Ophelia Street, Allegheny Review, Three Rivers
Review, and Sonora Review. Hear him read at wptsradio.org.
Lying in the bathtub with the water on so it never
gets cold, this is where my thoughts go –
bridges, rivers, the sea, the bathtub in a pinch.
I didn’t watch It’s a Wonderful Life this year and have
my cry when the pharmacist boxes
his bad ear. My laugh when he piles on the coconut,
even though she hates coconut,
and she whispers in that same bad ear
that she loves him. And the ending, when he finds
The water is constant. But the bathtub is too small for me
to fully immerse.
So I toss and turn, shift and adjust getting every patch of skin
slick with warm-wet-love.
Even rolling onto my stomach – cheek resting
on quickly cooling porcelain,
arms at my side like a strange fish, tail
fin feet in the air touching the wall,
the on/off handle.
My ass a barren island, my head a jungle
thick with red-brown vines that trail into the murky sea.
If someone walked in on me
they would probably think that I was dead
and scream. If the bank inspector came for me
would I get an angel too? A pocket full of petals?
A swim in a cold black river?
Eight of Cups
I would get this funny déjà vu in the kitchen
with you: your neck bent, shoulders down, as you sliced
a tomato, or washed out a coffee mug. Your back
like the poor wanderer on the Eight of Cups, familiar.
As a child I’d watch my grandpa hunched over the grill
on the tarmac driveway, or at the sink washing the dishes
after dessert. He told me that cold water dissolves
dairy better than hot, cleans the ice cream bowls faster.
I never knew when he was joking.
You texted me two photos of your face. Beard updates from
three thousand miles as the dimple in your chin
gradually disappears again. In the upper left above your head
hangs an old dutch hex of two unicorns,
watching like the dual-phased moon that hangs
over the wanderer as he leaves behind his cups,
heads for the mountain. Your girlfriend feels threatened.
Wants you to cut out all contact with me.
I’m washing my ice cream bowl in cold water
and I want to ask you if what my grandpa said was true,
but the sad moon says hush and the wanderer keeps walking.
Sara Emily Kuntz has a degree in writing from the University of Pittsburgh and is an MFA candidate at Carlow University. As an enterprising copy shop employee she self-published ten single poem mini-books, as well as a small run chapbook. Sara lives in Brooklyn with a big grey cat. Look for more of her work in a forthcoming print issue of Cabildo Quarterly.
Just in time for tomorrow’s reading is Cabildo Quarterly issue #6, early spring 2014. With new poetry by Bruce Pratt, David Lawton, Karyn Lye-Neilsen, Kathleen Ellis and Leonore Hildebrandt, and new fiction by Jeffrey Schroeck.
Since my book on the Minutemen’s album “Double Nickels on the Dime” was published in 2007, I’ve always known when it was pitch season for the 33 1/3 series because friends – and friends of friends, and complete strangers – have written to me asking for help and advice. This year’s deadline is fast approaching, and with it the number of emails has grown. I figured it couldn’t hurt to make a post about the process. So:
Your book needs to sell. The pitch process is wrapped in romance, to the point, sometimes, of distraction – I can’t think of another group of people more sentimental than music fans. We’re all the way we are because our lives were changed, somehow, by some album or band. (For me, it was the Sex Pistols.) It makes perfect sense, then, to try and pay back whatever debts we feel we incurred through writing about that band or album.
A lot of the pitches that I read never get beyond this point, though. Certainly there’s something to be said for simple appreciation, but there needs to be a hook. I don’t think that “(album) is seminal” or “(album) is underappreciated” or even “(album) is a product of a certain time and place” do the job, because pretty much any record you can think of is a product of a certain time or place, and is either seminal, underappreciated, or both. You need to have a better reason than these. Take a look around the ‘net at some pitches which were accepted – and pitches that weren’t. You’ll see these themes emerge and repeat.
The romance of it all –“I get to write about my favorite record!” –sometimes obscures the fact that you’re pitching a book idea to Bloomsbury Press. Publishing is a business. The bottom line is the bottom line. I remain convinced that the stories around some of my favorite records would be compelling ones. But no matter how well I wrote about, say, the systemic decay of New England mill towns, and how these monuments to a bygone era infiltrate the psyche of young residents and leach slowly into the creative process, who’s really going to buy a book about New Hampshire emo math metal giants Stricken for Catherine? Their friends and family, certainly, but that’s all of like eighty people. Consider the line between cult and seminal. Are the Embarrassment well-known enough to warrant a look? The Raincoats? The Slits? I don’t know the answer, or where to find the line. Consider your album in the grand scheme – and do so honestly – when pitching, because you’re asking Bloomsbury to invest in your assessment thereof.
I know talking about business torpedoes any and all romance, but you need to figure out why your book will sell. What hook will push it past the boundaries of ‘for fans of the band’? Why should money be invested in your idea?
Start now. Like today. The parameters of the pitch process, what with their samples and outlines, are more involved than they used to be, and allow authors a head start. But if you’re serious, you won’t rest on your laurels, waiting to hear back. The writing process inevitably takes way more time than you think it will, no matter how seasoned you are.
Even if you’re not writing during the wait, you should be doing legwork: gathering materials, developing contacts. It’s not a requirement to have access to the band you’re writing about, but it never hurts.
Transcribing any kind of interview will always take longer than you think it will, too.
If your pitch doesn’t get accepted, you can likely still have your work published someplace else, be it in print or online. This can only help your future prospects.
Add something to the conversation. Up above, I mentioned the Sex Pistols as The Band Who Did It For Me. Their absence in the series is, at first glance, very conspicuous. But after that first glance it makes sense.
I used to spend my lunch periods in the library of Concord High School, looking through microfilm for any fragment of information on the band. That’s how it used to be, pre-internet – I didn’t have the cash to buy the imported books about them, and I wanted to know all I could, so I was left to my own devices. In the 20+ years since then, there have been umpteen books about the Sex Pistols, magazine articles, films. And they’re all available easily online.
In 2014, I’m not sure there’s any need for another book about the Sex Pistols, any more than there’s a need for another book about, say, the Beatles. What more can be said about them at this point?
Consider this as you pitch. Up above, I mentioned an invisible line of importance. The line extends in the other direction, as well. Bands and artists who have been written about to death might have audiences, but because they’ve been so extensively researched and discussed, finding a new angle might be a challenge.
Scott Tennent’s book about Slint’s “Spiderland” is a fanstatic example: prior to its publication, the band’s history was largely a thing of rumor and innuendo. Tennent’s book is well-researched and –sourced, and does a great job not only putting the band’s work into context, but establishing a timeline and history for its release and subsequent impact. Touch and Go’s imminent deluxe re-release of the album, and Lance Bangs’ forthcoming documentary film on the band will continue the conversation.
Money should not be a motivating factor? Most potential authors haven’t been concerned about the monetary aspect of pitching the series. A few have, though. Let me tell you straight: there are way better way to make money than writing a book about an album. Don’t get me wrong here: the opportunities I have been afforded have been worth more than any advance, and I’m extremely grateful for them. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking book sales = $. The royalty rate is 10% of net, which is around $1.50 per book – unless the sellers get volume discount (think Amazon and their ilk here), at which point it goes down to 50% of 10% of net.
My book was published in 2007, and is solidly in the middle of the League Table, which ranks all the entries in the series by sales. I expect my advance to be paid off sometime in 2017, if the current rate of sales continues.
Bloomsbury has changed the way authors get paid: advances are no longer offered (except under special circumstances). This means you’ll get checks after your book is published, rather than waiting, as I am, to sell enough books to pay down what you owe. If you have a steady job, this shouldn’t be a problem; it might be if you work on spec or freelance for a living.
Avoid the spectacle. When I pitched the series it was because I saw a hole in it I thought I could fill. I had no idea that there was a level of spectacle that accompanied the process: I simply wrote to then-editor David Barker, asked how to submit an idea, and followed his guidelines.
There’s hype on the series blog, what with its lists of proposals, shortlists, and (especially) commenters. Thank goodness I had no idea these things existed: it’s nerve-wracking enough to pitch without considering all the other people who have also submitted. Hell, the sheer volume of proposals is enough to stagger, to say nothing of finding out that multiple people have pitched your band/album . No good will come of obsessing after you’ve finally submitted: if anything, the endless feedback loop will make it harder. Dip in at your own risk.
Have fun. Seriously, what could be better than researching and writing on your favorite record? Don’t stress out about it too much. Have a good time. Hopefully things will work out. If they don’t…
Nothing personal. If you don’t get accepted, move on. Pitch again next time, either with the same proposal or with another one. You will know the process, which will make the next time easier.
I hope all this helps. If you have questions I haven’t addressed, or comments, feel free. Good luck!
Michael T. Fournier
(link to image here)
Another Casualty of War
There are no men
standing by the fireplace, no rats
racing across the ceiling, no enemy
invading the house or the yard.
It is the illness, they tell me;
the illness, I tell my mother
until she can barely stand
the sound of the word, until
neither of us can speak
it again. It has taken him
from her, ripped him from me,
from reality. He awakens,
screaming go for cover!
searching for his shotgun,
while mom whispers into the phone,
begging my brother: come quick,
he has a knife.
By the time his son arrives,
my father is asleep again.
We can all pretend
it’s peaceful; still
his legs keep running.
it is always the curves, the swerve along ess, the choice to follow road, not head into the Strait; decide (always a millisecond of space between gas and brake): straight ahead (eyes lock forward through rails and woods), crash down cliffs and settle into estuaries or rivers that turn around beds (but by then you’d be at your end); a choice — single straight mark dotted by death; body tense and determined betrayed by a thought of road beyond curve, a question that forces the foot gently left
Rooze works across multiple medias and genres and often spills one onto the other. As someone who lives predominantly in liminal spaces — in borderlands and hybrid identities — she is drawn to creative works that also occupy those spaces, works that do not fit neatly into the expectations of genre. Her ongoing exploration of liminal texts can be found at blurringtheline.org and her weekly Field Notes on writing can be read at http://www.roozecentral.com
Book punx unite! Saturday 3/8/14 at Flywheel, Easthampton MA
Review: “Elastic Smile,” by Great Western Plain
Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
That book was a slog, often infuriating, yet it’s still considered one of the greats. This leads, of course, to the question: What do we want as an audience? I wonder about it sometimes, as I talk to my classes about music, or try to. By turn, they either have no idea what I’m talking about when I mention something I think is obvious or surprise me when the obscure gags I think I’m making for my own amusement somehow work. AC/DC flies over their heads, but Gainesville pop-punk sticks. I can’t figure it out.
I think it has something to with the way we listen to music. It’s fragmented into videos, ringtones, whatever, and then, in optimal cases, reassembled – either that or it’s just aped. Sometimes it’s with purpose and intention, others it’s just because “hey, I bet we can do ________.” You know this.
Both have pros and cons, certainly. And make no mistake: I love seeing few-and-far-between bands that sound like Boys Life or whoever. I ‘ve listened to all the bands playing in the emo revival looking for credible swipes of my late-90’s, pre-Dashboard rustbelt favorites. But I’m coming to understand that the same criteria still apply now as did in the past: it’s way more fun, and more rewarding, to follow trajectories rather than always looking for the New Thing.
This review comes in a week where Brick Mower’s stuff is getting some prerelease buzz, and Mark Kozelek is finding another peak in his twenty-five year cycle. It’s great: already six weeks into the year and awesome new records are popping up at a manageable-but-intense rate (or is it the other way around?). It’s nice, too, that bands I like are involved, because ultimately, despite the contentmongers and Upworthy hooks and screaming demands for clicks, this is all about conversation. The generalist in me tries to keep half an eye on everything so that I can talk to far-flung friends in bars about the latest flame, but what I really want to do is argue about the way things have evolved (rather than the way things have changed – there’s a difference).
So the fourth official release by Portland ME’s Great Western Plain fit right into this conversation: their career (though they would probably never call it that) scattered across boring miles of highway and and umpteen other bands, is easily recognizable as self-contained even as it shifts. There’s Tim’s guitar tone, which is both inviting and every bit as brittle as that Lloyd-y bit in “Kidsmoke,” and there’s Tony, who musta sank cash into both drumhead stock and supernumerary research for all the ferocity with which he pounds away back there, and there’s Mikey P with basslines conjured straight outta WMA, a fleece dream (see what I did there?) of Dinosaur and Sebadoh.
But there’s the progression, too, despite the familiarity. Their first one (1), “Moustache Eye Patch,” was shambly and seemingly held together by so much duct tape and the centripedal force of accelerating ideas, a less smug “Wowee Zowee.” From there it was the primal scream therapy of “Don’t Cook Off The Alcohol” to this past summer’s “Lure and Kitsch/Flutter And Slack,” which refined their pop process and shed some of the earlier tropes – Tim, for one, abandoned (or perhaps stepped out from behind) the nasal twang of the previous recs, now (really) singing in a breathy, direct drawl.
Turns out that the summer’s terse pop gems were just the hook, the lure into the suckerpunch foreshadowed by the “Youth of America”-ish sprawl of December’s (wait for it…) “Wipers” single. “Elastic Smile,” as is turns out, works to both negate and reinforce the previous records: the familiar tones and extra limbs and fuzz are all still there, but with different intent. This is announced right up front in “Thom,” perhaps a nod to the departed (to New York) guitarist of the late, lamented Whip Hands: twelve minutes influenced as much by the holy trio of Faust, Neu! and Can as by any of the previously namedropped acts. Sure, this is recognizably the same Great Western Plain (2), but hold it up against “Alcohol,” say, and the difference is staggeringly declared: we were there, and it was cool, but now we’re here – deal with it (3).
Not to say there’s no hooks here –the twentysomething riot of “Buhrlynn in a Rainy Day” is rife with ‘em, both vocally and musically, and the fourth-floor walk-up “Lights are Loud” is a yeastie swagger, to name two. And not to say it’s change for the sake of it. These records document purpose and intention. They’re part of the band’s evolution, incessant and honest, as they ingest and synthesize ideas. It’s no coincidence that a bassline which sounds not entirely unlike a break from the Minutemen’s “Glory of Man” ends the record – if you’re listening closely, you’ll recognize it as the same bassline that begins “Thom.” You know that trick, right? “Double Nickels” uses it. So does “Infinite Jest.” It’s commitment to progression, a Mobius strip: Molly and Leopold Bloom, at the end of Ulysses, curled up in the bed all yin-yang style amidst a mess of kicked-off covers, after Joyce has put the reader through the wringer of shifting styles and narrative tones.
Michael T. Fournier
2/14/2014 @ The Candy Barrel, New Brunswick, NJ
2/15/2014 The Holy Undergroundnderground, Baltimore, MD
2/16/2014 @ Nacho House, West Phily, PA
2/17/2014 @ The Dunes Washington, DC
2/19/2014 @ The Silent Barn Brooklyn, NY
2/20/2014 Kristina’s World, Providence, RI
2/21/2014 @ Hotel Vernon Worcester, MA
2/22/2014 @ The Monkey House Winooski, VT
2/23/2014 @ The Whitehaus Family Record JP, Boston, MA
Cabildo Quarterly seeks short fiction submissions.
We’re looking for previously unpublished literary stuff, up to 3000 words, for our broadsheet journal and/or webpage.
We’re not crazy about genre submissions, fantasy, or sci-fi. We are interested in flash fiction, literary fiction and weird, innovative stuff.
Send your submissions to cabildoquarterly [nospamnospam123] at the gmail.