I didn’t know that Beaster, the Sugar EP was recorded at the same time as Copper Blue. Mould’s biography was very helpful in explaining all the details of the timing and styling behind these two recording. As well as how the super pop of Copper Blue could be followed right on the heels with the very very dark EP of Beaster.
I have often thought of this disc as being really dark and insular and Mould confirmed as much—he was really airing out some demons with this disc. But they thought it would be better to put them all in one place rather having them bounce around the poppier full length. What must fans (like myself) have thought to hear this dark album after the pop of Copper Blue. I mean just look at the cover!
I hadn’t listened to this in a long time, so I was surprised by how cool “Come Around” sounds—Mould’s acoustic guitar high in the mix with some appropriately grungey guitars in the background. There are lyrics but for the most part I think of it as just Mould making sounds with his mouth.
It’s followed by the blistering “Tilting.” It’s got superfast drumming with aggressive guitars, it’s like we’re back to the early Hüsker Dü punk sound (with a little more clarity). The drumming is great in this track. The song ends with a preacher being interrupted by dissonance and what sounds like electronic interference. And this song morphs into “Judas Cradle” one of Mould’s darkest songs. It’s very claustrophobic-feeling with echoed vocals, lots of feedback and lots of compression on the overall sound—quite different from the big open sound of Copper Blue. And yet for all of that, the chorus, “Have you seen the Judas Cradle, ah”is really quite catchy.
“JC Auto” has some buzzsaw guitars which make it seem like it’s going to be quite an angry song and yet the bridge is quite welcoming (all this talk of holidays) and then the chorus is amazingly fun to sing along to (Mould always finds pop in anger): “Passing judgment on my life you never really got it right/I can’t believe in anything / I don’t believe in / Do you believe in anything / Do you believe me now… Look like Jesus Christ / act like Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know Here’s Your Jesus Christ I’m Your Jesus Christ I Know I Know I Know.” And, as always, I love when Mould repeats his lyrics in the background (the “I Know I Know” surfaces throughout the end of the song).
“Feeling Better” has weird synth blasts that kind of works in the song but sounds out of place on this record. This song flips between really aggressive guitars and a very bright poppy chorus. At 6 minutes this song is a little long (because it’s primarily repeating itself by the end), whereas Judas Cradle and JC Autos’ 6 minutes are well justified.
The final song “Walking Away” is a strange one. It is comprised entirely of organs (church organ it sounds like) with Mould delicately singing “I’m walking away back to you” The end starts to wobble giving a bit of a nauseous feeling but then it’s over. So even in his most downtrodden and questioning, Mould still has the chops to write some great music. Down be put off by the cover, Beaster is a great album.
[READ: March 28, 2013] McSweeney’s #16
After the fairly straightforward Issue 15, McSweeney’s was back to fun with Issue #16. The issue opens up into a kind of quad gatefold which has , in order–a comb, a book, another book and a deck of cards.
The main book contains nine stories, by the typical McSweeney’s roster at the time. The other booklet contains a lengthy story by Ann Beattie. The deck of cards is for Robert Coover’s “Heart Suite” and the comb is a comb. It’s a nice one, although it has never touched my hair.
The MAIN BOOKLET
The front page offers an apology to anyone who submitted anything which may have gotten lost as well as this sentence: “We are continually grateful to all of you for your loyalty and enthusiasm, for allowing us to include a comb in a literary journal.” Which they do.
BRIAN EVENSON-“Mudder Tongue”
This is the story of a man named Hecker and the deterioration of his language skills. Specifically, he begins having a harder and harder time making the words he wants to say be the words that come out of his mouth. It starts out kind of funny with simply incorrect words making sentences sound like jokes (jokes which his adult daughter doesn’t think are funny). But gradually it becomes really serious–so serious that he has to quit his teaching job. The story goes from funny to sad and is quite moving by the end.
This is a military story set around the time of the Kennedy assassination. I didn’t think I would like it, especially since as the story opens Seaman Apprentice William Houston Jr has just killed a monkey. For no reason. There’s a fascinating story (from Houston’s past) about a man who killed another man in civilian life–a shockingly casual murder, which Houston kind of relates to the monkey). But the title comes from a man named Lucky, a South Vietnamese soldier who is there for training. He smokes Lucky Strikes and drinks Lucky Lager. The story felt a little incomplete, but I enjoyed the details.
NATHANIEL MINTON-“Viva Mesopotamia”
This narrator of this story is the son of an archaeologist who claims to possess a mummified foot. The archaeologist’s mother took one look at said foot and banished it to the garage. But the main arc of the story concerns the commune that is up the dirt road from their house. One night members of the commune traipse down and ask his father for a ride to the hospital because Takehashi is ill. His father agrees although not much comes of it–for him or for Takehashi who is returned home but who falls ill again soon. The narrator learns that strange things are afoot at the commune, so he goes to investigate. He sees that Takehashi is dead and watches as the commune members cut off his hands and feet. And one woman remaining after the other have left approaches him in an ecstatic state. After their encounter, he took Takehashi’s foot and buried it, as a kind of tribute to his father. The end brings us up to the present where he runs into the commune woman once again. It was a weird but interesting story.
ADAM LEVIN-“Considering the Bittersweet End of Susan Falls”
I loved this story in Levin’s Hot Pink. It was one of my favorites both for its evocative nature and the fascinating style. It’s about a girl in a wheelchair who believes her legs were cut off by jaguars in the jungle. But really it happened in a car accident. The story focuses on Carla Ribis’s ass. Which Susan thinks is beautiful. The scenes with the two women are hilarious and wonderful. Although I have to say I really hated the ending even more this time. It seemed so arbitrary, especially for a story with so much going on.
MIRANDA MELLIS-“The Doctor of Mental Health”
This is a very short story about a man who was so normal he decided to see a mental health practitioner. She proves to be very strange and he distrusts her. Especially when she sells him meat.
KEVIN MOFFETT-“The Medicine Man”
A manic depressive goes in search of Broom, the medicine man–who is not really a medicine man, just a Seminole Indian who works crushing boxes. I liked some lines in the story like that you needed to bring the medicine man a gift: “something valuable to you but not him so he can throw it away without regret.” The other half of the story is the narrator’s life at Indigo pines, with a group of Russians. There is a story about him trying to make a poem out of random words and failing. Later, broom reveals that he’s not Indian at all, he’s Dominican. By the end, the medicinal powers seems to have shifted to the narrator in an unexpected technological way. I didn’t really enjoy this story but in re-reading it briefly to write this there was a lot I liked. Maybe it calls for a second read.
PIA Z. EHRHARDT-“Driveway”
The narrator opens the story by talking about Twinette (is that a real name?) and how she took off and left her kids with her husband, Brady. The narrator tries to be less mean about Twinette (the other mothers paint Twinette as an alcoholic), but even her husband Hugh has little charity for her. Then we learn that the narrator’s parents were part of a touring band and her mother had a fling with the leader of the band. The story is largely about the fragility of families and is rather sad.
HANNAH PITTARD-“There is No Real Name for Where We Live”
This was a disturbing story about a group of people who live in a trailer park. The park is set up like a spoke and wheel, with all of the trailers edged up against the woods. As the story opens, we learn that there was a hanging there recently. It is eventually revealed that the victim was a dog. And the initial suspect is the narrator’s brother Moonie, who has just come back from outside the trailer park where he tried and failed to make a life for himself. The narrator doesn’t think it was Moonie, but he doesn’t think much of Moonie either. Through the course of the story more dogs are hung (this story is not for the animal lover) and the community reacts in different ways to the events.
RODDY DOYLE-“Home to Harlem”
Even when Roddy Doyle isn’t writing about Ireland, his stories are engaging and his characters are interesting. This is the story of Declan O’Connor, a black Irishman who has enrolled in school in New York City. Declan has a theory that the Harlem Renaissance had a huge impact on the great Irish authors. He plans to write his thesis about this. The school director is not impressed by this theory, nor does she see any credibility in it. But Declan does his research to see if he can prove it. The other half of the story is that Declan is looking for his grandfather. Declan’s grandfather was an American soldier who impregnated Declan’s grandmother. She didn’t even know his first name. Nevertheless, while he is in New York, Declan tries to track him down. The story looks at Declan as an outsider both in Ireland and in New York. It’s really good.
The OTHER BOOKLET
ANN BEATTIE with HARRY MATHEWS-“Mr Nobody At All”
This story came as its own booklet. It is the four quadrant of the issue. This story is comprised entirely of two memorial services and the speeches that people give at them. The deceased is an artist named Geoff Chestnut. The first ceremony is the more formal affair at a house in New York City. The speakers include the deceased relatives (and various wives) as well as children, art critics and unexpected art associates. About halfway through the book, the scene shifts to The Pinnacle Modern Art gallery in Los Angeles where Chestnut’s black on black paintings are being displayed. A different crowd is there although there are some duplicates. The story grows more interesting when the second half reveals some secrets that the first half didn’t know–like why Chestnut started associating with pornographers and drawing porn comics.
I really enjoyed this story. It was a such a clever way to develop a character–a dead character at that. It was very funny to hear the way different people reacted off each other, and who was offended at having to speak after someone else. I feel like this must have been very fun to write.
The DECK OF CARDS
ROBERT COOVER-“Heart Suite”
This story came as a deck of cards in the third quadrant of the issue. It also came as a deck of cards in Coover’s book. The idea is that you can read this story in any card order and it will still be interesting (and make sense). The story is certainly weird and does sort of work as suggested (I have now read it two different ways). The story works pretty well out of order, although there are definitely one or two cards that don’t quite work when mixed up. But the story just really isn’t all that interesting–it’s more of an exercise than an actual story about just who stole the Queen of Heart’s tarts.
I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I think I was a little intimidated by it when it first came out–where to start? Do I read Coover’s thing ten different ways? But that hesitation meant I put off reading some great stories for a pretty long time.