When I looked for a picture of this book cover, I was connected to Connell’s blog which has links to many songs by Kodagain. After some more work, I learned that Kodagain features music by Saša Zorić Čombe and lyrics by Brendan Connell!
It was hard to find any real details about Kodagain (they have a media presence, but it is rather abbreviated), until I saw their soundcloud page which gives these nuggets of information
- Kodagain formed in 1985 in Knjazevac, SE Serbia, where it’s hard to be alternative but easy to be alone.
- Kodagain writes and records songs with English lyrics because English is more musical than Serbian.
- Kodagain has a miniaturist approach to pop music, channelling influences from Henry Purcell, through Dean Martin, to Roxy Music, into short compositions combining a bubblegum-pop concern for melody with lo-fi experimentalism, resulting in songs as soulful as they are playful.
- Many of the lyrics have been provided by the existing poetry of famous poets such as Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, Chu-I Po (Bai Juyi), Lord Byron, Ogden Nash, Sara Teasdale, Louisa Stuart Costello and Robert Creely.
- Since 2007, Kodagain has also been using … original lyrics from the writer Quentin S. Crisp; since 2012, Kodagain has similarly collaborated with the writer Brendan Connell. Brendan Connell says: “My ultimate goal is to write a vast number of lyrics about natural wonders, public parks, lost watches, Indian villages, hidden love, birds, trees, mountain passes, fake Taoists, imperceptible colors, rhetorical mysteries, and flowers. Ideally these would be compounded into a ‘Guide for Modern Life’ which could be used to build better relations between workers and their bosses, the various sexes, and those whose religious beliefs differ.”
- Their songs and videos can be found in generous supply on YouTube and SoundCloud. Albums include: Speed Up, The Nowhere Land’s Echoes, A Drink With Something In It, 000, Vranje, Letters From Quentin, Time to Get Ready for Love, My Fear of His Fear of Death, and Supernatural.
Since encountering Kodagain, I have become totally transfixed by them. The melodies are simple and lovely and Zorić Čombe’s voice is gentle but wise. Lyrically the songs are certainly all over the place, and most of the songs are under 2 minutes long. The instrumentation is simple–usually a gentle guitar, steady drums and multi-tracked voices.
It was really hard to pick a song to talk about because there are so many. But I decided to pick “King of Curls,” in part because the video is fantastic, and so are the lyrics
If I ruled the world
I’d call myself
The King of Curls
If I were king
I’d change damn near
If I ruled the world
My army wouldn’t fight wars
But rather eat chocolate bars
And move to the beat
While my advisors wise
Would do jazzercise
(and that’s just the first part!)
Zorić Čombe’s voice sounds a bit to me like a smoother Jens Lekman (although that could just be the enunciation style). I find his songs utterly enchanting.
And if you look on YouTube, you’ll find dozens of videos–most of which are masterpieces of found footage.
[READ: February 20, 2015] The Metanatural Adventures of Dr Black
About 7 years ago, I read a novella called Dr Black and the Guerrillia and I liked it quite a lot. I liked that Connell created this character, with no apparent context (at least none given in the story) and that it was so amazingly detailed and “real” and yet so seemingly unreal–an unsatisfying word which Connell has corrected for me with the title of this collection–Metanatural.
This book is something of a collection of short stories about Dr. Black, but it is far more than that. It collects some of the adventures that Dr. Black has been on as well as some of the patents and other ephemera and fashions a kind of narrative (although a very sketchy narrative) about the life he leads.
Before I even get to the “plot” of the book, I need to say just how much I enjoyed reading this book. I was absolutely captivated by Connell’s voice. Over the years I have known that Connell was an accomplished writer with an unparalleled attention to detail and to choosing the precise word. But somehow in the Dr. Black stories Connell’s details and specifics push the narrative to real heights. Perhaps it is because Dr Black seems so real that when anything “metanatural” happens to him, it is entirely believable–drawing you into his exploits even further. I really wanted to read more and more.
Having said all that, while this book is certainly his most accessible, it is still not light reading. Connell challenges the reader with his extensive vocabulary, his lack of compunction about throwing in some obscure sections of text (that I won’t pretend I understood, but which didn’t bother me at all) and his willingness to defy reality, which may lose some readers. But the rewards of the stories are worth it.
Since many of the stories were published before, I’m using Connell’s website’s table of contents for more information about original publications.
Oh, and before I get to the contents, I have to acknowledge the total commitment to this package that Connell and the publishers did. There is no blurb about the book anywhere to be seen. The inside flaps talks about a “Private Home for Skeptics” and offers an application for the F. Le Roy Yandell Home for Skeptics. The second title page describes this book as “fully revised and restored with copious notes for the layman.” This was supervised by Prof. Ivy Sultan, who is a member of nearly a dozen international societies. The second title page verso describes the book as part of the Bibliotheca Greco-Metaphysical Series. And the following page lists the subscribers to the First Edition.
The end of the book includes Suggested Reading such as Balloon Terms, Their Definitions and French Equivalents and Bible Wines: Or, The Laws of Fermentation and Wines of the Ancients.
The only thing that really breaks the spell of the book is the Introduction by Jeff VanderMeer which does speak of Connell as the author. But it’s a great grounding for the uninitiated. VanderMeer knows Connell’s writing very well and he offers guidelines for the uninitiated and confirmations for those already in the know.
On to the stories
“A Season with Dr. Black” – previously published in Leviathan 3, 2002
Dr. Black is never contextualized. He just is. He’s a short (4′ 11″), stout man with a thick beard. Not conventionally handsome and yet extremely attractive. He is beyond smart–knowledgeable in many diverse arenas–and his academic opinions are quite sought after. But he is also a man of needs–mental and physical. As the story opens, Dr Black and his driver Mr Clovis are heading to his country house (well, mansion really). The next day when Mrs Clovis presents him with locally grown tomatoes, he takes it upon himself to talk to the farmer about a disease that he has already noticed in the man’s crops. The farmer is taken aback but ultimately grateful when the warning proves sound. But the real diversion comes when a woman whose car has broken down near his house asks permission to stay while her car is seen to. The woman’s name is Tandy, and on that first day, they sit in the same room, unspeaking. But that is just the beginning of their relationship this summer, which runs a gamut of emotions.
“Dr. Black and the Guerrilla” – previously published by Grafitisk Press, 2005
I enjoyed this story when I read it several years ago, but with a but more appreciation for Dr Black, I thought it was even more engaging.
“Dr. Black in Monte Carlo” – previously unpublished
In this story, Dr. Black heads to Monte Carlo for a brief bit of gambling before moving on to his latest destination. Of course, he is staggeringly successful (I love that, and that it is basically just a given that he would be). He is so successful, in fact, that the casino bosses ask him to leave. But as with the first story, the heart of the story is not the gambling, it is a woman. Indeed, it is the same woman, Tandy, who just happens to be in Monte Carlo at the same time. They departed each other on rather uncertain footing, but it is clear that she is responding to his presence. Unfortunately, so is her date Brock Rutter (who is as successful as Dr Black, and twice as handsome). I loved that we learn about Rutter through a third party who winds up going to the same gambling event as Rutter does (that chapter alone is one of the best things I’ve read in a long time). This story ends up, somewhat unexpectedly, with a duel and an excellent twist. I really loved this story.
“Red-Haired Man in a Sweater, From the Private Papers of Dr. Black” – previously published in Heliotrope Magazine, 2007
This story is being reported by Professor Kaltenbach and it is one of the most successful “metanatural” stories that I’ve read. I know I’m using Connell’s term here, but it’s better than surreal or some other term. The document concerns the case of a man who “believes himself to have been painted by Lucien Freud.” The entire document is the first person account of a man who is a painting. There are so many simple logistical traps that Connell could have fallen into, but he navigates those moments perfectly, so that you are never brought out of the reality that this man is indeed a painting. When an appraiser runs into him on the street and instantly recognizes him…as a Freud, it is utterly convincing.
“Dr. Black and the Village of Stones”– previously published in Electric Velocipede, 2007
In this story, a young student gives Dr Black a seemingly impossible case–a case of rains of blood and flesh with seemingly no explanation. The quest leads them to a small village. There is a lady involved with this case, although this time it is the student, Wilhelm, who gets involved. There is an absolutely genius custom in this village which plays on a common phrase: “What price for your daughter’s hand?” This question is actually taken literally (although thankfully, disfigurement is not involved). So if a man owns part of a woman, a feud can ensue if another man owns a different part of her. So when Wilhelm gets involved, where does he fit in? I enjoyed that this diversion takes up as much time in the story as the rain of blood. Of course the mystery of the rain takes on a kind of Holmesian quality.
“Dr. Black, Thoughts and Patents” – previously published in A New and Perfect Man, a Postscripts anthology, 2011
As with the story of the man in the red sweater, this is another piece from Black’s collection. I absolutely loved the construct of this piece. We open with a letter to Dr. Black. The letter explains that among the pieces being sent to him is a fragment of a story presumed to be written by Archimedes. It was used as binding for another (less interesting) book. So Dr Black proceeds to read the fragment. In the fragment Archimedes demonstrates the creation of a mechanical woman (sadly the details of how he did it were lost). But what’s even more fun is that while the doctor is reading this fragment, he is interrupted so that a new story can begin (we are now, what three stories deep). Even more fun is that there are unexpected puzzles within the story like Chapter II which begins “Put the words in the correct order to make post-symbolist idioms: 1. elastic / herd / whores / flames / bulges.” The narrative resumes with Dr Black showing his visitors into his workshop and unveiling his patents, like the “method for metaphysical experience.” This leads to yet another story in which one of the visitors puts on the device and is “transported” to the Club for Advanced Gentleman Tailors. (And if you thought that Connell was knowledgeable about many topics, you can add tailoring to that list as well). The bookends all get settled in satisfying ways.
“Dr. Black in Rome” – previously published in Album Zutique, 2003
Connell has already shown us his remarkable knowledge of gastronomic delights (and horrors), so it is no surprise that Dr Black should have a lovely dinner in Rome. Each course is listed and discussed as the participants–renowned professors, including the rather odious Lydia Perrin-Granger (whose discourse on rose petals is hilarious) and the rather intriguing Clelia Gallasio, a woman who, at the end of the meal, invites Dr Black to her room, as her husband will be away. Later that evening Dr Black arrives and begins the seduction only to hear a car pull up, and an entirely new adventure begins–although not in the way I expected. The last chapter punchline is quite delicious.
“Dr. Black at Red Demon Temple” – previously published in a Dutch translation in Wonderwaan. [This story appears here in English for the first time].
This is another story with interesting sections, like Chapter Two: “Things for which Words Should Exist” (a key which is constantly forgotten) and Chapter III which shows excerpts from a newspaper, including two personal ads for people who might be interested in curling (!). There’s also some bon mot from Dr Black like “cigars should be large and ostentatious.” In this story Dr Black was sent to the wrong hotel (which sounds like a Japanese “sleeper” with lots of beds crammed into a tiny room). On his way to the proper hotel, rather than taking the public transportation, which would take hours on back roads, he decides to walk to the new village. Along the way he runs into a small shack with a woman and her unpleasant husband. The man allows Dr Black to stay the night, but Dr Black has a very bad night indeed.
Interspersed within these stories are several Fragments. Some are seemingly nonsensical, but the thing that I was most disappointed about in the book is that the fragments showed Dr Black staying in a nunnery “he took up the cloth, the wimple, and put it over his head.” But that story line was were never followed through. The though of this short hirsute man passing in a nunnery (as Sister Nero) is delightful. The order he has chosen believes in an omniscient and omnipresent God with no sense of benevolence. He is seeking a painting by Bramantino called Christ of the Frogs. And the intrigue that he seems to happen upon are just too good to have them not finished!
The Fragments and the final section called Variety contain things like:
Small frail beards should be ignored. Beards should be full, vast. There are pieces of papyrus and paper with old writings on them. Or simple statements like “In Java it rains ninety-seven days a year.” Or “The bodies of bees, when dried, powdered and mixed with oil, make an excellent cure against baldness.” “In Gloucester, Massachusetts a goose lived to be 95 years old.”
The book ends with a Questionnaire which asks you to fill it out and send $1 to an address in NM (or to deliver it in person on one day between 3 and 4 PM to an address in Venice).
I enjoyed this whole book so much. It was clever and fun, puzzling and confusing and ultimately quite rewarding.
If you have any interest in books that are slightly different from your run of the mill novel, definitely check out Connell, he makes your head spin in the most amusing way.
For ease of searching, I include: Sasa Zoric Combe.