Monthly Archives: October 2010

Prompted by Pawl Basile’s ‘Living the American Nightmare’ – because every day is Halloween!

A very, very long time ago, I sold my soul. Not to the Devil, at least not until later, but to the one thing above all others that I live for and live with and live on and live off.

I sold my soul to rock’n’roll.

In my world, rock’n’roll – however you choose to define it, or whatever genre you choose to define it with – is any of the music that I love. And by extension, any of the performers who create it, sing it, make it breathe and take on a life of its own – the performers who then pass it on to you and become a voice for all you could never articulate half so well or so heartfelt.

Because that’s what it comes down to, people – a voice. The voice that roars in your dark, the voice that haunts your dreams and aspirations, the voice that pushes that one button you never even knew you had, hits that one soft, vulnerable spot in your subconscious bedrock that makes your head explode and ensures that your mind, your outlook, your entire life philosophy will never, ever be the same again.

In my own Faustian parody/rock’n’roll novel-in-progress, ‘Quantum Demonology’, my protagonist has a name for those – she calls them Primeval Forces of the Universe, related to the four universal laws of physics, because to her, to me, and to the legions out there just like us, that’s how important they are.

Put a gun to my head and ask me to name my own, and the first name on that Greatest Hits list, no question, is Peter Steele of Type O Negative.

He first came to my attention back in 1987, when a small review for Carnivore’s ‘Retaliation’ in the music section of Playboy magazine caught my eye, and some time later, a song called ‘Male Supremacy’ caught my ear. I had never in my life heard anything like it, never heard any lyrics quite like it, and forever after, it became a litmus test for any hopeful testosterone bomb hoping to stick around. If they got it, if they understood that unique brand of sarcasm, they might get a repeat, and if not – sayonara, sunshine!

But it wasn’t until Carnivore evolved into the beast that was Type O Negative that my interest became all-out obsession. And I do mean – obsessed. No other band in my life has had such an impact, and no other CDs have had to be so frequently replaced – four times in the case of their 1996 album, ‘October Rust’. Simply because I can’t imagine life without them. Simply because they sounded like no other band on Planet Earth. Simply because I can mention very few other bands I can listen to and hear something new – on the 217th play.

On April 14th this year, Peter died of heart failure aged 48. Two days later, on a humdrum city bus, I was accidentally listening to ‘Bloody Kisses’ for some sick, demented reason, and suddenly, without warning, made a complete public spectacle of myself by bawling like a baby over the death of someone I barely knew and had met on only two occasions. But I knew that voice, I knew that diehard, damn-them-all hopeless romanticism, I knew the music we would lose, and above all else, I knew just what kind of musician, what kind of songwriter the world had lost. One strange lady I never knew came up to me and asked what had happened. I told her, with no small sense of irony, that there had been a death in the family. Because in the world I live in, there had.

I’ve written loads about Type O Negative. My first ever craptacular album review, called ‘The Aural Anaconda’, playlists and a birthday ode and even an elegy written by my soggy Kleenex as soon as I got off that city bus. That unholy Brooklyn quartet got me writing, and I haven’t stopped since, as anyone who reads this blog can tell.

Even today, I’m still writing about him, but quite possibly not in a manner anyone expected. Saint Peter, in ‘Quantum Demonology’, is a Polish alchemist – with a few twists up his sleeve.

Today is Halloween. Today, just as the man wrote on the 2007 album ‘Dead Again’, it’s Halloween in Heaven, with Peter playing bass and John Bonham on drums and Hendrix on guitar in one helluva jam.

Today, just like all the days that bass-baritone sneaks into my iPod, I’ll be listening to Saint Peter. And below, a few showcases to illustrate just what kind of talent we’ve lost, and just how much he’s missed. (All links to the official YouTube videos, but unfortunately, embedding them into this blog has been disabled, with the exception of the last)

Because, dude – you said it yourself:

Every day is Halloween!

And you are missed – every day.

Christian Woman

Black No. 1

Love You To Death

Everything Dies

September Sun

Image: SPV

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– first published 10/16/09, in the Preferred Perverts series

Today, a very long time ago, 156 years, to be exact, a boy was born in a distinguished house in Dublin, a man who would later become a byword for all that was decadent, depraved and “inverted”, to use a delicate Victorian euphemism, a man whose person, whose writings and whose very existence flew in the face of the many hypocrisies of his age.

Oscar Finegan O’Flahertie Wills Wilde – and how great a name is that? – was born today 156 years ago, and if anyone remembers Wilde at all in our own decadent, depraved, celebrity-obsessed age, we remember him for a lot less for what he truly was – a gifted observer of people, an indignant social critic, and like so many of his countrymen, one of the finest writers in the English language.

What we remember is what we have today come to define as “flaming gay”, meaning openly homosexual, or we remember the many, many barbed-wire bon mots he also left behind as his legacy, not a few of which are still quoted with equal relevance today, not something too many of his contemporaries can boast.

We might remember the notoriety – of the man, of his “trial”, of the consequences of honesty in an age that was anything but, and bless our fate that we now live in more forgiving, progressive times, when the fact is, that we are no less hypocritical today, no more forgiving than in the Belle Epoque.

We might remember being forced to read “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in English class, and wondering WTF the fuss was about. At 15, I read it, and even though I was precocious for my age, I was not yet old enough to see the book for what it truly was – an incendiary criticism of “society”, a commentary on art and aesthetics, and a horror story that these many years later still makes my skin crawl.

Dorian Gray is not the only one who has a hideous portrait hidden in his attic, reflecting the sum of all previous vices and transgressions…

We might remember amateur or professional performances of plays such as “The Importance of Being Earnest” or “An Ideal Husband”, where the lines come thick and lightning fast, so fast, the real punchline goes missing in the mirth.

There was always a sting in Oscar, a sting that until his dying day made it possible for him to associate with the highest society and the the lowest dregs, from peers of the realm to Colorado miners, a sting that told the careful listener and observer that the fop, the aesthete, the walking exclamation point had something more, and darker, to offer than one-liners.

What we remember, in other words, is the caricature, the public, distorted persona and what we have forgotten is the man’s complexity – as a writer, critic and certainly as a human being.

He is known for his association with Lord Alfred Douglas, who, it must be said, can’t have done poor Oscar many favors, and yet – he was, for a time at least, a devoted husband and certainly a loving father to the end. Along with his plays, essays, poetry and books, he also wrote children’s stories. One of my own near-misses was a first edition of his “House of Pomegranates”, complete with Art Nouveau gilded pomegranates on the cover. It was in deplorable condition. The binding was coming apart, the edges were frayed and dissolving, and the delicate pages had obviously been read – and loved – for several generations. I almost bought it, but I couldn’t afford it at the time. To this day, I still regret it.

What I remember – a man who used his rapier-sharp wit, his persona in the public mind – and his wits – as a smokescreen and a deflector, to hide what he did not want to world to know – that he saw – everything, and felt – even more. The pain of human existence, the high cost of hypocrisy, the price of so-called progress on the human soul, of how, in the light of all our technological advances, we have forgotten much we should have remembered. Mainly that we have forgotten our very humanity, overlooked our complexity and forget to forgive each other’s and our own all-too human failings.

“Some of us”, said Oscar in one of his more reflective moments, “are in the gutter, but we are looking at the stars.”

In the end, even to a man who always loomed larger than life in many ways for many people, his own human failings caught up to him, and nevertheless, he saw it coming.

Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another’s guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

Fron “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde, wherever you may be! Today your grave is covered in roses and peacock feathers, and even now, so long after, you, also, have never been forgotten, and although you have been much maligned, you are today much beloved!

“The wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One of us has to go.”

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Walk out your front door, and you will realize that summer – is gone. That promise of spring green that deepened into a darker, summery prayer, has come to this – Summer’s End.

That bright light of summer, the thin green-gold of vinho verde, has now matured into an amber sweet Sauternes poured over the landscape to remind you one last time – remember this: Soon, the light will be gone.

The insipid blue of the sky has mellowed and evolved, no longer aquamarine but lapis, sharpening the details on the leaves, trees and the half-hidden apples glowing under foliage, ruby red , the taste of summer distilled into a taste of a life, with sweet and tart and bitter earth beyond.

Smell them, even, lying on the ground, spilling their juices, the flavor of an promise they give to birds and voles and fiery red squirrels – we will return, another year, another spring, another fall, for you to eat – and remember.

Breathe it all in, the truffle scent of mushrooms, blooming suddenly on the burning green grass, the leaves dropping in a jewelled blaze of shocking color, the sharp smell of the fallen apples, fermenting for the birds, the grass, burned emerald glass by hoarfrost – the smell of sleep, lingering under hedgerows, whispering through the rowan trees.

The sounds of autumn – the geese, calling out “We’re going, we’re going – we’re…gone” in a song headed south, the rooks, lurking in the branches, black, ominous, guarding their trees beak and claw, for even they know – soon, they will be gone, too. Towering beeches, yellow-gold torches above the darker honey brown of the forest floor beneath, singing their regrets, they cannot stay, they must be going, going…down.

Down like the raindrops on a Sunday afternoon, playing their Debussy counterpoint on the windowpane, racing each other to the ground, and up above the next chill morning, a skinny sickle moon a little boy tries to catch with his hand, he’s so close, and the moon is his own that he can never catch, but it is – his moon.

His mother stands transfixed in that early Sauternes sunshine, holding acorns in her hand and knows the light that will return, the promises it holds and keeps the secret – that the oak and the woman are not so unalike. The hint of a mighty forest in the acorns carpeted beneath her feet, the suggestion of the man in the boy who stands there, holding her hand.

She knows that sleep and dreams shall not be so far behind, for the oak, for the woods, for the apple trees dropping their last fruit as she watches. She knows that secret scent exhaled by the stones and the pines, a scent of cold, of wet, of winter and regret for what left, and hope for what remains.

She knows. It’s an end holding another beginning, another promise, another hope and yet another dream to wish for, in the cold and dark awaiting them all.

She knows.

It’s Summer’s End.

Image: Georgia O’Keeffe, “Autumn Leaves, Lake George, NY” 1924
Copyright Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio

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Originally posted 10/12/09, in the Preferred Perverts Series

Birthdays, thought a certain Edward Alexander, were a tedious business, and being dead did absolutely nothing to improve them. This particular part of Hades, a section reserved for dedicated hedonists and resolute degenerates, was better than further down below, but hard as he had tried in the 72 years he lived on Earth, even he had not been evil enough to be sent there when he died.

Instead, he passed eternity as best he could. There would be, he knew, a birthday celebration later, involving things like cake – more hellish buttercream than actual cake – a birthday song and even a present or two, but sadly, not so much as a decent port to wash it down.

No port, no brandy, and certainly no drugs. All this clarity of thought and consciousness was very nearly punishment enough. He had not been this clean since childhood, an aeon ago in thought, but only 136 years ago, as things were reckoned on Earth.

A pity. A healthy dose of cocaine – about enough to induce apoplexy in the average man – would have improved his birthday immensely. Or at the very least, a vat of Krug.

Where he was, there were endless opportunities to pass the time. Endless libraries of every coherent human thought ever written down since the advent of writing, vast park-like vistas to wander, secluded groves, comfortably furnished with lawn chairs and cushions, and the plush bathhouses where one had every opportunity to prove precisely how dedicated one was to sexual dissipation. If none of those things were enough to divert you from the realization that you were, in fact, in Hell, then there was always the continuing diorama of life on Earth. Anywhere you wanted to go, any life you wanted to see was there for your delectation – or edification, as the case merited. It had made his first thirty years here bearable, until he had discovered that there would never be any kind of external stimulants – ever.

Like his beloved Abbey, but there was no pontificating Mussolini to kick you out, although there were several popes.

But today was his – birthday. It would not be long before several of his fellow – inmates, he called them in his mind – would come around to call, to wish him a happy birthday, to remember the extraordinary life he once had called his own.

Later, Oscar came to call. How he had come to be here, Edward Alexander had no idea, except that perhaps just like him, Oscar had committed the ultimate Victorian crime – of being found out, and refusing to lie about it. No hypocrite, Oscar. That was probably why he was here, come to think of it.

Ruthlessly honest man, Oscar, even for an Irishman, or perhaps, because of it.

“Oh, do cheer up, Edward. I know it’s your birthday, but you do need to face up to a few facts, darling.”

He hated to be called darling. He never had been anyone’s darling.

“Such as?” Edward was pleased to see Rodrigo strolling by. Once upon a time, Rodrigo had been Pope, back in the day when the Pope did rule the world. They had often whiled away several years discussing “The Book of the Law”.

“Ciao, Eduardo!” Rodrigo shouted. “I shall be by in time for the cake!”

Excellent! It was one way to shut up all those licentious former rock stars who would never leave him alone. Keith, Keith was the one who annoyed him the most. His manic questioning drove Edward over the edge, not once, but many times.

Oscar pointed toward the diorama. “You have, my friend, far more acolytes now than you ever did when you were alive!”

“Acolytes! Acolytes! Yes, a whole flock of ignorant neophytes who read my books and make two fatal mistakes. First, they’re stupid enough to read everything I ever wrote, even “White Stains”-“

Oscar winced. He had always thought that particular book was vulgar beyond belief.

“And second, they take me at face value. Is that the way to read esoteric secrets, I ask? Haven’t they enough sense to know that it’s a code? That in fact, the whole point of occult knowledge is precisely that it is – hidden, obscure, arcane?”

“They’ve forgotten to teach Aristotelian reason in school, these days, I’m afraid.”

“They’ve forgotten other things, too, remarked Edward. “First and foremost that I was never meant to be taken seriously.”

“And yet,” Oscar pointed out, “you’ve been dead almost 62 years, and you have not been forgotten.”

“Quite,” Edward continued Oscar’s line of thought. “I’ve been adopted and adapted by countless so-called musicians who’ve stolen from me wholesale in order to sell records, CDs and iTunes downloads!”

“Well, you were the one who advocated sex and drugs!”

“To direct towards a higher purpose, always!” countered Edward. “Not as another avenue towards useless escapism!”

“Not all of them do.” Oscar pointed a finger toward the diorama, flicked his fingers and zoomed in.

Down below, a woman – not old, not young, typed away at a computer, scratching her nose as she thought before she typed. In an earlier time, Edward thought hazily, she would not been his type at all. Too short, too busty, and judging from the way she banged the keyboard in time to one of those larcenous rock musicians he often railed against, far too quick of mind for him. He loathed smart women. They always had the heretical thought they were equal to any man – even him.

The very idea!

“I don’t know. I can’t take any woman seriously who writes in pink velour pyjamas.”

“Hush. She’s writing about you.”

Rodrigo snuck up from behind and clapped Edward on the back. “And you know what they say, amigo.”

“No, I don’t!” Edward protested hotly. It was his birthday and he could be bad-tempered if he wanted.

“So long as one person remembers you”, Oscar recited in his thrilling, musical voice, “you are immortal.”

“Even to women who write in pink velour pyjamas!” Rodrigo laughed. “Ecce, Eduardo – your cake!”

A seraph wheeled in an enormous cake, and soon, a throng of souls were gathered around it, even a few rock stars who had managed to wrest themselves away from the bathhouse.

He gave it a look. Death by buttercream.

A good thing he was immortal, with a cake like that. It was the perfect illustration to one of his fundamental magickal principles – love under will.

On it was written, in flowing copperplate script, “Happy Birthday, Aleister!”

No wonder he hated birthdays.

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– a review of ‘Until the Light Takes Us’

There’s no better way to rebel against authority and general societal malaise than through music, and in the early Nineties in Scandinavia, if you really wanted to strike terror in the hearts of your parents, it took just two words – black metal.

In this relativistic day and age, black metal is practically mainstream. Many of the headlining bands of metal these days either originated in black metal or were directly influenced by it, far too many for me to mention here.

What was it? Where did it come from? And why was it so divisive, what riled the media to such a shark chum feeding frenzy, what caused these terrifying, sensationalist headlines?

These are some of the questions directors Aaron Aites and Audrey Ewell seek to answer in their 2009 documentary ‘Until the Light Takes Us’.

In order to even begin to understand black metal beyond the stereotypical image of corpse paint, black garb and inherent nihilism, you need to understand something about that inner heart of dark that lurks in Scandinavia, and is not just endemic to Norway. Whether it’s the weather (usually miserable), the damp cold (usually present) or the absence of light (for a fair portion of the most miserable time of year), the heart of those Viking descendants is a bleak and dismal place. Once upon a time, the pagan Norse struck terror in the hearts of Christian Europe, as Varg Vikernes, one of the key figures and self-styled ideologists of black metal points out, then came Christianity and much later, a particularly joyless semi-Calvinist brand of Lutheranism, and somewhere along the way, Norway degenerated into a liberal, relativist, cultural landscape of celebrated mediocrity and stifling conformism, something that could also be said of my own closely related cultural desert, Denmark.

This was the environment that fostered the beginnings of black metal, the rebellion against nice, against conformist, and even against the off-center musical leanings of death metal, from which black metal evolved.

What started out as a straightforward exercise in teenaged rebellion and new musical boundaries soon gravitated toward ever-increasing extremes – in terms of stage performances, exemplified by the lead singer of Mayhem, Per Yngve ‘Dead’ Ohlin, who adapted the corpse paint of performers such as King Diamond but took the look even further, for instance burying his clothes in the ground before performances and cutting himself on stage with knives and shards of glass.

When Ohlin committed suicide in by shotgun and slashed wrists in 1991, he was found by another member of Mayhem, guitarist Euronymous, owner of the pivotal record store and gathering place ‘Helvete’ (Hell) in Oslo. Instead of calling the police, he bought a disposable camera and took photos, one of which made it on the cover of a bootleg Mayhem LP.

From there on, it only gets stranger. Vikernes, frontman of rival band Burzum, soon began a personal crusade against Christianity, media-fed cultural conformity and the increasing globalization of Norway and what he came to see as the pollution of indigenous cultures by Judeo-Christian values.

When the burning of churches began in 1992/1993, Vikernes wanted to set the media record straight and contacted a Bergen journalist. Instead, the journalist went to the police, who promptly arrested Vikernes for arson, but soon had to let him go for lack of direct evidence. And meanwhile, the media both in Scandinavia and worldwide had a field day. Arson! Satanism! Antisocial, disaffected, ghoulish youth, lured by the siren call of Evil Incarnate! This was the stuff myths are made of, this was too extreme even for fiction, and this was, at least if you asked some of the main participants, the beginning of the end. Many saw Vikernes as the main culprit for laying claim to several church burnings, and in no time rumors began circulating that Euronymous of Mayhem wanted to kill Vikernes under the pretext of signing a record contract. The precise details are obscure even today, but in any event, Euronymous was killed in an altercation with Vikernes in August of 1993, ending in his sentencing for murder and arson in 1994.

This is the story ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ sets to tell by going straight to the sources of those who were there, those who defined and still define black metal today – Fenriz of Darkthrone, Vikernes, still in a maximum security prison at the time of filming, and a few other key musicians. While the film does an admirable job of treating its controversial subject matter in a levelheaded, non-sensationalist fashion, it falls rather short in portraying its key members in a critical fashion. The two main interviewees, Vikernes and Fenriz, couldn’t be further apart – Fenriz, the polite, mild-mannered musician who only really comes alive when discussing his music past and present, and Vikernes, the chillingly articulate, charismatic, cool ideologist, describing Euronymous’ murder in such a dispassionate fashion, my blood ran cold. The directors’ fascination with Vikernes in particular borders on idolatry, and contrasted with Fenriz, nowhere so articulate or even quite so compelling, only made me wish they had dared to be a bit less in awe and a lot more critical of their subjects.

All these years later, black metal has gone mainstream. Corpse paint fazes no one, extreme music has become ever more extreme and button pushing, and even the originals – Fenriz and Frost of influential black metal band Satyricon – both lament that it became so popular, it almost became a parody of itself.

For some time, in my own explorations in the netherworld of music, I came to realize some of the most compelling and interesting metal these days one way or another started with the mother lode of black metal. Bands I love and constantly play – Dimmu Borgir, Enslaved, even Fenriz’ own short-lived folk metal experiment Storm and their seminal album ‘Nordavind’ – this is where it started, this is what made it.

‘Until the Light Takes Us’ (a mistranslation of Burzum’s ‘Hvis Lyset Tar Oss’ – ‘If(!) the light takes us’) does a great job of explaining the beginnings of black metal, but falls rather short at making Fenriz, or for that matter Frost, reduced to breathing fire and simulating suicide at a performance art installation in Milan, as persuasive as Vikernes, or even to describe what makes them both at least as important. Last, but not least, it fails miserably at portraying what the orginal scene was all about – or even is to this day – the music. What it does do is strip away many of the misconceptions, the hype and sensationalism of the original media circus.
Somehow, the music got lost, overpowered by the ones who created it, and this is the film’s greatest failing.

Ideology – however misguided or well-articulated – never was the main context of black metal, never was the original lure that gave it such an influence over metal even as we define it today. It was – just as it always was, just as it hopefully always will be – about the music.

Somehow in this film, the music got lost, overpowered by the ones who created it and the drama that surrounded it, and this is the film’s greatest failing. Nevertheless, this is a riveting story, and just for steering clear of easy sensationalism, it should be applauded.

Original image:

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