Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Black Static Interview

The excellent Ms. Maura McHugh interviewed me at Black Static magazine's main web-page. It was a lot of fun to do, and you'll find the result here (http://ttapress.com/1027/gemma-files-interviewed-by-maura-mchugh/0/5/).

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First A ROPE OF THORNS Interstitial: Play On, Play Often

So...as we’ve established, music is a big part of my creative process. And one of the more fun things that happened this time ‘round was that I ended up channeling my period-appropriate tunes obsession into a very weird little sidebar: In order to come up with a suitably enraging plot-point for Chapter Six of A Rope of Thorns, much of which takes place during someone’s post-wedding after-party, I wrote filk for my own narrative. And thus the scurrilously not-exactly-libelous ballad of Chess Pargeter, aka “The Red-Head Pistoleer”, was born. At Francesca Forrest’s suggestion, it should be sung to the tune of “Two Dimes and a Nickle” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIIaSYvUKlw) by Dave Davis and the Warrior River Boys, and goes a little something like this:

Chess Pargeter was a pretty little man, his hair was red as flame,

His Ma she knew no better, and she raised him up the same.

The ladies he liked little, the men he liked too well.

Mere repetition of his sins might send a man to Hell!

He danced with men for money, but he'd kill ’em just for fun,

And the only thing he truly loved was the barrel of his gun.

In the army he met Reverend Rook, who tried to pray him ’round,

But Chess sunk in his wicked hooks, and pulled that good man down.

Now, one sin leads to every sin, or so you may have heard—

And sodomy and sorcery are almost the self-same word.

He’d been a saint by all accounts, right faithful to God’s ways,

But once stuck fast in Chess’s toils, the Rev begun to change. . . .

The Good Lord wrote the Bible, Lincoln freed the slaves,

But the Devil made Chess Pargeter to drag fools to their graves.

He made him small and pretty, as bright as any pin,

And set that red-head pistoleer to tempt weak men to sin!

Now if he’d never met him, the Rev might still be right,

But Pargeter, that red-head tramp, a-turned him from the Light.

The Devil gave Rook magic, those mocking him were slayed—

And thus the Rev was proved a hex, and stays one to this day.

They scoured the state from east to west, a-robbing as they went.

Good men they killed, their widows left, ignoring their laments.

They took both trains and coaches, good folk were all appalled,

And the whole town of Bewelcome, the Rev, he preached to salt. . . .

Oh, the Good Lord wrote the Bible, Lincoln freed the slaves,

But the Devil made Chess Pargeter to drag fools to their graves.

He made him small and pretty, as bright as any pin,

And set that red-head pistoleer to tempt weak men to sin!

And what will cool you down after folks have been snapping their fingers and toe-tapping along to a tune that casts you as some sort of male prostitute in the Devil’s service? Why...probably something like “Blackest Crow”, by Angi West. And while I couldn’t find any video of that particular version, this one--by Bruce Molsky with Julie Fowlis--is still very nice. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6jh1vqNvMs) The (Angi West) lyrics:

As time grows near, my dearest dear, when you and I must part,

How little you know of the grief and woe in my poor aching heart.

’Tis blood I’d suffer for your sake—believe me, dear, it’s true;

I wish that you were staying here, or I was going with you.

I wish my breast were made of glass, wherein you might behold

Upon my heart, your name lies wrote in letters made of gold;

In letters made of gold, my love—believe me, when I say

You are the one I will adore until my dying day.

The blackest crow that ever flew would surely turn to white

If ever I prove false to you, bright day will turn to night.

Bright day will turn to night, my love—the elements will mourn.

If ever I prove false to you, the seas will rage and burn.

The rest of the approved final playlist for A Rope of Thorns can be divided into four separate categories: Songs that remind me of Chess’s progress, songs for Sheriff Love, songs for Hex City and songs for Bewelcome, where the bulk of the climax takes place. These last songs also evoke the Enemy, Smoking Mirror, the black-red-white-blue God K himself--Tezcatlipoca, that is, primary trickster chaos-god of the already-chaotic Aztec pantheon--and presage the throw-down which is eventually fated to occur between he and Lady Rainbow herself, Ixchel, Mother of Hanged Men.

Like the man they reflect, the Chess songs all share some very specific characteristics: Momentum, heat, anger, betrayal, sexuality. We start off with Larkin Grimm’s propulsive “Ride That Cyclone”, which has Chess chasing the Rev and his own tail equal-aimless through the wasteland (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr_wW9UT1Tw), before moving almost immediately onto the noirish double-shot of Tom McRae’s “Told My Troubles to the River” (I feed on fire and confusion/Of this crime I’ll rid my soul/Gonna slide on down to the river/Gonna tell her all/So I told my troubles to the river/And I tossed them in the deep/And I washed my hands in the river/But the river brings more trouble to me...) and the Dead Weather’s “So Far From Your Weapon” (There's a bullet in my pocket burning a hole/You're so far from your weapon and the place you were born/...I knew it from the get-go the bullet was cursed/Ever since I had you, every little things hurts...)

On the up-side--or the upbeat side, if nothing else--we have Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s infinitely catchy “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” (Your soul is able, death is all you cradle/Sleeping on the nails, there's nowhere left to fall/You have admired, every man desires/Everyone is king when there's no one left to pawn) and the King Crack selection of this entire mix: “Li’l Devil,” by the Cult. Yes, that “Li’l Devil”--the Robert Downey Jnr. dancing sweatily while hopped up on crack version. What can I say: Female pronoun aside, this song has “Chess” written all over it, for me.;)

Sheriff Love’s songs, OTOH, all have a very different sort of tenor: Loss, dread, a near-Biblical hunger for retribution. The nicest comes from Crooked Still, whose “Undone in Sorrow” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wAMp-EHeCKQ&feature=related) gives a pretty good indication of his yearning for his similarly-saltified wife Sophy and their son, Gabe. Second-nicest would probably be the Wallflowers’ “God Says Nothing Back” (But I Told You So), which is still fairly freakin’ bleak: Still waters rising in my mind/Black and deep/Smoke behind my eyes/Last night I could not sleep at all/I hallucinated that you were in my arms...

But the rest are all far more Apocalyptic, like Alexisonfire’s “The Northern (Acoustic Version)” (He comes, he comes/Judge so severe/Seven trumpets speak/Speak the sound of fear) or Benjamin Blower & the Army of the Broken Hearted’s “Ringing the Bell for the Last Time” (I saw a hundred thousand towns on fire/...Skies were black with burning hair/Cows and pigs and sheep up there/And he’s headed this way next!). Or that ultimate He Saw What You Did And Now You’re Gonna Pay dirge, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, made even more frightening in its inescapable Mondkopff Plus de Sommeil Remix version (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTn78xHpLZY).

Over in New Aztectlan, meanwhile, Reverend Asher Rook has has plenrty of time to think over his own sins of commission, omission and cowardice--trapped in “marriage” with a goddess-possessed dead body and watching something unprecedented grow up all ‘round him, he’s definitely coming to suspect he’s been used as something karmic’s willfully ignorant whip-hand. These musings express themselves best through stuff like the Veils’ “Jesus for the Jugular” (How'd you preach The Word if you don't know how to read/Where will your soul once you've signed the deed/...There's a bulls-blood fountain in the pit of a moan/I will summon an eclipse on my way to the Lord), or the emo stylings of Augustana’s “Dust” and Black Lab’s “This Night”, though I’m also very pleased by Two Gallants‘ “Fly Low Carrion Crow” (...and seize my body for the dead I owe/and drop me high into the depths below/for the things I’ve seen, no one else should know...)

But then, as we always must, we have yet another version of “Two Sisters”--Clannad’s this time, all happy and tripping and Irish, to celebrate some of the younger, fresher hexes. I chose it because it was (to some degree) the antithesis of the version Oona taught Chess, yet shares most of its key characteristics, including that fatal refrain: I’ll be true...unto...my love/If he’ll be true to me!

Finally, as things careen towards their end, we have a song which became somehow identified with the Enemy in my mind--”Cross Bones Style” by Cat Power (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU291yKCbBE), which sets just the correct tone of slightly wistful yet utterly inhuman detachment: ‘Cause you have seen some unbelievable things... Then, for the god-on-godly smackdown, Murder by Death’s “White Noise” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTSq1M1atvs)--one of those few videos which, like 16 Horsepower’s “Black Soul Choir”, actually lives up to its inspiration. (Those sea-serpent grins, peeping up through turbulent waters.) And finally, as a palate-cleanser, Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s version of “Weeping Pilgrim 417” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n98NDTD8RQw&feature=related). Terrifying shape-note goodness, for the win.

So...that’s about that. I’m now deep into assembling the playlist for A Tree of Bones, and things are opening up further. Music! It’s so ingrained as part of my process, even I find it a bit scary.

Next up: The growing role of ladies in a previously lady-free narrative. Stay tuned.