Turning

If I put the needle to the grooves,
let them cruise over me, my own
unruly car with your hands lashed
to the wheel,

I would find in those folds
the garden bursting, friends flying
off of bridges, like they had
two weeks to live;
at the most,

there can only be seventy-five
minutes of you in one sitting.

The record turns, black and bruised,
and pops itself into the fuss
of the middle, the speakers
twitching the night goodbye.

I never turned off, into a ditch,
grooves to the earth’s vinyl.
I don’t have a sleeve, closed up
by cardboard thanks and
liner notes.

Still the turning ends: the returning
will end, but not before I take
one more listen, rubbing my eyes
with it and grinding its valleys to plains.

-W.B. Hurst

————————–


Night Moves

The sound wandered in at night
as my eyelids were giving up
their fight for life,
that 90’s lull, a dull lullaby
which filtered through cracked bedroom
doors and puffed up the night
with nostalgia for something
I’d never heard before.

Dad used to sit on the bed,
one leg propped, and turn on
the stereo, the only music that
ever filled that shotgun cavern
of ours. The smoke that spilled
out of his room would make
the whole house moan like
a séance to the gods of cheap pickups.

The bluesman gave the tonic
and the shadows in the wood
skipped around with the joy
of an 8 to 5
with 2 sick days.
It was the last call, and Dad
was always ready to fill himself
with anything he could coax
out of that cassette.

And he and Pat had a long talk,
and they always agreed that working
2 hours overtime was worth
2 kids and an overdue light bill.
It was the sound of calloused hands that
made the blues not seem sad anymore.

I lay there in my four-post, two-sheet
bed and listened, and tried
to snatch pieces of my Dad
out of the chords that trailed
out of his bedroom.

-W.B. Hurst

[P.S. – This has been published on a poetry blog called Asphodel Madness! Click here to check it out!]


Flying with a Mangum (and a Magnum)

This journey is a tightrope over a pit filled with schoolchildren and racehorses. There’s a balancing act, a fire breather, and a bearded lady. There aren’t many ways to describe Neutral Milk Hotel’s music, but a circus always springs to mind when “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt. 1” switches on. Jeff Mangum, lead singer and bandleader of Neutral, has always seemed out of step with the mainstream music industry. Just as well, though, since if he’d gone any further in he might not have been able to surprise the indie world in the way that he did.

Mangum, born in Louisiana at the dawn of the 1970’s, previously played in groups such as Synthetic Flying Machine and Olivia Tremor Control. In 1991, he joined up with buddies Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss to form what would become Neutral Milk Hotel. This, however, would not be the definitive lineup the band would take, since recording sessions were often initiated wherever Mangum found inspiration and a microphone. His backup members often consisted of who was available at the time, and the work of Hart and Doss only consisted of a few efforts in the early 90’s. While he released the LP On Avery Island in 1996, his critically acclaimed work would not come until 1998, with the release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Jeff Mangum (2nd from Left) Holding an Angel

The album throws so many loops that it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what genre you’re listening to. At first it can seem like folk, maybe even freak folk, and then “Holland, 1945” hits and you’re back in rock ’n’ roll land. Here’s a few samplings of the lyrical content of this kaleidoscope:

“The only girl I’ve ever loved
Was born with roses in her eyes
But then they buried her alive
One evening, 1945
With just her sister at her side
And only weeks before the guns
All came and rained on everyone
Now she’s a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames
On empty rings around the sun
All sing to say my dream has come”
-“Holland, 1945”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

“Goldaline my dear
We will fold and freeze together
Far away from here
There is sun and spring and green forever
But now we move to feel
For ourselves inside some stranger’s stomach
Place your body here
Let your skin begin to blend itself with mine”
-“Oh Comely”: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Now you might be asking yourself, “What kind of inspiration would a man need to be writing these outlandish lyrics?” Let’s here from Jeff on this, “…it ended up being a reference to Anne Frank, too. A lot of the songs on this record are about Anne Frank.”

You heard that right. Anne Frank. After a while of wrestling with the idea, the careful listener begins to connect the dots between Mangum’s reading of The Diary of a Young Girl and the creation of Aeroplane.

Discussing the writing process, Jeff claimed:

“…typically there are little fragments of specific words and images swimming around in my mind, and then at some point, I’ll sit down with the guitar and everything will fall into place. It’s like your brain is a drain with a bunch of words and images dropping into it, swirling around. The drain is stopped up, but you can feel these things dropping into it. Then at some point, someone comes along and pulls the plug out of the drain…”

After a year of touring to support this album, Jeff went on an indefinite hiatus from performing and recording that has lasted ten years. While he has appeared sporadically on stage with a few acts headlined by his closest friends, no one has seen a resurgence of the pre-Aeroplane Mangum since. So, either Mr. Mangum is one of the most innovative and interesting artists of the past 20 years or he’s the most insane. Whichever is true, the legions of Indie fans who view this album as their own Sgt. Pepper will not let him go into obscurity without a fight.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Here’s a bit from Mangum himself. See what you think!

References:

1. Marci Fierman, “Pitchfork: Interviews: Neutral Milk Hotel,” Pitchfork, http://pitchfork.com/features/interviews/5847-neutral-milk-hotel/.

1. Mike McGonigal, “orange twin,” Puncture, http://www.orangetwin.com/nmh_puncture3.html.


Nick Cave Finds It Again

Released in 2008, Dig, Lazurus, Dig!!! is the fourteenth studio album by the prolific Nick Cave and his backup band, The Bad Seeds. It ranked high on many ‘Best Of…’ lists of 2008 and solidified Cave’s place in the modern musical scene. The lyrics of this album are also complex, but in a very different way. While other prominent wordsmiths like Leonard Cohen pride themselves on their poetic influences, Cave seems to find the most joy by combining and juxtaposing the smooth with the gritty, the secDig, Lazarus, Dig!!!ular and the sacred.

The timbre of the album is the most prominent juxtaposition on the album. It includes the basics of a rock group (vocals, guitar, bass, drums), but it also includes electronic sounds mixed with urban sound effects that give the impression of Mr. Cave singing to the cracked bricks of Hell’s Kitchen. The track “Night of the Lotus Eaters” displays Cave’s mythological influence by putting a modern edge on the ancient Roman myth of the Lotus Eaters, who appeared in The Odyssey and were said to eat the native lotus plants of their region. These plants are highly narcotic, and caused the people “to sleep in peaceful apathy” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lotus-Eaters). Lines such as, “The dragons roam the shopping malls / I hear they’re gonna eat our guts” and “Get ready to shield yourself / From our catastrophic leaders” mix the ancient and modern into a socially relevant concoction.

Notable Tracks:
Night of the Lotus Eaters
Jesus of the Moon – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7aP8_hUFIc&feature=related
Hold on to Yourself

It’s surprisingly hard to find recordings of Cave’s work on YouTube. Someone needs to get on that.