Armagideon Time

The three years that passed between my mother’s death in November 1988 and my first date with Maura in December 1991 felt longer than the five that preceded them and the twenty five which followed them. It’s understandable, as it was a period marked by one life-changing event after another. One of the most significant of these was my transformation from a shaggy-maned soul boy into an metalhead sporting a severe buzzcut.

It happened pretty rapidly, unfolding less than six weeks after my mom’s fatal tumble down our attic stairs. My brother and I had moved into my grandmother’s spare room and were getting used to the strange new world of dentist visits, regular haircuts, and a well stocked fridge and pantry. This was completely unlike the life we had before everything came crashing down, and it — and the natural restlessness that comes with being sixteen years old — made me exceedingly receptive to an internal shakeup of my old habits.

The hospital kitchen where I worked had a sizable contingent of metalheads who were big fans of the scene’s “thrash” subgenre. For some reason I cannot fathom, I asked the dude working the pot-washing station if he could make me a copy of the tape he was rocking out to during his shift. It was Flotsam & Jetsom’s No Place for Disgrace which took a bit to get used to, but soon became my favorite album in the whole wide world…for a short time.

Over the next few weeks, I raided the metal section Burlington’s Newbury Comics location for cassettes by Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, Fates Warning, and Celtic Frost. The aggressive bombast and frequently geeky themes of the music slotted perfectly with my preoccupations of the time — Warhammer and bleak “mature readers” comics and horror fiction and the urgent desire to be more than the quietly sad victim of a family tragedy.

In hindsight, it was pretty unhealthy in the short term. My socialization skills were already poor enough without dumping a fuckton of affected adolescent transgressiveness into the mix. Yet it did set me on the path to a form of self-actualization on my own terms. I was an obnoxious little shit regardless, so maybe it was a blessing I found a marginally manageable outlet for those behaviors before they became permanently ingrained.

Yet as huge a personal paradigm shift as that phase was, it only lasted around four months before I gravitated away from thrash metal and into the realm of hardcore punk. I still listened to Anthrax and Slayer for a while after my fateful purchase of the Repo Man soundtrack in May 1989, but it was as a punk rocker who happened to like some heavy metal songs. By the time I finished my first semester of college, I’d either sold, tossed or given away most of my metal albums.

Since that break, I’ve only revisited that era on rare occasions. I’m not necessarily ashamed of it — no more so than I’m ashamed of my teenage antics overall — but it was a transitional phase I’d moved past and felt no need to dredge up outside conversations with metalhead pals or when a certain half-remembered track fit the theme of an AT 1.0 music blogging post.

That’s why it came as a bit of a surprise when, in the course of plotting out a Halloween playlist, this blast from my forsaken past lept back into my forebrain….

Even during those rare moments when I reminisced about my metal-loving days, I had entirely blotted King Diamond from memory. Strange, because he was second only to Anthrax when it came to the depths of my devotion.

Diamond was something of an outlier in my thrash-centric fandom, even further outside that wheelhouse than Fates Warning’s prog-leaning spin on the subgenre. Thrash bands tended to be pretty basic on the fashion front — long hair, jeans, t-shirts, and leather jackets. It was a look that mirrored that of their fans and was in direct opposition to the absurdities of glam metal excess and the cliched public conception of metal musicians in general.

King Diamond, on the other hand, opted for the full Halford-Dio-Cooper approach, right down to the Dracula cape and full face paint. Everything about him was theatrical in the extreme, contemporary metal crunchiness married to bizarre concept albums packed with effects work and dealing with occult themes.

And his voice — oh god, his voice — falsetto wails to feral growls and back in again in the space of a single phrase, all in service of selling some convoluted tale of demonic terror.

On first glance, there was no reason whatsoever to take any of it seriously…but I most certainly did.

It all came down to Abigail, Diamond’s 1987 concept album about the malevolent spirit of a stillborn child seeing supernatural revenge against the descendants of her murderer. One of the dudes at the hospital played a copy for us and we were utterly amazed by it. Concept albums were nothing new, but this was more than a common thread between a collection of otherwise single-ready cuts. This was a clear narrative told from beginning to end which also happened to be a nine-song metal album.

For the aspiring musicians in that little circle, it was an impetus to expand their own musical ambitions. For me, it was a goad to double down on the derivative horror fiction epics I submitted to my high school’s literary journal.

Abigail was one of the first compact discs I ever purchased, solely to obtain the lyric sheet my cassette version lacked. There were lines and phrases in the songs that I was unable to decipher, and I was worried that I’d been missing some crucial elements of the story. As it turned out, most of bits I couldn’t understand were victims of a Danish band’s shaky grasp of English pronunciation coupled with some lyrical panel beating. His reads of “sar-co-PHAY-gus” and “embyro” with the “y” as a long “i” were two of the more stand-out howlers.

My King Diamond obsession died a quick death following my transition from metal to punk, because he lacked the crossover cred that acts like Anthrax or Metallica possessed. He was metal on the most unabashed variety and there was no reconciling that within the tribal boundaries of my newly chosen subculture. It seems so silly in hindsight, but not when you’re a teenager intent on establishing an personal identity.

In the aftermath of this unexpected flashback, I sat down and re-listened to Abigail in its macabre entirety…and I honestly enjoyed both the album and the experience. It’s goofy, but that’s not necessarily a drawback for a metal album for me these days, and there are some parts that still managed to elicit legitimate chills on my end.

I couldn’t tell you how much of that is due to nostalgia and how much is due to unclouded critical analysis, but I’m past a point where such a distinction matters.

It’s October 26 and that means it’s time for a second round of self-promotion, as Boo! Halloween Stories 2016 has hit the virtual stands!

I’ve already written about my involvement with this amazing anthology, so I’ll just cut to the hard sell.

Sixty-five pages. Twelve chilling tales of the supernatural. A phenomenal roster of talented creators. All for less than two bucks!

I have a story in there, too — illustrated by Daniel Butler and lettered by Josh Krach!

So (graveyard) hop to it, already!

Recommended listening: Glorious Din – Arrival (from Leading Stolen Horses, 1985)

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And yet I feel as if I’ve been here the entire time.

(from “Brassfist of the Gore” by Some Jerk and Mathew Digges in the Death Saves anthology, 2015)

I don’t have much to say about Jack Chick’s passing, apart from the fact that the announcement of his death has dredged up a tangentially-related memory from my college days.

The Sci-Fi Club had a contingent known as “the Night Crew.” They were alums and former club members who would continued to hold their weekly gaming nights in the club room because it offered a central, easy-to-get-to gathering place to keep their Starfleet Battles and Rolemaster runs going after graduation.

The Night Crew’s membership occasionally overlapped with the daytime’s disparate school of geeks, with folks coming back to complete an unfinished degrees or enroll in some professional development credits. There was a good deal a tension between the groups. The Night Crew thought the newcomers were a bunch of loudmouthed snots ruining the empire they’d created, while the newcomers thought the Night Crew were a bunch of elitist snots who refused to admit their era had passed.

Big Jim straddled the line between these two factions, as he was on the younger end of the Night Crew’s mid-twenties to early-thirties age spectrum and was friends with some of the club’s active upperclassman members. I don’t know if came back to finish his undergrad requirements or was killing time between his day job and the evening Rolemaster run, but at some point he started spending most of his afternoons in the clubroom.

He was “Big” Jim because he had a linebacker’s physique and an astonishing appetite. The first time I encountered him, he was carting a cooler and several grocery bags of junk food into the club.

“Got stuck doing snack detail, Jim?”

“No, this is for me.”

Even though we had a shared love of Warhammer 40k, Jim and I were never on cordial terms. It wasn’t outright hostility, but rather a terse-yet-polite mutual acceptance that we were never going to become pals with each other. The club had already begun to stratify into antagonistic cliques, and we ended up on opposite sides of that divide.

One afternoon, Big Jim brought in a book and VHS tape his sister had given to him about the Satanic underpinnings of role playing games. That nonsense was already old hat by 1992, but this was a recently produced effort. It even had a special call-out for the still newish Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, in which players purportedly cast curses and inflicted mental illnesses on each other.

The rest of the club thought it was a hoot. We took tuns reading out absurd passages to each other and splitting our sides over this fresh take on this familiar facet of evangelical absurdity.

Because it also happened to be the club’s weekly movie day, we decided to toss the tape into the media lab TV-VCR we’d borrowed for the event. It was unintentional comedy at its most ludicrous, with porn-stached and sweater-vested Agents of God employing cheap video-effects and “teen” re-enactors to demonstrate what would happen to our immortal souls if we so much as glanced at a d20.

We were dying with laughter, accusing each other of foul sorcery, making Exorcism references, and collectively reciting the tapes cautionary bullet points every time they popped up on the screen. It was the type of impromptu geek-out humor that works so well in a circle of pals but never, ever translates to a mass audience production.

Everyone was having a great time. Everyone except Big Jim, who got up halfway through it, ejected the tape, and proceeded to smash it with his meaty fists — all without uttering a single word.

He just stood there, close to tears and quivering with rage. No one knew how to react (though the typically unfiltered Southie Dave did manage to toss in a “For real, Jim? C’mon!”)

For us it was just some shits ‘n’ giggles from one of the culture war’s more ridiculous fronts. For Jim, I’d reckon, it was a direct confrontation with what his sister truly believed about him and the hobby in which he’d invested so much of himself.

I don’t know what I could even say about that, except that it was brutal to witness.

Jim and I stopped talking a few months later. I asked him if he knew what happened to some 40k book he brought in because I wanted to photocopy an army list from it. He responded with “I don’t know. I assumed you stole it.”

I didn’t, but his expression told me that there was no point in insisting otherwise.

My time with the club was pretty much over at that point, anyhow. The personality clashes and cliques and petty politics — all of which I had my regrettable share of — had sapped away any sense of community it had formerly held.

I later heard from a mutual friend that Big Jim suffered a heart attack in his early thirties, survived, and occasionally pops up when their social circles in the local geek scene overlap.

It feels like I should have some pithy and thought-provoking closing paragraph to tie this all up, but nothing is coming to me. The memory is what is is — a stray ghost somehow set loose by the death of an Evangelical hatemonger.

Recommended listening: Ghost Dance – Yesterday Again (from Gathering Dust, 1988)

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So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly onto the jagged blades of memory.

The photo above depicts two specimens of the strange and terrifying species of creature which has figured into so many topical horror stories as of late.

He was the second child of a family of six that grew up in a house full of firearms with a septic tank and a chicken coop out back. He was held back twice in school and gained a reputation as a hard-drinking, hard-punching hellraiser.

She was the daughter of farmfolk who managed to grab the brass ring of middle class semi-respectability during the socio-economic upheavals following World War 2.

She married him right out of high school, just before he shipped out to fight in a war whose righteousness he still vacillates about.

When he made it back to the States, they lived in a trailer park on the fringes on a military base. Despite the fact that his enlistment would shortly be up and they had no firm prospects, they decided to have kid.

Shortly after, they relocated to a small apartment in his old neighborhood, on a truck route less than a mile away from a Superfund site. A second child followed four years later.

Both he and she smoked like chimneys and enjoyed domestic beer. He had a taste for the flashy, cowboy boots and mod leather jackets and gas-guzzling dinosaurs in a perpetual state of mechanical failure. She read trashy historical romance novels and listened to Neil Diamond LPs.

Their life was a series of economic ups-and-downs, brushes with the good life punctuated by long and increasingly severe lean times. Though the apartment was already cramped, they took in his aunt and teenage sister for five long and trying years.

By the mid-Eighties, their family had entered a terminal death spiral of poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness. Job prospects died up or were abandoned because of the reasons previously stated. The only money coming in came from his veteran’s benefits and whatever they could extort from their eldest’s minimum-wage takehome pay. Heat, electricity, and food became frequently unavailable luxuries.

She died from a drunken fall down a flight of stairs when she was 37.

He did a short stint at the VA afterward, relocating to South Boston and busting his ass running heavy machinery in printshop. The work destroyed his spine, and the company repaid that sacrifice by laying him off in his early 60s. He sued, won a settlement, and bought himself a Mustang convertible.

He spends his days smoking, reading, and talking to his cat in a ground floor apartment where he works as the property manager.

They were what folks like to call Working Class Whites.

They were also my parents, and they were liberal Democrats to the core. Dropping a racist slur in front of my old man would’ve earned me a more ferocious hiding than if I told him to fuck himself. (Actually, he considered the latter a rite of passage for his sons.) He swore by the political trinity of JFK, RFK, and Ted K, and bought the family’s first color TV specifically to watch Nixon’s resignation in glorious polychrome.

Today, my dad is a cranky old man who will argue politics with my brother and I for hours on end, but his principles remain intact. He might not “get” things like feminism or queerness or rap music, yet any grousing he makes is always qualified by “…but it’s no business of mine to judge.”

I understand that this an anecdotal and individual example, but that’s my point. All these cases are, when you get down it.

There’s no Rosetta Stone for deciphering the Working Class White “experience,” if such a sweeping generality even exists. The Rust Belt is not Bakersfield is not West Virginia is not the Gulf Coast is not a post-industrial suburb of Boston. Even when someone like me or Kaleb Horton or another scion of the generic mac ‘n’ cheese legacy provides intimate personal details of What It’s Really Like, it’s only a small part of a staggeringly large social mosaic.

It’s impossible to summarize in statistical form, and insulting when doing so reduces the actual complexity to “a bunch of knuckle-dragging racist throwbacks.” Hey, we certainly have more than our share of those, too (he says, thinking of the giant Trump sign in front of the place where his alcoholic aunt lives with her phony war vet boyfriend).

Yet that’s not representative of all of us, even if my identification with said “us” is more historical and habitual at this point…

Recommended listening: Furyo – Monster of a Thousand Heads (from a 1984 EP)

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…which is evident by my opting for this instead of some Sabbath or Zeppelin track.

Those Demim Ones were gone now, relegated to the dim limbo of consignment shops and Planet Aid drop-offs; but their dead bodies had told their fashion secrets in dreams to the first men, who created a style which had never died. It had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant closets and dark wardrobes all over the world until the time when the great priest Osh’kosh’b’gosh, from his retail storefront in the mighty city of St’rip Ma’al, should rise and bring all trousers again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the measurements were ready, and the fashionistas would always be waiting to liberate him.

These jeans we wear were once theirs, and will one day be theirs again.

D’kron c’tton b’lend.

- H.P. Toughskins, “At the Inseams of Madness.”

Recommended listening: Fred Schneider – Monster (from Fred Schneider & The Shake Society, 1984)

Musak for the Mall of Cthulhu.

(originally posted to AT 1.0 on 10/16/2007)

(from “Sorry, This Coffin Is Occupied” by Carl Wessler and Ernie Chan in The Unexpected #182, December 1977)

My eighth-grade wood shop teacher resembled a squatter and ruddier version of Wilford Brimley. Where our metal shop teacher didn’t bother hiding the fact he was passing time until a private sector gig came knocking, his carpentry-skills colleague was every inch a lifer who wasn’t going anywhere until Stage 4 melanoma or the mandatory retirement age forced a decision.

Any gig where boisterous middle schoolers are given access to an array of dangerous tools will involve its share of graphically cautionary tales. When appeals to logic fail, the story of That One Kid who lost his thumb to a belt sander because he was “horsing around” might have upwards of a ten percent chance of getting the message across.

It was nothing we hadn’t heard in some form or another in every industrial arts or home economics class, but the wood shop teacher took a curious degree of pleasure in relating his litany of cautionary tales.

He had no shortage of them, either. There was no tool, fixure, or empty patch of shop floor that didn’t figure into some tragically visceral parable about safety procedures.

There were detailed accounts of severed digits, agonizing burns, fatal falls, and other lurid examples of what happened if you strayed even a micrometer over the established boundaries of wood shop rectitude.

Hell, even the holes in the crafting tables had their own horror story about Some Joker who thought it would be funny if he blew into one but he wasn’t laughing when the sawdust flew back into his eyes and embedded microscopic splinters in his corneas and the doctors had to use a tearing agent to get them out and so much for his dreams of being an Air Force pilot.

The fact I can recall this some three decades later suggests there maybe there was some method to his morbidity, after all.

I don’t remember him warning about the dangers of rehearsing one’s shock metal stage show next to a whirling circular saw. A shame because it probably would’ve spared the dude in the above panel a bit of pain and grief.

Recommended listening: Peter Murphy – Cuts You Up (from Deep, 1989)

A Bauhaus divided against itself can still generate a handful of decent singles even if I didn’t particularly care for the album releases.

A good percentage of my childhood comics collection came from flea markets, where the unsalable overstock of the still-unfolding Bronze Age was dumped into battered longboxes and sold for two bits a pop. New issues were a prized rarity — and a double-edged sword, because a cliff-hanger ending could leave one dangling for months or years at a time.

I eagerly greeted these monthly opportunities to dive for four-color treasures, but the experience of thumbing through the bins had an inescapably creepy aspect. It wasn’t just the fact that so much of these remaindered comics tended to be either post-Code revision monster/horror titles or freaky-deaky oddities like Plop! or Steve Gerber’s Guardians of the Galaxy run. That stuff certainly did haunt my scaredy-cat younger self, but the weird chills I felt were the product of something broader lurking at the fringes of my comprehension.

When you’re a kid, the awareness of time’s inexorable passage operates within a much tighter window. To adult Andrew, “four years ago” is the stuff of recent memory. To my younger self, it represented an entire lifetime.

From my perspective in 1980, a comic from 1973 seemed absolutely ancient. The trade dress and brand logos weren’t too far removed from their then-contemporary version yet still far enough so to add a level of vague strangeness that occasionally veered — as in the case of Iron Man’s nose — into surrealist territory.

The weirdness extended to the ads within the books, which luridly pitched products which had ceased to exist outside vague memories or as a sun-bleached display in a downtown joke/hobby/toy shop passing time before its inevitable rebirth as a frozen yogurt place.

Even the feel and smell of the pages — the light caramel tint and hint of mustiness from early stage’s on the newsprint’s acidic deterioration — contributed to overall spooky vibe.

Try as I might to articulate the specifics here, the actual sensation remains hard to pin down. It is such a personal, Proustian thing, yet one that has permanently colored how I experience funnybooks from that era. Whether its a DC Special issue of Plastic Man reprints or a coverless copy of House of Mystery, just glimpsing at a comic from 1973 to 1978 can conjure up associative phantoms from the darkest recesses of memory.

Recommended listening: Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Strange Dream (from Let’s Talk About the Weather, 1985)

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Rise and gloom, sleepyheads.

Wanna hear something really scary?

I had a mysterious black box in my bedroom known as a desktop computer. It contained some ancient and arcane technology dating all the way back to 2011.

I used to use to commune with people around the globe, resurrect long-dead videogames, and write macabre treatises on such horrible things as Elvis collectables and third wave ska.

After I acquired a laptop, however, I surrendered my sovereignty of this strange device to my wife. It served her purposes well for a while, but eventually began to exhibit unfortunate behaviors.

At first I thought it might have been due to some virulent contagion, but entropic decay turned out to be the more likely culprit.

Well, that and slow suffocation by a pack of fiendish and furry creatures.

The device’s failures brought forth a stream of baleful curses from my wife, most in the form in four letter words.

Some of these were aimed in my direction, as the replacement machine I purchased sat unopened in the dining room for half a year while I engaged in more pressing pursuits.

These past few weeks, it was becoming more and more apparent that the device was on the verge of giving up the ghost. Even worse, the USB 3.0 functionality had died, which meant transferring a few hundred gigs of essential files took untold aeons to accomplish.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing today instead of composing a proper countdown post.

Recommended listening: Alien Sex Fiend – Ain’t Got Time to Bleed (from Curse, 1990)

But I’ll always have time for you, my electro-gothic darling.

It occurred to me this morning that I’ve made it through two-thirds of this year’s Halloween Countdown without indulging in a snarky recap of a goofy Bronze Age horror comic tale. That’s unforgivable, considering such oh-so-2006 content has been a staple of this feature since its inception.

Today we’re going to rectify that egregious omission with a look at “The Devil’s Bride” by George Kashdan and V. Alcazar in The Witching Hour #49 (December 1974).

The tale begins on a godforsaken moor, when a be-sideburned little drip of a dude seeking a favor from the Powers of Darkness. The drip is besotted with lust for a demure lass named Tess, but his matrimonial intentions have been thwarted by a lack of means. Enter “Mr. Baal,” a duly licensed and bonded emissary of Satan himself, who offers the drip the deed to a gold mine in exchange for his immortal soul.

The drip — knowing a good bargain when he sees one — agrees to the deal and rushes off to woo his wasp-waisted vaguely Victorian honey. Tess accepts the drip’s proposal, yet drags her heels on setting a date. The delay infuriates Mr. Baal, forcing the drip to unsuccessfully bargain for more time.

The story is unclear about why Baal is so irked about Tess’s hesitation. He’d already completed his bargain with the drip, so there was no real reason for him to stick around afterward. Time and (presumably) sweet irony would ensure Baal would receive his contracted due, yet he keeps hand-holding this particular client. Maybe he’s nervous because he drew against his commission, or maybe he really has his coal-black heart set on winning a set of satanic steak knives.

In any case, the midnight meetings between Ball and the drip arouse Tess’s suspicions and convince her to crash their unhallowed gathering.

Tess makes Baal an offer — if he relinquishes his claim on the drip’s soul, she will consent to become Baal’s bride. The drip is understandably upset about this, but Ball is over the gibbous moon about the prospect of wedding such a comely mortal lass. The Horny Horned One’s only caveat is that Tess prove her suitability for demonic spousehood by committing a suitably evil act.

While Tess initially despairs over that stipulation, she eventually seals the deal by murdering her beloved nanny and roping in the drip to help dispose of her dismembered remains.

“I love you so much that to keep your soul from Satan’s clutches, I made you an accessory to the murder of a kindly old woman!”

Ain’t love grand?

While the drip is appalled by his beloved’s journey into darkness, he doesn’t let it prevent him from hanging around Tess’s heels right on up through the wedding. A ceremony, I should add, performed by the most metal minister ever.

No sooner are the demonic vows exchanged than the shocking — I say SHOCKING — truth is revealed. Tess was actually *gasp* a WITCH all along, and was using the drip’s soul-bargaining thirstiness to draw Baal into her matrimonial web.

Baal is less than pleased that his new bride turned out to be less Gibson Girl than Henry Gibson but, honestly, who cares about cloven hooves when the lights are out?

The drip’s reaction wasn’t shown, but I’m sure he got over his heartbreak by living a rich life full of other really, really stupid dick-driven decisions.

Kidding (mostly) aside, “The Devil’s Bride” exemplifies Bronze Age DC “horror” comics — and not just because nearly every single issue of The Witching Hour featured some oddly Freudian variation of the “got tricked into marrying a hideous witch” theme. The combination of sub-EC “twist endings” and incredible artwork (much of it by members of the publisher’s pool of Filipino illustrators) is atmospherically compelling despite frequent forays into outright goofiness. The whole might not have been greater than the sum of its parts, but it did join up to create something suitable weird, wild and rarely outright boring.

Recommended listening: Claude Bolling – Strange Magic (from the Qui? 7″, 1970)

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The power of Gallic freakbeat compels you.

Despite the image I’ve crafted of North Woburn being a post-industrial hellscape, many parts of it expressed a rustic beauty that coexisted alongside the ruins and reminders of the not-so-distant past. Across the street and over the hill from where I grew up was a freshwater spring surrounded by a mossy glade of ancient elms. Wild pheasants would make migrational stopovers beneath canopies of tangled grape vines, leaving behind feathers which became prized finds during our childhood explorations. Feral irises thrived along the edges of the wooded areas and further in one could occasionally spot vibrant clusters of other odd and unusual wildflowers.

Of these, none carried as much gravitas as Ladyslippers did. They were wild orchids, partial to shaded loamy areas and capable of withstanding New England winters. They were also an endangered species, a fact drilled into us repeatedly by our parents and teachers. Even the most casually destructive of us would tread gingerly around any we might happen to discover.

Their precarious position haunted me. “Why don’t you move some to our garden where they will be safe?” I’d ask my mother.

“Because they can only grow in this type of dirt. Moving them would kill them,” she’d reply. “They’re here because they have to be here.”

I remembered this after reading yet another bit of writing “advice” that meant well enough but still irritated the fuck out of me. I don’t like those types of articles as a rule because they either repeat the same old “keep reading and writing” admonishment for the umpteenth time or dance around the real question being asked — which is “how do I make money off this nonsense?”

Those alone would be banal enough, but the writers always feel the urge to throw in some boostrapping bullshit in there which might have been motivational in intent but comes off as crud-grade Randian wank in practice. I don’t care if you deserved whatever success you’ve carved out for yourself, the meritocracy is a myth. You know it. I know it. The countless reminders of Sturgeon’s Law hardening our cultural arteries demonstrate it.

To assert that hard work and talent will out is to shift the blame on to folks who have made an honest go of it, yet never managed to gain any traction. It’s a bad look.

No one likes to have their efforts dismissed as “dumb luck” or the result of having an “in,” but there’s nothing wrong about admitting you caught some fortuitous breaks along the way. At the very least, it shows a bit of humility and lets the strivers know that some shit will be always be beyond their control. That’s a far more important bit of advice than “be like Elvis” (dead on the toilet?) or stay up until 4 AM polishing some blog post that will be forgotten two days later.

Back to the wild orchids — for all the talk of cultivating flow, for some folks it will never be a matter of free and easy volume no matter how hard they try. I work as the mood strikes me and fuck around when it doesn’t. I’m not going to force a fit for the sake of theoretical returns. Every time I’ve tried, I’ve trampled anything resembling a voice. A working writer can learn to live with that. I can’t, especially in an age where everything feels panel beaten into dull anonymity and the only remaining idiosyncrasies tend not to be positive ones (the “woke” fratboy, the scatologist, the two-fisted fuckhead, Johnny Awesomesauce, etc.).

I’m aware of my faults and accept I’ll never escape the niche I’ve carved out for myself, but at least I know where I stand — alone in a small patch of acidic soil awaiting the inevitable bulldozer blade.

Recommended listening: Blessed – Potters Field (from the Taboo 12″, 1985)

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