Archives for posts with tag: Bill Callahan

Back in my Room at the Hotel, at odds with my rented-out House, I have been somewhat unscrupulous with my schedule this past while. I browse the Rupert Thomson section at the bookstore but can’t quite get it up to make a move.

 

I try to ask someone something but they don’t aver to know and I don’t know who they are.

 

So I move some time sleuthing around, trying to establish what kind of city Dodge City actually is, as if I hadn’t passed through this phase long ago, the first time I came here and moved into the Room, which, when I moved out, I didn’t think I’d ever end up back inside of, but here I am, or will shortly be, unless I want to spend another night on the boat launch by Park Pond in Pond Park.

 

Dodge City was newer to me then, but its sum inexplicability has either never waned or else it’s been steadily and sub rosa replenished. The question of whether I’m reenacting my earliest days here or if these days are simply still those is a question for someone else, Rupert Thomson perhaps, whoever he really is.

 

Some mornings I feel like a planner casing a plot of undeveloped land, trying to decide whether a city should be built here at all. Other mornings, I get that feeling where I wonder if the whole place wasn’t razed and rebuilt almost but not quite exactly the same while I was away in the Desert.

 

*****

I discover from chatting up butchers that the Hereditary Cannibalism is back.

 

It’s deep in the genetics here, in the sense that everyone has it and no one can deny or overcome it, but it’s not deep in the sense of being buried far from the surface: it rears its hungry head every few years, I’m told, like one of those off-cycle cacti or like a mutation that has confused generations for years, expressing itself numerous times within the lifespan of each individual, rather than only sometimes in the lifespan of an ongoing family.

 

These butchers go on to sum up how it usually goes, which is also how it went this time:

 

The Cannibalism surfaces in adolescents first, borne on the backs of the standard hormones, parlaying sex into violence in classic camp fashion, sending them off eating their younger siblings and grandparents, those at the extreme age ends of the inner circle, plaguewise.

 

Before they start eating their parents — to whom it has by now spread, so that they’re growing hard to restrain in their own right — Tom the Knacker bumbles out to the Suicide Cemetery and digs up whatever fresh-enough, non-poisoned new arrivals he can, hauling them with the help of some volunteers out into the town square, a movement roughly opposite to that, historically, of the Plague Cart.

 

A Pit BBQ is set up — rubs, brines, basters … hardly matters to the Hereditary Cannibalism, but to the people it’s expressing itself through … maybe it does. There is still such a thing as taste.

 

So they latch the intact bodies to spits with screws in their shoulders and hips and the spit itself run straight through pig-style, and shave those less intact down into Burnt Ends and Pulled Pork.

 

Certain Sauce Maestros only turn up on these occasions, mirthful after years of peddling lesser wares on the peripheries.

 

Those whom the Hereditary Cannibalism has affected most severely are permitted to eat some raw, if it’s that bad, and are given first dibs once some’s been cooked.

 

The leftovers, humped up in the walk-in of the Wayfarer’s Tavern, last a few days, long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another.

 

*****

Long enough to keep the live ones from eating one another until what? you might well ask,” the butchers tell me.

 

I shrug: they’ve got me there.

 

“Long enough for our first fresh batch of Human Bologna to firm up good,” is the answer.

 

“What, like Delicatessen?” I ask.

 

They snort. “Nope. That’s kid stuff. This is a weaning-tool. A respectable substitute. Animal meat, straight up, and poultry, and fish, reptile, and so forth, what-have-you, and other proteins, yolky things, raisins, cashews, doesn’t matter: a meat to come next best to the Fellow Man once the Pit BBQ cools its jets and the Sauce Maestros saunter back to whence they came.”

 

I nod like I get the picture, sniffing the air for some sign of what’s in question.

 

“Weans the Hereditary Cannibalism back down … eases ‘er back into remission for a few more years,” say the butchers, sadly now. “Back to rest in the genetics.”

 

“This is what we see as our actual work. Transcendentally speaking. The rest of the time, all the years, slivering off chuck and pimento loaf, tubbing out potato salad … all just stalling, keeping afloat, thinking how we’ll make the next batch of the real thing when the time comes … Human Bologna’s an ancient Dodge City recipe, as old as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself, and intimately bound up with it in ways I’m sure a man of your breeding and education can guess at already.” 

 

They look down in reverence at the paper-towel lined tray of Human Bologna in the display case, only about a quarter hunk left. The rest of the case is empty; the tags for other meats are piled up.

 

“What, so it’s like Cannibal Nicorette?” I ask.

 

For a while, no one answers. Then the butchers hand me a sandwich, wrapped in wax paper and napkins.

 

I hear the bell on the door of the shop and can tell that I’ve made my way out.

 

*****

I eat my sandwich back in the main square, where the Bill Callahan booths were, and then the Pit BBQ.

 

It tastes about how you’d expect.

 

I lick my gums; should’ve gotten a soda somewhere, a water at least.

 

“Sometimes, it’s too convincing.”

 

I hear the words but don’t see their source.

 

“Sometimes, we conflate the Real with its Simulation. Sometimes we swap Disease and Cure, and swap them again, and again, as if it were our right to go on swapping.”

 

I look around, see no speaker on my eye level, so I look up.

 

There he is: Professor Dalton on a high balcony at the Hotel, bellowing through a bullhorn. A crowd gathers around the site of the Pit BBQ.

 

“Sometimes the human essence proves incompressible. Sometimes we cannot forget it. Sometimes we know who we are and what we are made of … and the taste lives upon our lips and tongues.”

 

So this is The Human Bologna Scare. I crinkle my sandwich paper and listen.

 

“Sometimes The Fundamentally Human is unmistakable no matter how finely ground and how much subterfuge is employed to disguise its presence within an alien host. With our palettes as judge, let us swallow no lies about our kin! Human Bologna is what it is called and also what it is, it is no euphemism. Where are our friends? Our lovers? Our elders? Our infants? Let us clean ourselves in deed this time, not only in word. Let us hose ourselves down with the truth one time. Let us revert to animal meat forever more!!”

 

The man never misses an opportunity to pop up, let it be said.

 

He says his piece, to my ear, with enough polish that I’m inclined to believe this sort of thing has occurred before. Perhaps every year the fear that Human Bologna is indeed human meat surfaces in the citizenship, as regularly as the Hereditary Cannibalism itself.

 

A phrase like I feel sick, in reference to what I’ve just eaten in light of what I’m now thinking, occurs to me, but isn’t precisely true. I feel the same as I tend to after lunch.

 

 

 

“That’s Spinoza, up on a Mountaintop,” says Rigid Steve, gliding into position behind me, looking up at the pontificating man on the balcony.

 

I’ve been here long enough to not reply, “No, that’s Dalton, up on a balcony.”

 

I’ve been here so long I almost don’t even think it.

Advertisements

TODAY’S THE DAY.

 

Which means that lots of days, recently, in retrospect, were not the day, though at the time I’d thought possibly they were. Which is I suppose the difference between thinking and knowing.

 

I’ve taken my time wending the backstreets, heading back toward the town square slowly enough to avoid any associated Bends. It’s been, feels like, several weeks, like I’ve taken a day per cobblestone.

 

One of the handles of my paper bag of Mass Black Market Video Market Videos is ripping, so I’m holding hard to the other one — I formulate and think-speak the phrase “my last resort” as if a sizable portion of my interior faculty were not on board / up to speed with what’s going on externally.

 

What I first notice, upon entering fully back into the square, is an octagon of old-timers arranged around the fountain, each in an identical suit of black pants and white missionary shirt and bow-tie, sitting at a fold-out table bedecked with a boombox, a jar of jelly candy, and a vase of roses.

 

I stand in the center and give the scene’s audio component a moment to make sense. At first it sounds like a sort of angry round, a group of children all singing their own mocking version of the school song during music class, but then I can tell what it is:

 

It’s the 8 tracks on Dream River, the brand new Bill Callahan album. Each table is broadcasting its own track over and over, surely not on repeat but rather on a CD containing only that track, so as not to risk contamination.

 

Now that I hear the tracks, I realize they’ve been emanating from windows and vehicles and the humming throats of washerwomen throughout my slow trek home. I sit on the edge of the fountain in the center of the square and listen, giving my inner ear fluids a chance to simmer down.

 

I hadn’t yet moved to Dodge City back in 2011 when Apocalypse, the previous Bill Callahan album, came out, but I came soon enough after to see the remnants of the celebration: since Vic Chesnutt died, the release of Bill Callahan albums marks the greatest Carnivale on the Dodge City calendar, like something straight out of Jodorowsky, or even too rich for his blood:

 

Crushed clown masks and vials of mime makeup in the street, gnawed bones of beast and fowl, confetti, streamers and smashed piñata material, birds and lizards hatched, escaped, and trampled underfoot, overturned meat and fried dough carts, impact dents in the pavement, the ash and remnants of burnt effigies, the bandages of unwrapped mummy costumes, hacked- or ripped-off goat horns and the antlers of other fauna, puzzled over and awl-punctured entrails, spilled gasoline from floats and trucks, and a mess of sleepers who have not yet awoken to begin the appeals process against being considered dead.

 

That’s how central Dodge City looked after the last Bill Callahan album came out, and that’s how it looks again now. I’m sitting on the fountain listening to those old-timers playing the new tracks, trying to calculate in my head the degree measure separating each from the next, assuming the square were a clock face with eight points instead of twelve.

 

The tables all fly flags with the slogan “EACH ONE BETTER THAN THE LAST,” which I’m sure they flew when the last album came out as well.

 

As I sit I feel a stirring behind me and turn to see that the fishpond, where the carp and catfish used to bathe above the shiny coin bottom, is full now of Ghost Porn, crackling like underlit cellophane in time to the music.

 

It moans and leers up at me, clearly aware of who and what I am.

 

It has killed all the fish and incorporated their bodies.

 

I begin to feel cornered, like a beam has been trained on me, or several beams at once: I realize that my exploits in the Desert have already been melted down into the Video Record, fair game for hermeneutical scholars and porn mavens both.

 

I stand up in a hurry while all 8 Bill Callahan songs revert to their beginnings, some surely cut short to accommodate the others. The handle on my Video Bag rips off, and I — fully clumsy and flustered — spill all the Videos into the Ghost Porn, watching them sink under and come unspooled in the staticky white broth. The black tape is sucked out and melted down into the Subcutaneous Video Record, from a solid to a liquid in no time flat.

 

Empty-handed, I break into a run, nearly knocking over the table playing Track 6 (“Summer Painter”) in my haste to get home. I am ankle deep in Carnivale runoff, kicking my ankles to the sides to keep them from drowning in what feels like double-thick shaving cream.

 

*****

My only thought had been to get home, but by the time I make it onto my street, I can see what the situation is: as with any town-devouring Carnivale, everyone has rented out their houses and gotten the hell out for a few weeks.

 

So it’s strangers everywhere. A whole nest of them packed away into the houses on my street, in place of my neighbors. Bill Callahan fiends from all over, with longstanding promises to themselves to see how hard it really gets in Dodge City once before dying.

 

They peer at me through their windows — I can see as well as feel them — and I have to slow my pace, catching my breath and feeling residual sweat creep down from my armpits toward my wrists and belt-loops.

 

I stand in front of my house and contemplate ringing the doorbell, either as a stranger requesting lodging, like in that Greek tale where a couple of gods go around begging to see if anyone’s good enough to take them in, or else demanding reentry as the rightful tenant, kicking out whatever lodger gives me grief.

 

But I’m stopped, midway up the front steps, by a headache-inducing vision of everyone in town hunkered down in the Deep Desert now, right back where I until recently was, watching Videos on portable devices and awaiting their run-in with Suicide Sam & Son.

 

So I hack and wheeze and, like a novice postman who realizes just in time he’s got the wrong address for the package in hand, I turn around and head for the hotel.

 

Back to my first ever Room in Dodge City, I smirk and wince to think.

 

*****

Sipping a milkshake I got somewhere along the way, I stand in the lobby.

 

It’s a mess of flashbulbs, amateur paparazzi and wannabes.

 

After a while, I glimpse Big Pharmakos at the convergence of all that camera aim. “That’s right, I’ve been this town’s main pimp and dark, dark comedian as long as I can remember,” he says to someone writing something down. “But, like, dark, know what I mean? Like, real comedy. Actual human shit, as opposed to pussy shit.”

 

I toss my milkshake cup in the trash and, when the circle admits me, go up to him and ask what’s up.

 

He beams: “Where you been, man? I was on Maron last week! Got my big break. Told my life story. How I got to be so funny … the horrors I suffered … my love of Pryor and Dangerfield … all of it.”

 

Then a bodyguard pulls me back, like, “OK, you had your time, time to shove off.”

 

As I’m manhandled out of the crowd, I hear Big Pharmakos say, “Right, and he asked me about the Desert, Suicide Sam, the Ghost Porn, all my wanderings … and I told him, man. You know how he gets it out of people. I told him everything.”

 

The longer I listen, the clearer it becomes that Big Pharmakos has taken my story. Somehow everything I did out there was known to him, back here — clearly some media ploy has been in play for a long time, something so deep in the Video Record that I can’t reach far enough down to finger it.

 

*****

The bouncer throws me all the way outside and it’s surprisingly cold.

 

I wait a long time, like it’s Springsteen in there and all I want is to watch him walk to his car.

 

Finally, Big Pharmakos comes out. Seeing me, he waves his bodyguards away so we can talk.

 

“I’m Huge now,” he says. “Huge Pharmakos. I’ve been on Maron.”

 

“So I hear.”

 

“A limo is coming for me anytime,” he says, staring longingly at the highway off-ramp, visible behind an Arby’s across the street.

 

“Can I hear the Interview?” I ask, not sure if I want to.

 

He bristles. “It’s not up yet. I just got a rough tape, and that’s for me only.”

 

There’s a darkness to him that I haven’t seen before. The phrase “rough tape” sounds extra rough the way he puts it, and I can tell it’s bound up with the Video Record in a way I may not want to dig into.

 

What appears to be the lung of a hawk blows across the sidewalk and lands between our feet. “Huge shit with the new Bill Callahan,” he says.

 

“So I see,” I reply.

 

“But not as huge as me on Maron,” he reiterates.

 

Then his manager or handler comes for him and he’s gone. I kind of space-out while this is happening, so I don’t register whether he’s gone back inside or into a car or what. Maybe he’s actually just walking away in a direction I’m not looking.

 

I take out my phone and search for “Big Pharmakos / Marc Maron.” Nothing comes up.

 

I type in “Huge Pharmakos / Marc Maron” and still nothing comes up — at least nothing but this post itself, which doesn’t help me much.

 

I can tell that the question of whether Big Pharmakos ever actually went on Maron will or has already become one of those questions you can never ask, like insisting on knowing too much about the personal life of the Historical Jesus instead of just drinking the wine and eating the crackers.

 

There are times when one would be forgiven for suspecting that no one in this town has an actual working Internet connection. Internets of misinformation, Internets of rumor, gossip, and opinion, Internets of plurality, abound, but any link to a system that would allow one to determine the one literal truth of any event … would be heretical even to speculate about.

 

*****

Realizing that I haven’t yet checked into a Room in the hotel, I go back in to the front desk.

 

After explaining my situation seven times — the first three the clerk simply stared, numbers four and five she laughed out loud, and number six she stared again — the clerk says, trying to control the incredulity in her tone, “Where the hell have you been? Don’t you know there’s a new Bill Callahan album out? Every room in the hotel is booked through the New Year!”

 

Tramping back outside, that Arby’s by the highway off-ramp catches my eye more than any Arby’s anywhere has before.

I feel like a cloth version of myself when I face the task of attempting to convey the magnitude of the writer that Blut Branson is.

This — me, here, now — feels as though it may be the only time and place to try, but also, like all places and times, I see clearly that it’s “neither the place nor the time,” unless my aspiration had been “to leave well enough alone.”

But, well:

Blut Branson’s big, the biggest. He’s everything to the people of Dodge City.

There’s not really another game in town. It’s like, what are you gonna do, read Paul Auster and call it a day?

Sure, there are heretics and splinter-cells, but they tend to find themselves reconnoitering the brushlands with a small group of core followers before getting more than a baby’s-breadth off the ground.

And people maybe have their own privacies, their own places to go (we don’t, for example, deny ourselves Bill Callahan), but by and large our inner world is the world of Blut Branson’s novel. We lie down, we close our eyes, or we space out while driving or waiting, and there we are, in it.

All of print, the whole notion of an alphabet and a lexicon, is hardly more than a fingernail or an earwig on the plane of Blut Branson’s novel. To say that the notion of the conventional novel — words, pages, glue-binding, a picture of a daisy or a mutilée or what have you on the cover, the whole simple matter of printed matter — pales in comparison to Blut Branson’s novel is to posit a comparison so inadequate that to call it laughable is itself a joke.

It’s like if they tried to put even an inch of it on Amazon, the whole site would crash and never recover. Maybe the whole Internet too.

It’s like if he was the earth and some other thing that exists was the moon then

… see? It’s pointless to try.

Blut Branson transcends us, and through him we transcend ourselves. It has no beginning, no ground floor. Or something: I haven’t been in Dodge City long enough, or well enough, to be able to say more than that.

But he does something. That much I can say. Something happens, is made, is moved, through him. Our lives are other lives through him (and would be nothing, not lives at all, without).

He is not so much our reason for living as our means of living.

We almost never see him. He’s almost always away, in one of the rooms offered by the City, at work on his novel. All of his works, and they are legion, are known in most Dodge City circles as “his novel,” though, as I’ve said, that’s no more than as good a word for it as any.

He works on matter, thought, devilment, demonry, night, metal, thread, webbing, until those things are no longer those things, or things at all.

God, I sound like one of those guys.

IT’S MAYBE only important to say that I wanted to bring up Blut Branson at this point because there’s lately been a rippling afoot in town, a stirring, quaking, quickening … a sure indication that a tidal shift in his novel is about to occur.

This puts us on edge, works us up.

We hunker down, stockpile canned goods, talk less and linger less when we’re out and about, find it harder to wait at red lights and while people wearing headphones cross the streets in front of us.

People stop changing their clothes, stop showering, wear sneakers at all times. They seem forever uncertain if they want to be alone or together when it hits.

“It” being one of these seismic shifts in Blut Branson’s novel, which, I’ve been given to understand, tend to occur every five to seven years.

Worse than an earthquake in terms of damage; and better, much better, in terms of shaking up people’s congealment, of reconvincing them that life is not any one thing.

Here’s one birds and bees type metaphor I was given when I first inquired into the nature of Blut Branson’s novel:

“Blut Branson’s novel concerns the inner life of a man alone in a grand Caribbean resort. He was taken here long ago, before he can remember, plucked in the night from where he’d formerly been, expressed straight to the island. When he came to, his captors or chauffeurs were long gone. The resort used to be packed with people so rich their only mode was to glide and flutter, but no more. Now the man’s alone but for the staff, whose instructions or instincts are to ignore him aside from servicing his basic nutritional and hygienic needs. Every day, the heaping buffet is laid out, and stoically, stealthily replenished, and then it’s just silence and sea-waves.

“This man spends years here like this, speaking and speaking without receiving a response from anyone around him, denied all media and technology and all clothing save for the single linen suit he wears when he wears anything, something like a woman’s summer pantsuit.

“He communes with plants and animals, but that too remains one-sided.

“Sometimes he has a blast. He romps, he gropes the willing air.

“Other times he cowers and hovers in his room, sea-fronted, open-aired, waving cotton curtains, at a rolling boil.

“He has two copies of The Recognitions which he’s hollowed out in the fullness of time to fit his two feet — the left and the right very different from one another — and there are runs of days he spends clomping about shod only in these, to and from the bathhouse, his only joy taken in soaking those pages down to pulp under the cool string-operated shower, then sitting in the angry sun until they dry like plaster casts around his toes and ankles.

“This was the compromise he struck with his captors long ago, that he’d be permitted to retain these two books in violation of the no-media condition only if he wore them in this manner, never attempting to hold a foot up by his face long enough to glom a single word.

“He’s been made so docile he doesn’t even try.”

That’s all I was told.

The seismic shifts in Dodge City, I’ve since learned, have to do with sudden visits from this man’s captors, or benefactors, or friends. Every so often, they row up over the horizon and onto shore, and have a meeting with this man, generally over a long afternoon lunch.

When this happens, when these visitors appear after so long away, all of Dodge City, which has entered the state of this man alone in the resort in the meantime, seizes and clamps up, readies for impact.

I can feel them swarming around me in the grocery store now, aware that it may hit at any moment. I’d better grab some trail mix and water before it’s all gone. Next time, if there is a next time, I’ll speak to the way in which Blut Branson is said to have peaked at 19, and speculate on the peculiar ontology of his third testicle.