Mississippi – my pen delights in inking the word
The repeating curls of the S’s
The staccato breaks of the I’s
The looping double back of the P’s
All evocative of the delta tributaries
To speak it out loud – Mississippi
An almost buzzing/hissing onomatopoeia
the din of 100,000 mosquitos,
blood lust in stagnant swamps
Mississippi – a syrupy welcome to the South
a patina of hospitality painted upon
the decaying bones of a prideful past
Confederate remnants stitched and fluttering
tattered but holding fast, flying
above gas station fried chicken
above pugnacious okra
above the twang and thrum of a billion Blues lamentations
above backyard celebrations
above racial provocations
Mississippi – my heart delights in thinking the word
The mysterious green sprawl
The river’s rise and fall
I fear I really don’t know you at all.
Greetings Pizza Professionals,
It has come to our attention that many of you at the company are not up to speed on the new and revolutionary ideas coming out of the ovens over at the PDL (Pizza Design Labs). We would like to take a minute to share some updates in hopes of inspiring each and every one of you to think beyond the crust and submit new, sensational, and yes, even audacious, ideas to our Pie-oneers in the labs.
We here at “The Hut” pride ourselves on being at the forefront of Pizza innovation, pushing the piping-hot boundaries of satisfaction. Now, our competitors might remain complacent dishing out the same old tired Italian disappointments but Not PH!
Allow us a moment to point out some of the milestones we have passed on our journey towards Pizza Perfection.
Our best selling “Pan” Pizza (so named for fact that early testers of this culinary revelation requested the use of aluminum bed pans during their taste tests, their bodies literally overflowing with Hutty deliciousness) is still our flagship product, but ever unsatisfied with the status-quo, we continued to develop alternative crust lifestyles and thus, the Hand Tossed and Thin n’ Crispy pizzas were introduced the world. Since then we’ve never looked back…
At Pizza Hut we have always attempted to make the most of the pizza real estate (or “Crustscape” as we call it in the savory pie biz) a canvas upon which our consumers have come to expect the unexpected. Where other, myopic, pizza manufacturers saw failure in discarded crusts, we saw opportunity. We put our greatest minds on the job and found a way to jam a mozzarella-like cheese product into the crust and voila, Stuffed Crust Pizza. We single handedly changed the game by transforming the undesirable crust into a doughy cheese tube of wonder! After Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump endorsed the product, America ate it up! It’s still one of our best sellers today.
When customers clamored for more toppings we gave them The Edge Pizza. Goodbye crust; hello cheese, sauce, and toppings that go right up to the precipice of dough and sanity. The original catchphrase, “I am become Pizza, destroyer of hunger” (later pulled from circulation due to “insensitivity issues”), pretty much sums it up.
Then calzone lovers around the world united and sent up the resounding cry “What about us?!”, they shouted at the foot of our corporate headquarters, fist raised and bellies grumbling. Little did they know that inside, on an undisclosed floor, we were putting the finishing touches on the P’zone (codename Pizza Calzone Pizza): In the end, the world enjoyed over one pound of meat and cheese in a pizza crust. You’re welcome calzone nation!
Other notable products include the ingenious Dippin’ Strips Pizza, ergonomically cut and shaped to be dunked or drenched in any one of our liquid bliss dippin’ sauces. We knew we were on to something when one pizza technician witnessed several customers attempting to jam their triangular pizza wedges into the tiny neck of a Ranch Dressing bottle. Another problem solved.
And who could forget the mind blowing Goliath of dough, dairy, veggies, and cured meats known as The Bigfoot Pizza. To this day our pizza engineers marvel in awe at their own accomplishment. When the first Bigfoot Pizza was completed the head chef exclaimed “Look on this pie ye mighty, and despair!”
So what does the future hold for all the insatiable Hut Heads out there? Well, let’s just say the recent release of our Hot Dog Stuffed Crust Pizza is just the tip of the iceberg. At this very moment we are queuing up to release of a number of tastebud bending creations in the future including:
The Power Hour Pizza: This is sure to be a frat favorite. Sixty personal pan pizzas delivered on a rotating spit. The goal is to consume one pizza every minute for an hour.
The P’ception: A Pizza stuffed inside another pizza which can only be purchased while under heavy sedation though our new Dream Accessible App.
The Globe Pizza: A ball of dough, dunked in marinara sauce, then covered in cheese and deep fried. Served in a bowling ball bag with your choice of stick-on toppings.
The IVP (Intravenous Pizza): Your favorite Pizza Hut Pizza liquified in a Vita-Mix and delivered in a drip IV bag. Great for gamers or the comatose.
Double Deep Deep Dish Pizza: Our famous dough is shaped into a 5 gallon bucket, flash fried, and then filled with alternating layers sauce, cheese, and toppings. 2 for 1 special served on a shoulder yoke with breadstick ladle.
The Exotica: 100 bite sized pizzas served on the nude body of our delivery person (male or female not specified) Chop sticks included.
The Guy Fieri Get-Down-To-Flavortown-Italiano-Explosion: A double wide pizza with a cake frosted crust, topped with Italian sausage hand-massaged by Guy Fieri himself. Comes with free Oakleys and a bowling shirt bib.
The Pizza Pocket Pocket Pizza: A pocket sized pizza pocket that houses your keys, wallet and cell phone, also can be eaten.
The Breadstick Mattress Pizza: A pillow soft mattress sized serving of breadsticks you can eat and pass out on. Comes with a side of spicy marinara sauce to really heat things up in the bedroom.
The Russian Roulette Pizza: One special slice is laced with e.coli, fun for parties.
The Minimalist Pizza: a bag of flour, a tomato, and a block of cheese arranged on a stark white plate. Limited MOMA edition available in the spring.
PepsiCo Universe Pizza: Includes toppings from all of Frito-Lay properties, like Taco Bell, FKC, Fritos, Cheetos, and a gallon of Pepsi poured on top.
And many many more to come…
So thank you all for your tremendous service and hard work over the years and we look forward to receiving your new pizza creation ideas!
The Construction Crew Outside My House
Gregory JM Kasunich
The work had announced itself
a flyer hooked to the storm door
I disregarded it along with the mailer
who can be bothered?
Before my alarm the men where there
splitting the earth and morning apart
This hiss and rattle and grind of the work disturbed my own
days and nights and mornings on end
the vibrations joining with the hot miasma of the city
a sweltering sheet of of sound
but how I wish knew how much longer I must endure
and for what all this suffering was for
If only I had read the flyer on my door.
[Hypothetical Fables from Past Futures Pt. 3]
Gregory J.M. Kasunich
In the future, it has been discovered that the planet Earth, the planet on which humanity ascended from whatever evolutionary predecessors and remained persistently tethered (aside from brief and expensive sojourns beyond the protective membrane of the atmosphere to neighboring planets and moons), in what was once perceived to be the vast and expanding singular universe, is nothing more or less than a simple, mere, organ; a functioning, living viscus in a vast, celestial, four dimensional (and rather incomprehensible) creature. A series of connected tissues, as it were, functioning together to serve, in some yet unknown and perhaps unknowable way, a Being (A creature that would in time become christened by scientists and theologists as The Celestial Host, or more colloquially, The Being) constructed from the fabric of space and time in very much the same way the cells and tissues and organelles comprise our very own human bodies.
The discovery, as discoveries of this magnitude often do, came on slowly and was the result, not of direct study, but rather an almost throw-away notion proposed by the then young Dr. Stanley Johannes Stemrike. A suggestion that was at the same time both a hypothetical assertion proffered as an attention seeking thought experiment to his fellow matriculates (a stunt often pulled by publication seeking students) and also as the semi-serious solution to a long standing unsolved universal model, a model that was, as it came to be discovered, only partially explained by the completion of The Standard Model of Particle Physics. Of course, as these things go, he was initially, and some still say rightfully so, largely ignored and ridiculed in equal parts from the armchair intelligentsia as well as the more venerable names of educational/research establishments in science and medicine and cosmology and philosophy. Soon the theory was turned over and thoroughly tumbled by the collected thoughts, opinions, and contributions of The Internet as well as academia. So, like a stone pummeled by the relentless deluge of a water fall, the thoughts and ideas surrounding the original assumption were polished into a noticeable and unavoidable splendor. The evidence was compiled and finally, after decades and decades, the idea was once again offered up as scientific explanation. Within the century, after the development of necessary technologies including but not limited to fourth dimensional probes, instruments of Planck length, near light travel, and so on, it was concluded, beyond even the darkest shadow of a doubt, that the Earth was in fact an organ. An organ in The Celestial Host and weather or not it was the raison d’être humanity would have wanted, it was nonetheless, a true purpose, the true purpose of existence. The elusive question of the Meaning of Life had been answered.
In the public presentations of this information, information which as one might expect is still hotly debated and contested by the vast majority of humanity, the most relatable method for understanding how this planet functions is through the apt analogy of our own bodies. Of course these presentations were not performed by Dr. Stemrike, who had at this point had been deceased for the better part of two centuries. No, audiences were generally elucidated by any number of scientists, philosophers, preachers, and self proclaimed life coaches who had taken up the cause. What follows is the distillation of a number of these talks collected and generalized for expressed didactic purposes of conveying the ideas though metaphor:
“The human body, our bodies, are at the very basic level, carbon. Carbon that has been pushed and pulled and bullied and arranged by any number of predictable and universal forces in order to assemble the complex network of human life. Now, the same exact principles that are at play in our bodies are also at play on a macro a micro level as well. The governing forces, chemical reactions, proteins, electrons, protons, neurons and so on are the same from elephant to amoeba. In this way we can first begin to understand that size is indeed relative. What may seem small to us mere humans, may be universally massive to a microscopic critter. In the same way, we, as creatures of a certain size, may be rather imperceptibly small to a being of such size and significance and multidimensionality as The Celestial Host. Although the creature of which we, and our planet, are a part of is quite, quite, large, the same principles apply to The Being as to our bodies. For example, the veins and arteries that carry cells and nutrients and pathogens and viruses and so on are the same as the rivers and streams and roads and footpaths and highways of our world, all carrying organisms of varying complexity to and fro. The rock and soil and moss and grass: the epidermis, the atmosphere: the protective membrane surrounding the fragile tissue of the organ. Air and water are the plasma in which all living creatures are dissolved. Words and mating calls and speeches and professions of love, all just signals sent between cells.
If one was to examine a human cell, one would find a series of smaller organs, or organelles, within that cell. In this way, each human, is like a cell in the body of The Celestial Host. Whereas our cells contain endoplasmic reticulum, (rough and smooth) lysosomes, mitochondria and so on, we have lungs and livers, and hearts. Our cells have a nucleus, we have a brain. If we are cells, our organs are the organelles. And just like cells in our bodies, there are many different kinds, some harmful and some helpful. For example the vast majority of creatures on planet earth are like red blood cells, going here and there, eating, changing food to energy, creating waste that breaks down back into the matter that is the earth. We carry air and liquid from place to place. We reproduce creating copies upon copies upon copies of ourselves, just like cells. For most of us, for a long time, our impact has been minimal, forgettable, and brief. Servicing without knowing (the same way our cells don’t “know” they are servicing us, but rather are programed from the moment of their creation to do what they are created to do), and eventually, inevitably, dying and becoming, just like our own excrement, part of the organ, part of the Earth, a resource to be recycled and reborn.
“There are of course other types of people with analogous human cells. Thinkers, philosophers, teachers, and certain engineers and politicians. These are the neural cells. These cells (people) are responsible for solving issues of communication and transportation, they pass on information. The historians: keepers of memory. These cells together create projects (thoughts) and execute them to either great service to the Earth or to great destruction. These cells ultimately work to disseminate information and develop new ways for survival and efficiency. At times these cells govern large bodies of people in order to keep them organized and safe and operational.
“Another type: Doctors, hospice workers, caregivers, surgeons, acupuncturists, massage therapists, mental health professionals. Even some police officers, fire fighters, paramedics, FEMA workers, UNICEF fund raisers, garbage collectors, plumbers, environmentalists, and gardeners all work in a similar way to white blood cells, scrubbing and cleaning the organ of disease, of harmful factions of humanity. Removing sickness, repairing cells, and arterial waterways, planting new trees, staving off the crusty scab of pavement, removing tumors of flesh and steel. Plants themselves act as a giant liver, cleaning the air so that metal can be oxidized and broken down and digested by the earth.
There are of course pathogens and cancers. Murders and rapists, slumlords and abusers, methadonians and chemists creating compounds of death and addiction. Slave owners. Human trafficers. Torturers. Developers that scar the land, slash down forests, frack the stone hills, and pile temporary homes of planned obsolescence upon the earth like a slowly spreading psoriasis. All the factors that now have become the rote declarations of those attempting to save the organ are in fact in a very real way, brining the eradication of our species closer and closer to reality.
“It has been shown The Celestial Host has taken some measures to ensure the continuing functionality of our planet. Fires, floods, genocides, earthquakes, eruptions of ash and magma, comets and meteoroids, tsunamis, anything that has reduced the population of the planet significantly is less a natural disaster than a planetary colonic (floods), a dose of acetaminophen (fires), of universal scratch of an itch (earthquakes), or a cosmic chemo treatment (nuclear war). Yes, as with any medicine, its administration comes at a cost. Many good and healthy cells (humans) may be killed off in the process, but the intention is always for the greater good. To stave off long term injury to the organ. To continue functionality and survival.
“At this point, most begin to understand the analogy, however loose it may seem at times it is still the best analogy we have, and therefore further exploration of the topic can be undertaken on a personal level or through attendance at further seminars delving deeper into the subject of The Corporeal Nature of The Universe. But if the audience will allow a small aside, a moment of warning usually reserved for endless debates by talking head pundants, it bears stating that all the current research, the analysis of trends, tides, frequency of natural and “man made” disasters, rate of population growth and the rate in which we are expending natural resources, the temperature of the planet (organ), the extinctions of species, the accumulation of non-compostable produces collecting like an artificial contentment in the sea, the murder rate, the methane levels produces by factory farms, has all lead the greatest minds to the conclusion, not the assumption mind you, but the conclusion that our organ (planet) is in an aggressively malignant state. It cannot and will not sustain. Universally speaking, it seems that whatever larger purpose our planet served, it now, and for some time now, has been doing more harm than good to The Celestial Host. It stands to reason that sometime in the murky and unknowable future, the likelihood that our planet will be biopsied, found to be beyond reparable state, and excised from The Celestial Host in some kind of Earth-ectomy is imminent. Perhaps we have always been some vestigial rock, some potentially tumorous mass just waiting to cause enough pain to be given proper medical attention and removed from existence as mysteriously as we had arrived. So, as the intention of this presentation is not to leave you all in a state of doomsday panic or existential crisis, all that can be said it this. Know that you had a purpose, that you served in someway or another a much high power. Know that your comings and goings, the love you shared, the children you bore, the thoughts you wrote down and mused over on late nights with friends, the kindness you showed, the flowers your cultivated, the pet you kept, the things you learned, the time you had all was meaningful, and hopefully, in some way or another extended to life of this planet even a moment longer so that one last kiss could be given, one last sunrise witnessed, or one last moment of awe experienced. It was because of you, because of us we will not go lonely into the night, but together ride the vessel of our world into the quiet depths on the unknown.”
By Gregory J. M. Kasunich
[Please note, the following article is a look at the final scene of BIRDMAN, it will contain SPOILERS.]
Shortly after the credits rolled and the lights came up and the combination exhilaration/exhaustion wore off on Alejandro González Iñárritu’s BIRDMAN, the question everyone seemed to be asking themselves, and each other was, “What is the deal with Emma Stones final gaze upwards into the heavens after Riggan, her father, the once titular Birdman, jumps through the window?”
Yesterday, David Chen, of the fantastic site Slashfilm, posted an article called Let’s Talk About the Ending of ‘Birdman’ where he examines the final scene of the film. The article contains a nice lead up and exploration of the scene. Since he does a great job of setting up the scene and making his case, I won’t repeat what he wrote. That being said, with regards to the final moments of the picture, he had this to say:
“Thus, I posit that the very last shot of the film is Innaritu’s way of joining the metaphorical/imagined with the real. Riggan still can’t fly, nor does he actually jump out a window in that last scene. The movie is just conveying that for the first time, Sam is seeing her father the way he sees himself.”
It’s a great article and it worth a read, but after seeing the film [full disclosure: unlike Scott Tobias of The Dissolve, I loved it] I’ve had some time to think about it, the ending in particular and I figured I would weigh in here with my interpretation of the final, and seemingly divisive, scene of BIRDMAN.
Since so much has already been written about this picture I’ll cut to the case: I believe that Riggan’s life, and career, ends abruptly on stage after he fires a bullet (from an almost literal Chekhov’s gun) into his skull. Therefore, what this means is that the final scene, as Riggan astonishingly, miraculously, unbelievably awakes in a hospital bed, actually takes place in a heaven-like afterlife where Riggan finally achieves a soupçon of all that yearned for in the penultimate days of his tortured existence.
First, let’s look at the cinematic language employed by Alejandro González Iñárritu to hint at this conclusion at least in terms of editorial and photographic continuity. Prior to Riggan’s self inflicted gunshot wound the film is presented in one, seemingly continuous, take planting the audience firmly in Riggan’s headspace and subjective perspective. This is Riggan’s story, which is reinforced by the fact that, although the camera does wander away from Riggan, from time to time, in order to train its unrelenting eye on other members of the ensamble, it is the narration and hallucinogenic/telepathic manifestations only inside of Riggan’s head to which the audience is granted narrative access. The camera never cuts away from this continuous take, that is, until Riggan fires the gun and drops to the stage, only then does the film waver and cut, multiple times, to a fever dream of images, and ultimately to a tilt skyward towards the light.
A bit on the nose? Maybe, maybe not. Speaking of noses, when Riggan does awake in the impossible hospital his face is now covered in gauze which strikingly resembles the cowl of his alter ego Birdman. He is informed, by what may be his only friend and exasperated lawyer, Jake, that he survived the ordeal due to the fact that when Riggan fired the gun he had missed his head and instead just blasted off his nose, and that this, in fact, is a good thing.
During the film he twice expresses concern over being overshadowed on the front page of the newspaper. First after lamenting the fact that if he had perished during a flight he shared with George Clooney, it would have been Clooney’s face on the front page not his. And again, after he is upstaged by Edward Norton, it is Norton’s face printed on the front page of the paper, not Riggan’s regardless of the fact that it was Riggan’s idea, investment, etc. But now, in the hospital room, Jake shows him the newspaper, its font page plastered with Riggan. The newpaper itself containing even more incredible news. The review that was promised to end his career, and perhaps another reason he killed himself, never materializes, instead he receives an incredible review validating his choices, applauding his bravery on stage, not his cowardly exit from life. There’s more. His ex-wife, whom he still loves, is there by his bedside. Earlier we see him regretting cheating on her so much so that he attempts suicide, another hint that Riggan is all to ready to kill himself when he can’t emotionally handle the consequences of his choices. Also, let’s not forget to mention the play is a hit, the television spits images of people from all over praying for him and lighting candles, his celebrity restored, his money troubles over, all stacked together it sounds absurd, and it is, unless you look at it as if this is a version of Riggan’s nirvana.
In his final moments, alone in the room, he pulls of the bandages and looks at his new face while Birdman, in full spandex, watches from the toilet. This suggests that perhaps, even though Birdman will always be a part of him, a part of his legacy and identity, that in death Riggan is able to remove the mask, to assume a new face, a new identity, and demote Birdman, the public version of him anyway, to the crapper. Riggan then leaves the bathroom, steps through the window of his hospital room (a metaphor for purgatory if there ever was one) and leaps.
Which brings us to Sam, his daughter, who enters the room, goes to the window, first looks down, then up as a strange smile creeps across her face. Earlier, Sam blasts Riggan with one of the more scathing speeches in the film. She runs her father straight through with a barrage of pellets seething with every emotion she has felt for her father; anger, disgust, exasperation, and honesty. But now, she arrives with flowers that are anything but the not-so-passively-aggressively delivered roses (a flower which Riggan hates) she gives him earlier in the film, only this time he smell them (due to the nose he shot off to spite his aging face.) They share a tender moment, things are now better than they have ever been in the past. After Sam comes back into the room and looks out the window I believe she does see her father, unbound by his earthy burdens, free to fly as he always imagined he could.
In this way Riggan goes out completely on his own terms. Yes, maybe this was not the ideal ending to his story, but it surely is one fitting of his character.
[This short story is part of a new series of stories I’m currently calling “Hypothetical Fables from Past Futures”.]
By Gregory J.M. Kasunich
In the future, humans no longer experience death; well, death of the mind to be exact. All human consciousness has been emancipated from the bonds of flesh and uploaded to a vast and silent array of servers housed in dark shelters that blanket the colder parts of the slowly aging world. The human race is now an incalculable network of fiber endlessly couriering synthetic synapses from one drive to the next, but all things are quickly coming undone. First, a quick history.
Since man first emerged on this planet, excavated from the primordial mélange by the slow slogging hand of evolution, an inevitable and unavoidable and unpredictable expiration was tethered to the borrowed time all men knew as existence. Cells divided, telomeres truncated, and entropy executed its horrendous and beautiful balancing act as it broke down the mass of meat and bone known as the human body back into bite sized bits of carbon to be devoured by the universe. Death, as it once was, had been known as The Great Equalizer, as all living beings, meek and mighty, wealthy and wanting, vast and microscopic all succumbed to the same quiet, ultimate, void of nothingness and non-existence.
“Foolish expeditions … were launched in search of mythical mcguffins: fountains flowing with potable eternity or restorative springs trickling down some mountain just beyond an uncharted Land of Darkness.”
Man had never taken kindly to this concept. You see, ever since the notion of personal and universal human impermanence had been discovered, mankind has tried its damnedest to evade the inevitable, to outsmart the Almighty, to prolong the time allotted and persist beyond the natural boarders of being. Sacrifices of livestock and virginal neophytes were performed to appease celestial bodies in an effort to appeal for an extended stay. Foolish expeditions costing the lives of men and sums greater than the gross domestic product of prosperous city-states were launched in search of mythical mcguffins: fountains flowing with potable eternity or restorative springs trickling down some mountain just beyond an uncharted Land of Darkness. Over time these early and irrational attempts at immortality gave way to more enlightened and prudent pursuits. Science and medicine, research and experimentation, technology and sanitation all conspired to somehow, improbably and impossibly lengthen the lifespan of the human race.
With the dawn of the digital age, man once more pressed his flesh tightly against the weakening boundaries of deathlessness. Medical records from all over the globe were recorded, logged, and made accessible to all healers of the planet. Over decades upon decades all conditions, diets, growths, abnormalities, diseases, viruses, contagions, disorders, neurosis, neuro and physical degenerations, genetic mutations, defects, ailments, cancers, proclivities, allergies, surgical techniques, medicines, tinctures, roots, therapeutics, and prescriptions had been collected, analyzed, and compiled into the most advanced and effective forms of treatment for almost every type and breed of human being. The average age was measured in centuries rather than decades, yet still, after all that could be known was known and all that cold be done was done, as sluggish, debilitated, and delayed though Death may be, the darkness claimed its due and balanced the universal ledger. And for all the sound and fury, all the pleas and cries uttered from dying lungs, mortality remained the last disease unmatched with a cure. That was until the Antilapsarian Age and the Immortality of the Mind.
“At first there was celebration, then trepidation and hesitation as fewer and fewer warm bodies roamed the terrestrial plains of the Earth.”
Accounts of the first successfully uploaded human consciousness vary and are ultimately useless but if only for marking the general moment when man no longer required his corporal tether, his body and brain, to exist. Computing power, speed, and complexity, as well as perceptibly infinite memory storage, and an endless supply of solar power all conspired to make it possible for the intricate and convoluted machinations of the human mind to be losslessly transitioned from analogue to digital. After the political dust settled, the remaining resources of the planet were poured into the construction of digital colonies, which sounded better than “server farms”, and the vast majority of each living being was uploaded. At first there was celebration, then trepidation and hesitation as fewer and fewer warm bodies roamed the terrestrial plains of the Earth. The world divided into two distinct philosophies: The Antilapsarians, believing that it was not God’s (or natures) choice whether or not they would be spared from eternal slumber, and the opposing group, The Existentials, believing otherwise. The men and woman and children who delayed in their digitizing, for fear, ignorance, or defiance all eventually met the same fate as all generations before them, while the new world, one made of super computer thinking machines, abandoned Death and his friends like the forgotten gods of ages past.
Aside from the absence of a body, human life trudged forward in the familiar manner. Love was found and lost, conversations and investigations were held, ideas born and rained and abandoned. Through the wires people traveled, read and wrote, created and destroyed. In the cloud they gathered to celebrate or socialize, bicker or bond. It was a generally peaceful time. Money held no value, nor land or status. War was pointless since there were no true stakes to be raised. Sure, vile disagreements sent waves sadness, anger, and malcontent though the system, but eventually things would calm down. Since thoughts and feeling moved close to the speed of light, these eons passed in an instant and the entirety of human thought verged on the precipice of enlightenment. That was until the very buildings housing the servers began to crack at their foundations.
“…that old dog Entropy had been sniffing around for weaknesses…”
Although all precautions were taken during the construction of the network and server facilities it turns out that old dog Entropy had been sniffing around for weaknesses and employing the wind and the rain and the roots of mighty plants, the dog began to scratch. Nature had come to reclaim the thick slabs of concrete and steel the humans had borrowed centuries ago. Of course there were sensors built into the system to detect this type of thing, should it arise, and arise it did. Before long everyday was greeted with wiling sirens and screeching warnings that incalculable acres of electronics was the remainder of humanity was in danger of being enveloped in entropic indifference. So, utilizing the combined efforts of all thinking machines the humans banded together in order to once more take up arms against extinction. Numbers were crunched, scenarios were run, probes of all sorts were build and deployed using the last of their viable resources and although the fight was long and efforts for good and true, ultimately, inevitably, unavoidably the flora and fauna, the wind and rain, the sun and the moon and all that lie beneath them consumed the plastics and metals and rubbers and wires that was mankind.
And as the last pixel went dim and the last circuit board chirped, those few men and woman who remained behind, the once laughable buffoons known as The Existentials, gave birth to children who in turn had children of their own and so on and so on for as long as humans have been alive. Each generation passed on and new one took its place, until one day, their numbers were strong and from time to time they would walk barefoot though the green earth and wonder silently about the strange decaying ruins in the colder parts of the world.
BY GREGORY J. M. KASUNICH
[The following article has been edited from it’s original form. The review section of Mike Doughty’s new record has been removed and will be published later as a stand alone piece.]
I first came across the musician Mike Doughty by pure providence late one rainy Valentines Day evening among the remnants of a Philadelphia winter in early 2005. He was the unassuming opening act for the somewhat avant-garde, twenty-six member independent pop-rock group that called themselves The Polyphonic Spree. His performance was, unexpectedly, the general antithesis to the main event. The Spree, as their fans have come to call them, clad themselves in colorful robes, dance manically around the stage, each member playing a different and increasingly exotic instrument. The band plucked and played everything from a harp to a Theremin, lending the group the appearance of an eclectic and benevolent musical cult. Doughty on the other hand with his thinning blond-brown hair, three day beard, jeans and un-tucked button down shirt looked less like a rock star and more like any middle aged man you might pass on the subway without a second thought or lingering glance. In fact, if not for the sundry tattoos adorning his arms, one would be more likely to mistake him for a gap-toothed clerk rather than a musician. He took the stage with nothing more than a guitar and microphone and proceeded to pour out song after song, each one filled with tales of drug addiction, debt, recovery, loss, love, and yearning to the soggy and enraptured audience. Pausing intermittently only to shift the position of his capo or trade quips with the audience about the contentious relationships between cheese steak vendors and the merits of the day’s holiday, he confidently commanded the small venue. He was engaging, charming, and funny. His songs, all which had begun to sound a bit the same when played back to back, ran together into an evocative and poetic movement of jangly folk rock. After Doughty left the stage and The Spree stepped in to offer up their signature bombast, I was left thinking about this gravel voiced troubadour, I had to know more.
As it turned out, this Mike Doughty, the heart-bearing solo guitar slinger, used to be known by the truncated moniker, M. Doughty, the front man, vocalist, and song writer of the genre hopping acid-jazz-alternative-rock band Soul Coughing which had some minor hits in the early 2000’s with the tunes “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles”, the former used by professional wrestler Danny Dorning as his entrance music and the latter used as the soundtrack to a Hannah-Barbarra cartoon mash-up for the Cartoon Network. M. (Doughty, interestingly enough, was also the voice behind the syncopated emphasis shifting “Fall Into the Gap” commercials where he spouted the kaki vendor’s slogan over and over on top of footage of kids cartwheeling around in overalls and branded hoodies.) After enjoying the two discs of solo material, 2000‘s full length release Skittish (which Doughty recorded in one day and was promptly rejected by his label at the time Warner Bros.) and 2003‘s Rockity Roll EP acquired at the merchandise table after the show, I had to have more, and here is was, a back catalogue of tunes I could consume while I waited for Doughty’s next solo release.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Soul Coughing released three full length LP’s each one brimming with the bizarre morphed, pitched samples of Mark Degli Antoni, the fat circling bouncing bass lines of Sebastian Steinberg, the tight schizophrenic hip-hop beat of drummer Yuval Gabay, and of course the slinking stuttering guitar and the unmistakable scatting, trumpeting vocals of one (M)ike Doughty. Here was a full, slickly produced, funky-fun, awkwardly named band that was the candy coating to Doughty chocolate center. At times, more often than not, the production, arrangements, and instrumentation undercut the smart beat poetry and simplicity of Doughty’s lyrics and guitar lines, but still there remained innumerable inspired moments throughout the three records. In fact, the band in many ways elevated Doughty’s sound. There, alone on the stage at the South Street venue Doughty’s tunes blended together, a result of his affinity for the same three or four chord progressions and strumming patterns (using the capo to change the key and give his tunes some form of variety). That is to say nothing disapproving of his gift for melodies, which deftly bob and weave through his simplistic guitar work. With his former band, the songs found teeth. Beats pounding aggressively propelled forward by the sometimes-manic-sometimes-beautifully-restrained bass and jittery atmospheric samples. The music was interesting, fun, and, purely in retrospect, the logical predecessor to Doughty’s stripped down solo work. One can very clearly hear each of the individual band members contributions, which is to say most of the songs Doughty played that first night could have been demos for future Soul Coughing songs had the band not been slain by Doughty’s own hand.
Mike Doughty is hardly the first front man to eschew his band mates and pursue a stripped down solo career, but in Doughty’s case this move seemed less of a sea change in artistic direction and more of a past life amputation. See, after Soul Coughing started to get some mainstream traction, with a music video on MTV (when MTV still played music videos), Mike quit the band. His reasons he later recorded in his succinctly written and disarmingly honest memoir The Book of Drugs, the title itself an indication as to why he stepped away from the band. At the time Doughty was abusing a number of drugs including heroine and found his relationship with his band mates to be uneven, unfair, confusing and toxic. So he left, got clean, and headed out on the road with an acoustic guitar in the trunk of a rented car and his rejected album Skittish, which, thanks to the file sharing website Napster, found an audience even before Mike had a chance to play the songs live. Of course during these shows any number of fans would request some of Soul Coughing songs. Sometimes Mike would oblige, other times he would become defensive or dismissive of the requests, insisting on only performing post-Soul Coughing songs. He even has gone on the record several times in magazines, personal blog posts, radio interviews and even in is memoir, to document his disdain for the way the Soul Coughing songs were realized. In fact, it was during the promotion of The Book of Drugs where he was forced to speak about exorcising his demons and his experiences with Soul Coughing that he formulated a plan to recapture ownership of his creative output with his former band.
So here it is, after years of gestation and rumination, the truest true vision of what these songs should have sounded like. Thirteen songs, which are all, according to Doughty, the ontologically perfect representations of Mike Doughty original intent, finally recorded. And the audience has to believe him. He is the original author. He wrote those songs alone, just him and his guitar. He knew what he wanted his audience to hear when they played those records at home and now he can share that vision with the world. The only reason they never turned out this way originally was that he claims to have been hindered at the time by abusive, delusional, obtrusive band mates and label executives. But now, the songs can finally be heard the way they are supposed to be heard, and Mike Doughty can finally put all the pain of those formative musical years behind him; or can he?
This all begs the question; just because something is possible, should it be done? Just because Doughty could quickly and easily, whithout interference from a label or a large financial burden, rerecord songs recorded nearly two decades ago, should he have, and since he did, what purpose does it serve? In 2004 Brian Wilson, famously of the 1960’s surf-rock band The Beach Boys, released a record somewhat confusingly, titled “Brian Wilson Presents Smile”. This release was a reworking of a number of tunes the he had originally written with his band back in 1966. Originally Smile was meant to be a follow up to the widely successful and historically influential album Pet Sounds. As the band worked on the new record the concept album bloomed into an unwieldy endeavor for the band and for Wilson himself who suffered from emotional instability and substance abuse. Ultimately the project was all but mostly abandoned. The Beach Boy’s did end up releasing an album called Smiley Smile in the wake of the discarded sessions, which was a stripped down version of some of the songs from the Smile sessions which ended up being recorded in Brian Wilson’s home studio. The resulting album entered the charts at the lowest position in the bands career. So, some twenty-five years later, Brian, still sore from those deserted, unrealized, songs, and perhaps as a way to rid himself of the mistakes he made, both personally and professionally in the past, decided to rerecord and release the material himself.
Wilson made several changes to the tunes from the originally period of recording with his band going as far as to even change the lyrics of the much loved and instantly recognizable Good Vibrations back to the “original” lyrics that he wrote stating that this new version was how he had always intended the lyrics be recorded. The reviews of the album were mixed if not at least reverent. The story of The Beach Boys is one steeped in the Mythology of Americana. It has it all, relative rags to riches, family drama, success, fame, money, drugs, loss, creative brilliance, cultural impact, redemption, and music. When the world finally got to hear “the real” version of the mysterious Smile record the band never completed, it was ready, but like looking back at an old photograph of yourself, the result was both a mix of recaptured glory and youth as well as melancholic nostalgia for things forever lost to time. The tunes sounds similar to a Beach Boys record, but they were not recorded and realized by the Beach Boys. It stands to reason that those dusty tapes, ageing in a vault somewhere, containing the remnants of the failed record persisted in Wilson’s mind as an unkind specter reminding him through the years of one of the lowest points of his life and by reclaiming those songs, finishing the un-finished, he could put a new coat of paint on his past. He could take a memory of the past and rather than run from it or deny it, he could dive straight into it, reclaim it, and therefore he could finally be set free from the self imposed manacles of unrealized dreams.
Here we have a musician Brian Wilson, divorced from his band, revisiting songs that have already been released and embraced by the public in order to show the world how these songs should have sounded. Although it is unfair to put Mike Doughty and Brian Wilson in the same category of songwriters, the fact remains; both stories bear some meaningful similarities.
One more: George Lucas’s hotly debated, and what some consider arbitrary, revisions to the original version of the 1977 film Star Wars. Casual fans of the series have come off as ambivalent if not confused by the alterations, whereas die-hard fans have vilified the film’s writer/director George Lucas for both betraying the art form and for being a hypocrite. A younger George Lucas years before he first took to the edit room to revisit his most famous contribution to film history famously sat before congress in 1988 during a public hearing on the colorization process of film. He lambasted the process and harangued the studios decision to add color to black and white films. Lucas said during the testimony, “People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarian.” He Continued, “Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tommorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match.” All of which flies in the face of Lucas’s later decision to alter his own films in a similar fashion. Since the initial release of Star Wars, the film has undergone a myriad of changes over the years. From changing the title from simply Star Wars to the more complex Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, to more egregious modifications including adding computer generated creatures into the film and reordering crucial character moments to change the characters original intent. Over and over the film has been enhanced and updated by digitally restoring the negative to changing the soundtrack to recreating the skies to retiming lines of dialogue all of which has been documented in detail by film preservationists. Lucas claims that these films are his, and that with each change he is bringing the film closer to its truest incarnation. At the time when the movie was originally filmed there were obstacles preventing George from fully realizing his vision, but years later, with new, cheaper, processes, he could revisit and rerelease the films as he saw fit. Each time he does he is met with a chorus of detractors as well as capital gains for his efforts.
What some do not know, or easily forget (in no small part due to George’s own efforts to black ball her in the filmmaking community) is that Star Wars owes a debt of gratitude for its success to one Marcia Lucas: George’s ex-wife. Marcia was by all accounts the warm, open, heart to George’s cool, logical, head. She balanced him, encouraged him, and, literally, helped him craft his films and career; she was not only his wife, but also his editor. She convinced him to leave in some of the more heartfelt moments in the original Star Wars film that George would have rather seen on the cutting room floor. To this day George Lucas has not received an Academy Award, yet in 1978 Marcia took one home for editing Star Wars.
After Lucas’s initial success with Star Wars he set about building an empire of his own called Skywalker Ranch. In 1978, after Star Wars and before The Empire Strikes Back, Lucas began acquiring land in Marin County and laying the groundwork for his independent film studio conceived as a creative, professional, facility that would recreate the culture and atmosphere of collaboration and communication between filmmakers that he experienced during film school. The ranch would also act as the unrealized dream of his friend and mentor Francis Ford Coppola. Years earlier, under Coppola’s tutelage, Lucas adopted the independent spirit as Coppola set about building American Zoetrope, an independent studio free of the bureaucracy, culture and politics of Hollywood, which Coppola found stifling, in San Francisco. After Zoetrope all but collapsed and Coppola was saddled with the bill, Lucas set out to make films on his own. As time pushed on, George became more and more involved in his films, overseeing both Return of the Jedi and Temple of Doom at the same time while still pressing forward with the construction of the ranch, sparing less and less time and for his family. Something was bound to break, and finally in 1983, after fourteen years of marriage, Marcia left George.
His long time friend and collaborator Steven Spielberg said of the divorce, “It pulverized him. George and Marcia, for me, were the reason you got married, because it was an insurance policy that marriages do work…and when that marriage didn’t work, I lost my faith in marriage for a long time.” After George lost Marcia he was left living with the ghosts of her contributions, both in his films and in his life. That film remains to Lucas both his greatest achievement and deepest wound. The film that built his empire was recognized by the Academy not for George’s writing and directing, but rather for Marcia’s editing. The most successful and creatively productive years of George’s life were spent with this woman binding her memory and influence to everything that George had accomplished. It stands to reason that George would then go about using all his power and time and money and influence to slowly chip away at what Marcia had done in terms of her contribution to Star Wars. With each iteration the film becomes, in some small way, more George’s and less Marcia’s. It is George’s way of reclaiming his film, to say to himself and the world that there are his films, no one else’s, and he alone has the power to rewrite his own past as he sees fit. Every time a new version of Star Wars is released, another layer of George’s past erodes away taking him farther from Marcia and closer to a future of his own design.
Side note: A friend of mine once had a girl friend in the formative years of his life with whom he shared his most loved musical discoveries. Songs he felt he had personally unearthed which expressed to others the parts of him he was unable to express himself. When the relationship finally broke apart these songs had become tainted with the memories of his failed romance. But he still loved those songs dearly and he was not about to throw the baby out with the bath water. Sure, she had taken a part of him with her when she left, but she was not going to get the music too. So, in order to reclaim the songs he made a number of mixed tapes containing the songs with the most heart-retching memories and then, over the next year or so, played the songs during the most fun, joyous, and exciting occasions he could find, essentially reprogramming his brains associations with the music. It worked.
So the question remains, who is Mike Doughty’s re-interpreted album for? Who was Brian Wilson Presents Smile for? Who are the revised Star Wars films for? Is there a vocal minority of pop culture consumers what are incessantly clamoring for changes, updates, revisions, and additions to previously-released and widely-embraced popular art? Or is it that artists and creators themselves are never satisfied with their own creative output. Picasso, Van Gough, and Dali all painted over completed paintings, deeming them unworthy of themselves regardless of what others felt when they saw the original paintings. They wrote and rewrote their own art, over and over again. Martin Scorsese once said that his films are never completed they are just released. What he meant is that as a filmmaker he always feels like something could be better, finessed, perfected. As an artist, perfection, either in conceit or execution, is essentially the goal. Even artists that embrace improvisation, spontaneity, and imperfection still strive to convey their conceit in the most meaningful way possible. When complications and limitations arise, creatively, physically, or otherwise, concession and compromises are inevitable. It is those decisions, it is every decision, that an author makes as they create and navigate the limitations that ultimately shape the final product. Sometimes the wrong choices are made, sometimes the product is a failure, but sometimes it’s not. Screenwriter William Goldman, when speaking about how to choose a Hollywood project said “nobody knows anything”. Artists are unable to effectively predict the impact of their art, but what they can do is create art with intention and hope.
Perhaps is something more than just the inability to let go of imperfect representations of the artist intent, but rather the artists reclamation of their past work is a form of self therapy in order to rewrite a period of their life so that they can finally move on. With Mike Doughty, he is closing the chapter on a section of his life that essentially made him who he is today as a musician despite his best efforts to take his music in a different creative direction. By rereleasing these songs he is saying to himself, and to the world, that he is the true creator of this music, that he never needed his band. He is shedding the skin he had finally grown into. His solo career is successful, it pays the bills, and he has a doggedly faithful and sincere fan base, but people still see him as Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing instead of just Mike Doughty, which is perhaps all he ever wanted to be; just Mike Doughty. Wilson has recently reunited with his old band mates and has released a new album under the Beach Boys banner. He has moved past his failures. He has moved past Smile. In fact, the entirety of the original Smile has now been released in a beautiful box set and contains all the stems, alternate takes, mixes, etc. of those sessions from long ago effectively trumping Brian’s earlier effort to bring those songs to light. Lucas also is entering a new phase in his life and career. He is now engaged to be married, he has sold off the Star Wars franchise to Disney, he is starting a museum, and he seems happy. He no longer tinkers and tweaks the film edited by his ex-wife. He no longer is rewriting the past, instead he is writing his future.
In each example, these re-releases are not disingenuous cash grabs or an artists inability to stop striving for perfection, but rather, somewhat successful, attempts to sooth the wounds of the past. These are not cries for help, but instead creative individuals serving themselves. These records and films are not for the world, they are for an audience of one: their creators. The world will always have the originals. Soul Coughing records of still for sale online and in used record stores, as is Brian Wilson Present’s Smile. Dusty VHS copies containing the unmolested version of Star Wars languish on thrift store shelves or can be snapped up online. Once art is released into the world it no longer belongs wholly to it’s author but instead it is claimed by those who have a personal experience with it. These revisions to the past might be nothing more than public self-therapy, but then again, all art in someway or another is created as a means of momentarily quelling that relentless voice inside us all.