“Hooded Kiss” by Ben Christophers

I saw Imogen Heap a few weeks ago in concert and Ben Christophers was one of the opening bands. He’s a singer/songwriter type, which is something I usually loathe — here’s looking at you, Paolo Nutini, and for the last time, everything will not be all right if I find a new pair of shoes because I wear size 12 in women’s and do you know how hard it is to find cute pumps in that size? IMPOSSIBLE — but his clear, high voice, haunting and ethereal melodies and all-around glistening craftsmanship made me fall in love, which is something usually reserved for hunky actors playing vampires. (Not you, though, Ethan Hawke. Get lost.)

This is a live version of the song “Hooded Kiss” that I saw him perform and the entire theater was silent until he finished and then erupted into applause. It was one of the very few times when I was sad to see an opener leave the stage to allow the main act to play.*

A deep river flows of weathered sins and weathered souls
A kiss, a hooded kiss from the seeds of desire
So grief, heavenly grief, my love you’re bringing to me
But you’ve got shipwreckers eyes and all, a cutting stingray smile

First of all, I have a passion for anyone who can do something really well. (That’s a quote from The Master and Margarita. I should just give myself a nickel every time I mention that book in a day. I would be broke. And rich at the same time. Schroedinger’s Millionaire!) This includes, but is not limited to, people who can sing well and play the guitar well at the same time, men who can sing higher than I can,** and Rachel Weisz. Now, I’m not sure if Ben Christophers can juggle chainsaws, but he’s got two outta three. And two outta three ain’t bad.

Like The Builders and the Butchers, Ben Christopher’s self-titled album is littered with beautiful images that are steeped in symbolism. Any time a river is involved, I immediately think of Edgar Allan Poe and the sorrow and ever-marching erosion of memory that water, for him, represents. The inclusion of “weathered sins and weathered souls” in the “deep river” is like a lazy river for the damned, one that spirals around and around, not going anywhere, but like Lethe, seeps the memories from our veins until there’s nothing left but shells of what we once were.

It’s the “seed of desire” — or destruction, if you’re Hellboy or happen to have a right hand of doom — that first slip into sin that causes “heavenly grief” and the beginnings of the descent into damnation. Describing eyes as “shipwreckers” is one of the most poetic lines I’ve come across recently and the idea that someone’s stare can be as soul-crushing and self-destructive as something that can break a ship into dissembled parts — or, you know, Jaws — is a powerful and tempting lure into the darkness created by the monotony of the guitar part.

A hooded kiss is something secretive, a drifting into a furtive and illicit relationship that will end in nothing but a stinging sense of “lonely roads” and “sullen clouds.” And a mouth that delivers a hooded kiss can turn into a “cutting smile” just as quickly. Danger lurks but nothing can be done to stop the ship once it’s headed into the iceberg.

This song truly encapsulates my obsession of the week, but also is a delve into an emotion that’s rather important to my novel. In a lot of vampire novels, temptation is a salient theme, but I didn’t want to make Gwennie a steel-toed warrior who has the Iron Curtain for her will, but someone with major flaws who occasionally gives into temptation. This song is perfect for that slinky seductiveness that a person — or in Gwennie’s case, a bleeding jugular — wields as a weapon. It’s a continual power struggle of base desires against rationality and civility. And gore. Lots of it. Like, tons.

*It was not one of those times when Juliette and the Licks opened for Muse. In fact, we clapped the loudest when she said, “This is our last song!”

**I’m an alto, so this isn’t so very hard, but still rather impressive. My friends and I play the “Can I beat this dude up simply by listening to how girly he sounds?” game and the people I can totally beat up winners are Thom Yorke from Radiohead (I’m sure that’s how he got his wonky eye), Darren Hayes from Savage Garden, Brian Aubert from Silversun Pickups, and any dude who sings the melody in a barbershop quartet.

Advertisements

One of these things is not like the other

Sometimes I feel as if I should be a movie director instead of a writer because I’ll get really intense flashes of how something should look that can’t be properly conveyed with mere words. I admit it: I’m a child of the big-budget, flashy CG-ism that has infected movies as of late, so I love the mind-bending realities created by imaginative directions like Guillermo del Toro, Timur Bekmambetov, Spike Jonze, and Peter Jackson James Cameron Jean Pierre Jeunet.

(For example: in my novel, there are flashbacks — the most wonderful exposition pieces ever created by mankind. For each flashback — I take the Forever Knight and Highlander* approach — if I were to be directing a movie, I would focus on a specific body part, say a back or an eyeball or lips and use that as a transition to the past. The camera would zoom into Gwennie’s gray colored iris and watch as the pupil spiraled outward like ink through water and then pan back to reveal a completely different time and setting. Likewise, I would have a scene where Gwennie starts hallucinating and sees a carriage from the 19th century walk down a modern-day street, and everywhere a hoof touches, time ripples outwards in small puddles until the entire shot would turn sepia and be suddenly in the past.)

One of the most memorable and visually striking movies I’ve ever seen is a Japanese flick by the very talented, yet highly disturbing, Takashi Miike called Gozu. He’s best known for Ichi the Killer and Audition, but Gozu is my favorite.

On the surface, it’s a Yazuka coming-of-age movie, but it’s also steeped in Chinese and Buddhist symbolism. Now, I haven’t seen it since it came out seven years ago, and I’ve learned much more about its sources and Mr. Miike’s inspirations since then, so I can only guess what the hilarious, creepy and intense movie is actually trying to say. The image that’s been burned into my mind — in a very long, long list of things that will scar you stick with you — is the ox-headed man as seen on the cover:

Takashi Miike -- like my dreams transposed into real life. And in Japanese. And with sweatier men.

In Chinese mythology, there is the figure of Ox-Head, a guardian of the underworld, sort of like an Anubis-type. To me, this symbolizes the death/rebirth cycle that’s at the heart of Gozu, but more importantly, gives me more fodder to scare the living daylights out of myself. Remember the frangipani dream about the flowers that were symbols of ghosts and death? Guess who made a guest-starring role in my dreams last night?

This was on par with Mr. Fedora and the bear-headed man, only this time Mr. Ox-Head up there was kneeling by my bed and breathing his ring-nosed, Theseus-bashing, Osiris-reincarnating, acrid breath into my face.** I was partly awake, but paralyzed, and I could feel my hair moving with every snort; my eyes must have been open because it was dark and I could see things in my room and just his bare outline. Like the frangipani, Mr. Ox-Head is connected to death, or more specifically, the guardian of the place that happens after death.

Go talk to Haley Joel Osment, m’kay? Oh, how about Jennifer Love Hewitt? Patricia Arquette? FRACKING JOHN EDWARD. Don’t talk to me if you’re dead. Unless you know, you’re undead, but not like a zombie undead, but a vampire undead. And not a 30 Days of Night undead, but a Dracula or a Buffy undead.

It’s either I’m haunted or my subconscious is telling me I really, really want to be a furry.

*Whenever I cut any sort of meat in two with a cleaver, be it a chicken breast or a fish head or even a piece of tofu vaguely shaped to resemble an animal, I pretend to get a quickening. New roommates have learned this the hard awkward way.

**We have a quotations book at the coffee shop where I work and my co-worker (hi, Stevie! And Stevie’s mom!) has many, many of her sayings jotted down for the hilarity of future generations. When I told her about my latest dream, she said, “It’s like heaven and hell — in your face!” That immediately got written down. Another gem? “Is today still yesterday?”

It’s like Hamlet, but with anthropomorphic lions….

As promised — because I never break a promise* — I’m going to talk type about the inspiration for the setting of my dream the other day. (Unlike some TV shows that shall remain unnamed, the Golden Gate Bridge will not become a filler shot for my dreams.) In this book is the floating city made of ships that prompted one of the stranger dreams with recognizable people that I’ve had the pleasure to subconsciously think up.

Pirates, vampires, mosquito people, cactus people, and a whiny bitch of a main character. What's not to love?


The Scar by China Mieville is what I call an in media res sci-fi book, which means it just throws you into the middle of everything and leaves little time to sort it out. Other examples include: Dune, anything by Philip K. Dick, or even Star Wars, but that gets all of the Hero’s Journey references too, so I try to share the love. I adore this sort of literary convention because I do it to my readers all of the time. Personally, I love being confused, so trying to figure out how things worked in this universe — like, how the hell can a cactus talk? — was right up my alley. It’s the second in this world by the author — who kind of looks like if beefy Trent Reznor** and Howie Mandel had a kid — with the first being Perdido Street Station, so maybe that has more explanations, but I like to do things the hard way.

Let me just start off with saying that there are pirates in this book and seeing as how I dress up as a pirate wench for the Renaissance Festival every year, the only way this book could have gotten better was if there were vampire pirates. Oh, wait. THERE TOTALLY WERE VAMPIRES IN THIS BOOK. This happens to me every once in a while, where I start reading or watching something without vampires in it — you know, to cleanse the palate, if you will — and they just randomly appear. Like Ultraviolet or Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

It takes place on Armada, a floating city made of ships that the Armadan pirates have stolen. They gangplank people by capturing their vessels, assimilating them into their maritime fortress and making the passengers work without ever a chance to see home or escape. Bellis — yon fair maiden whiny, heartless main character — has been captured by the pirates and is forced to work in the library on Armada, but soon discovers a plot that the rulers of her district — aptly called The Lovers — are unfurling, which may place all of them in danger.

The thing kind of unravels like a bunch of tarot cards, with titles being thrown here and symbolism about trying to control the world as measly humans discarded there, but what I truly loved was the originality. Bellis goes on many adventures and finds ex-prisoners and slaves who have undergone a process called Remaking that has left them genetically mutated; a bunch of ravenous mosquito women who will literally suck you dry in a matter of seconds; an anthropomorphic lion voiced by Jeremy Irons and a fissure in the world that can be mined for Possibilities. Everything pops out of the book as fully formed ideas, a world rich with imagination that barely leaves you time to get your breath before moving onto to something just as new and wondrous.

So, you’re thinking, because I imagine that you are now ready to blow this popsicle stand and read this masterpiece. So, you think, it has creativity, an elegant writing style, and, most importantly, bloodsuckers. Why isn’t this the best book ever?

Well, I respond, because I’m more critical than Michael Bay when he’s choosing between Victoria’s Secret models, there are still many, many things wrong. The dialogue is so-so, and I’m a dialogue chick. I love me some artsy and witty talkin’. The way people talk should inherently be different from the narrative parts, and I found myself enjoying the spectacular and descriptive narration, before cringing whenever someone opened his mouth. One character in particular — a ninja-like badass who may or may not hunt vampires (boo! hiss!) — is supposed to speak like Shakespeare with a Cyrano de Bergerac chaser, but just sounds as awkward as anyone else.

I also hated Bellis. She was rather annoying and incapable of feeling any emotion other than remorse, guilt, or longing. Her last name is Coldwine, obviously meant to evoke her coldness towards other characters, but I couldn’t sympathize with her. It was like reading Anna Karenina for me, meaning that halfway through that book, I couldn’t care less if everyone got their faces eaten off by bunny rabbits. In fact, that would have made that book so much better.

I won’t give away the end, but it suffers from a serious case of show-don’t-tell-ism, which left it ending on a rather flat note.

However, the book was spectacular, despite most of its flaws, and I will be reading Mr. Mieville again, though it’d be sooner if he wore a fedora. I still highly recommend this book, and I’m picky, so it may be your slice of 3.14159.

*Except that one time in Mexico with the noodles…but I don’t want to talk about it.

**As compared to Snape-looking Trent Reznor.

Ethan Hawke and Kristen Bell

I’m hoping that my headline up there will spark some rumors on the Enquirer front, so if you see any ridiculous love triangles involving those two, you know you heard it here first. If my novel-writing biz doesn’t pan out, I know I’ll always have a place writing about the sordid details of the intricacies of love lives of people I don’t even know. Actually that place sounds like more of a circle of hell than an aspiring career opportunity.

In all reality bizarro-land, I had a dream involving those two. So if this writing-thing really doesn’t work out, I’ll have a lucrative job writing about the imaginary love lives of people I don’t even know but occasionally dream about. There was a floating city made out of ships — true story, this comes from a book called The Scar that I will write a post about in the upcoming week — and underneath lived a contingency of vampires. They were like the Lost Boys, and unfortunately, I don’t mean the Jason Patric awesomeness, but rather the Peter Pan affair. Grungy and hungry and whiny and all about 10; they kept to the shadows created by the floating city.

I was Ethan Hawke’s character from Daybreakers right down to the crumpled white shirt and the disdain of my career having fallen so low.* Only the city above was awash with humans, trying to get rid of their vampire problem like my 10th grade English teacher trying to get rid of the feral cats from beneath our mobile classroom. They tried digging a volcano whereas Mr. Baker tried rat poison. They were slightly more effective.

I, as a vampire scientist, was able to disguise my vampire-state and quietly sabotaged the volcano, hopefully by replacing their baking soda with crack cocaine anthrax sugar. However, after the failure to explode the underground vampires, the humans called in pilot Kristen Bell to fly out of the floating city and get help from naval neighbors.

(To my knowledge Kristen Bell has never been in a vampire movie, something that needs to be remedied immediately.)

I deftly — being that I am suave Ethan Hawke with golden eyes and a raggedly handsome goatee — climb on board, in order to use my deft, golden-eyed sabotage powers granted to me by my goatee, and eventually win Kristen Bell’s favors by asking if she wants to watch anime with me.

It was about a Monty Python-esque bunny and a horse who liked to kick people wearing South African World Cup football paint on their faces. The two unlikely animal heroes then met the gods of death. This, though somewhat unusual for my dream, is not unusual for anime. And all of this was amusing and distracting enough for Kristen Bell to forget her mission and hopefully make out with me.

So, I guess I can add this to my ever-growing list of awkward-conversations-to-have-when-I-meet-celebrities-I-have-crushes-on. I mean you, Kristen Bell. Not you, Ethan Hawke. Get lost.

*I love Daybreakers. It rates, on the scale of good vampire movies (starting with The Lost Boys) to bad vampire movies (ending with The Lost Boys II: The Tribe), somewhere toward the upper-middle end, right after Blade II but right before Underworld. You think I’m joking. I have charts, graphs, an illustration and scientific evidence that corroborates.

“Spanish Death Song” by The Builders and the Butchers

I’ve been on a bluegrass kick lately, so the likes of Sarah Jarosz, Alela Diane, and Holly Golightly have been rather exhausted on the Empanada as of late. (My definition of bluegrass — or country for that matter — obviously leans more toward the rock side of the spectrum than the O Brother Where Art Thou side, just to let you know.) Which sort of brings us to the song selection of the evening: The Builders and the Butchers.

I saw them open for Amanda Fucking Palmer (of The Dresden Dolls fame) and immediately went out and bought their debut album of the same name after their set. I cannot quite tell you how quickly the leader singer/guitarist was strumming his guitar, but I was shocked that his fingers didn’t fall off, his strings didn’t break, and his acoustic didn’t burst into flames. Now, I wouldn’t normally describe bluegrassy, rockabilly, lo-fi music as intense, but The Builders and Butchers are just that.

The “Spanish Death Song” is the first off of their album and chosen because I couldn’t find any non-live versions on youtube. Though if you ever do get the chance to see them live, do it, because it’s spectacular. My favorite song is their “Bottom of the Lake” because it brings to mind Faustian pacts (which, to be honest, a lot of things do) and mobsters (which only vaguely make an appearance in my psyche).

It came across the land
Like the Spanish Influenza*
We were brought down to our knees
And we sat amongst the cracks
Where the pennies all were rolling
Falling down a rich man’s sleeve

One of the things I love about this band is their sense of mood and imagery. This song has pennies — which Ancient Greeks would place coins on the eyes of the dead so they could pay Charon to cross Styx, or see: Boondock Saints — cracks reminiscent of fault lines, and bells tolling. Others have red hands, white dresses, stone feet, and running rivers. All of these hold rich symbolism and just steep the album in a dreary, catastrophic timbre. Rarely does an album have such cohesion that an aura comes through the music so vibrantly, but every time I listen to it, I feel as if I could be working in some coal mines back in the late 1800s, hacking up a lung. Which is to say, I love it.

I often have reoccurring images in my own writing — frogs, skeletons, the Macbethian theme of incarnadine seas, David Lynchian flashbacks, and Raskolnikovian orientation of characters — so it’s interesting to see this reflected in another art form.

Not to mention that every time he sings the line “bringing out the dead,” I think of Monty Python.

*Well, I mean something has to relate the Spanish Influenza and vampires together other than Twilight and I plan to be that thing. Just as I plan to relate the Bush song “Mouth” to werewolves so it won’t always be associated with the ghastly An American Werewolf in Paris.

Re-Vamp

I have a copy of the movie version of Buffy the Vamprie Slayer. (I mean, of course I do. And even though it’s not considered canon by a lot of Whedonites, I still love it like the concrete business loves mobsters. However, in order to be fair to the ravenous hard-core Whedonites out there — which I imagine to be a little bit like Reavers, with their houses decorated in Fox executive guts and skins — the canon version of Joss Whedon’s original script can be seen in Buffy Omnibus #1, the graphic novel released by Dark Horse. I’ve read it and like it too, but PeeWee Herman’s death scene just makes the entire movie for me.*)

The copy I have looks like this:

Like, OMG a vampire!


Cute, funny, and not unlike Ms. Summers herself. The whole reason behind the non-canonical movie adaptation is that Mr. Whedon wrote a darker, edgier script that just so happened to have a cheerleading blonde named Buffy slay vampires. That was the source of the hilarity — the jarring juxtaposition of a somewhat ditzy girl having the fate of the world in her hands. According to story, the executives — the ones that are still alive and not part of the decor — decided that it needed to be lighter and they changed the mood and composition of it entirely. The series is much closer to Mr. Whedon’s original vision and he wrote it as a continuation of his original script, not what went to the big-screen.

The other day, however, whilst shopping, I ran across this:

Who ordered the stake?

Now, this is dark, edgy, and closer to feel of the series than the original movie…but it’s the same damn movie, just with different packaging. They did this with Near Dark as well, as the version I own has a disfigured and burnt Bill Paxton smiling like a crazypath and the new cover looks like, well….

Let's stare off into the sunset that we can't see without burning our eyes out, m'kay?

Fracking Twilight.

So, is the lesson here that people judge based on the covers of books movies, even though we’ve all been expressly told by after-school specials that it’s wrong? Is it that the people marketing these things think we’re all popularity-following drooling fools? I mean, they try to make a fluffy Buffy look gritty when it’s just popcorn fuzz, and a violent and grotesque vampire western into a cuddly romance. Is the lesson here that nothing is sacred?

I’ll go with the last one, because not only have they announced that they want to remake Buffy the movie — that’s right, the movie, without any of the characters we love like Angel, Willow, Xander, Spike, etc. — but David Tennant, the coolest Doctor, has been cast as Peter Vincent in the Fright Night remake.

Let sleeping vampires lie, dudes. And don’t redecorate their coffins while the sun’s still up.

*Rutger Hauer also makes me an extremely happy bunny because his last name is one letter off from mine. I think this makes me more like Buffy than the average citizen, because she too, has a thing for rhyming boyfriends. Pike / Spike anyone?