Search

Accounting for

Wednesday 11/2/22

I want to account for some recent writings. I do so much that yesterday's history is fast ancient history. I wrote a 2700 piece on the Beatles, a 2000 word piece on the Beatles, a 2000 word piece on Halloween III, and a 2000 word piece on the Grateful Dead. Also, a new story, "Your Story," which has been excerpted on here, and is at 2900 words. I'm not done-done yet. Soon. Yesterday I began a piece on the Suspense episode, "The House in Cypress Canyon," and now that is complete, at 3400 words. I write more in a single morning before seven o'clock than almost everyone in publishing will write in a year. Watching Back, the film book, is now up to 20,000 words, but there are already going to be some changes. As I mentioned, I wrote a story called "Rosa," which is not done yet. Also soon. Yesterday I wrote a story called "My Promise to Me," which is one of the shortest and longest stories I've ever done. Something to echo around people's consciousness as long as there are people. Provided I am out of this situation and they begin to see it. Did 100 push-ups yesterday, walked four miles, and ran 3000 stairs. Went to Trader Joe's. Got lots of mushrooms, peppers, and celery. Also, coffee, as it was less than five dollars a bag. Here's last night's Downtown half hour radio interview, which focused entirely on jazz. Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Taylor, Bud Powell, and a couple features I recently had come out. The Holiday and Young stuff was good. I have "Fine and Mellow" in my head now. It was all good. I'm just very emotionally invested in those two.


As of this AM, I am giving real thought to do a book of my essays on horror works of art. Horror films, radio episodes, paintings, literature. Here's a little more from the essay on "The House in Cypress Canyon," which would be in this book:


“The House in Cypress Canyon” is a frame story—a story within a story, with a return to the outer casing of the narrative shell at the close. All stories, I’ve learned, exist within other stories; it’s simply a matter of how overt the frame will be, or, the degree to which we recognize it.


We start inside a land developer’s office, in California, where Sam, a detective, played by Howard Duff, is visiting his buddy, Jerry, played by Hans Conried. The visit is of the variety that people make at the Christmas holidays—the seasonal rounds. You want to wish your friend the best of the season, do a quick run-through of their recent life events to make sure your friend is well, because you care about them and you’d not want to miss out on saying an in-person hello if possible. (NB: Have you ever noticed that some of our best and most meaningful Christmas interactions are those that occur “on the fly,” rather than in place, as planned, and protracted?)


Jerry has something on his mind, though. His job is to put people in homes that have recently been built. I should qualify that—that were recently finished being built. Construction on these homes were began before the war, then stopped, as the attention of the nation and its resources were directed elsewhere. The war is over now, and construction may resume. They’re not fancy structures. Cheap homes for people getting back to the business of living their lives and growing the post-war America. The war halted lives, and this strikes me as a key point to the episode. These homes stood in rows in would-be new developments like the one at the bottom of Cypress Canyon, half alive and half not alive. Dead isn’t quite the right word, but these were homes occupying a liminal state.


A subtle metaphor, but a metaphor all the same. Getting caught between two worlds is natural—that’s life. Not freeing one’s self, though, is a form of death. What’s bothering Jerry—and who better to bring this up with than his detective friend?—is that in one of these homes, a manuscript was found and brought to his attention. The papers were sitting on a crossbeam in a house that had never been lived in and had just been completed.


A haunting image—an empty front room, with a book on a rafter. Jerry wants Sam to check out the manuscript and tell him what he thinks. Sam is dubious. People write all kinds of things and this is California, after all, where everyone wants to make it in Hollywood. Who knows what texts end up getting left around?


The transition to the manuscript itself is smooth. We don’t know if Sam sat there and read the thing, and we don’t need to know the particulars. We know the gist. The gist need not be belabored. If you, the writer, the content maker, get us the gist, you can simply move on with your story. We’ll trust you. Save the spelling out for what needs it more.


What we must have after this intriguing opening is the story, now that we’ve penetrated the outer casing. It’s a few days before Christmas with this new narrative, which is told by the writer of the manuscript, James A. Woods, a perfectly ordinary—in his own words—thirty-five-year old chemical engineer recently married to his wife Ellen, a school teacher. They’re from Ohio, and moved to California for his job. They see a sign for a house in their meager price range, and despite thinking there has to be a catch, they stop and see a realtor. There’s a crucial line when they’re in the office of the latter, and it’s about a subject as benign as the weather. “Looks like it’s fixin’ to rain,” we’re told, and a gloom settles over the story.


The couple takes the house, and while it’s not perfect, they have a roof over their heads, and they feel like they’re making progress in their new start out West, in their lives, in their marriage.


Robert L. Richards wrote “The House in Cypress Canyon.” He’d worked for Time and been a newsreel writer for the March of Time, so he knew how to tell a story with crisp efficacy. “The House in Cypress Canyon” is emotionally quick—it cuts us in clear, effective slashes, but it’s layered, so Richards had other talents in his quiver.


The house is lightly furnished. A couple of stock pictures on the wall, which Ellen wants to take down. A woman making a house her home. Her own. Her family’s own. The posters go into the closet, and this closet is going to be a problem. Falling asleep that night, the couple awaken to cries that are not human.


They’re not animal sounds either. They try to fool themselves that it’s some tom cat, out on the amorous prowl, but neither is convinced. The larger issue, though, is that there’s blood seeping out from under the closet door back in the main room, which they also can’t open. They go and get the cops, but upon returning to the house with a pair of California’s finest, the closet door is open, and there’s no blood.


Look at the ingredients with which we’re working here. Newlyweds, new home, locked closet, blood on the floor, a sound in the night. These elements, though, have been arranged in such a way that we feel as if we’re under a psychological attack. Not that we mind—fear of this nature is pleasing. We feel alive. On the balls of our feet, mentally speaking, you might say. Senses heightened, and, crucially, our imagination heightened.


I don’t think you can hear this program and not be in the room with these people. You see that closet. You know the front room of this house. When you think about this radio program later, you see everything in your mind’s eye the same way you do when recalling houses you’ve actually been in that you won’t be in again—the house, say, of one of your friend’s from childhood, or the house where someone put you up that night your flight was cancelled, who may have been tangential to the rest of your life. Perhaps the house of a groomsman you kind of knew when you were heading out of town from a wedding. But you remember where his second floor bathroom was, which you went to in the middle of the night, and you can always, in your memory, take a walk down that guy’s hallway, even though you might not remember his name. That’s “The House in Cypress Canyon,” because in a real way, we do go and stay there, on account of how the story partners with our imagination.


This is Dylan writing about the Grateful Dead in his new book. He's bang-on correct. I agree with all of this. He knows what I know about them.


"The Grateful Dead are not your usual rock and roll band. They’re essentially a dance band. They have more in common with Artie Shaw and bebop than they do with the Byrds or the Stones. Whirling dervish dancers are as much a part of their music as anything else. There is a big difference in the types of women that you see from the stage when you are with the Stones compared to the Dead. With the Stones it’s like being at a porno convention. With the Dead, it’s more like the women you see by the river in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? Free floating, snaky and slithering like in a typical daydream. Thousands of them. With most bands the audience participates like in a spectator sport. They just stand there and watch. They keep a distance. With the Dead, the audience is part of the band—they might as well be on the stage.


"The Dead are from a different world than their contemporaries. Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother, all of them together wouldn’t even make a part of the Dead. What makes them essentially a dance band probably begins with the jazz classical bassist, Phil Lesh, and the Elvin Jones–influenced Bill Kreutzmann. Lesh is one of the most skilled bassists you’ll ever hear in subtlety and invention. And combined with Kreutzmann, this rhythm section is hard to beat. That rhythm section along with elements of traditional rock and roll and American folk music is what makes the Dead unsurpassable. Combined with their audience, it’s like one big free-floating ballet. Three main singers, two drummers and triple harmonies make this band difficult to compete with. A postmodern jazz musical rock and roll dynamo.


"Then there’s Bob Weir. A very unorthodox rhythm player. Has his own style, not unlike Joni Mitchell but from a different place. Plays strange, augmented chords and half chords at unpredictable intervals that somehow match up with Jerry Garcia—who plays like Charlie Christian and Doc Watson at the same time. All that and an in-house writer-poet, Robert Hunter, with a wide range of influences—everyone from Kerouac to Rilke—and steeped in the songs of Stephen Foster. This creates a wide range of opportunities for the Dead to play almost any kind of music and make it their own.


“'Truckin’' is one of their signature songs and lyrically it combines the goings-on of a wild and wide world. The Doo Dah man even appears in this song. 'I came down south with my hat caved in.' This could easily be a Dead song from one hundred years earlier.


"When you go to a Dead concert you are right there in Pirate Alley on the Barbary Coast, right there by the San Francisco Bay. At any time you could drop through a trapdoor into a rowboat and be shanghaied to China and not even know it. This song, even though it lists some cities, has very little to do with Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land,” Martha and the Vandellas’ 'Dancing in the Street,' or even Hank Snow’s 'I’ve Been Everywhere.' This song is all on the same street. Chicago, New York, Detroit, New Orleans, Houston, Buffalo. It’s all the same main street. Long before America had actually transformed itself into the same sprawling mall.


This song is medium tempo, but it seems to just keep picking up speed. It’s got a fantastic first verse, which doesn’t let up or fizzle out, and every verse that follows could actually be a first verse. Arrows of neon, flashing marquees, Dallas and a soft machine, Sweet Jane, vitamin C, Bourbon Street, bowling pins, hotel windows, and the classic line, 'What a long strange trip it’s been.' A thought that anybody can relate to. Cards that ain’t worth a dime. All in the same town. But you’re moving anyway. The lyrics just pile up on top of each other. But the meaning is understandable and clear. The song also changes pace and changes back and the chorus has got that triple harmony again. 'Truckin’'—it conjures up something different from traveling. It’s arduous. But the Dead are a swinging dance band so it doesn’t seem like hard work to go with them."


***


Okay--it's fifteen minutes later. I just wrote the intro for this book of essays on horror art. So that is happening.