I get obsessed rather easily with pop culture stuff; I’ll get into month long funks where I will only listen to one musician’s stuff or watch one director’s films or read one author’s books.
Let me tell you, future wife (I’m getting married in October, crazy, right? I’m excited but no one, myself included, ever thought I was ever gonna get married) almost left my ass when it was Van Halen month. Especially when I started spinning deep cuts from David Lee Roth’s solo repertoire.
The word repertoire and the word Reptar sound alike when you repeat them rapidly as I am doing now. Reptar, in case you’re not hip is the Godzilla analogue from the cartoon Rugrats, he was voiced by Busta Rhymes in the Rugrats flick.
I’ve never gone through a Busta month, but that could be cool. Although I think he lost a lot of flavor when the apocalypse he kept hinting at in his records never occurred and he was like...welp, guess I’ll have to have to find a new unifying theme for all my albums.
I.C.P. went through a similar thing I’m told.
I got out at “Halls of Illusions” in 7th grade.
...right, I was talking about obsessions, which are really sort of heavy distractions which take over your entire life. Here are some of the latest I’ve had, let’s try and see if we can breadcrumb one to another to see if a pattern emerges?
I got way into the Dune books earlier this year. Like I was quoting the litany and shit before I had to kill spiders in my apartment. I read the first 3 books in about a month. And yes, the first book is easily the best; and yes, they seem to get progressively less good from then on from what I read. But the first 3 still have all kinds of great stuff in them.
How did I come to Dune after knowing about it all this time and not drinking the spice laced kool-aid?
I had seen Lynch’s Dune as a kid, at least most of it and wasn’t super impressed. I liked a lot of the set design and costume stuff but it was really hammy and staged and it turned me off. So a couple years ago the excellent documentary Jodorowsky Dune arrives and it gets me to thinking about how cool elements of the Dune world sound. After reading the book and rewatching the documentary I think that while the film Jodorowsky wanted to make would have been extraordinary (even if only half of what he wanted to do was what we ended up seeing) it would have also been very, very different than Herbert’s book. And I’m guessing a lot Dune heads would have hated it. Me, I love Holy Mountain and I love Dune; not sure where I’d fall on such a radical reworking of the book.
So a documentary about a never made movie lead me to the Dune book, am I a Jodorowsky devotee? Not really, I like what he’s done but I can’t watch his films to the exclusion of all else for a month. What I can do that for are filmmaking documentaries.
Actually any creative person behind the scenes type of documentary. They get me geared up for creating stuff myself. Even if I’m not a giant fan of the subject, I like watching artists’ stories and how they make stuff happen. I like to snub my nose at reality TV whenever I get the chance but I am a sucker for the documentary format and am especially susceptible to the “making of” format.
-And a lot of these docs are just as fabricated and false as reality TV.
In particular the on set interviews where actors and directors are telling the camera about what the film they’re currently filming is like. Unless they preface what they say with, “I think it’s going to be” or “What we’re trying for” every word they’re saying is a fucking lie. Because they haven’t seen the movie yet.
So I prefer the retrospective docs which revisit topics like why did John Carpenter’s The Thing tank at the box office and how that fucked up the trajectory of Carpenter’s career but the film is now a beloved classic and widely regarded as the man’s best film. I love the hardscrabble story, love the fallen hero. Because I’m fucked up, I loved dog-eared heroes. But I also love hearing about these once mighty types who the world forgets and then they get their shit together and go out for glory in one last supernova imploding final ride. The Doors’ L.A. Woman style. There’s a good doc on that too.
So I’m into docs about creative types because that’s what I am, and that’s who I care about; Zalinsky Auto Parts. I gravitate towards that stuff so I can commiserate with the greats when they’ve fallen and of course dream about what it would be like to play ball at their level. But sometimes being a writer and doing research for something leads directly to my latest obsession.
The horror novella I just finished a 3rd draft on is written from the perspective of a bass player for a fictional seminal heavy metal band called Frivolous Black and the character hails from Birmingham England. Essentially he’s a bizarro version of Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath. Naturally I named him Codger Burton. This led me on two concurrent obsessions:
One, before writing the book and when the idea of it was really coming to the surface I intentionally dived headlong into a Sabbath pit.
It was sludge rock heaven.
It also didn’t require much coaxing.
But after soaking up so much early metal I still wanted more which brought me to stuff like Blue Cheer, and then newer bands that are directly inspired by what Sab produced in those early days. Try Uncle Acid, it sounds like John Lennon fronting Sab with lyrics exclusively about killing people and worshipping Black Phillip.
This went over better than my Van Halen lost month by the way.
But the other rabbit hole I fell down doing research for my book had to do with the Birmingham accent and dialect. Brummies are what folks call people who hail from that part of England and they have a very distinct way of speaking and what comes with that is a colorful way of describing things. My character Codger Burton is the narrator of my book so I had to figure out how he would talk. Part of that was just listening to Geezer Butler and his bandmates and other notable Brummies like Robert Plant and hearing the sing-song sort of way they had of speaking. But the really fun part was getting into the slang from the area. Words like yampy, fittle, cack-handed or caggy-handed, or calling someone half-soaked when they’re being an idiot. I like the Brummiespeak so much I’m actually including some of it in another novel I’m writing the first draft of now, where it’s a futuristic primitive society and their slang is an amalgam of a bunch of different linguistic stews.
So this search for interesting subcultures with their own cant got me to read stuff up on A Clockwork Orange and reread Huckleberry Finn. And this got me to thinking how different it was to hear these kinds of voices as opposed to just read them. So I tried a Huckleberry Finn audiobook and I loved it. I had never tried an audiobook before, I figured my eyes are still good why bother my ears?
Well, dog my cats if I didn’t find something new to take over my life. The Finn book reading had Elijah Wood narrating and let me tell you, not for nothing, picturing Frodo Baggins saying some of that hardcore racist shit was incredibly entertaining and hackle-raising. Which it should be. Wood’s Missouri accent sounded pretty good to me but then, who knows? I don’t got the ear for it.(Yeah, I know he starred in a movie version too when he was a kid but I think that was a pretty censored version?)
After that I listened to a bunch of audiobook samples, sometimes while I worked out or ran, other times on the train. A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting for the language. Then Breakfast of Champions and Slaughterhouse Five for the hell of it. And then I tried Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. And I found my current latest obsession.
After listening to some samples of the audiobook (which are staggeringly well done performances that’ll latch on to your throat and drag you into their campfire world) I got the book itself and took the trip.
It did not disappoint. I’ve always been a little hesitant to give McCarthy a chance due to his habit of skipping quotation marks on his dialogue. This gave me pause not because of how difficult it would make any reading (it was actually an easy adjustment that I took to quickly) but more the mindset that would employ this technique. Namely I was afraid the dude would be way too pretentious for my tastes.
I was wrong.
The book is mythic and fucked up and beautiful. Judge Holden has joined the ranks of my all time favorite villains. I’m so obsessed currently with the book I go to various message boards just to hear new batshit theories about the book’s conclusion. I even nodded along with the dude who prescribes to the notion that Judge Holden is of the same alien race that the engineers from Prometheus were. Because, you know, he’s 7 feet tall, hairless and white as a ghost’s ass.
All of these are just the examples that I can remember the connective tissue for. I remember getting into a serious Tom Petty thing recently, now I’m Into Al Hirt Dixieland jazz, somewhere around there I wanted to know everything I could about Street Fighter 2, and before or after that the history of the gramophone.
I don’t know all the links in the chain but I know something connects Monster Squad, the female Russian pilots of WW2, Studio Ghibli and Octavia Butler. I know because none of my obsessions are random, one thing leads to the next. And when it does I want to learn everything I can until all of a sudden I’m done with it inexplicably or something new calls to me.
Maybe that’s why I’m a novelist, I get obsessed enough with a story to see it through. And then I see it through again and again through a bunch of drafts until it’s presentable.
Of course, like all my obsessions, I never really drop them permanently. They wait around for their turn to haunt me like I got some sort of spectre dance card.