Wednesday, July 08, 2009
Artifact of St. Nuke, hero of The Boomer Bible and the first king
of Punk City. Also, the lead narratist of St. Nuke & the Epissiles.
IN THE TRACKS OF THE SHUTEYE TRAIN. By unpopular demand, we're back with another punk writer story, this time from the beginning of what is called the "Mature" phase of the movement (c. 1980), when enhanced software gave punk bands carte blanche to do just about anything they wanted with words. The introduction is from the book Post-Mortem on Punk by Thomas Naughton, referenced by Lynn Wyler in this piece. Which means it's not entirely to be trusted in its assessments. However, the story is itself an excellent exegesis on the formal structure of punk writing, as well as a good demonstration of the blurred line between performance and action (some would say crime) that characterized the punk writing esthetic.
The band known as The Epissiles was originally formed as the Minutemen at the start of the punk writing movement. When St. Nuke became lead narratist, he renamed the band and pushed it to stardom in Punk City, although none of its early work survives. The demands of kingship gradually forced St. Nuke to withdraw from the band, which continued under the leadership of Zero Daze. The Epissiles piece reproduced here is possibly the first completed without the participation of St. Nuke. It is also possibly the first—or so the text claims—to be written under Release 2.0 of the NeoMax writing software. There is not much else to distinguish the work. It does typify the anti-‘Boomer’ vein of punk fiction as it developed from its beginnings in Early Punk to the more elaborate styles of High Punk, although the word ‘development’ is probably a misnomer. The pieces of High Punk were longer and more rhetorical, but they still do not add up to works of art.
0.Ready guys? Let’s try this baby on for size, put the stylizer on overdrive, and see how great we sound.
2 One, two, three, four, GO!
3 Good day, dear readers. We are punk writers. We make stories but do not pretend to be literary.
4 Literature is dead. We are what comes after, the graffiti that defaces the tomb, the smears of filth that violate the sanctuary of suicide.
5 Does this offend you, dear reader? Perhaps you would be more comfortable with a more traditional kind of prose wrought by a finer artistic sensibility.
6 Permit us to suggest the fiction of young Andrew Travis, who writes the kind of stories you usually find in literary magazines, stories as exquisite as porcelain miniatures, in which the music of modern life is rendered pianissimo, largo, legato e sempre non tanto.
7 Andrew has recently had his first book published, a slender collection of stories described by The New York Times Book Review as ‘Exquisite, transparent prose... graceful and evocative scenes... moments of quiet brilliance connected by passages of sustained craftsmanship.”
8 If punk makes you squeamish, Six Stories may give your aesthetic palate just the placebo it needs.
9 Yes, Andrew seems to be a writer of promise and one we will be hearing more about, especially since he happens to be the protagonist of this story.
10 La di da. La di nuking da. That’s the very first output by anyone anywhere from PUNC Release 2.0, and now we can write like this anytime we want.
11 So run for cover and bolt the door: the Epissiles can do it all.
1.We begin in New York City, where the highrise worms have bored away the guts of the Big Apple.
2 All morning, flakes of decaying fruit flesh have been falling in the streets like brown snow. Pedestrians tramp through its rank slush, which clings to their shoes and stains the city’s carpets, filling elevators, hallways and waiting rooms with the sweet and sour smell of rot.
3 In one such elevator there is a woman who seems almost to notice the stench. Her nose is wrinkled with what appears to be distaste.
4 Perhaps she will look at her shoes, see that the expensive leather is rimed with a noteworthy brown substance.
5 But no—the elevator doors open at her floor, and without a downward glance she marches into the offices of her employer, a large, successful magazine that has catered for half a century to the country’s most affluent and educated connoisseurs of sophisticated prose.
6 Our elevator passenger is, in fact, the managing editor of this magazine, and as she tracks dead apple flesh into her private office, she is preoccupied with important thoughts about the content of a fiftieth anniversary issue that will be read by millions of people.
7 It is a delicate undertaking this anniversary issue. Manhattan Magazine has done more to shape the modern short story than any other publication, living or dead, that you can think of.
8 The objective of the anniversary issue must therefore be to achieve not boldness or innovation, but quintessence, a collection of stories, poems, and articles which embody the principles of form and taste that have come to be known as the Manhattan ‘Style.’
2.Feeling heavy, almost ponderous, under the weight of her responsibility, the managing editor reviews the list of possible contributors. She is convinced that the lead story, the one which will occupy the prized niche immediately following “Town Chat,” should be the work of a younger writer, one capable of demonstrating that Manhattan will go on for another generation, holding fiction to the same superlative standards which have dominated the literary horizon for half a century.
2 For perhaps the tenth time, she opens her copy of Six Stories. She likes the work of this Travis fellow. Yet she is concerned by one or two of the six stories. At times, in these admittedly lesser tales, things happen, there are definable events in the life of the protagonist, who is not even residing in a foreign country. One of the stories actually seems to have a structure and a plot. Cheever used to do that sort of thing, but he is dead now, and the ‘Style’ has evolved to an even higher standard under her leadership. Doesn’t Travis understand this? She feels herself tiptoeing to the edge of an emotion in the vicinity of dismay. What to do?
3.Inside a honeysuckle-covered cottage in Maine, Andrew Travis is beginning the day’s work. He can’t wait to plunge into the fifth paragraph of his current story, a compact and delicate gem inspired by Philip Glass’s Paperweight Symphony. The main character is an elderly woman succumbing—at glacial speed—to senility.
2 But before he can start puzzling over his next perfect sentence, he must change the ribbon in his typewriter. The antique Underwood is his most prized possession. To it he attributes much of his attainment as a writer. Others in his creative writing classes at Columbia opted recklessly for computerized word processors and laughed at his gleaming mechanical dinosaur. But which of them has received the laurel of a blurb in The New York Times Book Review? And which of them is on a first name basis with the editor of Manhattan magazine?
3 Ring. Ring. Ring. Better answer it, Andrew. That should be your call from Manhattan.
4 “Hello? Oh hi, Annabella. I’m just fine, thank you. To what do I owe the honor of this call?”
4.It is two hours later, but Andrew is still not pecking keys on the big Underwood.
2 He is too busy hugging himself with excitement. He can’t wait to tell Ronald what has happened. He has been asked to write the lead story for the Anniversary Issue. “Which anniversary issue?” he can almost hear Ronald asking him. “The Anniversary Issue.” “O-o-o-o-h!” And then there will be celebration, an intimate, thrilling dinner for two—the squab with tarragon and chervil sauce, or maybe the Capon a l’herbe... but that can wait for now.
3 Perhaps he should even wait before telling Ronald about the assignment. There was just that one teeny-tiny hint of reservation in Annabella’s voice. Something about “not overdoing the intimations of plot.” What did she mean by that?
4 Suddenly fretful, he rereads the story he is working on. He can’t find any intimations of plot. Does that mean he’s in the clear? Or is it rather that the intimations are present in his story, in his oeuvre, for all to see, while some gap or fissure in his talent makes the fault invisible to him? Horrors. Well, he will stamp it out. Ruthlessly. Andrew Travis will have none of that in his anniversary story.
5 He executes a fevered pencil edit. He deletes, he softens, he renders even more opaque... then tosses the sheets of paper to the floor. He will start over. There will be a new story. A brief slice of perfection.
6 Time to get started, Andrew.
5.What happens now, dear readers? Do we leave Andrew to mull and ruminate and tap at his typing machine, holding at bay all intimations of plot and structure? Do we attempt the impossible feat of making the interior world of this fey little fictioner interesting? Do we aspire, after all, to be literary?
2 Nah. Who gives a flying penwiper about the little creep? It’s the Epissiles who matter on this page. And we’re here for blood and guts, cause this ain’t no Manhattan magazine—it’s Punkfictionland. And maybe we’re not allowed to bend Annabella over her desk and give it to her from behind, but we can sure as Kain give it to Andrew instead, from the one direction he doesn’t expect, the depths of his dead little brain.
6.Look at him. He’s been writing for days. The floor of his once neat little cottage is covered with refuse—the false starts that keep getting worse.
2 You want to see? Actually, they don’t seem so bad. Like this one:
Rotting body at the morgue. All that’s left of a guy named George. Did you want to meet George? I can handle that. This is George’s hand. Shake it. Cold, ain’t it? Not much grip. Funny how you can’t tell much about him on the slab.
He’s a body on a slab at the morgue. Clothes are in a locker, wallet’s in a brown envelope with a watch and keys and all that stuff, and George is here in his birthday suit under a sheet, all kind of purple and fish-eyed.
You know how fishes’ eyes look when they’re dead. White and scummy kind of. Like George’s.
So what’s up? Is George going to paradise? Don’t think so. Not today.
What’s the name of that saint? The one at the burly gates? Hard to imagine George meeting a saint looking like this. Fact is, he’s getting so he smells. No paradise. Something else.
How about the too-young-to-die angle? After all, he can’t be more than about thirty-five. He must be too young to die.
How can it end like this, so sudden and, well, disgusting like? If there was any justice, it’d’ve been somebody else.
Somebody’s got to do something about this.
Did you say something?
Good idea. The brown envelope is in the drawer. Here’s the wallet. That’s pretty fancy leather.
Okay. I’m embarrassed. Name’s not George—it’s Alfred. Alfred Cunningham. Here’s his work ID. Corporation guy. And his business card! He’s—are you listening?—Assistant Vice President, Mainframes, NeoMax Computer Corporation.
Phew! I’m impressed.
Here’s a picture of his wife. Not bad. Little light in the chest and heavy in the hips, but not bad.
And two kids. A boy and a girl, maybe twelve and fourteen. They look like trashholes to me.
And credit cards. American Express—Gold Card! Visa, Master Charge, Delta Frequent Flyer, Brooks Brothers, Exxon, Bloomingdales, Delta Crown Room... Wow! All that credit and look at him.
Wonder why he’s here. You’d think somebody would claim him... the wife, the trashholes, some vice president, somebody. They must of forgot.
Well, Alfred’s got to get home. It’s nearly dinner time. Every second of delay, he’s missing his life.
He’s heavy. They’re not kidding about dead weight...
3 What’s the problem? Too lowbrow, you think? Well, here’s another one:
O come all ye faithless, joyless and triumphant.
Bring your handbags. We’re going on a trip.
Where? To the heart of the matter, where the beat of modern life originates.
But enough of this chit chat. The elevator is waiting.
Up, up, up.
High speed travel to a highrise bedroom, in which a scene of passionate intensity is underway.
Soft carpeting underfoot, soft moans under sheets.
This must be Evelyn and Dave, consummating their brief acquaintance with a tender exchange of bodily fluids.
If you will now consult your prose kits, you will find some background data on Evelyn and Dave.
Evelyn makes $32,000 a year working for an advertising agency and goes to bed on a first date less than 46.2 percent of the time.
Dave, on the other hand, makes $48,000 a year working for a management consulting firm and goes to bed on a first date more than 63.8 percent of the time.
Tonight does not count, however, since Evelyn and Dave just met each other about three hours ago and are not in bed on a date but on an impulse.
They are romantics, both of them, and therefore susceptible to the warmth of Friday night cocktails.
Something about the way the stars twinkled through the sunroof of Dave’s $21,500 Japanese sports car melted Evelyn’s resolve not to let herself get talked into another one-night stand with another smooth talking sonofabitch, which she suspects Dave of being, although he has been uniformly sweet and solicitous throughout their courtship to date.
4 Is there something we’re missing? That seemed like a pretty good start to us—snappy and fast-paced. Too explicit maybe from the sex angle? No? Then what? And what’s the matter with this one?
You’re going to believe this story if I have to come to your house and hogtie you to the couch and tear your fingernails out one by one by one by one... until you’d swear on a stack of Bibles that there really is a one-legged circus clown named Randy Joe who decided to move to Maine and write horror stories for a living.
No, listen. LISTEN! This is going to be a great story. You see, he used to be a Navy SEAL, until...HEY! I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU HOW IT WAS GOING TO BE. DO I HAVE TO COME OVER THERE WITH MY NEEDLE-NOSE PLIERS AND MAKE YOU BELIEVE IT? DO I? That’s better.
So Randy Joe lost his leg in the navy and then he
5 What do you suppose has gotten into Andrew? It looks like he’s lost his way a bit on this project. It’s a shame. And with the deadline getting so close... do you think he’d like a little help from a professional writer band? You do? Well, we’re delighted to help. Anything for the Anniversary Issue.
2 That’s us coming through the ceiling. Sorry about the mess.
3 Now we’re in Andrew’s living room, standing next to his poor old Underwood typewriter.
4 Andrew’s in the corner making little mewling noises and sucking his thumb. It’s possible he finds us somewhat intimidating to look at. Or is it just that he doesn’t approve of our writing instruments—the candy apple red stereotypewriter, the gold flake parallaxophone, the pink polka dotted synthesizer, the gunmetal macrophone, the ten-foot length of lime green garden hose, the oversized copper needle valve, the hickory handled icepick, and the pig iron sledgehammer. Well, he’ll get used to them.
5 Time for lesson number one, Andrew. It looks to us as if what you’re trying to write without much success is punk fiction, which is sure to be a hit with Annabella and all the highfalutin readers of Manhattan magazine. We applaud your daring.
6 But you can’t write a punk piece on an Underwood. Sorry.
2 That’s us writing an appropriate ending for the Underwood with our pig iron sledge.
3 Now, as soon as Andrew stops sobbing and wetting himself, we’ll move on to the matter of how you go about starting a good punk fiction piece.
4 There, that’s right, Andrew. Just take slow, deep breaths, and your aplomb will return in a trice.
5 The beginning of your piece is called the Howdy. It sets the stage, so to speak, and tells the audience who’s in charge, and to whom they will owe the pleasure of their fiction experience. We prefer to do ours on the macrophone. Like so:
Time has run out on you, dear boomer. You’ve been succored into the blindest of dark alleys.
There is no mercy here, no friendly hand to guide you, no reassuring voice to still your dread.
Here you are only prey, and here there is no safety in numbers.
Straight razors wait at every corner to cut your throat. Holes in the pavement plunge to the abyss.
The garbage cans are full of murdered babies, and the cats that gnaw on their heads have the rotten breath of art and radioactive eyes that suck up light and give you cancer in the dark.
There is no turning back. The entrance has been sealed by the heap of dishonored corpses you trampled coming in.
The only way out is forward, but at the end of the alley a wall blocks the exit. It is a high, long, smooth, hard wall disfigured by graffiti.
In short, dear boomer, you are trapped. Trapped and soon to be hoist by punk petard.
What can you, what in the name of all you might once conceivably have held sacred, is there for you to do?
Read the writing on the wall, one last epissile from us to you.
6 You see, Andrew? You don’t ask for the suspension of disbelief. You just suspend it. Notice how we no longer seem to be in your living room, but in a long dark alley instead? Do you feel that sense of being trapped, dear Andrew? Good. Then the Howdy is complete.
7 Please stop sniveling, Andrew. We’re only here to help.
9.Next comes the launch of the story proper. If you want, you can introduce characters. That’s what the stereotypewriter is for. But it’s not absolutely necessary to have the characters enter right away. Everyone will know who they are before you even mention them.
2 Can you guess who the main characters are going to be in this story, Andrew? We bet you can. So that means we have some room to begin the action more obliquely. Mayhap with a nifty solo on the parallaxophone. Comme ci. That’s French, isn’t it, Andrew?
City lights. The terrorist stands at the center, watching.
Highways bind the city in place, chains of light tying knots to hold the rhythms in, bend them back inside, repeat the captive pattern.
Clocks and neon signs and skyscraping lanterns blinking their slow coded translations of continuum, the string of nights that links all lives together.
And at the center, the terrorist. In love with light, he carries his avowal across the rooftops, his sneakered feet hurrying toward the rendezvous.
The face of a terrorist may be like any other face. Eyed, eared, nosed, and mouthed, it hungers for sensation and relays the headlines of current events to the brain, which forms its committees of response.
The face is unimportant, even the face of a terrorist The brain is all. Inside its corridors and anterooms, news is discussed in tones of alarm. The war plans, coiled and waiting, lie locked in the vault below. In the star chamber the conferees are at odds: the situation is grave, voices are raised, and the only consensus is of catastrophe.
Driven by catastrophe, the terrorist moves out across the city, mulling destinations, declarations, devastations. He has been everywhere already and a map of the city has grown across the back wall of his mind, behind the lenses of his two-way eyes.
On the map and in the city he has been everywhere. But not always as a terrorist.
Once, first, as an observer only, he went out to hear the heartcries, city whispers, people’s lives.
3 Movement, Andrew, that’s the key. Get it going, keep it going, promise death and keep the promise. Have you figured out how we’re going to keep our promise, Andrew?
4 That’s right! With more action!
He heard the crying, and the moaning, and the praying, and the screaming,
Until his ears grew full of empty noise,
And his heart turned black with anger.
Thus was the terrorist born,
An embryo formed in the outer world of desperate prisoners’ cries,
Then squeezed full-grown through sound canals,
Into the ready room of mind.
He speaks: “There is no voice of light in all the din, and the power lords are telling lies, with lights for sale that beam the dark to every church and home.
It’s time to quench the light that lies,
And punish the thieving power lords.”
5 We’re getting excited, Andrew. We’re in the city, and we’re closing in. Your story’s going to be great.
6 But now we change the gears again, and get ready for the Splat.
10.The Splat? Well, that’s where we keep our promise to the reader. The dear reader.
Once upon a time there was a power lord named Annabella,
Who held in her hands a broken light that scattered lines of darkness everywhere.
She was proud of the light and the dark it shed, for she thought the darkness was light.
That’s why the Epissiles paid her a visit,
In her office in midtown Manhattan.
3 Why are you squirming like that, Andrew? Hold still. This will only hurt for a second.
"Who are you?" cried Annabella. "Why are you here, and what do you want?"
"We’re here to kill you," the Epissiles said, "for crimes against the light."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Annabella was irate. No one talks to managing editors like that.
"This," said the Epissiles and pulled from a bag the head of a promising young writer.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!" screamed Annabella.
"Wait," said the Epissiles. "We want to show you what’s inside this head you prized so much."
And as Annabella stood glazed in shock, the Epissiles attached their ten foot length of lime green garden hose to the oversized copper needle valve they’d jammed inside Andrew’s icepick-penetrated skull, and then they sprayed one last Epissile, in bright red blood, on the wall of Manhattan style:
From the Punks to their Unlit Pals:
Time has run out on you, dear authors. You’ve written yourselves into the blindest of dark alleys.
There is no mercy here, no friendly hand to guide you, no reassuring voice to still your dread.
Here you are only random idiosyncratics, and here there is no meaning or salvation.
The children of your unbelief are dying to catch you alone. They needed you to dream some dreams, but you painted walls instead. When they catch you, and they will, they’ll give you cancer in the dark.
Literature is dead. That’s why your garbage reeks of murdered babies, and why the stench of art is even worse, and why your lives are worthless wastes of the ink and paper you have spoiled.
There is no turning back. The entrance has been sealed by you.
The only way out is forward, but you threw away your map, your compass, and all the stars that show the way.
You’re extinct and don’t know it. Your writing’s a joke, and the future will laugh you to hell.
One more thing: KA-B-O-O-O-O-M!
And SPLAT goes Annabella.
4 Is that what you had in mind for the anniversary issue, Andrew?
7 Happy Anniversary.