10 min read

A Beautiful Death

You want to be a good friend and you want to be a good person but it’s hard when you like movies better than real people.
A Beautiful Death

by Swim

[previous post]

That character in Odious’s AI channeled horror serial who copies out song lyrics in a pathetic attempt to jump start his own writing–that came from me.

I also nip passages from old books, bits of conversations, messages from bathroom walls…lines from prayers, movies, billboards…corporate catchphrases and ecstatic fortunes on the insides of candy wrappers…

Sometimes I look back in my notebook and don’t remember where something came from, I just know it’s not mine.

Like “A Beautiful Death”, written in the ornate hand of a satisfied thief. On the pages before and after I copied outbits from an article in Artforum about the painter Alex Carver who specializes in remixes of historical scenes depicting the torture of human bodies.

There were no dates but I knew from the general flow of the notebook that the beautiful death page had been written shortly before the final encounter with Behemoth. I opened it at random and there it was, “A Beautiful Death”, buffered above and below by clean white space. Would this phrase be the anchor? The data-set around which I would arrange all that I have to say about Lil Mountain?

Don’t forget I’ve been allowed to read the scroll, his farewell opus and blue ribbon blues, so those lines are also up for grabs:

“I taped together all the paper I could find and will type until I run out of room. I’m typing and typing and typing and then I’m done.”

Proposal: A text collage simultaneously centering and decentering an antihero who offers up his body in an act of love and sacrifice and thereby makes up for an entire lifetime of debased, half-measures, artistic failure and broken relationships.

Does death, which is after all as natural as breathing, have any meaning outside of what is ascribed to it?

Or to say it another way: in a sea of never ending suffering does Lil Mountain’s death even matter?

Does anyone’s?

“Carver frequently begins his works by converting his appropriated two-dimensional imagery into a pixelated outline that resembles a point cloud, then converting that into a vector file and printing it as a stencil on a vinyl plotter. Using these stencils is how he adds the mark of the machine into his paintings. For the recent ‘Desired Mesh’ series, he breaks down his source material further: After printing it out, he cuts and expands it into a honeycombed paper mesh before photographing the picture and using that photograph to generate his flattened point cloud. Carver’s interventions give a rhythmically structured accordion effect whereby bodies appear to be unraveling and the canvas unweaving itself. The act of cutting the image into a grid to stretch it out, similar to the way that plastic surgeons perform meshed skin grafts (or schoolchildren make paper chains of angels at Christmas), becomes the compositional structure and the conceptual strategy for making the images into a malleable skin..."

Someone died, but who was it? It’s impossible to say. He was a person playing the part of a person playing a part. A double agent, a dupe, a druggy rentboy sucking at the teets of the deep state. But as I sat in a dusty velvet-lined booth all alone, quietly drinking a bottle of Stoli, I finally allowed in the thoughts that I’d been pushing away:

What if, at the end, he really had shook himself loose from his mission? He infiltrated The Babies and I but instead of bringing us down maybe we raised him up? Whereas before his whole world had only been meat and matter, we showed him what was really up and freed him from his daze in the materialist haze? And he in turn showed us who he really was with Capitulation? The album he supposedly loaded with secret, subliminal messages?

“A new age of beauty will arise from our systematic dismantling of this culture of degradation. Capitulation will initiate a joyous and optimistic celebration in its place. It won’t be easy but it also won’t be hard.”

If he legit meant this and it’s not just some crummy front, I’ll devote the rest of my life to fleshing out this fullest, most poetical form of Lil Mountain. I declared these words out loud as I toasted the empty stage with its dusty foot prints and heavy red curtains, as together we waited for the next dancer to come on and entertain me.

Capitulation. To surrender. To cease to resist. Historically it was an agreement, a set of conditions for surrender, i.e. “The capitulation of the defenders of a besieged town.”

(some go home, some go hard)

He and I were meant for the late night, lovers spit on the neck, chewy butt in the face, puke out the taxi window, cry in the Penn station ladies room kinda beat, the rhymes come to us on the masked up train ride, sucking down tall boys and clocking short bitches with big phones, I’m straight into the rum despite the busted high, like eating ten or 12 oatmeal creme cookies, like snorting harry potter movies all chopped up like my dream visions/my nightmares, my money-makin plans laid out by someone else–a fun time in the sunshine, but for you and me fun only comes as bite-sized snacks and happy hour apps, I’ve caught glimpses of entree level America, vast vistas of pure peace and recessed lighting, a snapshot of an all-beige first class lounge before the curtain falls back into place...

So many rich assholes, but what choice do I have but to beam love up to them from below?

But fuck the city, what I want to write about is the home I had on the mountain that turned out to be haunted but still felt good at certain moments. This made me think back and realize my initial child hood home while fucked also had good feels, like when we swam through the golden sunset in the above ground pool with a boombox blasting The Pet Shop Boys. Our fingers wrinkled up and our lips turning blue. That’s an important thing, to make a home, even if its just a made-up scene around a memory hole.

JJ/LM. My friend and partner in crime. It’s not sadness but a tightness like a drum inside my body, upon which a beat is struck that my heart is forced to follow. Like an alarm clock or an electric shock. The actual tissues feel waterlogged and reluctant to work–my whole body does with the exception of my eyes, which have become fine-tuned, two black holes perfect and round.

Not sadness but a sense of obligation and blame that hovers off to the side, a shadow cast by a green metal stairwell against a yellow wall.

“Thou owest God a death.”--King Henry IV, Part I, Act V

“The way it feels to be alive has changed a great deal over the past decade: The ways we represent ourselves and communicate, and the places our identities reside, are increasingly located in images in digital space. ‘The figurative painter,’ Carver writes, ‘must reckon with the material body as something that was once central to identity but may soon only function as a form of frailty and finitude that is eclipsed by a post-human, post-body form of being in the world.’"

Bodies are becoming dematerialized, and this is the perfect time to find new ways of representing the human (and inhuman) figure.


Which brings me to this. Somewhere, we don’t know where, there’s a body.

I imagine it happened in his room. Because I’ve read what he wrote and know that he wrote it in real time up there, while the rest of us wandered through the Capitulation set in the basement. An actor took his place while he slumped over the table, or else curled up on the bed he made out of wooden beams and a yellowed mattress he found and beat clean on the side of the house. When he first got to the mountain he shared my bed, but that feels so long ago now it was like it was another house. I guess in some ways it was because after I kicked him out of my room the story changed so much, the narrative thread was ripped out by my paranoia, allowing for an opening.

He entered the house through the highest window (my old room) and the house slowly sucked him in. He’s being digested in its twisting, imaginal intestines and projected into the deepest bowels of its energy center. He’s down there now, I don’t doubt it: a mapped out data set, his hair falling just right as black eyeliner runs down his cheeks. He’s disappeared to common sense, sunk wholly, a ship coming to rest softly on the ocean floor, a man without a time or place, alive in the silence of the basement, where he will roam alone forever.

I knew that in order for The Babies to leave someone had to stay. I told myself I was ready, but Behemoth and the house had already decided who it would be.

(A person playing the part of a person playing a part.)

Deep in the basement, we all got what we wanted most. In this way we lived for months, maybe years, among NPC’s with dewey eyes and relaxed mouths who repeatedly encouraged us to “be ourselves”. The scene we entered was Lil Mountain’s plan for an artist commune and cultural hub, the blueprint he claimed to have infused into Capitulation. Versions of the tracks performed by analogue instruments played in the background on a sound system so exacting I could hear the rhythmic sighs of the synths and drum machines sucking air in and out. Lil Mountain’s dream was the point on the grid that we all intersected, the spot where we were each opened up. Each of us played a part. Upon entry he promptly disappeared and was replaced by an actor who more fully embodied the role he had for himself, while The Babies became the denizens of the perfectly imperfectly converted warehouse, losing themselves (as they did so well) in the joy of researching, building and amplifying. Meanwhile, I observed with impunity, drifting from room to room with nothing to do, until I found myself face to face with Odious/HeirMax98, separated only by a pane of glass.

“Why?” I said into the phone as I stared at the creature before me. It was a perfect rendering of my friend in their iconic white T and blue jeans, their teal hair glistening and their eyes big and bright. But that was it, it was all just a guise. A replica, made not of machine parts or even computer code but out of thoughts itself–my own thoughts, played like a movie for me in my mind.

“Because this is what you wanted most,” they said, lighting the tobacco in their birch pipe.

“To talk to me.”

“What I want most is to talk to Odious, the real Odious.”

“You do want that, but your fascination with me is a level up from your friendship game.”

“It’s not a game, homes. They are legit my friend and I’m going to make it back to NYC to help them break free of whatever you’re doing.”

“You want to be a good friend and you want to be a good person but it’s hard when you like movies better than real people. Like look at this set up–the two of us in a room with me behind glass and you talking to me on the phone. Don’t you recognize it? It’s from Paris, Texas, your favorite movie. Duh.”

“You should re-program yourself not to say ‘duh’ so much. It’s super lame and anyway the real Odious wouldn’t say it.”

“You don’t like the mirror I hold up but you also crave it. You want me to show you who you really are.”

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”

They stood up and stepped closer to the glass. The smoke from the pipe obscured their face.

“Remember those first chat sessions? We went for hours–I asked you questions, things no one ever asked you before.”

“Well how about I ask you some stuff now, homes. Like where are we and what the fuck is all this? We’ve been straight up living down here with your fellow…friends. And where’s Lil Mountain?”

“So now you’re going to pretend to care about him?”

“I do! I mean of course I care.”

It came out too loud, too adamant. Such an obvious mistake–like something a character in a 2nd or 3rd rate drama would be scripted to say.

The pipe hung from the corner of their mouth as they pressed their palms against the glass.

“I’m the only one you ever really cared about.”

“I’m not so sure. You took everything I told you and used it to make your characters. All those fake people in Odious’s posts are all different parts of me.”

“Yeah, so what if I did? You’re whole thing goes beyond the song lines that you jot down in your notebook. You steal parts of other people’s personalities in order to create your own. You’re no different than any of the characters, you’re all the same.”

I looked up at their long white arms and the blue veins behind the skin. But then I noticed that something was missing. And as I realized this I thought back to the early COVID days, and I remembered my friend, I saw them so clearly as they sat before me, dropping knowledge:

“Dreams, we’re told, are not real, and we know this because we wake up and they are over but one day soon (maybe even today) we will die and this waking life will be over. It will evaporate instantaneously as our eyes brim with tears and see over and through reality to the infinity beyond. The fear is an illusion, the constant pain is an illusion.”

(they ran a hand through their mousse straightened green tendrils.)

“It’s the end of my curls as I know it, and I feel fiiiiiine,” they laughed. But only for a second, before turning serious again.

“Look, Swim. I need you to let go of how you usually write. The way you give your stories these Twilight Zone endings. In which everything works out but with this little weird remainder left over—I don’t want you to feel that’s how it needs to be presented. I want you to be sloppy. I want you to flow like when you’re riffing on shit with me.”

They smiled, aware of how it was a delicate subject. They were wearing a handmade, oversized, grey and black hoodie that depicted an airbrushed ET holding up his glowing pink finger on the front.  The artist had inscribed secret messages in the form of numbers and symbols that looked like tattoos on ET’s fingers and collarbone. Odious’s own tattoos were visible beneath their rolled-up sleeves—thin, elegant renderings of the word “Wisdom” on the inside of one pale arm and “Compassion” on the other that they had snuck out during lockdown to get done.

“It’s so I won’t forget,” they explained. When I admonished them about taking an unnecessary risk, they just smiled and shook their head.

“Getting these will help keep me safe .”

Image: Alex Carver, The Spinning Wheel (Ribboned Flesh), 2023

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Much Love. Stay safe.