9 min read

dead beatles

“It’s never about a work being seen by lots of people,” they explained. “Just the right ones.”
dead beatles

by Swim

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Late last night, I stood all alone on the stage in the basement of the house in Bedstuy that I’m crashing at with Jesse James. I wore all black everything including my Orville Peck mask with the black fringe while I channeled the busted blues of the drug towers looming around us as drag racers thundered up and down the street. "I feel it", I moaned into the mic. "I can’t see it, but I can feel it."

One of the little baby housemates was sitting there on the couch, the one I hoped and feared would show. She wore the house’s trademark green and white satin jacket with the ugly goat face on the back and no pants. I got a little caught up when she crossed her legs, but I stood my ground, slouching beside the giant fake yet perfectly sculpted tree that was the centerpiece of the stage. She could be my child, I thought. Blue light flickered in time to the slow, screwed riff I had playing on a loop on the DAT, it shined down on my alien body until I felt a blissful reduction, a pulling back of the self and the highlighting of the other that is only possible on a stage (either real or in my mind) as I became something that was at once dead and alive, just like the tree.

I moaned into the mic, trying to start it. In my head I was thinking, this is a shout out to all my misunderstood superheroes, some of whom are still in embryonic form. Out there on the street and on the innernets. Each one of us who don't have a costume or a plan…just a feeling. I’ve got a feeling like my mom when she had me. Like those dead Beatles and bird bodies outlined in colored chalk in the playground gutters.

This goes out to you if you’re writing all the words past the margins in notebooks that aren’t diaries but aren’t not diaries either. Making fucked up poems and pictures and blog posts. Heading over the bridge looking for love, like Lou Reed.

(you know that it’s my fancy, to make it with Frank and Nancy)

A few months of being on the road and living in hotels and out of a half-busted car was good training for advanced level acclimation to in-between places and impermanence, something Odious has always already mastered. “The best art is temporary,” they’ve been saying for years, back when I was still trying and failing over and over to write a book.

“Why are you doing that, homes?” they asked, in a manner totally devoid of snark or pretentiousness. They just legit didn’t understand why I choose an art form with the shelf life of a banana: bound, bright and shiny and hanging around long enough to rot in full view of everyone.

“I prefer a medium with more longevity and impact,” they said while we drank $6 lattes out of cardboard cups on the curb. “For instance, I write poetry on bathroom stalls. Or better yet, I whisper gilded words into empty spaces as I smoke and smudge the air. A method which only remains pure and able to puncture eternity, only, of course, if I never repeat those lines again.”

As a college drop out in the 2010’s, they got their kicks by typing out poetry on vintage typewriters and then popping over to the Astor Place Kinkos to blow up the text several times larger and print it out on clear sticker paper.

“At that size you could see the details of each letter—the bits of ink off to the side or how certain keys were struck less hard—corresponding to a dip in physical energy or psychological resolve—so that the letters are more grey than black,” they explained.

They placed the stickers over collage images made from magazine cutouts of fashion shows and disasters enhanced with white out, colored pencils, crayons and Sharpie markers. In total, they spent hours on each sticker, only to pick placement spots like the doorways of bank ATM’s and the windows of expensive street wear boutiques, where these precious, mini artworks were taken down almost immediately.

But not before they were seen. Maybe by one or two lonely souls or a small handful of random passersby’s.

“It’s never about a work being seen by lots of people,” they explained. “Just the right ones.”

It took a little while. 20, maybe 30 minutes, but finally the words came up to the surface. They formed like rock n' roll from out of the primordial goo. I knew what I wanted to say, but I still had to wail and cough and rub my face a while longer before I could start mumble rapping it, the reverb making each line sound like it was being sung by two people at once, which was perfect:

“Something tells me I’ve been here before. I’ve already lived this part all the way to the end. This was the life in which I was a remix of humanity—a new kind of species. One in which the levels of pain had been turned up so high that everything was distorted.  We’d forgotten the old ways and who we really were.

I was every woman’s sacred opening, disregarded, disrespected, and smothered by cheap panties coated with chemicals. I was the poisoned soil of landfills; I was the piles of pantyhose and tampon applicators and disposable razors. The plastic cups from a million water coolers.  The tiny protective foil seals we tear off from the dispenser caps of creams and lotions, stacked up to the sun.

I was the aftertaste of pink slime and fake coffee creamers. I was the burn of poisoned wheat. The loaves of bread stacked in brightly colored body bags on supermarket shelves. I was prescription filled pee, yellow and formless as I coursed through rusty drains and emptied out to the river.

I was the great healer tobacco being soaked in chemicals, dried and ripped to shreds by machines before stuffed into paper tubes with fiberglass stoppers, marketed for compulsion with embedded occult symbols and candy colored font.

In my heart I cried out to the tall cedar tree that used to live outside my window. Before there was a window, before there was a building… I plugged into the eternal prayer it broadcast from the top of its plantenna, the one that had been transmitting inside of me, all along, through both the epic dark days and the ones I’d squandered cheaply, stressed out and self-absorbed.

I was a bear with its head deep in a dumpster bin, grunts echoing like a car engine turning over. I was an overweight gull with mean, puffy eyes, a fast food eating squirrel

I was an irradiated test subject animal that was a mix of many animals. Like me it had also been altered. I was the stuff of legends. The stuff of nightmares.

I was my grandmother’s arms—the soft flesh and matrix of thin lines across the skin, like the crepe paper she saved in the bottom of a dresser. There was the way the vanity atop it shook when you closed a drawer. The mirror always seemed ready to fall, but it never did.  There was the smell of talcum powder and tea. There was the immunization scar on her upper bicep.  A seared-in token from another time—denoting passage from death.

I was all the thoughtless, gifts I’d given her out of obligation when I was a kid: the shitty perfume, Kmart night gowns, socks and yet another pair of slippers.  All of which she was always so happy to receive.

She was the link.  The hub, the Central Generator.  She was one with the giant, cedar tree outside the lodge. A portal that led back to more ancestors.  I shivered in shame while she stood impossibly tall, her hands reaching into the sky, cosmic waves radiating out from the stillness of her arms which turned into branches and then lightning, and then branches again. In her upturned eyes of waiting, watching death, I caught little movies of people who came so long before me, I saw a man with a face like mine walking up a stairway wearing a soft wool cap. The rhythm of his steps as he ascended was the same little dance I always did. Everything about him was mine—he was inside me, here and now with each breath I took. I felt eons of bad posture, cigarettes and fried oils aching in my joints and running through my veins.  They were city people like me—I saw them in their apartments, walking around, laughing, arguing… I was all those long-ago evenings spent around the piano with wine and rum and pound cake. I was the made-up lyrics to the part of the song they could never remember. I was the moon shining through the window, lighting up the varnished floor as everyone laughed a little more and gathered in a tight circle.  I was the messages written in the silver haze of smoke, I was the stitching of the hand sewn jacket of the person standing next to me, their elbow jutted against my own atop the piano. I was my mistimed, ill-advised joke hanging between us like an untied piece of yarn, the interjection of frayed and slightly outrageous desires that couldn’t be spoken.  The long walk home alone—at once feared and anticipated. The bite of bitter cold on my face and hands, the river solid glass.

And then, suddenly, it was over. Thank god, the transmission was finally over. I’d done my time.  I was an old woman lying on a mound of earth. People were singing and throwing flowers and plants upon me. They were the people in the room with me now, who were also playing the parts of people from the past and future. They appeared before me like flashes of lightning—there and then gone. I was being buried and was rising up at the same time. I was the tears which would not stop, the cold path treaded by bare feet, the dead all around, children and families blown to bits.  I was the tribes whose names are not taught in school, the warriors for whom there are no marble memorials. They were remembered by the earth itself—they lived inside the plants and trees and minerals. I was entire cultures, tilting into darkness, the frantic scraping of stone and slicing of wood, the stories rendered with plant dyes and blood and ink and paper. The details changed but the main plot was always the same, like a flare lighting up the darkness of the rising sea: 'We are here, but on the verge of leaving forever—know us as we are in this moment.  This is how we got here, this is what he learned, and this is how we will end.' It’s the story of entire peoples, told by individuals charged, perhaps only half-consciously, with the task, one so momentous that should they know the full implications they’d likely be stymied, stuck, searching for words like searching for the black box of a plane that crashed in the ocean.  

I’m the singer at the campfire, while a larger fire rose up across the valley, I’m the monk writing feverishly by candlelight, the young girl hiding in the attic, writing for a world that didn’t exist.  I’m the rainbow tilting in the glass paperweight resting on an anonymous manuscript, I’m the mold eating away at the foundation of the fortress, I’m the white dove flapping its wings in the corner of your eye.  I’m the tearful prayer to the person who hurt you the worst and I’m the change they start to make one flat, gray, hungover morning. I’m the ringing in your ear, the dream you can’t remember, the memory of who you really are at the edge of your consciousness.  I’m the trembling warrior rising up again, I’m the sludge at the bottom of your disposable cup—and in your heart at the end of yet another disposable day.  I’m the clump of cancer latched to your brain stem—it’s spread out tentacles a reflection of the great pattern in the sky. Alien bursts of light form shadow puppets on the wall.  I’m the projections on a screen of endless rows of mirrors facing one another.  I’m the flies on the windscreen, buzzing frantically. They will all die overnight and then disappear, eaten by the mice who will in turn be tortured by cats.  I’m the silly game, the bump on your head. I’m the realization that comes late at night that it was always you all along. And you out there--you are also these things. You’ve always been here. And everything has happened exactly as it was meant to, leading us to this moment."

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