The Designer’s Drugs: Josh Olsen – Six Months

Medium: Literature

Stimulus: Josh Olsen ‒ Six Months

 

 

I half expected this book’s back cover declaration of returning to the womb every six months to refer to some transgressive trans-vaginal exploitation film scene.  The funny thing about my Rorschach reaction to the noirish packaging of Six Months is that the true meaning behind that line became the thing in this excellent book of one page stories which resonated with me most.  Instead of being a tale of sexy sadist slapstick, the title story tells of the author’s biannual returns to his hometown, which is also my hometown.

My fellow expatriate describes the sadness found in returning to La Crosse only to discover that nobody there has improved in any significant way.  The only changes to the author’s friends and family are those of age.  This saddens him in part because he can’t join in with their lack of success, that he can’t find the old camaraderie and fellowship within shared disappointments, that he can no longer be a lifer.  He’s become a visitor, and every six months he leaves the old world behind.

If I hadn’t felt exactly those things about exactly this place, “Six Months” may have simply been one more very good story.  But as I’m also filled with that same sort of self-nullified nostalgia for our hopeless hometown in western Wisconsin, the story picked up a really powerful, fascinating sense of despair.

Beyond this, Olsen fills the rest of this quick book with the sort of warped yarns that will appeal to a certain sort of man approaching middle age.  Most of these tales are presented as stories from the author’s life, anecdotes about his messed up life and his attempts to square being a respectable father and neighbor with the deviant malcontent (and husband) within.  The perv is certainly on display in the showroom, though these tales steer far from becoming grotesque and trans-vaginal, and this warped Ward Cleaver is most interesting when he’s not being a little hard on the beaver.

Two of my favorite stories are clever little bits of weird, the first involving the author attempting to meet the great Captain Lou Albano and the second being a musing over the creator of the classic Holocaust comic book memoir Maus and my beloved, forbidden Garbage Pail Kids.  Until here, I didn’t know that the creator of these vastly different cultural artifacts was the same person.

I’m also a fan of Olsen’s hateful reminiscences of his own father figures, as well as his adventure in shitting in a sandbox.

Much of what makes this mishmash of bizarre stories function is that there’s a humor and humanity to them that doesn’t wallow in the sordid details.  I suppose that the fact that each story is but one page long helps this.  I definitely want to read something longer from Josh Olsen, but this quick, fascinating burst of screwball tales is captivating enough on its own.

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The Designer’s Drugs: Foxy Shazam/Conspirator

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Medium: Album

Stimulus: Foxy Shazam ‒ Church of Rock & Roll

The way I’ve described this album in my head is that Church of Rock & Roll is what would happen if Mindless Self Indulgence decided to become the Darkness.  Sometimes Foxy Shazam throws out the Darkness milk jug and goes straight for the Queen cow’s tit, but as a whole this album isn’t grandiose or conceptual so much as it is a no bullshit, straight up amazing rock and roll album.

The only drawback to be found in this wailing tribute to the spirit of rock and roll is that Foxy seems to have chucked out most of its delightful weird in making a beeline for rock legitimacy.  In contrast with its previous works of high quirk, the strangest thing to be found here comes in Foxy’s merger of ten pound ball rock swagger and Sir Mix-a-lot’s love of big butts in “I Like It,” a track which is far and away the album’s best.  Yet for as much as Eric Sean Nally continues to wail like rock’s gospel diva (the track “Last Chance At Love” reads like triumphant Joan Jett Top 40), the words which accompany his frenetic tones and the music to surround it all is pretty straightforward even while it tears up the walls.  No complaints from Nally about hipsters calling him gay here.  Oh well.  It’s a more than fair tradeoff.

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Medium: Album

Stimulus: Conspirator ‒ Unlocked – Live from the Georgia Theatre

“Park Ave,” the track which kicks off this collection of electronic instrumentals filtered through rock instrumentation, is kind of a false start.  As opposed to the rest of the album, which reads like a very workmanlike DJ set, this first song meanders and sways around, giving the impression that Conspirator is something of a jam band.  Nothing that follows sounds anything like that first track, but for some reason I couldn’t shake that jammy first impression.

To call Unlocked a serviceable performance is no insult, especially since Conspirator proves here that it’s a hell of a band.  There is a well-executed musical theme which runs throughout the set which makes a lot of its chapters sound quite similar both in sound and tempo.  Even Conspirator’s appropriation of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” fits the style, chugging away with so much of the usual march that the end result is much less cover than sample contorted to fit the overlying musical agenda.  In such a world, the final song, “Retrograde,” could have been notable for little more than bucking the formula and being a rock song with its own time signature.  Luckily, it’s also a really good track in its own right, a concise conclusion that answers the album’s spaced out opening by being both unique and connected with everything prior.

It’s probably true that had the music of Unlocked been released as a studio album with the same structures, it wouldn’t have worked out as well.  The fact that Conspirator released this as a live performance gives all its familiar themes and beats a legitimacy and excitement that would have had us music critics bitching about everything sounding the same had it come in the studio pill.  In any event, the band sounds fantastic, rendering such distinctions pointless.  Here, excitement trumps architecture.