Lovecraftian Flash Fiction: Black Cherry

Black Cherry 

           Cherry, Oregon wasn’t my ideal choice of assignment in the first place. It’s beautiful country, sure, but it’s barely a town. Just a patch of forest, a bar, and some limp wooden houses.  The company sent me and Kelly to look for rot because they wanted to buy the pine. Christmas was coming. Kelly was going to do the science and I was going to lift stuff.

Kelly was an asshole. Well, not really. But this is the kind of guy Kelly was: I watched a porno when I was a kid and in it, two guys were DP’ing some chick.  The guy on the bottom, the one with backsies, he says, “Ok, let’s do this. I go on one, you go on two! One! Two! One! Two!” He was trying to manage a gang bang like ancient Romans might manage a slave ship. Kelly was that kind of guy.

He wanted to get to work right away.  I was content to take surface samples and go down to the local watering hole, maybe check out some local trim but he had to go by the book. Got out the saw and started to work. I was sitting in the tent, drinking a beer, when I heard the sound stop. I didn’t think much of it; maybe he was taking a leak. After a while though, it was getting dark and I checked it out.

There was a tree, cut open, with what must have been some sort of syrup leaking from the cut. It was translucent pink and gray, like that stuff that sloughs off a fatty burger when you cook it. Some sort of rot, I thought. And reflected in the moonlight, there was a spot of white in the tree. No sign of Kelly.

Have you ever been out of the city? It gets dark. Like, no joke dark. I couldn’t see much and I’d had more than a few beers and I admit I was a little spooked. But I was curious. I grabbed the flashlight from my kit and looked closer.

The sap was visibly oozing from the cut in the tree. Have you ever seen Jurassic Park? Like the yellow shit that trapped the mosquito. Like that. And it smelled like cat box. The weird thing was the white spot. When I got close, and I know this sounds crazy, but I swear it looked like bone.

I thought I figured it out. Kelly saw this and got a big botany boner and ran off to use the phone in town. Probably thinking he’s gonna get a disease named after him. So I went to town.

The only place still open was the bar and there was no sound coming from inside. No music, no talking, no nothing. But the sign said open so I went in.

Everyone was staring at me, smiling. I mean everyone. The bartender, the gangly teenage shits leaning over the pool table. Some meth mouthed chick at the jukebox. All of them. I asked if they’d seen a little squirrely guy and the bartender just pushed a beer out towards me.

At this point, and I’m not gonna lie, I was a little spooked, so I left and went back to the tent. The company was sending someone in the next day to pick us up and I wasn’t about to go hunting around the woods in the rural dark either. So I zipped up my tent and went to sleep, assuming Kelly’d make his way back over night. Maybe he got a piece of tail or something.

Some raccoon or other critter woke me up a couple of times, sniffing around my tent and scratching at the flaps but I’m used to that. A guy in my line of work isn’t afraid of nature. The morning came around and still, no sign of Kelly. The company guy came and the weirdest thing was that when I explained to him that Kelly was missing, he just nodded. I was expecting a search party or at least some sort of reprimand for dereliction of duty. But nope, he just said something about the site working out nicely. I started to explain about the tree disease but that morning, the trees seemed to have moved. Or at least the one I saw wasn’t there. I mean, I knew I was drunk but I didn’t think I was that drunk. He told me not to worry about it and paid me. I even got a bonus. But that was the last time I worked for that outfit. I inquire sometimes, but they’re not hiring. I guess fewer people are buying real Christmas trees these days.

A Spoonful of Medicine

This is an essay I had on the old incarnation of this blog. I’ve revised it, however. Also, the Average Sunset Covers Club stuff is coming (though I think the club itself is dead). It’ll be a grand post with all of the content in one place for all to enjoy.

LittlePhatty_huge

 

A Spoonful of Medicine

To set terms, when I refer to pop music I don’t restrict myself to Top 40. I mean catchy music that, at least, nods to traditional song structure. In fact, there’s very little in the way of modern radio music I enjoy. Yes, I’m out of touch. Yes, I’m ignorant of an entire sphere of music. But that’s true of just about everyone. Anywho.
I’ve been thinking that maybe an appreciation for pop is elemental, a part of us. The difference is in how we dress it up. There’s just an ineffable thingie to certain chords and melodies. There’s a reason why so many songs rip off Pachelbel’s Cannon.  It’s a really pleasing chord progression! It appeals to people who write songs. It occurs to them. As if they came up with it! How can that be an accident?
It applies to so many genres that it’s practically pan genre. Country music is just a form of pop music and it’s never pretended to be anything else. A whole lot of metal is more or less pop music that hates its dad. Almost all indie rock is pop music wearing glasses. If it’s lighter indie stuff, it wears it’s pop roots on its sleeve and if it’s heavy, it’s probably just pop music with a distortion pedal.
This isn’t really an original observation. But the next bit might be. See, I think that one of the strongest tools in the song writers arsenal is the sporadic use of anti-pop. Or maybe a better way to put that by leaving out one or two traditional pop elements, you can make pop truly, well, pop. Here are some examples:
4/4 is the time signature of life. You know 4/4, even if you know nothing about music. 1. 2. 3. 4. If you count a beat, it will be 4/4 unless you’re consciously trying not to. Therefore, it makes sense that almost every song, pop or otherwise, is in 4/4. I bet 90% of modern music is in 4/4. And here’s the thing: you can create a really powerful contrast by playing with the tension of juxtaposing unusual time signatures with standard 4/4.
Listen to this song by Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti called Menopause Man.  Don’t pay attention to the lyrics. Listen to the instrumental break between the verse and chorus at about one minute and six seconds, but listen to the part leading to it too. It’s important. Now, this part, it’s mathy, proggy and complicated. There are bands that do this all the time and, yes, they’re neat. But Ariel Pink is a student of pop. “Pop music is fun/Just like chewing gum/Pop music is good/It sounds like it should,” he sings in another song. His music is informed by the radio, 70s radio. So when he gets into this polyrhythmic groove, it’s a tool. After spending a little time with this tense, tight little nugget, the song explodes into a soaring chorus. It sounds heroic. And it’s in 4/4. What he’s doing here is teasing us. He’s giving us relief, a refuge. A castle of pop on an island of prog surrounded by a moat of funk. This song is a masterpiece.
Certain musical intervals work as pop and certain ones don’t. An interval is the space between the notes. Not chronologically but how far apart they are on the keyboard. I don’t know the science or theory behind it but I’m confident it’s there.   Lately, I’ve been obsessed with Memories Can’t Wait by The Talking Heads as an expression of contrast in pop music. The first 3/4 of the song is droning, dissonant and has strange sounds creeping into the periphery like shadows from a candle. I didn’t realize what made this part so tense until I learned to play the tune: the chords are very close to one another spatially. This gives the vocal line and melody a cramped, nervous quality. And then, when it reaches a reverse crescendo of nervous energy (about two minutes and twenty seconds in), the song becomes pop. The chords have traditional intervals, the sound effects cease a bit and everything just opens up in time for Byrne to kill it.
Song structure is another big thing when you’re intentionally deviating from pop best practices. Most songs have a traditional sort of verse chorus verse thing going on with maybe a bridge or key change sprinkled on top. Something I appreciate in music is when these sorts of cliches are truncated or fucked with. Two of my favorite bands come to mind.  Robert Pollard of Guided by Voices waffles between more traditional song structures and strange little pop masterpieces that sound like the wreckage of the British Invasion washing up on the shores of some surreal foreign city. Take Gold Star For Robot Boy for example. This is like a segment of a traditional pop song, charging forward with no time to stop and flesh out. It’s audio flash fiction.
Contrasting with Robert Pollard’s impressive fecundity (he wrote 4 songs while you were reading this), is The Unicorns, a band that burned out way too quickly for my taste. They have one perfect album, a collection of tracks and an underwhelming and short EP to their names.
In a lot of ways, The Unicorns write songs that are similar to GBV. The Clap is structurally very similar to a GBV song. Similarly, listen to Jellybones, unbelievably, their lead single. This song is all about contrast between slow parts, fast parts, and contains that subversively, monstrously, wonderfully ugly keyboard squelch right at the beginning. Masterful.
I don’t have any formal training or education in music but I consider myself a student of song and as a songwriter myself, I’m always trying to see the strings. I want to see how they do the trick. I don’t think this is any grand revelation but when it comes to pop music, a spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down.