"I was afraid I'd eat your brains..."

>> Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ounce for ounce, The National's "Conversation 16" (from the truly perfect High Violet) may be the strangest love song ever written. I mean, there's an abundance of strange or disturbing love songs out there--Nick Cave's "Sad Waters" comes to mind, for instance--but "Conversation 16" is a song in which a lovely description of a fraying but still passionate relationship (though one that is, in some respects, tenderly banal--sick kids, obligatory dinners with friends) suddenly introduces cannibalism as a metaphor for self doubt--

I was afraid I'd eat your brains
I was afraid I'd eat your brains
'Cause I'm evil
'Cause I'm evil

And as goofy as that sounds--and here's the weirdest part--it really is an extraordinary, poignant song:

I was less than amazing
Do not know what all the troubles are for
Fall asleep in your branches
You're the only thing I ever want anymore

Some of the guys from the band were spending a lot of promotional time on SiriusXM a few months ago, when the record came out, and they were talking about how they had most of the song written but it really wasn't coming together until they sort of ad-libbed the brain-eating bit and then all of a sudden it was perfect, and I can see how it's so. That random B-movie horror element is so surreal and unexpected and sung so sweetly that it really does bring the whole song into a sharper focus.

We often think of horror as metaphor in terms of big, messy things--sex, war, disease. Vampirism as AIDS stand-in, zombie apocalypse as a representation of political witch-hunting, the teen-hunting serial killer on the loose as a symbol of adulthood. But there's not any real reason horror tropes can't be a proxy for much smaller, more personal, more intimate things. When Matt Berninger croons "I was afraid I'd eat your brains," I get it: he's afraid intimacy will bring destruction of what he loves, that he will use and destroy her--because, as he says, he's evil, and aren't we all?1

Speaking of brain-eating, the e-mail this week contained some promo stuff from Jaym Gates and Erika Holt, editors of the most-excellent anthology Rigor Amortis, available from fine booksellers, etc. on October 1st of this year. Here's a wallpaper based on the cover artwork by Robert Nixon (you can, of course, click on it to embiggify it):

I don't know if any of my colleagues featured any brain-eating in their stories, but fans of Like Water For Chocolate or Eat Drink Man Woman or, for that matter, 9½ Weeks may understand that food and sex are appropriately close matters (ordinarily at least--I can't say if that holds up when the walking dead are moaning and groaning in the vicinity). My contribution to Rigor Amortis, "Syd's Turn", doesn't feature any noshing on brains, though (bringing the circle back around) I imagine the couple in "Turn" has quite a bit in common with the couple in "Conversation 16" in many respects--that sense of angst and ennui, even if the couple in "Turn" doesn't have kids and the couple in "Conversation" hasn't turned to recreational necrophilia (well--the song doesn't mention it, so it might be more accurate to say it's left to the listener's imagination). Regardless, I hope a possible lack of cranial gastronomy isn't an obstacle to purchasing a copy of this fine, fine collection, which I'm privileged to be a part of.

1And is it possible or even likely that this basic fact--that we're all evil--is the reason objects of horror so frequently become heroes within the genre? At the risk of making what is by now a fairly trite observation, Dracula, Frankenstein, Freddie Kruger and the lot almost inevitably become the heroes of their stories not merely because bad is more interesting than good, or because death is such a compulsion (who hasn't found themselves staring with morbid fascination at a poisonous or dangerous animal from however safe a distance?), but because monsters act on familiar, repressed urges. Who hasn't wanted to slaughter a campground full of obnoxious popular kids or engage in similarly antisocial, id-driven behavior?

This may also be the reason H.P. Lovecraft's work has remained largely the domain of cultdom except insofar as it's been subverted and appropriated into more conventional modes--e.g. Derlethian pastiches and low-budget horror films in which HPL's plots or paraphernalia have been stuffed into standard good-versus-evil frameworks or the whole British thing of reading Lovecraft as pure Freudian allegory (i.e. all the squelching and tentacles and everything is just a bunch of sexually-repressed imagery, mostly homoerotic). Taken on its own terms as not particularly symbolic of anything, Lovecraft's nightmares are merely alien, incomprehensible and motivated by nothing remotely human, which makes them hard to get your brain around; what is supposed to make Cthulhu frightening, f'r'instance, isn't the idea that it wants to take over the world, but rather the idea that It just happens to be here and the world has the same significance to It that a bowl of bar-peanuts has, nommy if you notice it's sitting near your glass within reach, but not something you gave a whole lot of thought to.

The problem you run into at that point is that you're actually straying out of horror and into the realm of horror-themed science fiction (or perhaps theology), which is in fact exactly what Lovecraft was doing in his later works. I mean, from a certain point of view, Cthulhu (or Nyarlathotep or any of the rest) isn't so much scary as It is academically interesting, "Hrm, wow, I wonder what sort of exotic environment produced a mountain-sized gelatinous squid-headed polydimensional intelligence?" In a different era, HPL probably would've been happier writing for Star Trek than Kolchak.


timb111 Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 12:22:00 PM EDT  

"who hasn't found themselves staring with morbid fascination at a poisonous or dangerous animal from however safe a distance?" Me. I think they should be poked with a stick, but then pretty much the only poisonous thing I've seen is a rattlesnake.

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting! Because of the evils of spam, comments on posts that are more than ten days old will go into a moderation queue, but I do check the queue and your comment will (most likely) be posted if it isn't spam.

Another proud member of the UCF...

Another proud member of the UCF...
UCF logo ©2008 Michelle Klishis

...an international gang of...

...an international gang of...
смерть шпионам!

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.
GorshOn! ©2009 Jeff Hentosz

  © Blogger template Werd by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP