Archive for seattle

The Dark City

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , on May 1, 2019 by Magadh

Dark CityI am riding, alone, in the dark city. The city is vast. Sometimes I see it in daylight, but it is dark in the sense that film noir is about atmosphere. It comprises fragments of all the cities that I have ever inhabited: Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York, Berlin. Or, perhaps, it is more correct to say that they are manifestations of a place that only exists in totality elsewhere. I don’t know where I’m going. Or I do know where I’m going, but the topography has changed in unexpected ways, and somehow my errands become knit together with other stories that don’t conform to the linear structures of the workaday world. Most compellingly, I can glimpse at a distance the outlines of people I know, some of whom I haven’t seen in years, some of whom have sloughed off this mortal coil entirely. But I can’t find them, and once again the tides and momentum of the dark city carry me on to other avenues.

I dream like most people. Or at least I think I do. I’ve had the standard dreams that you hear discussed: showing up unprepared on test day, falling, getting chased and not being able to run, dreams of desire and satisfaction, dreams of fear and terror. When I was working on my PhD and had occasion to make a deep dive into the literature on the Holocaust, I began to have (and still occasionally have) dreams of pursuit by Nazi goons or mass executions. I think these must be, in some sense, normal. The trauma of surplus horror needs to be discharged somehow, and the sleeping brain causes it to coalesce in order to dissipate its force.

I have been told that it is possible to retroactively affect your dreams. More than one person has told me that, after waking, it is possible to think through the dream, employing this is or that strategy that would have resolved the problem. Freddy Krueger chasing you through the night? Just wake up and imagine yourself armed with an M-32 grenade launcher and see how threatening he looks once you’ve vaporized everything but his little finger knives. I don’t know how this is supposed to help in the case of showing up for the test completely unprepared. Maybe I should get up and read a book. In any case, I’ve never actually been able to make this work. The existential aura of the dreamscape remains until the fragments of the dream have disintegrated like ashes in the wind.

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I’m riding alone in the dark city, in a part of town that looks like a cross between Belltown in Seattle and the far south end of downtown Portland. The streets are mostly empty and the streetlights illuminate the streets in the sort of harsh glare that makes everything look kind of yellow. I know that I am working, and this I have jobs on. Far ahead of me, I see Henry Hellbender, OG from the Portland punk scene of the early 80s, long time bike messenger, my friend from years ago in my courier days. Henry died several years ago, in his sleep, from a problem with his meds or something like that. I’ve felt his absence ever since. Like an amputated limb that keeps aching.

And now I can see him, as I so often did, spinning along smoothly on an Eddy Merckx road frame. And I know that I can catch him, because Henry never moved that fast, probably because he never wanted to seem like he gave a fuck. Just a few hard spins and I will be up to him, and we can meet again on the dark streets, and I can tell him that I miss him, and thank him for all the things I learned from him. But I can never quite close the gap. There is traffic in the way, or I see somewhere that seems like my destination, and when I look up again he has darted off down a side street and is gone again. In the dark city, resolution is always tantalizingly close, but always out of reach.

I dream, as people often do, of times long gone. I think that these dreams are like the revenants in old ghost stories, desperately trying to work out the residuum of unfinished temporal business. One of the most common settings for my dreams is the campus of Reed College, where I spend my days as an undergrad, or its environs. I have the normal range of failure dreams (today is the last day of class for a course that I haven’t managed to attend all year), but more often I dream about the series of decrepit houses that I lived in during that time. And, as usual, I dream of people that I haven’t seen since then, many of whom I will never see again, and I’m still looking for a way to reply to something they said that showed how much smarter than me they were (and probably are).

I dreamed of a town that could have been Walla Walla, Washington, where I grew up. I saw people I knew there, but as adults, going here and there. But all the time the dream centered on a cave that looked like a crack in the bank of a fallow wheat field that I knew we had all hung out in back in the long, long ago. Something terrible had happened there, but I couldn’t remember what, and I was drawn to it an repelled by it in equal measure. In the end, there was no resolution. Just long drives down empty roads on the outskirts of the dark city, where its suburban reaches give way to a vast emptiness.

I am riding alone it the dark city, in a part of town that starts out like inner southeast Portland, but then turns into the Rixdorf section of Berlin, a place where I never road a bike in my life (although I lived there). It’s raining and as the scenery shifts to Berlin I notice that the streets are cobbled, so I need to mind my p’s and q’s to keep from going over. It is twilight and the lights and neon signs from businesses along the way wash the shining streets in color. I realize that I have just passed Big Frank, sitting astride his bike on a street corner, as I so often saw him when we were messengers.

Frank, wearing the Vietnamese peasant’s broad-brimmed hat that he often wore (never a helmet). Frank, who was half in the bag a lot of the time. Who showed up at my apartment one time with a half rack of Rainier and a bottle of Vikings and who, after how down two pills and four beers in half an hour I had to tell that if he was intent on suicide he would really be doing me a solid by croaking somewhere else. In all the time that I can remember, he never got so much as a skinned knee, which was weird because every bike messenger falls occasionally. And then he sobered up and became an actor, and tripped on some stairs at a workshop in Columbus and died. And I thought, “How fragile is the flame,” for all the reasons just mentioned.

I see Frank on the corner, sitting on his top tube, legs akimbo, watching the cars go by. Square jaw, dreadlocks, ebony skin, and a smile that could be kind of threatening, at least until you got to know him. I want to talk to him, about Marx, or Heidegger, or the Bulls, or Shakespeare, or any of the hundred things that used to chase our friends away. But I can’t stop, because braking on wet cobbles is a recipe for a fall. So I decide to go around the block, But by the time I come back around I’m somewhere else and Frank has disappeared into the twilight.

dc5The dark city is not in all my dreams. But there are dreams when I know I’m there, when I know I’m in a twilight landscape that is both familiar and deeply uncanny. From all my visits there, I cannot escape the suspicion that perhaps I have things backwards. Perhaps it is the dark city that is true, and that all the landscapes and environments that I inhabit in waking life are but fragments of the totality that contains and combines them all. Perhaps the living and the dead, the waking and the dreaming are simultaneously there and elsewhere, or are only there and flash in and out of the daylight world. Somewhere, in some corner of the dream time, my true self is spinning, trying to make that one last delivery before the offices close, or my ride breaks, or the lights go out.

A Blaze in the Northwestern Sky: Chelsea Wolfe and King Dude

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by Magadh

Case Studies/King Dude/Chelsea Wolfe
The Triple Door, Seattle WA
1.14.13


Since the arrival of our son, The Wolf, we have been left with diminished opportunities to attend musical rituals. Thankfully, the stars aligned allowing Mrs. Games and me a night out to see this exceptional line up in a rather tony venue.

The Triple Door is a full seated venue in the heart of Seattle. Booths and table are arranged in a tiered horseshoe with the red trimmed stage as the centerpiece. Black clad wait staff offer dinner and drinks service throughout the performance. The venue reads equal parts David Lynch and a late Wiemar Republic cafe, perfect for King Dude and Chelsea Wolfe.

The evening began with Case Studies, the moniker of Jesse Lortz’s (the duke of The Duchess and the Duke fame) solo project. Lortz has been acclaimed for both his painting as well as his musicianship and I was interested to hear him play. I wasn’t really blown away by his performance which may owe to my lack of familiarity with his recent work. The lyrical content and some of the musicianship attempts to evoke Leonard Cohen. My impression, at least on this night, was that it owed a bit more to some of John Lennon’s middling solo work. Lortz performance was certainly heartfelt and his offerings were well received by sections of the audience. For my part, I remained more engaged with the vegetarian fare Mrs. Games and I selected for dinner.

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King Dude’s performance was something I had eagerly anticipated. I have seen TJ Cowgill’s previous band, Book of Black Earth, on many occasions and was intrigued when I learned of his new project. The records were a pleasant surprise and I was interested in how, both musically and visually, it would translate live.

Cowgill’s deep knowledge of the occult, esoteric magic, and Gnosticism was a fixture in the lyrics of Book of Black Earth and lends much to King Dude. The band, Cowgill accompanied by Nicholas Friesen intermittently on floor tom and guitar, was framed by a massive and blackened American flag. The flag was bordered by two candles guttering on stands. King Dude’s music is often compared to Death in June or Sol Invictus and I hear much of that in their work. Live, I was struck by how much they channel the darker aspects of American folk in the same vein as Nike Cave. I also heard a bit of Swans and Leonard Cohen. The evening’s performance drew primarily upon Love and Burning Daylight. The execution of the material was exquisite with Cowgill’s smoky rasps enhanced by the ominous tempo of the Friesen’s drumming.  The standout of the performance was the macabre sing a long of “Lucifer is the Light of the World.” Recorded the track is ominous; live it evokes a dark bit of whimsy. By the end of their performance it was clear why King Dude are so acclaimed.

Down came the flag and Chelsea Wolfe took the stage flanked by a violinist and keyboardist, all framed by the guttering candles. Wolfe’s black dress was set off a bit by the bouquet of white roses on her mic stand. The set was comprised mostly of her most recent release, the acoustic Unknown Rooms. Her impressive vocal range was clearly evident, one moment harmonizing with the violinist and the next soaring above the music. While her style is clearly different I was, at times, reminded of Kate Bush’s finer moments during Wolfe’s performance. Towards the end of the set Cowgill joined Wolfe on stage for an excellent rendition of King Dude’s “My Mother was the Moon”.

On balance the performance was excellent and the venue seemed to enhance the atmosphere. Mrs. Games and I contently left the theater into the night’s enveloping darkness. It seemed an apt extension of the evening’s vibe.

– Captain of Games

Neurosis Redux

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by Magadh

Owing to technical difficulties,  as well as Washington’s cannabis laws, the footage and review of Neurosis/Tragedy/Blackbreath/Stoneburner from January 5th at Seattle’s Showbox is irretrievable. Suffice to say the line up was mind blowing and nobody feels worse about the loss than me. That said, I did want to address some of the nonsense directed a Neurosis from sections of the local chattering class.

Let me preface the rest of this piece by saying that nobody will accuse me of being  a shameless Neurosis fan boy. Prior to receiving a copy of Honor Found in Decay (an excellent record by the way) from a friend the last Neurosis album I purchased was Enemy of the Sun. I’ve found their more recent material to be most compelling live, so I haven’t made the effort to augment my collection. Still, they’ve always been a band I have tremendous respect for.

My respect for the band is why the misguided ramblings of a few local types can’t be allowed to go unanswered. Specifically, the notion that the band is “out of ideas”, “cashing in with this tour” and “not challenging audiences, just playing what people want”. Where to begin addressing this idiocy?

Firstly, Scott Kelly, Jason Roeder, Dave Edwardson and Noah Landis all spent time living in the New Method Warehouse located in Emeryville. New Method was dirty, bleak, tough, DIY and empowering. Neurosis has embodied those traits throughout its existence. The bands added to the bill for the Seattle Show, Black Breath, Tragedy and Stoneburner, certainly confirm the band remembers its roots. Kelly was quoted as saying that Neurosis is fundamentally based in Black Sabbath and Black Flag. The bands chosen to share the stage with them confirm they are not alone. Further, the evening’s lineup, and indeed the lineups throughout the tour, reflects a strong commitment to supporting the DIY community. In addition, if cashing in is reflected in an 8 show US tour, they seem to be doing things wrong.

Addressing the idea that the band is just, in essence, playing the hits I present the set list from January 5th.

  1. Eye
  2. My Heart for Deliverance
  3. At the End of the Road
  4. Times of Grace
  5. Distill
  6. At the Well
  7. Left to Wander
  8. We All Rage in Gold
  9. Bleeding the Pigs
  10. Given to the Rising
  11. Locust Star

A plurality of tracks were culled from Honor Found in Decay, with the rest drawn from The Eye of Every Storm, Through Silver in Blood, Given to the Rising and Times of Grace. This certainly doesn’t speak to a band pandering to its audience. Rather, the set list is well curated with each track flowing into the other as the band builds to the amazing “Locust Star”. 

Finally, the band’s willingness to part ways with Josh Graham and the visual experience is laudable. I’ve seen the band on the Word as Law, without visuals, as well as during the evolution of the projections from film to digital elements. The visual elements were extremely well selected, enhanced the live performance and became as exulated as the band’s music. This is why I find their decision to strip them away commendable. A band content with the status qua does not make that sort of decision

I’d like to leave you with footage from the show. The band is performing “At the Well” and the power of the performance does more to rebut the nattering of the perpetually discontent  than all of the preceding text.

– Captain of Games