In Seeing, Believing, and Other Things, PC Scheponik employs eager pen and abundant heart to explore the sublime interstices of quotidian existence. Whether pausing over the beautiful brutality that makes us sigh the moment the truth bleeds into consciousness or losing himself—and us, his readers, along with him—amidst the helixed emptiness that all living species share, the poet approaches not only the world but the universe at large with a curious blend of wide-eyed wonder and world-weary experience. Evoking shades of Whitman, Scheponik’s poetic eye spots the divine majesty in all of creation as he sings of the delicate balance between life and death with joy and reverence. Here is a poet with humor and heart, at home among the silken protein notes of a spider web as he is partaking in the beautiful dance of the galaxy across the field of infinity. His poems are self-described love letters to God, family, and all of creation, and although—spoiler alert—everything falls to pieces in the end, we are fortunate to have the poetry in this collection to shine a light on all that is beautiful and wondrous in our universe until then.
There’s something kind of cool about a band that (almost) nobody has heard of releasing a deluxe edition of a slick and lushly-produced EP complete with a bevy of bonus materials — including, among other things, bonus tracks, a video, a short film, illustrated lyrics, a short story, and a manifesto. It’s the kind of move that another band might have made in another time as it slid comfortably into its imperial phase, that moment of bloat that followed a string of chart-topping albums and signaled a slide into relative obscurity just over the horizon.
But since Plush Gordon is coming from nowhere, their motives appear to be rooted less in a sense of hubris than in a sense of the sheer possibility of the moment — and, it should be noted, less of a desire to cash in on their good name (since a: they don’t have one yet and b: everything in their self-described “internet box” is free) than to establish themselves as artists who want nothing more than to push the envelope not only in terms of music but of what a band can be.
The music on the EP is hard to pin down. The first track, “Silver Nissan,” is part car tune in the vein of early 60s tracks like “409” and “Little Cobra,” and part cartoon in the style of a Merry Melodies animated short. The subject matter sees to the former while a wild, dizzying slide trombone line provided by Aaron Buchanan takes care of the latter. That the song is clearly about a stalker only adds to the mystery, and the only answer to the question posed in the song’s pre-chorus — “Is it weird to follow you?” — is a resounding and likely self-aware “YES!”
Continuing the car theme, the other three tracks on the EP depict motorists in various states of unease: a lost and lonely driver watches the world fall apart behind her in “Rearview,” a similarly lost driver tries to find his way home in “Red Door,” and a down-on-their-luck couple eyes a dreams of a new life in the dramatic closer, “Madrid.” Throughout the proceedings, lush string arrangements bring cinematic flare to all of the tracks, perfectly complementing the impressionistic storytelling of the lyrics.
Other highlights of the “internet box” include a short story that fleshes out some of the details of “Madrid,” and a five-minute film titled “Milk Fudge” (inexplicably attributed to “Team Humanity”), in which three members of the band argue over the nature of candy as they drive toward a rendezvous with a potentially malevolent forest entity named Jerry.
Perhaps most interesting — at least in terms of explaining who Plush Gordon is and what they’re up to — is the band’s manifesto, “Invasion of the Potato People.” And, yes, including a manifesto with a debut collection of songs is admittedly pretentious, but the page of epigrams culled from Laura Dern, Bob Balaban, Manny Farber, Epictetus, and the Mysterious N. Senada speaks directly to what the band is trying to do. Quoting Laura Dern, “If you’re in it for the result, then you can’t experiment, but if you’re there to redefine art, you can do anything.”
Which more or less sums it up for Plush Gordon. They don’t appear to be in it for the result. It’s more of an ongoing experiment. That being the case, there’s a good chance that Plush Gordon can do anything.
In a word, Tim Cundle’s Compression is gritty. The novel follows quasi rock-star Michael Flanagan as he returns to the seaside town of his youth for a class reunion. Complicating matters is the fact that he, band-mate Elliot Kurtz, and a handful of other friends witnessed and participated in the cover-up of a killing ten years earlier. Haunted by his crime, Flanagan has spent years on the road evading his ghosts in a haze of music, drugs, and pornography. As a result, he’s never quite grown up. As such, Compression is as much a late-bloomer coming-of-age novel as it is a crime novel, and the narrative is all the richer for it. Though an act of manslaughter haunts the proceedings, it’s learning to confront his past and embrace life in the here-and-now that gives Flanagan’s story it’s heft and arc.
What gives the novel added depth and texture is Cundle’s skill at describing the ins and outs (mostly outs) of Flanagan’s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. Throughout, the protagonist weighs his own real-life experiences against the myths, images, and expectations fans associate with their hedonistic heroes. Despite rumors to the contrary, he’s a lonely guy whose life consists largely of long stretches of time spent in planes and hotel rooms. Any pretense of glamor has long since departed from his life. That he fancies himself a punk only adds to his existential dilemma. Among his greatest fears is that his anti-corporate attitude is all bark and no bite — in essence, that he’s a fake.
But the novel itself is certainly not a fake. Cundle clearly knows his stuff, particularly with respect to music. Part of the fun is picking up on the hidden and not-so-hidden references to music of the 80s and 90s that punctuate the novel. Is the observation that God’s got a sick sense of humor a nod to Depeche Mode? The reference to someone being touched by the hand of God a reference to New Order? The name-checking of Darby Crash a reference to… well, the late Darby Crash of the Germs? (Okay, so that last one was a little more obvious.) Even the conceit of the novel — a rocker returning home for a high-school reunion — itself feels like a page out of Janis Joplin’s tortured life.
All told, Compression is a gritty, smart, and surprisingly sensitive tale that spans the divide between crime and coming-of-age novels and, in so doing, underscores the universal necessity of coming clean — if only to oneself.
Review by Marc Schuster.
Fall is upon us and Halloween is nigh, so if you’re looking for a good scare (or several dozen good scares), then look no further than FP Dorchak’s anthology of short horror fiction Do the Dead Dream? Collected here are forty-five short stories spanning the entirety of Dorchak’s writing career, many of which originally appeared in such esteemed publications as Black Sheep, Apollo’s Lyre, and The Waking Muse. And in each story, Dorchak’s skills as a storyteller with a penchant for considering not just alternate realities but alternate ways of thinking about reality are on full display. In other words, Do the Dead Dream? isn’t just scary… It’s also deep.
Truth be told, things get deep pretty quickly (and literally) with a piece titled “The Wreck,” in which a diver is inexplicably and undeniably drawn to mysterious shipwreck at the bottom of the sea. In this story, gets at the heart of human desire — particularly that brand of desire that is rife with conflict: The diver in question knows that his oxygen supply is limited, yet he keeps pushing, keeps going deeper and deeper in search of the truth behind the mysterious wreck. What mysterious force keeps pushing him? Or, more accurately, what mysterious force keeps drawing him in? And, more to the point, the story all but demands, what makes all of us keep seeking truths even when doing so might work against our better interests?
The theme of searching for truth continues in the following story, “The Walkers,” which finds the member of a mysterious tribe of — well — walkers sent to the rear flank of a long march to check on rumors of death and destruction. Once again, the truth (as Fox Mulder used to say) is out there, but it certainly isn’t pleasant. Also bound up in this particular tale is some subtle commentary on class and knowledge. To wit: Do the upper echelons and decision makers of society know something the rest of us don’t? And would society fall apart if suddenly we all knew it?
Not surprisingly, the search for truth raises more questions than it answers throughout Do the Dead Dream, but for my money, that’s always a sign of good art. Indeed, it’s also a hallmark of all of Dorchak’s work, particularly his novels like Sleepwalkers and Ero. Additionally, this is a substantial volume — forty-five stories spanning nearly 500 pages — so the creepiness and intrigue will certainly carry you well past Halloween and into the new year — and probably beyond!