The following was sent to me as a Letter to YVYNYL, but Mark Trecka also wrote it as “a reflection on travel, in general, and on experiences accrued while traveling in October 2013 while on tour with Angel Olsen and her band.” He is one third of Pillars and Tongues, along with Ben Babbitt and Beth Remis. Listen to their latest End in Memory EP, released last week.
On the night of December 8th, 2012, while sleeping in a dank room at a decaying resort in a small vacation town on the southeast coast of England, I dreamed the kind of intoxicating, deep dream that can leave one altered for days and weeks following. In this particular dream, I found myself in a profoundly distant future — perhaps even as far ahead in time as the year 5151 — walking among stalls in a bazar.
Whereas in contemporary Western society, the Abrahamic religions have a hold on our conception of time and the language of day-to-day life (for example, the calendar classification of “A.D.”, or the common exclamation of “Jesus Christ!”), the day-to-day life of the year in which I found myself proceeded from a religious foundation predicated on an already-occurred return of Isis.
So while our very concept of time is based on the myth that Jesus Christ has come and gone and that this occurrence essentially reset time, in this dream, three thousand years ahead in time, life was going on after a return of Isis in an already distant past. In place of the Judeo-Christian sentiment that underlies so much of Western society was the implication of a Cult of Isis, an Isisism.
I walked around, bearing witness to dense collections of popular devotional items offered at stalls: graven images of Isis on plates and posters, as statuettes, not unlike the representations of Our Lady of Guadalupe that one sees at a Mexican market.
There were, as well, striking images of some other mysterious figure, a sort of combination of the Elephant Man, Jo Jo the Dog-faced Boy, and a horned Beelzebub. Tapestries hung, many for sale, that featured this man, imaged in black and white, in partial profile, dressed in a suit and wearing an armband with the number “1515” on it. I can remember the image so very clearly.
Haunted as I was by these particulars, it was the peculiar sense of undeniable difference that struck with the greatest force. The difference was undeniable and profound, but the difference was not garish or large. The particulars were consistent, convincing, and twisted only by degrees from what I know reality to be in my waking life, resulting in an absolute sense of the uncanny. I have often felt, while traveling, that the most stirring experiences of foreignness come in the most familiar forms. Just the other side of familiar is where the strangest sensations reside.
(In another part of the bazar I was made privy to a product called Roma soda; consistent, perhaps, with a long tradition of branding products with appropriated images and names of things and ideas and groups of people deemed exotic.)
Ever since having this dream, I have been attuned to an impressive flow of synchronicities involving Isis, and even of her horned, cynocephalous consort. Only a month or so later, a friend showed me a topographical map of a particular location in rural Canada where the hills form a remarkably striking image of a sort of “native” looking woman. Indeed, the first impression I had when looking at it was that she resembled, rather impressively I thought, Isis. Upon scanning the surrounding environs, I discovered that a nearby cluster of hills resemble Isis’ consort from my dream, about as much as anything I had ever seen or have ever seen since, in waking life.
Short of a year after having this dream, I arrived in Hudson, New York, and went directly to the venue, a converted factory building just near the river for which the city is named. It was here that I was engaged for the evening, to do my work of arranging instruments in a space and performing in front of people. In this instance, the spectacle was to take place in a particularly beautiful space, but what was more striking than the beauty was the eerie sense of familiarity. I had been to Hudson before, on at least two occasions that I can remember, and so of course, there was that to consider. Yet my arrival this time gave up virtually no familiarity that was obviously associated with those previous visits, received as I was, this time, by acquaintances I had made since I was last there. There was a particular interest in Hudson among the group as Beth is able to trace considerable family history to the town.
I was soon enough moved to take a short walk alone in a field just east of the venue. Traveling in a large group, as I was, demands such activities. The grasses, knee-high, moved as though inhabited, seemed to and possibly did conceal inhabitants, as I moved through. Sun still golden in that particularly autumnal character, swimming its way through structures of use now forgotten or reconsidered.
When I returned from my walk, I was introduced to the director of the venue, Melissa, a colorful, warm and engaging woman who, I noted immediately, wore a gold charm in the image of Isis on a delicate gold chain around her neck. I have no interest in claiming that, for example, in this instance, there is any sort of magical connection between my dream and this woman’s Isis necklace. Of course, lack of interest in making this claim does little to negate my belief that such connections are valid in some way or another. Either that night or the following afternoon we would go on to talk about Isis — her cat is named Isis, she feels a strong connection to the image of Isis, and so on.
In the midst of the act of arranging ourselves in the space, evening light streaming through high factory windows, a friendly looking dog entered the room, ahead of her two owners, skeltered through the space, and exited the other end of the room. Beth, Ben, and I commented pleasantly to each other about the dog, and I smiled at the humans trailing it. When we finished our work, I wandered into the next room and found the dog and its owners, sitting on the floor. The dog greeted me in a fashion consistent with its apparent demeanor and, asking about its name, I discovered that the dog was called Weezie. Beth’s maternal grandmother was, affectionately, named Weezie.
That first night in Hudson, after the performance, a number of people convened at the Half Moon Saloon. Months later I would re-read Lorca’s Media Luna and think of this night.
La luna va por el agua.
¡Cómo está el cielo tranquilo!
Va segando lentamente
el temblor viejo del río
mientras que una rana joven
la toma por espejito.
There were no frogs that night at the Half Moon, that I know of, but perhaps things were mistaken for little mirrors.
The Half Moon had relatively recently come under new ownership after passing through a two-year limbo phase. The previous owner, Fred Martin, had committed suicide in the saloon, allegedly behind the bar. Local mythology pointed toward gambling debts of a magnitude that anything less than an exit could not solve.
Beth’s family on her father’s side is from Hudson. Our second night there, we went in search of stories relating to those people, the Dolans. As the Half Moon is closed on Mondays, we were directed to the Iron Horse Bar where, Melissa advised us, we were not to play the jukebox if Jeopardy was on the television.
When we entered the Iron Horse, we were observed, though not necessarily greeted, by two men, one perhaps in his seventies, the other certainly in his eighties; the latter sitting behind the bar, the former, at it, both with an air of matter-of-fact melancholy. The television was not playing Jeopardy but Wheel of Fortune, and in addition, served to provide a significant portion of the illuminating light in the room. I asked if the light above the pool table could be turned on so that I might shoot pool and the old man behind the bar nodded, but made no move to assist me. The jukebox was also off. Beth ordered me a beer — a seven-ounce bottle of Budweiser for one dollar — and herself a whiskey and joined me at the pool table although before long, she found herself seated at the bar. Jeopardy came on the television.
"I remember a Fingers Dolan …” Frank Martino would cough a little behind the bar and drone memories of various Dolans in response to Beth’s questions, occasionally tipping his head forward and down and ceasing to talk, as though he had been suddenly taken under by sleep. Before long, the man would recover, lift his head and one hand, slightly, and continue. It seemed as though the act of remembering had to be compartmentalized, that a certain amount of energy needed to be diverted to the process of recalling memories — images and opinions — in order that it would be possible at all to respond. That is to say not that Frank seemed to be concentrating, but that strategic remembering was an action which could only be undertaken at the exclusion of other actions. And all of this only during commercial breaks. Fred, the patron, was also happy to entertain such memory exercises, as far as one might conflate happiness with willingness or even eagerness.
It became apparent that Frank Martino, in addition to fronting a band in the 1940s called Frankie and His Golden Notes, had also been acquainted with the actor Paul Newman. Framed photographs on the wall attested to both of these details, one featuring Frank in the improbable posture of sitting on the back of a bucking horse in the street. Whether time had worn this photograph or time had rendered antique the technology of the particular camera that captured that moment, something lent the image a peculiarly gauzy quality, somehow both more than and less than faded. Frank’s hypnogogic storytelling continued with the subject of Paul Newman, who received a notably tender touch. Though muted by the process, Frank was in some way elated to explain that Newman was very much like a normal person, that to sit next to him at the bar and strike up a conversation, one would not necessarily take him for a movie star, that he always seemed to be a normal person, just like you or me, though, at Beth’s goading, Frank was quick to admit that Newman’s striking features and charisma were exceptional; if he looked you in the eye, you did not want to break his gaze. Newman had made the film Nobody’s Fool in the town and partially in the tavern itself, in the early 1990s. That film also features a twenty-something Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was born 250 miles west in Fairport, NY and who died twenty years later, 150 miles south in Manhattan.
Frank Martino owned, and had been operating, the Iron Horse since his father died behind the bar 42 years earlier.
We left after a few hours and a few 7 oz. Budweiser bottles, to drive 20 miles south, where we slept in a double-wide trailer on a horse ranch. Frank Martino died twelve days later.
The following evening, eleven days before Frank’s death, I arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts, and went directly to the Iron Horse Music Hall, where I was engaged to do my work. After what could be described as an evening particularly devoid of engagement, I was directed to Ye Old Watering Hole and Beer Can Museum, before moving on to the home of the couple who would host us for the evening. In between the Watering Hole and the couple’s home, a portion of the group and myself were brought across the street to peer through the glass panes of the overhead rolling doors at Harold’s Garage.
This business, apparently a wrecking service, housed and perhaps utilized vintage tow trucks — monstrous and anachronistic or, at least, this is the treatment that my memory has given them. The trucks seemed out of time and place; more than the sort of novelty that the “Beer Can Museum” had offered, but not quite as absurd as the photograph of Frank Martino on the bucking horse. The absurdity delivered by that evening came still a bit later, after settling into the home of our gracious hosts, our large group spreading out within the relatively tight confines of this New England home. We were, all of us, shown where the fruit and cereal was kept so that we might help ourselves in the morning; we were shown to the tiny bathroom and shower, and offered homemade cider of a sort of Bretagne style, but made by one of our gracious hosts.
In the kitchen, I fell into conversation with one of my traveling companions in what felt like truly one of the very few calm moments in a day of nearly constant travel and cycles of adaptation and readaptation. Soon, our host had made his way into the kitchen and collapsed to the floor. I lifted his limp body, weighing certainly a third more than mine, and put him in his bed. He sat up and asked what had happened. His partner, our other host, explained to him that he had imbibed Ketamine. He was incredulous: “Are you serious? That’s crazy.” He then attempted to stand up and fell back down. For one straddling the event horizon of a “K-hole”, unremitting subjectivity and cycles of memory loss, adaptation and readaptation, lead to incredulity. Experiencing the effects of Ketamine at this stage effect an inability to remember imbibing the ketamine. For those spontaneously tending to someone in a K-hole, this situation can effect a kind of parallel psychedelic state. This is all simply to say that our host went in and out of consciousness every 60 or 90 seconds for the next hour-and-a-half, asking the same question every time, trying — and failing — to stand every time, and very much requiring tending. In the morning, he would be happy to talk about the experience at great length, stating over and over that he had “never seen anything like it” in all of his experiences with Ketamine. I wondered what he meant, as I carried a persistent sense that he was the only one who had not observed the experience.
Four days later, the fuel pump on my vehicle went out on the highway near Vernon Rockville, Connecticut. Ben, Beth and I nearly came to blows with a man who was part of a group of people arguing with a waitress at a Japanese restaurant.
On July 2nd, 2012, I hurried across badlands, clay slopes, and scoria, to reach a particular place by sundown, where I was determined to camp for the night. I reached my destination just as the sun, muted and somehow lunar, bowed towards a Martian landscape, although by the time I was making camp, the clay and scoria and rattlesnakes had all been overtaken by a dense, hot, swelling dark. A few hours later, and for hours, just after dawn, I slept only very fitfully, a tormented kind of sleep through which anxiety fought to bring me to vigilance: I could hear, across the hills, a raging rain. Sheets of water profoundly falling miles to the earth, echoing over slopes like static — I was certain that it was only a matter of minutes before our camp was awash.
When I finally roused myself enough to crouch and exit the tent to survey how quickly the rainstorm was approaching, I found only clear skies, the color of honey and pomegranates, hills of sand colored grasses and clay. The sound that had been torturing me was only a breath-like breeze, consistent, and gently rushing through every cottonwood leaf within earshot. Two wild horses trotted through my camp.
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