Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Teenage Mary's Monster

"Remember that I am thy creature; I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel, whom thou drivest from joy for no misdeed." (The daemon to his creator, Victor Frankenstein)

Far from being the grunting, shambling Hollywood thing, Mary Shelley's monster was looming, eloquent, agile, fleet and sensitive - godlike, if hugely hideous.

The Demon! He is a demon, you know, he is not a man. (Arthur Rimbaud, "A Season in Hell")

Recently I re-read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" (1818) for the first time in 40 years, since I was an art student, self-educating in horror stuff: comic books, monster movies, monster movie magazines, pulps, etc. 

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was sixteen when she ran off with a married man, Percy Shelley (poet, atheist, free-love advocate and family friend), he ditching his wife, Harriet, who eventually did the Ophelia bit whilst preggers, freeing the literary lovebirds to wed.

Mary was the child of William Godwin (anarchist, philosopher, writer, atheist) and Mary Wollstonecraft, the author of "Vindication of the Rights of Women" (1792). She was either a proto-feminist or the first feminist, depending on what you read.

Due to complications of childbirth, Mother Mary died several days after giving birth to Daughter Mary, this e'er a cloud hanging o'er Mary's oft troubled brow.

The Godwin's circle of fellow radicals included William Blake and Thomas Paine. 

Young Mary was a voracious reader, and still a teenager when she set pen to paper, creating "Frankenstein," a best-seller that's remained in print for nearly two centuries.

Besides being a Gothic novel, some, including Brian Aldiss, claim "Frankenstein" as the first science fiction novel. 

Regardless of label, the novel's strong suit is the monster. His outsider status adds needed depth. Ironically the daemon is the only human element amidst a pond of flatly noble sorts, articulate in his emotions and actions. It's his alienated narrative (a tale within a tale within a tale) that brings the book to life, with a bolt. He tries, again and again, to approach mankind as a friend. But a bullet to his shoulder, his reward for saving a little girl's life, is the final straw, sends him on his murderous mission to make Victor's existence as miserable as his own, even killing the scientist's bride on their wedding night, making Herr Frankenstein not only grief stricken, but, one safely assumes, frustrated in virgin status. So close to consummation - only to have the rug yanked out! Alas and alack! Ha ha!

The version I read, the revised 1831 text, is from the Barnes & Noble Classics series. For $7.95, a sturdy and relatively handsome hardcover (made in the USA, allegedly) with a scholarly introduction by Karen Karbiener, as well as footnotes, etc. to aid readers re a variety of influences and references, not the least of which is Milton's "Paradise Lost."

"Frankenstein" has been given the movie treatment too many times for me to catalog, from the Karloff's versions, that easily remain the most iconic; to Hammer's stylish "The Curse of Frankenstein" starring Christopher Lee as the monster; to American International's 1957 low-rent trash-classic "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein," et al. 

A lot of people have made a lot of money from "Frankenstein." Never underestimate a teenage girl's fervid vision.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Baffler #20

Here's my latest for MIT's "The Baffler." The topic is working class people on TV. 

It's always a pleasure working with the art director, Patrick JB Flynn, and to be included in a magazine that uses so many graphic greats. In this issue: Brad Holland, Melinda Beck, Randy Enos, Katherine Streeter, Mark Fisher, etc. The writers include: Thomas Frank, Jed Perl, Steve Almond, Chris Lehmann, Jim Newell, Eugenia Williamson, Heather Havrilesky, etc. 

More can be found via their site.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cyan Skull

Cyan. Cyanide. Homicide. Suicide. Genocide. Which side are you on?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Orange Skull

Oranges are good for you, provided they're not laced with toxins. (Or crawling with poisonous spiders.) Also, it's not a good idea to be so focused on eating an orange that you don't notice a bus speeding right at you, the driver passed out, on the floor, all their weight on the gas pedal. 

If an orange were to be dropped from a fighter jet and it landed on your head, you'd either be dead, or wish you were dead. 

Other than that, oranges are where it is at, pussy cat! Eat a lot of 'em, juice running down your chin! Eat 'em till you bust! 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Magenta Skull

Composed this weekend while listening to Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music" about 30 times in a row.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Living With His Parents...

"Lou Reed is alive and well and living with his parents on Long Island." (Graffiti written in the men's room of a skid row bar in Providence, RI.) 

It was July, 1971. As a transfer student to RISD, I was enrolled in Summer Session, a crash course in getting us up to RISD-speed. For better or worse, though, I spent more time at a bums' bar than I did in any classes.

The watering hole is long gone, the entire block razed a year or so later to make way for some cheesy condos. I can't recall the bar's name. It was a dusty old dump where you could get a glass of beer for 15¢. Not a big glass, but a glass. (Of beer!) I didn't have much money, but I always had, at least, a nickel and a dime. 

A bare bones place, there was no TV flickering in a corner. We were there to drink and talk. You know, what a bar is for.

Besides the bums, the clientele were slumming artists. Which meant that I probably shouldn't have been so surprised to read that restroom testimonial - The VU had played at RISD a few years prior. And Boston, a mere hour away, boasted a strong Velvets fan base. But I was surprised. "Wow! Someone knows who Lou Reed is! And knows what he's doing!"

1971 was a career ebb for Lou. He'd spent a chunk of the 1960s fronting The Velvet Underground, who were, I believe, the third best rock band in an era replete with tremendous rock bands, topped only by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

In their time, The VU never got much beyond cult status. (After Reed exited in 1970, they straggled on for a bit.) 

And there was old Lou, back home, working in the family business, even getting married to a local gal, a former cocktail waitress, Bettye Kronstadt, I've read.

Things change. The following year he went to England and recorded his first, eponymously titled, solo LP for RCA. Not a bad album by any stretch, but it didn't make much of a dent on the charts. However, later that year David Bowie and Mick Ronson grabbed their anti-hero by the lapels, dragged him into the studio, and produced "Transformer," complete with its hit, "Walk on the Wild Side," an opus - almost a documentary film - immortalizing the lives and times of drag queens, drug addicts and male hustlers who were part of the Warhol Factory scene.

But that July, "Transformer" was more than a year away, an eon in a young man's life, whether he's drinking a 15¢ beer or living with his parents.