The holiday onslaught is upon us

I’m a woman who enjoys the holidays despite being somewhat anti-capitalist, and, though I love a wholly just society, I tire of all the extraordinary analyses of why Thanksgiving is “problematic.”  Columbus was a madman and there’s nothing I can do about it now.  There were pioneers, now we’re all here, some of us are queer, get used to it (and over it)!

As I prepare dishes to take to a family celebration tomorrow, I will use the mental space I receive from performing repetitive tasks to plan Yule gifts I need to make or acquire. I’ll think about where we need to put the tree this year since Boo Radley is what cat experts would call “a complete disaster.” Boo will be frightened of the tree and will become so startled he will leap up into the air, crap at the apex of his ascent, and his poop will hit the ground before he does. Alternately, a strange madness will overtake him and he will race up the tree toward the ceiling, loosening every ornament as he goes, destroying hours of decorating. He will then become afraid of the tree again and this cycle will repeat itself until New Year’s Day. And let us not even speak of Grendel and the Infestation of Two and what they can do to a fully decorated tree in under three minutes of concentrated mayhem. I often feel that had we let wolves into the house it would have been more hygienic and less chaotic.

But as I fret about all the piles of glittery cat yak that are my yuletide fate and the chores I must do before 12/25, I am also thinking about those who have come and gone, the people whose lives were spent in service to their families, who spread joy to their loved ones. Who sacrificed for those they loved. My grandparents, my mother, my step-grandmother, Mr OTC’s grandparents and his step-father. These people served their countries on the home and war fronts. They raised their children to be independent and ethical. They worked jobs for decades, in some cases using skills that were forgotten for a while only to be rediscovered when we realized complete modernity wasn’t quite the utopia we had hoped.

We’ll never have a utopia. Philosophy always beckons, reality always fails. In the meantime we just need to remember those who sacrificed for us, all those people now consigned to a history that is often remembered with mawkish sentimentality or demonized as a whole. In the middle is the truth, and it’s something to be proud of.

What’s our sacrifice? Or rather, what’s mine? I don’t know yet. I don’t think we ever know, most of us, because sacrifice is seldom dramatic. It’s the scope of a life lived in service to others and to ourselves. I have no idea if the scope of my life will be remembered or if it is worthy of remembrance.

But as I ponder historical and familial sacrifice, there are pies to be baked, and I’m going to enjoy baking them and hope that others enjoy eating them. And Tony, if you are reading this, yes, there will be rice krispies treats. Lots of them. Let’s be thankful for that, if nothing else.

Anthropodermic Bibliopegy – A Flay on Words

Yep. Anthropodermic bibliopegy. That’s the technical term for books bound in human skin.

I decided to write this article after I stumbled across five mentions of anthropodermic bibliopegy in a 48 hour period. I took that as a sign that books bound in human skin was a topic I needed to discuss here – synchronicity isn’t something I really put much faith in but I wager that the average person might think it a sign if she just happened upon several references to such an arcane subject.  It didn’t hurt that I found books bound in human skin extremely interesting.  Also, as I read about these books, I found myself wishing there was a master list and discussion of the more famous examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy, and who better to compile a long, wordy list than me? And here we are!

Because of my interest in true crime, I knew that there were instances wherein court records were bound in the skin of executed criminals. I was also familiar with a few examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy in pop culture, notably the Evil Dead films. But given the morbidity of the subject, I was surprised at how little I knew about these books, real or fictional. Books, creepy things, unsettling representations of the dead – you’d think I would have been all over this topic by now.

As I read about books bound in human skin I noticed that there was a surge of articles on the subject in the spring and summer of 2014.   Harvard University tested three suspected examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy in their collections and only one was genuinely bound in human skin, the skin from a woman who spent her life in a mental asylum. Those tests spurred a media interest in anthropodermic bibliopegy, and an interest I am deeply appreciative for because otherwise I don’t think research into the topic would have been so easy.  Though several sources I read insisted that the practice of binding books in human skin was once an accepted practice, it was not a common practice and more or less ended in the late 19th century.  There are very few of these books that remain in museums and libraries.

Though the bulk of the remaining examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy are from the 18th and 19th centuries and primarily from Europe, claims that skin was used for book bindings date at least as far back as the 13th century. Prior to the development of precise scientific testing to determine skin origin, experts determined origin of skins via microscopic analysis.  Physicians and museum curators observed patterns in cuticles and tiny hair remnants left in pores after the tanning process and used those patterns to determine the animal that provided the skin.  Many books claimed to be bound in human skin were identified as such by using microscopic analysis – not many have been subjected to more modern tests.  One of best tests for animal origin of tanned skin is peptide mass fingerprinting,  which analyzes the proteins left in tanned skin.  Those proteins point to the animal the skin was taken from and though at times the protein markers show simply that the skin was taken from primates, it can be assumed that those primates were humans.  Monkeys were not thick on the ground in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.  At least one book, which I will discuss, that was considered one of the best examples of a book bound in human skin, was proved to be bound in sheep or cow hide after peptide mass fingerprinting.  I suspect that a significant number of books authenticated as human skin using older, microscopic methods would not be authenticated as human if tested using peptide mass fingerprinting (and that method cannot determine who specifically donated skin as the tanning process destroys DNA).

The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia currently has the largest collection of books bound in human skin in the USA, counting five total volumes, three of which were bound in skin from a single donor.  All five have been tested according to modern standards and the bindings have been proven to be of human origin. The Mütter Museum has formed a team to try to create a comprehensive list of all the examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy, encouraging institutions to test all the books in their collections that are alleged to be bound in human skin:

Most institutions the team has worked with are keeping quiet, however. During her presentation at Death Salon, Rosenbloom did share the aggregate results so far: Out of the 22 books the group has tested, 12 have been found to be made out of human skin. According to one of Rosenbloom’s slides, the remainder were found to have been bound with “an assortment of sheep, cow, and faux (!) leather.” The team has also identified an additional 16 books that they have not yet tested—and is working to locate more.

I have to think that there are likely some undiscovered examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy in private collections, but I think that if one of the largest known collections of books bound in human skin has only five books, perhaps the custom of binding books in human skin was indeed less common than some of the sources I consulted seem to think it was.

As I read about anthropodermic bibliopegy, the topic fell neatly into several categories: criminals whose skin was harvested after their executions; skin used from people who could not or did not give meaningful consent to have their skin used after their deaths; voluntary skin donors; books proven not to be bound in human skin after peptide mass fingerprinting; and representations of human skin-bound books in pop culture.

I found interesting a lot of the squeamishness and revulsion people feel for books bound in human skin.  Often it seemed as if this revulsion was rather selective, given some of the truly macabre museum exhibits that exist, from the entirety of the Mütter Museum to the visually disturbing but excellently bizarre flayed Musee Fragonard exhibits.  It seems strange to be upset about a book bound in human skin when you can see dissected bodies on display in medical museums, bodies that were often curated without the consent of the person when he or she was alive.  However, the longer I read about this topic, the more I found myself feeling a bit uneasy about some of the examples of books bound in human flesh.  I am unsure if this is a 21st century mentality. Perhaps it is because I am accustomed to patient/family consent in medical and funeral procedures.  Or maybe my discomfort is linked with my identification with the underclasses who ended up providing most of the skins used to bind books.  I wonder if others who immerse themselves in this topic find themselves growing a bit indignant about the fates of some of the people who provided their skins.

Please note that I exercised some discretion that may seem offensive since I am not an antiquarian, book binder or scientist, but you will find that there are some “authentic books” that I think are unlikely to be bound in human skin.  Sometimes I left the books with questionable authenticity in the “real” sections and sometimes I put them in the “fake” section.   Generally the “authentic” examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy that I place in the hoaxes or disproved section are pretty egregious fakes. 

Pompous Skinny Vampires with Really Bad Hair

Vampires have no need for deep conditioning!

Yeah, I am going to discuss Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. I’m sure my title for this entry totally gave that away but, in spite of my initial glib reaction, I like this film. But it has to be said: the main characters are pompous, thin and have the worst hair ever. Tilda Swinton’s weave is one of the worst weaves ever seen in film since the one Michael Wincott was forced to wear in his role as Top Dollar in The Crow.  Hiddleston doesn’t fare much better on the hair front.

Several people told me I would love this movie and I suspect it is because Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, packs nothing but books when she travels. Or maybe they assumed I shared the current online love of Tom Hiddleston, who plays Adam. Not that Adam and Eve, for this Eve has an annoying little sister named Ava, though it may be justthat Ava is her blood kin via vampirism, so maybe they are that Adam and Eve.  Those who are into Shakespeare authorship conspiracies will find elements of this film charming. Christopher Marlowe, as played by John Hurt, makes it clear who really wrote all those plays attributed to Shakespeare, so Marlovians may want to have a look.

Blood popsicles play no role in the shenanigans. But they are worth mentioning because, you know, frozen blood…

Quick synopsis: Adam lives in Detroit and is a musician who spurns the spotlight, and has done for centuries, yet has influenced and written for famous musicians throughout history. Eve lives in Tangiers, drinking the blood Christopher Marlowe procures for them both, but travels to Detroit when Adam is obviously in distress. The modern world inhabited by “zombies,” as they call humans, with all its increasingly aggressive planned obsolescence, weighs heavy on Adam, to the point that he is suicidal. Eve comes to comfort him, her kid sister shows up, shenanigans ensue.

But be warned – though there be shenanigans, they are sedate shenanigans. Not much happens in this film and what happens is… mostly very calm. Never before has disposing of a body been so tranquil. As much as I appreciated the Jim Jarmuschiness in Only Lovers Left Alive, I did find myself longing for Bill Paxton (of Near Dark fame) overacting. I think we all find ourselves longing for Bill Paxton overacting regardless of the situation – don’t deny it.

I’ve always been fond of Jim Jarmusch. Mystery Train is one of the best movies from the ’80s. No one ever put John Lurie to better use than Jarmusch did in Stranger Than Paradise. But I have to admit that even Mystery Train, one of Jarmusch’s more involved films, has a very minimalist plot. Jarmusch films are atmospheric, stylish and deadpan – you can’t really expect gore or intense story-building in a Jarmsuch film, which I think is what caused this film to seem a bit pompous. All the name dropping of the people these vampires spent time with throughout history wore thin – evidently Mary Wollstonecraft was “delicious” and I don’t know exactly what was meant with that description – surely Adam didn’t drain her. Or did he? Who knows? But he hung around with Byron and Shelley, and during a scene where Eve questions her husband about events in his life she surely already knew about, I was reminded of a lyric from a Rod Stewart song: “I couldn’t quote you no Dickens or Shelley or Keats, because it’s all been said before.” If you’ve been married for centuries, you’ve said it and heard it all before but if you remain true loves – only lovers left alive, remember – you want to hear the stories again. They will always sound new to a lover, if quite pompous to outsiders.

Despite the cluttered and run-down house in Detroit that Adam settled into in his attempt to avoid the zombies, their increasingly grotesque world and their often diseased blood, this is a pretty film. There are scenes where Adam and Eve take night time drives in Detroit that are very visually arresting, and Adam shows Eve the ruination of paradise – the empty Packard factory, the theater turned into a parking garage. Yet of all the amazing places in Detroit that revolved around excellent music, music of the sort that Adam and Eve play and listen to (Wanda Jackson, Denise LaSalle and Charlie Feathers), he takes Eve to see the house where Jack White of the questionably talented White Stripes grew up. Jack is evidently the seventh son in his family, and I guess that matters to vampires, but surely he could have run by Florence Ballard’s house or the Leland Baptist Church where Bessie Smith performed with Louis Armstrong. Except we only see one black dude in all of Detroit and he’s the doctor who sells Adam untainted blood. It’s a strange, discordant note in this film that otherwise seems to pay a lot of attention to detail and name drops so many important people of cultural worth.

The clever jokes in the film also sort of fall flat. Adam and Eve travel using passports under the names “Stephen Dedalus” and “Daisy Buchanan.” Why Stephen Dedalus? Kit Marlowe says in the film that he wished he had known Adam when he wrote Hamlet because Adam would have been a far better model for the suicidal Dane, and Stephen Dedalus, if I remember my college analysis of Joyce, shows Hamlet-like qualities. So that kind of works. But Daisy Buchanan? It would be hard to find a more loyal, faithful wife than Eve, despite living on a completely different continent than Adam. Whenever Adam is in need, she rushes to his side. She has no other lovers. She is no Daisy Buchanan. It’s hard for me to think of a better female literary character for her to use for her passport identity, but I’m no filmmaker, to be sure.

And if it sounds like I am bashing this movie, I may be a little bit, but I tend to like pomposity when it is handled well. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is one of my favorite books. I love the films of Whit Stillman, one of the most pompous filmmakers ever to breathe life into preppy culture. But it speaks to the nature of this film that the best part is when Ava comes into Detroit and wreaks havoc on Adam and Eve’s reunion. She is a force of chaos in Adam’s very cloistered life, a vampire who loves the modern world as much as Adam hates it, who gives in to her base impulses in a way her sister cannot. The scenes with Ava are the price of admission for this film.

No idea what Kit Marlowe is holding here but it isn’t a comb.

But even as I found myself wondering how it is that Adam made the transition from writing adagios for Schubert to becoming a Detroit rock god, how the fuck their passports made any sense, I still found this film enjoyable. As I mentioned it is visually appealing, even when it is shabby. There is no humor but there is plenty of wit. And the actors are all very pretty – including the aged John Hurt – even if they have terrible hair. I think this is a movie that I felt strangely about when watching, realized I enjoyed it at the end, and will love it the second time I watch it.

This film has also given me a terrible itch to see The Hunger, Trouble Every Day and Near Dark before Halloween gets here. All three vampire movies, all three extremely stylish in very different ways, and I think this Halloween needs David Bowie, Vincent Gallo and Bill Paxton to join Tom Hiddleston in the vampire game. Oooo, maybe I’ll watch The Addiction and add Christopher Walken to the mix, too. And all four of those actors have much better hair than poor Hiddleston as Adam. So if nothing else this movie whetted my appetite for more bloody fare (and bloodier fare, too). If you have a favorite vampire film, share it, and if you’ve seen it, let me know what you think of Only Lovers Left Alive.

Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

Book:  Penpal

Author:  Dathan Auerbach

Type of Book:  Fiction, short story collection, horror

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd:  Because it is both excellent and terrible.

Availability:  Published by 1000Vultures, you can get a copy here:

Comments: If you are a Redditor and subscribe to “nosleep” then chances are you are already aware of Penpal and Dathan Auerbach.  Dathan posted a series of stories to “nosleep” that became so popular that he expanded them, eventually self-publishing the stories as Penpal, using his Reddit name, 1000Vultures, as the name of his publishing company.  The book has had moderate success and has even been optioned for a film.

Nosleep and the phenomenon of “creepypasta” have expanded into YouTube serials wherein voice actors read the stories, but it has to be said that most of the stories that get posted and then turned into audio-videos are mediocre.  Some are so bad they are of the “then who was phone” variety.  But sometimes some excellent gems are posted to the subreddit.  For example during the summer of 2014, Reddit user natesw posted an account of how his dead girlfriend was talking to him via Facebook chat.  It was a creepy and well-executed story, and it went viral.  Unfortunately going viral was probably the story’s undoing because it caused an influx of people into nosleep who had no idea how the community worked and didn’t read the sidebar rules.  You see, nosleep operates as if all the stories posted there are true.  Even if they aren’t true, they are true.  The readers interact with the author of the story as if the author is the protagonist or in some manner part of the story, and the author responds in character when replying in comments.  Natesw’s story got so barraged by people unclear on the concept of nosleep that he more or less abandoned it.  Newcomers were analyzing exif data trying to disprove his story, doing their best to track him down on other social media sites and doxx him to prove it was a hoax and it all got quite ruined for those who understood what was going on.  Luckily, Dathan’s stories didn’t fall victim to people unclear on the concept until the stories had enough traction that such nonsense didn’t affect them, but if you Google any element of this book, one of the autofill menu items will always be “is penpal based on a true story” or some variant.

But such is the risk of engaging in writing and theater online – if you do it well it will be indistinguishable from real life to those who never read the community guidelines.

Penpal is the story of a young man’s very disturbing childhood, and his attempts to make sense of what happened to him and his friends.  The first two chapters are golden, truly creepy and leaving the reader with the task of deciding the reality of the situations the author presents, especially in the first chapter, “Footsteps.”  The first two chapters are not in chronological order – “Footsteps” takes place when the narrator is six, “Balloons” takes place when he is five – so I am going to discuss “Balloons” first because it will make this discussion easier to follow. 

Things that are really scary

My plans to post often before Halloween took a left turn this morning.

I had planned to head out to take pictures in La Grange and Columbus today.  I read a short book about an old, really appalling murder that happened near or in Schulenberg, which is just outside of La Grange.  The murder site is under water now but the killer’s home still stands and I wanted to just go an have a look around.  After that I wanted to swing twenty miles west and head into Columbus and take pictures at the Columbus City Cemetery.

However, Bastrop County is on fire again.  One of the worst-hit areas is Smithville, and I would have had to drive right through it.  It’s bad.  Bad like evacuating the area, get the hell off the highway, it’s a disaster area, there are burning embers shooting through the air threatening homes.

I was thinking about instead going to the very historic Dessau Lutheran Cemetery and taking pictures there, but no dice.  The wind shifted and began to blow north and brought the pine smoke with it.  Outside the house smells like burning rubber and there is a haze that I am picking up with each picture I take.  Like lots of dust particles that ghost hunters would call “orbs.”

I have several other entries going but won’t have one ready in time for Thursday.  Sorry about that – picture posts are easy to put together in a way that my wordy book discussions are not.

Central Texas began this summer with fatal floods and is going into autumn burning down.  Bastrop had only just begun to recover from the 2011 fires so hopefully this won’t be as devastating.  My little slice of paradise is unlikely to be affected outside of scratchy throats from smoky wind and cars with a thin coat of soot but I remember that over 1500 homes burned to the ground in Bastrop in 2011 and a couple of people were killed.  I sincerely hope that the fires can be contained before anything that bad happens now.

The Mom Ghost

I’ve linked to this story around Halloween before but I’m going to post the entire story here. I’ve written about this experience on a couple of online venues but recent events in my life (trying to collect all the stories I’ve had published online and realizing not even the Wayback Machine could help me) have shown me that having all my content in one place under my control is a good thing.

So if you haven’t read my account of the Mom Ghost, you’ll find it under the cut. If you have, tune in tomorrow. I’ll have fresh creepiness up then.

Blood by Mark Ryden

Book: Blood: Miniature Paintings of Sorrow and Fear

Artist: Mark Ryden

Type of Book: Non-fiction, pop art

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Lincoln’s head.

Availability: Published by Porterhouse in 2011, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I am not a particularly visual person, though I do have preferred aesthetics. When left to my own devices I prefer Scandinavian home decor styles because they are easy to clean and I like my art bright, pretty and sort of creepy. The latter explains my affection for Mark Ryden, and hopefully will explain my complete lack of artistic vocabulary when I discuss art. I’m only at more of a loss when I try to discuss architecture or any form of math. I one day hope to be a Mark Ryden completist, book-wise. I want to accomplish the same thing with Edward Gorey – his works and works about him – and Henry Darger. It occurs to me that all three of these artists share similar themes – children in potential peril and unsettling situations, pretty illustrations, macabre content, elaborate styles, and just creepiness in general.

Mark Ryden’s paintings feed directly into the part of my psyche that loves nightmarish beauty without consequence, the surrealist nature of dark dreams. There is a catharsis for me when I view most of Ryden’s paintings. My interest in extremity leads me into some dark places – my love for Peter Sotos is an excellent example. But sometimes the impact of horror is hard to stomach. Not so with Ryden’s paintings.

Sometimes his subjects show sadness, such as the girl on the cover of this book. She is weeping blood and looks very somber. But even when his paintings, typically pictures of little girls, encounter the frightening, the gory, the miserably surreal, they seldom show fear. At worst the girls show morbid curiosity, maybe some trepidation, but there is no fear in Ryden’s work. The introduction to this book describes these paintings as showing a loss of innocence and that may be true. But if there is a loss of innocence, it is one that is expected, one that is not miserable to those losing their innocence because the children maintain their wide-eyed beauty even as they are confronted with the dreadful and disgusting. I can look upon lovely, big-eyed children covered in blood or encountering slabs of bloody meat and enjoy them for the absolute beauty in the image, for Ryden’s paintings are always lovely. They are always sumptuous, in colors that are so vivid that they almost evoke the sense of taste for me. This is interesting to me because even though much of Ryden’s work is associated with blood and meat, the bright pinks and various pastels evoke old fashioned, boiled-sugar candy. Taffy. Cotton candy. Not fetid, iron stink of meat. For whatever reason, I don’t experience the loss of innocence the way that I suspect others do when I look at Ryden’s work.  (You see the intense use of pastels most especially in Ryden’s The Meat Show collection.)

Blood is a tiny book, a fitting size because the paintings are all miniatures, and I selected it to discuss during my Halloween post-a-thon because this book contains an explanation for why Ryden engages in such morbidity, almost a defensive apology for what makes him tick and his explanations, in the introduction as well as a quote later in the book, show in action one of the warnings I often give writers: once you create, the creation is out of your hands and you have no control over what your work will mean to others. By his own words, Ryden would likely find my inability to find his works alarming, especially those in Blood, somewhat alarming itself. Ryden says:

Blood is very powerful. While meat is the substance that keeps our living souls in this physical reality, blood keeps our meat alive. Blood is liquid life. When blood escapes our bodies we are alarmed to the very core of our brains. It is life leaking out of us. It is frightening and makes red a profoundly intense color.

It is here that I think shows the chasm between Ryden’s intent and my experience with his work. If blood is liquid life, seeing children interacting with blood is alarming but it is also a transformative experience. But girls are used to blood in a way boys aren’t. We literally see our blood escaping our body several days each month. It’s less a loss of innocence than a symbol of coming-of-age. There are biblical instructions about the corruptibility and disgusting nature of menstrual blood but for many women seeing blood outside the body is not alarming and when it happens it is simply a sign of growing up. Perhaps this is why I am not appalled by the loss of innocence seen in the paintings in this collection. Blood is liquid life, but in some respects blood is a liquid proving-ground, a symbol of a trial endured, of obtaining a certain type of wisdom. Sometimes the wisdom that comes from corruption is more valuable than white, unblemished inexperience.

Regardless of the ins and outs of meaning and intent, the paintings in this collection are remarkable in content and execution.

original from markryden.comI love this painting, titled simply enough, Lincoln’s Head.  There’s a lot going on with this painting, and it can be tempting to write it off as kitsch.  I’m not the least bit startled by the blood or gore, and it’s not startling to me how meaningful this painting is to me.  Ryden often paints Abraham Lincoln, with Lincoln performing an assortment of duties, like juggling with meat, birthing a baby from a tree, as well as serving as the focus in scenes not as easily summarized.  In this painting, his head at the foot of the bed is reminiscent of the horse head in The Godfather, a sort of warning to the little girl.  Yet Lincoln, as bastardized as he has become by pop culture, is an enduring image of freedom and sacrifice for most Americans.

This child is one of the more shocked-looking Ryden children, and even so she is not terrorized by Lincoln’s head.  She exhibits morbid curiosity but she is not afraid – just surprised to see him there.  She is clearly a little girl, in her pink pajamas, but note the austerity of the room.  No paintings on the wall, no bedside table, no stuffed animals, no patterns on the sheets.  This is the room of an adult, white sheets stained with the blood of an American redeemer.  Lincoln is a warning to her, that adulthood encroaches  – red blood on white sheets is most definitely an image associated with loss of virginity.   I almost feel like she is dreaming, that she fell asleep and has drifted down onto Lincoln’s bed, his severed head warning of impeding womanhood and the many sacrifices that are made one becomes an adult.  This is a loss of innocence, certainly, but it is inevitable.  Children grow up.  It’s not a tragedy but the little girl’s face shows the alarm that genuine freedom as an adult can bring.

Or it’s a gory, fanciful picture of a little girl in a Shaker-style bedroom confronting a giant severed head.  You make the call.  In fact, I would love to hear other interpretations.

original from

The Baptism of Jajo is my favorite painting from the Blood collection.  Interestingly I have far less explanation for this painting than I do Lincoln’s Head and what little interpretation I have may suggest that I have not shucked away my Southern Baptist upbringing as much as I would like to think I have.  Jajo is a baby exhibiting superlative innocence.  He is plump, white, with a big round head, a large forehead and widely-spaced blue eyes.  The hand of Christ is bleeding upon him and my first impulse upon seeing this painting was to think that the child was being protected by the blood of Christ, often represented as a lamb in Christian iconography, one of the most universal symbols of innocence.  And that creepy clown toy looking on at the scene makes me think this baby really needs all the protection he can get (though later that is disproved by another Ryden painting).

Even as I read Ryden’s explanations for these paintings – he was in a very dark place when he painted the Blood collection and really wanted to paint bloody and disturbing scenes – I have such a hard time seeing the menace or fear.  A fat baby in a field of flowers receiving a literal blessing from God.  Many, myself included, find the very notion of Christian transubstantiation disgusting – the idea of drinking the literal blood and eating the literal flesh of Christ as a form of sacrament is disturbing.  But this child is not drinking the blood but is rather receiving it in a sort of pagan/Episcopalian affusion baptism, on the top of his little head, the most fragile place on a baby’s body.  It’s comforting even as it is relatively grotesque.  Clearly I am not as divorced from faith as I thought, or at least from the feelings one experiences when seeing Christian symbols of salvation and protection.  But I also marry the Christianity in this painting with my interest in other forms of metaphysics.  The hand of Christ is palm out, so detailed you can almost read His future.  There is a pretty strong life line on that palm, almost suggesting that Jajo will have a nice, long, protected life.  That life line certainly can’t indicate Jesus’ own life span, so I think this is Jajo’s future spelled out on the hand.  Additionally, Mr OTC noted how placidly Jajo is staring at the viewer, almost Buddha-like in composure.  And why is the baby’s cheek red where the clown is staring yet white nearer the bleeding hand?  Again, there’s a lot going on in this painting and I don’t know how to assign meaning to it all.

If you want to see all the paintings in the Blood series, visit Mark Ryden’s site. Dig around and have a look at some of his other collections.  Jajo makes another appearance in The Meat Show in Jajo, Patron Saint of Clowns. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all the art I prefer is pop or low brow, or created by mentally unstable hermits.  I’m not particularly well-trained to see beauty and truth in a visual format.  I’m much better at interpreting words.  So it’s all the more likely that I have absorbed these images in a manner that doesn’t honor artistic intent.  But as with literature, I don’t think anyone needs to have a handle on absolute meaning to read Shakespeare or Stephen King or to enjoy paintings from Leonardo or Ryden.  Sometimes all that matters is if you love something and I love the juxtaposition of seemingly unharmed children confronted with blood and horror.  These paintings bring to me a sort of hope that the miseries of life are endured with a child-like resilience and that beauty remains in the face of the nastiest experience.  That in the midst of the rot you smell the flowers and taste the pastel saltwater taffy.

In a way, despite the title of the book, this was the least Halloween-y book I could discuss but I didn’t really understand that until I wrote this entry.  Here’s hoping my next entry is creepier.

Musical influence of Art Bell

I’m going to do my best to post a lot before Halloween because indulging in creepiness is one of the things I do best. I have so many creepy books, favorite creepy movies, and creepy sites to share that it would be a shame not to take advantage of this time of the year and write about all the eerie weirdness rattling around in my head.

This entry came about in my typical circuitous “getting lost on the Internet” method of gathering information. I wanted to discuss some really disturbing, dark songs about child predators, and had a specific song in mind, two songs, actually, about a predator assaulting a child and the child seeking revenge, but couldn’t remember the name of the songs or the band that performed them. In my attempts to run the song to ground, I fell into a YouTube hole that completely distracted me from my original goal. I’ll eventually discuss songs about child predation but not today because I found mystery wondering how many songs there are that are inspired by Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM. (By the way, the band I was originally searching for is G.G.F.H. and the songs are “Little Missy” and “Missy’s Revenge” and while the songs are still outre and upsetting, they aren’t as viscerally disgusting as they were to me when I heard them years ago. I fear I am becoming jaded…)

Discussing Art Bell’s influence on music is really apropos for me this time of year because I always listen to his Ghost to Ghost episodes right before Halloween. I was putting together a playlist earlier this month but when I was searching for G.G.F.H.’s body of work, I found a title that piqued my interest and it turned out to have an Art Bell sample (the Venetian Snares song I discuss below – that is the song that linked me from child exploitation to Art Bell). After listening to the song with the Coast to Coast AM sample, I decided to see how many songs I could find that were influenced by Art Bell in some manner. Art Bell is interesting and somewhat weird in his own right, a man whose life has taken several unexpected turns, and he has been a personal hero of mine ever since he sued Ted Gunderson (who is hopefully right this very minute encountering the Satan he insisted was lurking in every daycare and influencing every politician since Washington) for slandering him as a pedophile.

Art no longer hosts Coast to Coast AM (and while George Noory is okay enough, he lacks a certain edge, I think, that Art brought to the table) but his long tenure on the AM and online radio program featured many bizarre and memorable shows. One of the most memorable was the night a man who claimed he was a former Area 51 employee called into the show in a panic, revealing that the US government was being duped by inhuman creatures posing as aliens from outer space, and that these creatures meant mankind harm. He claimed to be on the run from the federal government and sounded to be completely unhinged by the gravity of his discovery. In the middle of the phone call, something happened to the satellite and at least 50 separate radio stations went dead for around half an hour. Understandably, this caused Art and his listeners to freak out, assuming that indeed the feds were tracking the frightened caller and had interfered with his attempt to share his story. The man behind the Area 51 call eventually called back to Coast to Coast and explained it was indeed a hoax but that he had no idea what had happened in regards to the satellite failure. That, evidently, was just a coincidence. There are some who still believe the Area 51 caller was real and that the later call revealing the hoax is the real hoax, but that is the nature of conspiracy. This episode is called either the “Area 51 Caller” or “The Frantic Caller.”

However real or fake the Area 51 call may have been, it’s now a part of Area 51 lore and anyone who has much interest in fringe or conspiracy culture has likely heard of it. It’s definitely influenced some musicians, famous and obscure. One of the more famous bands to sample the Area 51 call is Tool, in the song “Faaip de Oiad” from the album, Lateralus Faaip de Oiad means “the voice of God” in “Enochian” (the supposed angelic language recorded and likely invented by John Dee and Edward Kelley) – Maynard Keenan is a sort of Renaissance man of the weird and I think he runs a winery now, of all things.

“Faaip de Oiad” doesn’t freak me out the way it does many Tool fans. I think that’s because I’ve heard the source material too many times, and had heard it many times before ever hearing this song. But I can see how this would be jarring or alarming to someone who might not know the source of the jangled, frightened man talking in the middle of the song. I link to this particular video because it has the “lyrics” in the upload notes section.

Raping the Gods by Brian Whitney

Book: Raping the Gods

Author: Brian Whitney

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: This book is the paper equivalent of that asshole you knew in college who drunk-called you at 2:00 in the morning to tell you about how he beat up Chuck Norris, had sex with a Victoria’s Secret model and wrecked his Lamborghini after inhaling epic quantities of cocaine.

Type of Book: For fuck’s sake, this book best be fiction, but I worry that large chunks probably aren’t.

Availability: Published by Strawberry Books in 2015, you can get a copy here:

Comments: Jesus, this book. This is another book I read out loud to Mr OTC at bedtime until he begged me to stop, and he didn’t beg me to stop because the book isn’t funny and compelling, but rather because he needed to get some sleep. Pretty much each paragraph in this book has a golden sentence, a laugh-out-loud portion that makes this book the sort that goes by quickly in one sitting.

Quick synopsis: Bryan Whitney (the character, not the author, a trend I’ve made note of lately wherein authors give characters their writing names) is a profligate and depraved writer. He is contacted by Dylan, a completely insane and utterly drugged reprobate, who wants Brian to write about him. You see, Dylan, a man of many unlikely stories, claims to have met God and raped Him.


Brian needs the money and agrees to do it, but, because Dylan is a lunatic, this is not going to be without some trouble. Dylan lives in Samoa with two female sex slaves, which makes it hard to travel, so Brian is going to have to fly out to Samoa. But before he can fly out there, Dylan makes difficult demands that Brian struggles to meet.  Brian fields numerous phone calls and e-mails from Dylan, eventually flies to Samoa and meets the sex slaves who are very willing accessories to Dylan’s life, and more or less exists in the same “WTF” realm as the reader until the novel ends happily, in a way.

This is not an intricate plot, but the characters are interesting in a really fucked-up way and that helps. The reason to buy and read this book is to revel in how well Whitney writes the absurd and recreates the cadence of the speech of the damned. This is a hilarious book, and the absurd humor allows a more squeamish reader to stomach some of the more outre content. But hopefully no one squeamish is reading this site.

Brian Whitney, the character, is a writer struggling to make a living and has ghostwritten biographies of washed up porn actresses. He’s not the sort of dude who can handle a day job while writing because, much like me, he’s just not cut out for real jobs:

I had this part time job at one point working for AAA where I answered roadside assistance calls. I got fired for hanging up on people. I would do it in the middle of when I was talking so it looked like an accident. I did it whenever I couldn’t figure something out on the computer system they had. I hate looking like an idiot.

So inevitably those who cannot work day jobs end up running underutilized websites or ghost writing for porn actresses or assorted members of Motley Crüe. Dylan, a fan of one of the actresses, makes a strange demand of Brian: in order to be given the job of writing Dylan’s biography, Brian must arrive in Samoa with a photo of the porn star naked. Naked while wearing a moose hat.

The porn star in a moose hat isn’t the most depraved part of this story but it gives us a good idea of the sort of dude Brian is – he’s not a man who is often ethically challenged. He does try to wriggle out of it but Dylan won’t hear of it and overnights a supply of Rohypnol to Brian so that the writer can get the job done.

And because Brian is a reprobate, he does get the job done.

The photos themselves were a bit of a letdown. I was wasted and it was a total pain in the ass to take off all her clothes. It was harder than I thought it would be. I mean of course I was turned on a little, I gave her ass a few proprietary slaps here and there, but for the most part it was just clothes off, moose hat on, pose her body this way and that, take some photos, clothes back on.

I share this passage mainly because it was nice to know that Brian was not so well-versed in removing the clothes from an unconscious woman that stripping the porn star was, you know, easy. And what was Dylan’s response to receiving those photos? I don’t know. Maybe he didn’t respond. I can’t recall because this book really is a collection of drunken bullshit stories that half the time don’t even try to sound sane.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Book:  Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls

Author:  Alissa Nutting

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, fantasy, humor

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because Alissa Nutting is my neurotic literature heroine.

Availability: Published by Starcherone Books in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: I was reading this book when my mother died.  It’s a strange feeling to be writing this discussion because Mom was alive when I began this book and dead when I finished it. I think this is a book that will have extreme sentimental value for me for the rest of my life.  I’ll probably remember in vivid detail all the stories in this book until the day I am on my own death bed.  It’s a good thing this is a very good book in almost every regard.  If you are going to have a book burned into your brain in such a manner, best that it be a good book.

It’s not so surprising that I adored this collection – I raved about Nutting’s look at a female sexual predator and had high expectations for this book.  This collection is less concentrated in terms of content and style than Tampa and the varied nature of this collection shows Nutting’s skill as a teller of many types of stories.  She handles mundane yet self-aware neuroticism like an updated Tama Janowitz (whose seminal summation of ’80s New York, Slaves of New York, I will be discussing here soon).  She dips in and out of fantasy and magical realism with a deft hand and plenty of humor.  She is a keen observer of the human condition and tells her stories with great sympathy for her characters, even the ridiculous ones. I love this collection so much I am not going to limit my discussion to just a few stories, as I often do to save readers from an obscenely high word count. So be warned, many words beneath the cut.