Art Bell has died. On Friday the Thirteenth. Of course he did. Because he was Art Bell and we should have expected it.
So many people will be offering up eulogies of this man who, in my estimation, heralded in the current “reality TV” obsession with the paranormal and supernatural through his radio show, Coast to Coast AM, that I don’t know how much I can offer that is unique. I’ve mentioned several times over the years that Art Bell has influenced me in strange ways, from introducing me to the works of former priest/fallen man of faith/potential conman/charming Catholic Malachi Martin to making me wonder how many pieces of modern music he influenced.
Mostly I adored him for suing the late Ted Gunderson for defamation when Gunderson insinuated that Bell molested one of his sons and was involved in child pornography. My low opinion of Ted Gunderson should not be belabored in this short paean to one of the most notable purveyors of weird, but I love that Art Bell did not tolerate such slander. He prevailed in a civil suit against Gunderson and Gunderson’s cohorts, and the details of the verdict are sealed so we don’t know how much Ted Gunderson had to pay out for making such base accusations, but the moral victory was more than enough for Bell fans.
Every year I listen to Art Bell’s Halloween shows called Ghost to Ghost, where he takes in calls from people who had paranormal and frightening experiences. It’s going to be a bittersweet listen come this October. I hope now Art knows if there’s a bottom to Mel’s hole and what is down there if there is, if Oswald was a lone gunman in the Kennedy assassination, was there really a frozen little green man in Jonathan Reed’s freezer, and if John Titor Timetraveler was really a load of horseshit. I hope his afterlife is as weird as he deserves. Rest well, Art, and know that your death, in maybe a few weeks, will likely have a very strange conspiracy theory surrounding it. We all know you would have wanted it that way.
Are you in Baltimore? Because Atomic Books is selling TL;DR. I feel a strange thrill knowing that the store that receives fan mail for John Waters is selling my book, and by strange thrill I mean I will likely be mentioning this fact for years to come.
If you are in the Chicago area, Quimby’s Bookstore is carrying TL;DR. No direct link to the book yet but go ahead and shop there now. If I’m not on the shelves, get a few ‘zines and go back later, because that’s what I’d do.
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because I spent at least a dozen hours investigating the “Search” suggestions on pages 101-108 and didn’t even make it through the first page due to all the horrible yet interesting rabbit holes I found myself falling down into.
Availability: Published by Harper Perennial in 2015, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I read this book last summer but my overall disorganization as of late worked in my favor for once because some of the content in this book is rather topical right now (I really need to start discussing books the day after I finish them but we can talk about how much I suck in another entry, I promise). The #metoo and #timesup “movements” have brought institutionalized sexual violence and harassment in the entertainment industry into a sharper focus than I could have ever thought possible. The toppling of Harvey Weinstein has been absolutely surreal to witness, but it helps explain why Mira Sorvino sort of disappeared from movie screens after winning an Oscar. I always liked her and now I know Weinstein systematically blocked her from access to high profile roles because she preferred not to have sex with an aggressive ogre of a man. The sentencing of Larry Nassar has lit up Twitter with people cheering as a man who molested at least 140 gymnasts was dressed down by the judge in the case. No matter what the industry is, if it is fueled by young, fit, attractive people, you can count on the industry attracting predators.
But predation can take many forms. A parent, a manager, a director, drug dealers, a world that devalues older women. As topical as this book is in many regards, the women Amber Tamblyn discusses in these poems aren’t exclusively victims of sexual predators. The women who inspired the poetry in this collection experienced a variety of miseries in a world that chews people up and spits them out for all sorts of reasons. Tamblyn took the stories of these girls, teens, and women who achieved some fame, however small or fleeting, and showed the damage done in a way that, strangely, honors humanity as much as revealing interesting and at times salacious stories.
My interest in books is mainly prose – I am not as learned in poetry as I am in prose fiction and non-fiction. But there are still poets whose words speak to me. I focus on specific poems by those poets, seldom embracing their bodies of work as much as the poems that contain those lines that mean something to me. Wilfred Owen (“As under a green sea, I saw him drowning…”), Gerard Manley Hopkins (“It is the blight man was born for, it is Margaret you mourn for.”), and EE Cummings (“Olaf (upon what were once knees) does almost ceaselessly repeat ‘there is some shit I will not eat'”) are great examples of poets who produce specific lines that resonate with me deeply, and Tamblyn manages to create lines that similarly resonate. One in particular I will discuss in a moment.
This collection reminded me in many ways of Mikita Brottman’s short story collection, Thirteen Girls. I found myself curious about all the women in this collection, as I did when I read about the women who fell to serial killers in Brottman’s penetrating look at victims and the ways they are remembered. The titles of the poems are the names of the women they are about, and there were enough stories of women and children whose sorry tales I knew before reading this book to ensure I felt the power of the poems Tamblyn crafted to portray them. Seeing the most troublesome parts of their lives depicted in poetry forced me to rethink my attitudes towards some of the people Tamblyn wrote about.
Types of Books: Fiction, potentially asshole recovery manuals if taken somewhat seriously
Why Do I Consider These Books Odd: Eh, they aren’t that odd in and of themselves but considering them together shows me how enjoyable shitty people can be when they know they are shitty and just accept it.
Availability:The Deep Whatsis was published by Other Press in 2013 / Diary of an Oxygen Thief was published by Gallery Books in 2006 and you can get a copy of both here:
Comments: Analyzing these two books together, because one hits the mark with me and the other doesn’t, might lead one to believe that one of these books is somehow bad, or at the very least lacking. That’s not really the case. Rather, reading these two books around the same time showed me something very interesting about myself: I like unrepentant assholes. Don’t get me wrong – redemption arcs have their place and can be enjoyable, but after a while I tire of the trope of callow men with some measure of success deciding that their lives are empty and meaningless and that their chosen work is unsatisfying and that maybe, just maybe, they can be better men. If the catalyst for change is the presence of a manic pixie dream girl, all the better for the formula.
It’s jaded to think that this formula got hijacked from the early successful Palahniuk novels but, yeah, many books told from the perspective of a male protagonist who is sick of his immoral job, who meets an outsider woman and experiences a strong philosophical shift have the aura of Fight Club about them. I mean, it’s a common trope but perhaps I see it clearer after Palahniuk did it so much better. The Deep Whatsis doesn’t have a Tyler Durden twist and is almost 99% non-violent, but it follows the script and at the end left me feeling like I really needed the protagonist to burn something to the ground because otherwise this book is more or less just a version of several George Clooney movies, like Up in the Air, where the lovable rogue discovers he’s an asshole and learns from the experience and it’s all really heartwarming.
And that’s well and good to a point but sometimes you just want a self-aware asshole to suffer without trying to become a better man.
It’s been an interesting autumn season out here at Chez Oddbooks and I am under the weather, so to speak. I hopefully will resume Halloween-y posts no later than Thursday. Until then, please feel free to share any creepy or Halloweenish story you think I’d like to hear. Any awesome horror novels or movies you’ve consumed lately? Did you listen to the Silencer video in today’s earlier entry and want to sue me for emotional damages? Comment away!
It’s Halloween, so what better time to talk to you all about the masks or mask-like uses of make-up that annoy, upset or absolutely terrify me.
One of my earliest memories is of a television commercial promoting an Alice Cooper concert in Dallas. I must have been three or four at the time. I was absolutely terrified by his appearance, with the heavy eyeliner that appeared to be running down his face, the wild hair, the marks around his mouth that might have been blood for all I knew – our old television was in black and white.
My parents decided that the best way to help me overcome my fear of this horrible man on the TV was to force me to watch it every time it came on. My father would prevent me from running from the room when it aired, holding me there and telling me over and over that it was just a television commercial, it was just a man in make-up, that none of it could hurt me. It didn’t work. I screamed and cried and still he and my mother persisted, convinced they could reason with a frightened child. I had similar reactions to KISS, mostly Gene Simmons.
Interestingly, I am not particularly unnerved by clowns. I look at a clown, and I know it’s some asshole wearing a bunch of make-up and a wig and maybe some stupid clothes. I know what the intent is behind clown make-up – to delight or terrify. When I know the intent, it’s hard to be afraid, and that is where my parents, as well meaning as they were at the time, missed the mark. I didn’t need to know that it was a commercial and couldn’t hurt me. I needed to know why the man was dressed that way, what his intent was, what he planned to do in that get-up. And of course I could not express this so young and of course my parents had no idea what was at play in my terror. Variations of not knowing the reason behind the disguise fuels my adult uneasiness around masks, I think, though surely there are other explanations, from Jungian collective unconsciousness ruling my response to just plain jitters.
There are a lot of explanations as to why it is that people wear masks and costumes at Halloween and I am loath to discuss them because to do so means I have to cover every potential reason going back to early recorded history or someone will show up and leave a very long comment schooling me on Samhain-this and Pope-Boniface-that and how it’s racist for a white woman even to say Dia de los Muertos, let alone discuss the purpose behind sugar skull make-up. But this is a time of the year that makes a woman who finds the purpose behind masks very important somewhat uneasy. And perversely, because it makes me uneasy, I expose myself to it in ways that make me even more unnerved. But I can’t seem to avoid it, and since I can’t stop poking at this canker sore in my psyche, I’ve decided to drag you all down with me.
When Mr. OTC first learned about the Corn Hill Cemetery, the message board included some geographic coordinates and nary a mention that there was also a New Corn Hill adjacent to “old” Corn Hill. The geographical coordinates were only marginally more accurate than closing our eyes and smelling our way there, so it took us a while to find the Corn Hill Cemetery. Before we came close to our final destination, we found the Catholic cemetery in New Corn Hill, a herd of longhorns, a five-grave cemetery in the middle of a cornfield, a cemetery in someone’s front yard in Weir which is a completely different city, and eventually we found Corn Hill.
The cemetery was presented online as a cemetery in a ghost town. Really, it’s an active cemetery in a town that moved and got absorbed into another town. We were green in terms of such explorations at the time and now know the difference between “abandoned” and “located within a ghost town.” Ghost towns in Texas can be remarkably lively towns, teeny-tiny bucolic places among larger bucolic places. Corn Hill is such a ghost town and its cemetery, while very rural appearing with some very old graves (for Texas), is maintained and contain some recent burials.
I photographed this cemetery several years ago and didn’t intend to include it here for Halloween 2017, but decided to because of a bit of equipment failure that lost new photos. I also want to mention that this cemetery had some souls of the living variety when I photographed it. Some edgy teens were having a literal tea party at the edge of the cemetery where there were no graves. Because this is sort of a visually grim cemetery, they weren’t sitting on a blanket under a big tree or near a gazebo or benches. They were just out there in the corner of a chain link fence, quietly hanging out. They watched me for a while then realized I had no plans to hassle them and ignored me as I went about my business. They were still there when I left. If I were buried in a place like Corn Hill, I think I’d welcome well-behaved teens and their tea parties. I didn’t photograph them because they seemed like good kids, and also because if I had I might have upset them and a scene would have ensued. I don’t want to cause a scene among the dead.
The photos I am going to share in this Halloween 2017 entry are old, in Internet years. I had intended to share some photos I took over the last month depicting some dark Texas history as well as a lovely old cemetery up the road from my house, but I’ve had a significant equipment failure with my camera. I lack the vocabulary to explain what happened but from what I recall from the conversation I had with Mr. OTC, who is sometimes Mr. Tech-Support, a card got corrupted in my camera.
It’s really important to me to have an entry up every weekday in October. So I dug through my archives and found a couple of photo series that have not appeared online as much as some of my other photographs and with them I’ll create some photo essays of some of my interesting Texas crawls.
If you’re not from central Texas and know the name Jarrell, Texas, it is likely because of the massive tornados that struck the town in 1997, creating one of the most devastating natural disasters I’ve ever witnessed personally, being as landlocked as I am. Arguably the fires we get in these parts are worse but generally with fires, people are able to evacuate with some warning. The Jarrell tornados hit fast and with fury and destroyed so thoroughly that at least one family was wiped from the face of the earth. They were shredded in the winds and enough pieces were recovered to be able to legally declare people dead. Sturdy homes and trailers alike were leveled. We tell ourselves that our weather-predicting capabilities are far more sophisticated twenty years later but when a series of over 20 tornadoes is coming your way, there’s only so fast you can move to safety.
In fact, bizarre weather has made it hard to photograph some of the places I want to share here. The Columbus City Cemetery in Columbus, Texas, has some remarkable statues and a couple of pieces of interesting lore. One year massive fires kept me from going out there. This year Hurricane Harvey made a trip impossible. And the last two times I planned to go to a cemetery in Texas where supposedly there is a space alien buried, it snowed. Snow in Texas often borders on catastrophe and it is never particularly pretty more than two hours after it happens because it turns to slush, then into ice, and it’s a muddy, unappealing mess that results in more car crashes (when people like me try to drive on it) than snowmen.
But back to Jarrell, Texas. Years ago, Mr. OTC heard of a ghost town called Corn Hill that had a very interesting cemetery. When I hear “ghost town” I think of an abandoned western Main Street with boarded up shops and peeling clapboard houses. While there are a couple of abandoned buildings still standing, Corn Hill as a town relocated either to New Corn Hill (I am not making this up, I swear, and New Corn Hill boasts my favorite Texas cemetery to date) or was absorbed into Jarrell. The cause for Corn Hill dying is, of course, a railroad being laid a few miles in the wrong direction. At its peak, the town had around 350 citizens, a Mason lodge, a school, a post office, a stage stop and several churches. All that remains of Corn Hill are a few buildings and a cemetery. I will be sharing one of those buildings today and the cemetery tomorrow.
It’s amazing to me that this old house is still standing even after the tornadoes of 1997. I didn’t know the history of this place when I explored it. All I knew was that it looked interesting and that I have a complicated relationship with no trespassing signs. This building was once the hotel and the residence of John Shaver. Located just off I-35, this hotel and stage stop was built in the late 1870s.
But mostly the appeal of this building is how creepy it seemed initially. I guess plenty of fisherman use the “spike the head on a fence to skin the fish” method of descaling their daily catch but it will never not be creepy to see dead heads on barbed wire outside an abandoned house near dusk.
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: True crime will always have a tinge of the odd or bizarre about it for those of us who are definitely not the serial killer type.
Availability: Published by Ballantine Books in 2012, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Harold Schechter is one of my favorite true crime authors. I have several of his books covering the crimes of Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes, Jesse Pomeroy and others and one day hope to find myself with time to read some of his fiction. He writes in a manner that is both intelligent and accessible and manages to speak about the unspeakable without the bombast and disgust that I am sure would mar my writing were I ever to try to write about killers.
So given his skills, I should not have been so smug as to think this book had little to teach me. I’ve stated on this site before that up until 2000 or so, I knew about almost all serial killers, and I did know quite a bit. But I certainly knew far less than I thought I did because in this book of more obscure American killers, some of whom are serial killers or mass murderers, I only knew of three killers out of the thirty-one presented. Among poisoners, sex killers, lonely hearts murderers and family annihilators, I knew of the Smutty Nose Killer, an angry seaman who killed a house full of women for money; Carlyle Harris, a despicable seducer and poisoner; and William Edward Hickman, a kidnapper and mutilator. I had sort of heard of Andrew Kehoe, having come across his name in reference to school mass murderers, but had never read about him in any depth.
Since I am attempting to write quickly for Halloween, I’m going to write about the two murders I know best, and hope I can give justice to this compendium as I do it. A lot of the true crime encyclopedias out there are tiresome cash grabs, covering the same ground over and over and discussing intricate and fascinating murders in so little detail that the reader finds herself longing for text at least as comprehensive as Wikipedia. Not so with Schechter, and even if my discussion doesn’t resonate, you should look into him if his name is new to you. If it doesn’t resonate, it’s probably my fault.
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The photographs themselves are odd and unsettling, but this book came with unexpected (and sort of gross) surprises. Plus this book links David Lynch and the dude from Coil together and that has some odd potential.
Availability: Published by Jonathan Cape in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Sometimes the story of how I obtain a book is odd, though the story behind how I came to own this particular title is grimly predictable. Periodically, I will wake in the middle of the night and will take a sleeping pill to go back to sleep. This is problematic because I must take a Lunesta every night to sleep at all and am generally not really “awake” when I wake and take the second pill. Under the influence of double the dose I need to take, I will sometimes not go back to sleep. Sometimes I open my iPad and order strange fabric collections or, as you can guess, a load of books. I don’t know I’ve done this until I receive the shipment and wonder why it was sent and go online and see that I was shopping at four in the morning, ordering stuff from sites where my credit card is evidently stored in my account information.
And that’s how I came to own Haunted Air. Interestingly, I picked out books from my “wish list” so every book I ordered was something I wanted and none of them were too expensive, which was good since I ordered nine books. Since then I have kept my prescription anywhere other than the drawer of my bedside table and this hasn’t happened in about a year. I mention all of this because I personally find it creepy when I find evidence that I was moving around, engaging in activities I commonly associate with consciousness, when I was supposed to be sleeping. But given the popularity of hypnotics as sleep aids, this may not be creepy to others, especially Ambien users who wake to find they ate entire boxes of cereal with their hands or drove their car up to the Wag-a-Bag, executed a perfect parallel parking job, walked back home and went back to bed. Ordering books in an altered state of consciousness by most standards is vaguely creepy but largely benign.
That sort of describes this book, if you take out the “vaguely” and replace it with “rather.” This book really is rather creepy but largely benign, with any ill-intent coming from the reader herself. Ossian Brown has an impressive collection of old Halloween photos. The front page calls it “Hallowe’en” and the photos date from 1875-1955. I only mention the use of the precise but twee “Hallowe’en” because I really wanted to include this video wherein a Chloe Sevigny impersonator pronounces the word as written.
Back to the book. It occurs to me that the main reason this book is so creepy is because everyone takes about ten photos a day on their phone and so many of us are so very curated in how we appear, even when we disguise ourselves to celebrate pagan holidays. Endless Instagrams of intricate make-up jobs, exquisite costumes, spider-leg cupcakes straight from the latest Martha Stewart Living fall edition. We are hyper-aware of ourselves even when we appear candid. I personally won’t post photographs online if I find there is too much cat hair on the carpet or sofa, unless the purpose of the photo is to document the cat hair and even then I may use a filter.
So it’s unnerving to see people so nakedly and without guile wearing paper or burlap bags fashioned into masks. Church ladies with their hair up and their dresses buttoned to their necks wearing paper mache masks in scenes that are wholesome as wheat bread yet reminiscent of the set of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That sort of messy, archaic, unmatched, unincorporated Halloween is not a part of any American’s landscape any longer and the viewer of such photos can find herself in an uneasy place, understanding she is assigning a malignancy to plain-spun activities that was not intended by those in the photographs yet unable to stop herself from imagining someone in such a mask stabbing her to death.
Most of the photos in this collection are nightmare fuel. They are raw and primal, with a humble intensity that still surprises me when I revisit the photos. Here are some of the ones that set my teeth on edge.