Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Years ago, I was certifiably jumbled at a reading that author Ben Marcus gave at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, there on a promotional tour for his new novel Notable American Women. I hadn't read the book yet, but two things made me buy it that night, following the 45-minute appearance, without a second's hesitation. The cover of the book - a grayish, cream color with the look of a composition notebook and a clean line drawing of a mouth blowing three cumulonimbus clouds from it - was simple and inviting, making me love it as well as fostering a future infatuation with The Believer, a magazine that didn't even exist back in 2002. Little did we know. The second selling point was the unabashed absurdity that Marcus dispensed in cushy poetics that led to exhilarating puzzlement. He refused to give any hints about how his mind worked to create his bizarrely inspiring prose. Read the book the next week wherever I could, never understanding much, but noting turns of phrase that reared other thoughts.
You think differently when a guy writes things such as, "In a perfect world, nothing would have happened yet. Everything would go without saying. All of the sayings would be a given." on page 53; "Are mountains just a failure of wind?" on page 238; "Skin that smells the way milk would smell if it were really the tears of God." on page 49. You prefer to be lost. It's a buzz.
Jason Friedman, the lead singer of Brooklyn band The Boggs, operates in a similar fashion to the one that Marcus does. He throws the pieces of his popcorn trail down going in the opposite direction from the one that makes the most sense. He takes a broom to his tracks, wiping out any trace of where he came from. He staples these chippy outbursts and punky dispositions to raw guitars and shaky rhythms that sprawl from irritable to subconscious to Kinks-esque. He finds that the quickest way to getting attention is through his hyperactive lyrics that walk that fine line between making sense and the illusion of making sense - where nothing is what it seems and you can make it all suit your fancy. He makes choose your own adventures, with his lyrical fashioning spinning tales that seem folkloric, but are as modern as they can get. They capitalize on the power of words sounding like what they mean (twitching, gasping, etc.) and in the natural cadences of breaths and breathing.
It makes the heart pounding a usable instrument. It contorts conversations into wandering games that you can play 20 questions with and still need 40 more to form even the smallest crack in its shell. It's as if E.E. Cummings is running the show from the grave, showing off his sweet tooth for the kind of white hot sound that's gone and made a name for New York since long before CBGB had the first person graffitied on its backstage walls or piss against those in its bathrooms. They make their city proud and they continue a way of communicating that's noxious, if only for its addictive qualities.
*The Daytrotter Interview:*
*Have you or do you suspect you will challenge Doug Martsch to a game of hoops on this tour with Built To Spill? What do you suspect you could beat him in?*
Jason Friedman: He already beat us. Beat us bloody.
*Is there a living writer whose every piece of writing you'd read?*
JF: I've read all of David Markson. Wittgenstein's Mistress was just so amazing. Of new new writers, I think I'll be following David Mitchell closely.
Read all of his so far. His whole vision of things and places and people
overlapping is just wonderful. Just wonderful.
*Do you remember when you first realized that rock and roll owned you or could potentially own you?*
JF: When I was really young, back in the old-country, I loved Kim Wylde's "Kids
In America." My dad said, "Now you'll be able to really sing it. You're going
to BE a kid in America." America. So there I was in elementary school in America. At the time, I was religious with my listening to the Golden Oldies stations. After school, I used call up a phone number where you could play a quiz game on late 50's rock. I ruled at it. But I never collected any prizes for it. They always rattled off the number you had to call to collect this booty. I never got it down in time. nonethless, I won. I did. In junior high, things went quickly. In The span of about three months, I went from Gn'R to Zepplin through to Dinosaur Jr. Each one devistated me. Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and De La Soul all arrived at the same time. Screaming Trees, Afghan Whigs, by the time we got to "Nevermind," the game was already over.
*You got "what" on the radio?*
JF: I got clear on the radio. as in: There I was sitting in my flat. It was a dark winter and I was losing my mind. I couldn't tell if it was day or night. I though, "Oh this is not good. I'm losing the plot. If I don't see the sun soon I'm going to split in half!" The radio was playing. It helped settle me. I lay down listening to the news. "That's it, re-focused. right in the head." With a bit of the golden oldies and the like. Clear.
*What does Wade Boggs think of what you're doing? Which third baseman -- other than Boggs -- would you catch a beer with?*
JF: I have no idea. The band was named after Dock Boggs. Sorry Wade. Brooks Robinson.
*Was there a mission with Forts?
JF: Not so much a misson. But certainly themes. A Fort being something that
little kids make to play in and then something a bit more guarded in what
adults make to protect themselves. And then sometimes vice versa as vices
sort of take hold and the scene gets all a little blury. Speaking of which,
I'm sorry. It's really early and I have to go sit in a van. We're going to
Denver. Built To Spill. us. Game of basketball. Uh... I'm not really sure
what I'm talking about. Wait, what?