Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
People are bottomless. Those clear plastic replicas of the human body - with the skin invisible and different insets to give candid looks at the organs and other necessary pieces to the circuitry and plumbing of man - don't really do any justice for the magnitude of the capacity of all the individual parts. Science is wrong when it suggests that the average size of the human brain is between 1350 and 1400 cc and the average human heart can weigh between 9 and 12 ounces. There's much more there to measure and The High Strung's Josh Malerman has put himself in the business of getting into the 1500 and 2000 cc parts of the brain and into the 30th ounce of the average heart.
These heads that he sidles into are not simply propped upon the flat end of necks. They've actually been known to stretch out to the same circumference as the clock face on Big Ben and the hearts are as deep as wishing wells, filled all the way to the tops, making a coin's drop a short flight and the plunk a thick, beefy one. He devises so many of these cavernous body parts that he should be running out of material - he should be running out of complicated lives to sing about. One could worry about him, wonder when the people stop becoming memorable enough to write anything interesting about them. Malerman's rarely the narrator - he speaks of these people, telling the stories in a caring third-person way and there's a little birdie out there hinting that more of the autobiographical might start interacting with the fictional puree to murk up the waters - but instead he's just the messenger for the museum curator and these others who have become ill with love and woozy with all of the depravities of life.
He, bassist Chad Stocker and drummer Derek Berk are the spokespeople for those impoverished many, whose whims and disappointments and typically hidden but fascinating everyday stories are never usually given an ear and while these are all the bright ideas of Malerman, the stories are nonetheless those prime examples of ones that are kept underground or on the backside of garages, out back. There are poisoned truths and nuggets of jangly clarity that are just laid out before us, getting glazed with a varnish that helps present these hunched over subjects and dejected folks as we would appear in similar situations. The art museum curator in the aptly titled "The Curator," gets jealous when he looks around the room at all of the framed and lauded over masterpieces and thinks that he can do better if only people could see his work. He repeats that he's got the keys, he's got the keys and sings, "What have they got that I haven't got/They're beyond compare cause I'm one up on 'em there/I've got the keys/I've got the keys/They gave them to me." It's not an improper jealousy in many ways, just the way people feel when there are no eyes on them.
Malerman seeks out the natural instincts that usually get coated over and it's nothing short of enlightening in that exuberant, beer-soaked and slightly awkward way. The High Strung helps make your heart get fattened and your imagination get sharpened like the end of a stick and it's easy to picture Malerman working like a starving novelist, bringing all of these dear characters to life in a dimly lit study or writing room without a window for distraction and just a bendy light screwed into place at the edge of the wooden desk. One imagines he stares at the wall and works all of these people out in his head, constructing them from the shoes on up - getting drunk and filling up an ashtray full of ashes, the only remnants of all those hours stewing over the mental picture of just how these people were going to move, talk and exist for all time. The air is stale with the smoke and poor circulation as he chuckles at the life he breaths like Mister Gepetto did.
*Essay published December, 2007