Monday, October 26, 2009

Needles & Pills

Last year when Anthony Neil Smith announced the idea to do a themed issue of Plots With Guns set 500 years in the future and call it Plots With Ray-Guns, I geeked out and thought "I've got to be part of that". I worked out what I believed to be the perfect story for the issue and submitted it waaay early. Rejected. "Too Sci-fi". WTF? With just a touch of bitterness I checked out the issue when it was published and one of the first pieces I hit was Kieran Shea's Koko Takes a Holiday. Oh, shit, I thought, so that's WTF ANS was holding out for. Some balls out prose that was so electrifying it could've been about uh, flowers or the weather or a sale at the GAP and still held my attention. I recently told Kieran this and he confessed it was his 3rd attempt to get into the issue. So there you have it. We both wanted in. I was told "no" and quit. He was told "no", came back again, was told "no", came back again with an amazing piece that couldn't be turned down. You and I could both learn a thing or two from K-Shea, who by the way is guest blogging today in the Narrative Music series.

"Lord I'm Discouraged"

When Jed asked me to contribute to this blog tangent, I immediately went to a song that’s been in my heavy iPod rotation— “Lord, I’m Discouraged” by The Hold Steady. This song just breaks your goddamn heart with a sledgehammer…a lover’s unanswered prayer for a girl decimated by the horrors of hard addiction.

Despite the band’s reputation for rousing, humid anthems to youth passed, lyricist and lead singer Craig Finn has a deeper storyteller’s marrow laced deep in his bones. Maybe it’s the Irish Catholic thing, I don’t know, but troll through the band’s catalog and you’ll find his songs are populated with very troubled characters. Men and women sifting through the wreckage of indiscretions and indulgences, striving for grace in an unforgiving world.

The brilliance of Finn is his ability to define scenes with targeted thrift. Just when you think a line will end predictably, he’ll whip it around and sucker punch you. Kind of like early Springsteen back when “the Boss” had a pair of hairy wind chimes dangling between his legs (another discussion entirely). For example, in “Lord, I’m Discouraged” right before an achingly sweet and cresting guitar solo, Finn employs this line to sum up a drug deal:

“This guy from the north side comes down to visit, his visits they only take five or six minutes…”

Either observed or participated in, Finn knows the dark side. Drug dealers of serious weight rarely stick around after a buy.

“Lord, I’m Discouraged”

Lord, I'm discouraged
the circles have sucked in her eyes
Lord, I'm discouraged
her new friends have shadowed her life
Lord, I'm discouraged
she ain't come out dancin' for some time
I try to light candles
but they burn down to nothin'
and she keeps comin' up with
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
There's a house on the southside
she stays in for days at a time

I know I'm no angel
but I ain't been bad that way
Can't you hear her?
She's that sweet missing songbird
when the choir sings on Sunday
And I'm almost busted
but I bought back the jewelry she sold
And I come to your altar
But then there's just nothin'
and she keeps insisting
the sutures and bruises are none of my business
she says that she's sick
but she won't get specific
the sutures and bruises are none of my business
This guy from the north side
comes down to visit
His visits they only take five or six minutes

Lord, I'm sorry to question your wisdom
but my faith has been waverin'
Won't you show me a sign
let me know that you're listenin'
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
Excuses and half truths and fortified wine
I know it's unlikely she'll ever be mine
so I mostly just pray she don't die


jedidiah ayres said...

Kieran asked me to post something called a "link" to the song in there and I said a what? This is the internets with the words and pictures and stuff, but he said some fancy schmancy computers play sounds and music and even tv to ya which kindly blew my mind. I'm sure if you emailed him, he'd send you one of those "links"

Kent said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kent said...

Great post post, Kieran. And a damn good song.

There probably is something to that Catholic guilt you mentioned, since their second record, Separation Sunday, is basically a concept album about said guilt.

Iren said...

I also submitted for Plot's with Ray Guns and got the big --NO-- So I went back to the drawing board and wrote that I think is a much better story-- Only I never submitted it, cause it was too short, and I jsut couldn't pad it out. ANS was nice enough in his e-mail, and I had to agree with his issues with the submitted story, but I have to admit I am a little gunshy about sending him anything else.

maybe someone should do and blog somewhere of the rejected stories from that issue.

Unknown said...

Kent I think guilt is a prevailing theme through out all of their music. Check out Boys & Girls in America, it's nothing but sexual tension and guilt over natural desire. The Hold Steady are just about my favorite band going. Good one, Kieran.

Neil said...

I'm still waiting for the next big Ayres PWG story. And I'll reject em all til you send me the right one! C'mon!

Kieran Shea said...

See? This is why Neil is the best bellwether hatchetman. Two rejections and I was just goaded into going gonzo.

Greg said...

Koko kicked ass. ... And Jed, c'mon. Links. You can do it. I know you can.

Steve Weddle said...

Nice pick and write-up, sir.

Images, storyline, even those emotion things. Good tune.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Keiran, I had forgotten about the dogged way you got in that PWG. That's how to keep throwing yourself at it. And you better, because you're *that good*. I'll kick your ass if you don't (okay, Karin will, but I'll be cheering)

Scott Phillips said...

Niel Smith is the only editor who regularly makes me cry.

jedidiah ayres said...

Iren - thick skin, my man

Neil - saw you recently upped the word limit, so maybe I've got something for you... maybe

Greg - You've heard of these "links" too huh?

Unknown said...

Great piece Kieran, and I was turned down for the PWG with Ray Guns also, Reason being: my short wasn't far enough into the future, so Flesh Rule went through some minor edits to make it more modern day. Was slated for August. Neil Smith is without a doubt one helluva of an editor and friend to all the crimedogs.