Anchors Aweigh

Holly says you’ve gotta have something to even you out if you’re gonna make it in this business.

Then again, Holly says that the President of the United States of America is probably some alien clone farm experiment sent to earth to enslave us all, but he’s basically right about everything else, so we try and cut him a little slack.  We in this situation being the whole team: me (Derleth, that is), Layton, Clara, and Giggs.

Holly’s something used to be a couple pints of Kentucky Gentleman before lunch, but that was last year.

That was the Presidential campaign.  So for about eight  months out of the year, we looked the other way.  The year and a half we on the team before that was a different story.

Then one morning last December, Holly came into the office sweaty and rough as usual, bleeding yellow perspiration through the pits of his button-up Oxford, sat down at his desk in the reporter pool – Holly says that in order to lead a team of fucking journalists, you had better be a fucking journalist – and vomited a liter of brackish, bourbon-scented blood into his trash can.  After which he proceeded to fall asleep with his face still in the bin.
After that, Holly stopped drinking.

But he never forgot what he had taught all of us – in order to make it here, you’d better have something to hold onto, something to dig your broken, ragged fingernails into to keep you even every time this job pulls the rug, and the world connected to it, out from under you.

Since December, for Holly it’s been old Ramones albums.  Leave Home, Rocket to Russia, Animal Boy, Too Tough To Die, Mondo Bizarro, he had them all, and listens to them on repeat.  Every time he feels anything other than that frenzied, journalistic fever to tell the entire fucking truth, kids that we all feel – hell, it’s why we took the job working for Holly in the first place – we can usually find he’s locked himself in his disused office with an old turntable and a pair of four-foot speakers from the seventies again.

The soundtrack for the rest of Holly’s life usually consists of, like the Ramones, music that, played loud enough, would wake the devil himself – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Flogging Molly, Monster Magnet, old stuff like that.

Layton’s something is a little different – he loves old detective novels.  Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, anything predating the widespread influence of the television featuring seedy characters and shady dealings, he’s there.  His collection is starting to eclipse his desk, the stacks of paperback novels lining the edge of it, making it look more like a pillow fort from when you were nine than the workspace of a professional journalist.  Holly berates Layton for being shameful and a goodfornothing slob, but the way he says it sounds like how old people curse their overpampered dogs in the most saccharine, affectionate way possible.

Clara and Giggs are lucky – they share the same something. And while Holly’s not the happiest that the something they share is a controlled substance, I think somewhere in the back of his head, he’s happy that it’s just weed, and not, say, fucking black tar heroin or vodka enemas.  Anyway, they’re both our resident techies, Clara and Giggs, and while they do some writing and reporting, their main concern is with keeping our personal rigs in top notch condition.  When they’re not picking apart my laptop or assembling a working electromagnet from old VCR parts, they’re usually out on the patio blazing one or four.

I think Holly would be more upset if it didn’t somehow improve the quality of their work.

And as for me?  I hate to seem so pedestrian, but my something is something pretty damn mundane, comparatively: I anchor myself to the world through the small pleasures of Peanut Butter M&M’s.

Before you ask, yes, I was a fat kid.

I know it sounds sick, but an entire half of my desk is dedicated to them.  Literally three full drawers full of bags of the things.  I’m always throwing them back, like Elvis and his painkillers, except I’m not wearing a white sequined velour tracksuit and ankle boots, and as far as I know, fat midwestern housewives don’t masturbate to their mental images of me.

I maybe go through two bags a day – not the little handheld packets, mind you, the party-sized bags.

More when I’m working on a story that’s really getting to me.  Like a lot more.  Like enough that I’m not comfortable sharing the exact number.

It’s actually getting to a point where I’m putting more chocolate and peanut butter in my body than I am water, and I cannot for the life of me imagine that that is a good thing.

But like Holly says, if you’re gonna make it in this business, you gotta have something.


On The Importance Of Mixtapes

“Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do’s and don’ts. First of all, you ‘re using someone else’s poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing.”
–Rob, High Fidelity

Here’s the thing about a good mixtape – it might be the best way I know how to communicate.

I mean, sure, I’m a writer.  Sure, words are what I deal in.  That might be true, sure.  But half the time (more than half the time if I’m being really really honest with myself) I’m not sure that I have the capacity to properly express myself.  There’s a reason I write fiction – I’m better at discussing the feelings and motivations and pathos of people I imagine up than for me to properly and clearly discuss my own.  So I make mixtapes.

(Now seems as good a time as any to mention that I do make mixtapes for the things I write, but it’s different, because it’s more like I’m compiling a soundtrack for the story than assembling songs around a specific theme or idea or message.  More on this later.)

And yeah, there’s a really good chance that I started this when I was fifteen and saw High Fidelity for the first time.  So what?  Ten years down the road, I’ve kind of feel like I’ve somehow gotten a little closer to making pretty good mixtapes.

Especially recently.

And yes, there’s a very good reason for that.

Recently, I’ve put together five mixtapes that, by and large, I consider to be exceptional.  Of course, there’s a reason for this too.

Mixtapes have got to come from somewhere else.  They can’t be like a scrapbook one keeps around just in case they get bored and want to work on something.  They’ve got to have intent.  They’ve got to have purpose, otherwise what’s the point?  Without purpose, you’re back in ninth grade with your stupid friends making them a mix CD of songs you love, with no coherence or style.

You’ve got to want to say something with your mixtape.

Say it outright in the title or let the message float around unsaid in the songs, the author’s got to know why they’re making the mixtape in the first place.  That’s the important part.  The songs ON the mixtape?  Those are there to support the core message.  That’s not to say the songs don’t matter, because the songs most definitely fucking matter.  They matter because they’re what you’re using to get your message across.

Picking the right song is just as important to the message as the message itself.  You can’t very well say a mixtape means I Will Love You Forever, Sweety! and then proceed to fill it with Slipknot and Cannibal Corpse songs.  What are you gonna use on that mixtape from their ouvre? People = Shit?  Or maybe Rancid Amputation?

That’s not to say that you can’t pull from a variety of sources – quite the opposite.  On one particular mixtape, I used Semisonic, The Beatles, Nine Inch Nails, Van Halen, The Kooks, System of a Down, and Jonathan Coulton (among others) to form a cohesive whole.  The songs themselves will work if they fit the message.  The message is what pulls them together.

The message is, to flog an old phrase, more than the sum of its parts.  Because not only are the songs important to the message of the mixtape, but the order in which you put them is just as important.  The generally accepted rule is to start it off with a killer, then step it up a notch, and then cool it down by the third track.  The idea is to formulate a kind of flow to the mixtape itself.

Look at it this way:  everybody made the bad decision somewhere in their teenage years to buy an album on the merit of a single solitary song, and we were all disappointed to find out that the album was little more than a collection of singles in a scatterplot order, none of which really managing to live up to the self-styled hype of that single.  There’s no logic or order to it, and there’s certainly no flow.  Those are the worst albums out there, the ones that have no direction.  So not only does it matter that I put Ben Folds’ Kate on the mixtape, it matters that it comes after Mike Doughty’s Nectarine (Part One) and before JJ Grey & Mofro’s She Don’t Know.

By the end of the mixtape, you want your message to be completely and unequivocally clear.

So, those five mixtapes I’ve made this year?  They all have a message, and they all more or less say it – not that I’m all that subtle of a man in the first place.  In chronological order, they are (the ones in the parentheses are the message I was trying to convey without making it the actual title of the mixtape):

1. (I know we’ve only been dating for a couple of weeks now but I really like you)
2. (Okay, so it’s really sudden, and I know you don’t want to fucking talk about it, but I am in fact actually in love with you)
3. Play Me When You’re Having A Bad Day And Feeling Distant
4. (Holy christ, we actually graduated college)
5. Play Me When You Are Overwhelmed

Personally, I love these mixtapes, but that’s probably because I love the person I made them for.  Which seems beside the point, but it’s really not.  Because mixtapes are an act of creativity and affection and caring.  Sure, someone could make an I FUCKING HATE YOU mixtape, but it wouldn’t be the same, and it wouldn’t really work, since they’d still have to take care to craft and shape and organize it to make it fit the message.  It would still mean something to someone.

That’s why I’ve always made mixtapes FOR people.  No matter what I say or how I act, or what comes of it, every real and actual mixtape I’ve made has been for someone, if I’ve given it to them or not.

Those five mixtapes?  They wouldn’t exist if I didn’t have something (or in this case, someone) to inspire them.

That’s the point I’ve been trying to make.  Mixtapes are like modern poetry – they’ve got to have a reason and a meaning and a message, they’ve got to have the right elements in the right places, and they’ve got to move fluidly.  Mixtapes have got to be inspired by something, like any other good piece of creativity.

Because if you’re going to make it, you had better damn well mean it.


Pax Americana

Ever since the war ended, things have been different.

Like there was ever any chance they wouldn’t be.

The oldtimers always made a point to tell us that war changes everything.  Touches everything.  Burns everything.  That when war comes – and it will come – there’s nothing you can do to hold it back.  There’s no seal you can put in place, no barrier you can build to stem the tide of war.  People are always going to think of new and horrifying ways to kill each other, there’s nothing you can do about it.  People are always going to hate.  These days, hell, for years and years now it seems like those words should be scratched into the Bill of Rights.  The Inalienable Right to Hate.  Carve it in ten-foot letters on Liberty Island, right where the Lady’s face used to be.

War’s always been a part of human nature – that’s something the hippies never got.  People are violent by design.  The only difference between society today and ten thousand years ago is the kind of weaponry we use.  From rocks and sticks to clubs and spears to swords to rifles to bombs to tactical nuclear strikes in a few millenia.  The future is yours to destroy.

For a while there in the early 21st century, it looked like we had done it.  We had destroyed the future with a grim finality, using the weapons of the zeitgeist.  Reality TV, fast food, pop music, fame, fortune, and everything that came with it.

Then came the election.  A nation’s long-standing dreams brought to fruition by the miracle of a galvanized youth vote.  For a second, the world brightened just a little bit, as hope had a moment’s reign.

But the timing was off, as is so often the case with these matters.  A preexisting war and rampant apathy proved to be too much, as it often does.  Within four years, hope gave way to fear and shame.  What was once the nation’s best chance became another mediocre footnote in the margins.

But it’s true what they say about the land of opportunity.  Second chances do exist here.

So when the state was threatened by a foreign threat brandishing new-gen hydrogen bombs, that very same footnote saw a chance to become the full-fledged chapter, or even volume, it had long dreamt of being.

So for the third time in ten years, the nation marched to war.

Red and white propaganda adorned every street of every city.  The alleys echoed with the thrump of combat boots and truncheons.  Government-sponsored hate rallies poorly disguised as town hall forums appeared everywhere.  Every other television channel became subject to government funded and produced programming.  Backs were slapped and hands were shook.  The skies and the earth blackened as fleets of planes blotted out the sun.  The draft was never reinstated, but enlistment benefits skyrocketed.  After a year or two, the youth couldn’t afford not to join up.  High-def cameras were installed on every street corner and every lamp post.

And after another two years, victory came to the nation’s shores.

Ticker tape parades were held.  Motorcades carried the returning heroes in domestic cars along every main thoroughfare in the country.  The war had been won, and for a fleeting breath of a moment, people thought peace had finally been beaten into the bones of the planet.  Surely prosperity was just around the corner.  The future had become a spoil of war.

Then they came.  Fifty by fifty,  eight feet tall and dressed in glossy silver.  They didn’t carry weapons, but only because they didn’t need to.  Bullets, blades and bombs did nothing more to then than scuff the sheen of their silver plating.  Punching holes in cars and buildings and women in children, they came the day our new heroes returned, unaware and unprepared.  Stomping through the streets like the heroes had done two years previous, they seized control of every city’s financial sector in under an hour.  By sunset, they had eradicated the military.

By sunrise, the nation was theirs.  His.

You see, while the eyes of the nation had been focused overseas where our heroes had been machinegunning little brown people, he had been working.  The man behind the goggles and the white lab coat had seen his chance.

The Doctor had recognized his moment.   A moment of glory, where there would be no war or pain or fear or choice.

And he was going to take it.

Ten years ago our worries were nothing more than how to fill our cars with gas and how to pay our medical bills and who would get punched out next on “Jersey Shore.”  Imagine that.  Imagine a world so simple.

Imagine a world not policed by Dr. Mephetic’s robot marauders.

Then you can talk to me about the “good old days.”


A Letter to The Editor

Somewhere in my head, there’s a picture of someone I don’t know yet.

He’s about forty five years old, and his thick, longer hair’s going gray at the edges of his temples.  Publicly, he grumbles about going prematurely gray, but everybody knows he thinks it makes him look dignified.  Truth be told, it does a little, not that anyone would justify his ego by telling him so.  The reading glasses covering his blue-yellow eyes ride lower on his nose than he’d probably like, but the fact of the matter is that he likes how he looks when he adjusts them, taking them by one of the arms and setting them higher, so they sit properly.  He does this about every ten minutes, maybe less.

He doesn’t have any facial hair, which is probably for the best, since he can’t really grow any – he never could.  He knows you know the type – when he doesn’t shave it just comes in patchy and prickly.  Used to be, when he didn’t shave he’d just have these soft patches of blonde nothing growing out of his lips and chin that he could shave off with a disposable razor and a little bit of hot water.  Anymore, he’s got to shave every day, because the patchy scruff has started coming in gray like the hair at his temples.

He’s still tall, tall as he was twenty years ago, though maybe these days he’s a little more tense around the shoulders, giving him a look of cultivated severity.  He’s clearly thinned out a bit from years previous, you can tell by his posture and the way his clothes fit.  If anyone had to guess, they’d say it’s probably due to too many late nights writing at his desk, with nothing but coffee and the stereo to keep him company, and not enough hot meals at the right times.  They’d probably be right.

He’s dressed like you’d expect, black shoes, faded jeans, vintage t-shirt that wasn’t so vintage when he bought it, ancient black overcoat fading into threadbare disrepair.  Hands in pockets thrust, he looks at you from behind those full-framed glasses with an arrogant smirk that suggests you came in just a second too late to get the joke.  When he takes his hands out of his pockets, you can see the ink stains cluttering his fingertips like random tattoos, blotches of oil-slick black and bleeding blues from where he spins his pens when he’s bored or thinking too hard.  He smiles slowly, a look that really makes the picture – he still smiles like he did in his twenties, like the cat that ate the canary.

It’s this smile that tells you everything you need to know about him.  Still arrogant.  Still clever.  Still a little mean and a little crazy.

Still selfish.  Still bitter.  Still sending the world hate mail.

Still the kind of guy that, for better or worse, is willing to pick a scab until it scars over, just to break it open again and start all over.

Still the kind of guy who’ll pull the rug out from under you if you blink.

And he is not scared of you.


the myth and mutation of superman

A perfect, blue-eyed baby boy drops out of the sky, unharmed, encased in a silver capsule, alien in design and in construction. Tearing a haggard, ugly scar across the Kansas landscape, leaving no stone unburned in its wake, this craft eventually loses momentum, coming to a halt on the Kent farm. Jonathan and Martha Kent, good, honest, hardworking American folk, discover this smoldering, oversized galactic bullet in their backyard and subsequently discover the perfect, raven-haired infant kept safe and warm inside. The Kents, maybe because they couldn’t have kids of their own, or maybe because they never really got around to it, decide to take and raise the apparent orphan as their own. They name him Clark and take him home, along with the mysterious craft he arrived in.

Fast forward some number of years.

Young Clark Kent, now a young man about his “home town” of Smallville, discovers he is possessed of certain amazing, otherworldly abilities. Abilities that, once harnessed and focused, can save not only Truth, Justice and The American Way, but can preserve whatever shreds of goodness are left on our tiny blue planet, orbiting our tiny yellow sun.

He’s super, man.

And that’s what he represents.

Hope. Redemption. Righteousness. Honor. Courage.

All from an alien.

The message, such as it is, is that these things don’t naturally occur on earth – not in any kind of enduring way, at least. We’re only mortal – we’re only human. We’re not perfect. But he is. Handsome, clever, thoughtful, strong, brave, moral, kind, fast, respectful, intelligent, generous, understanding, selfless, the list goes on. And on. And on.

The only thing he’s missing to complete the picture is a beard and a crown of thorns.

Then again, Charlie don’t surf and Jesus don’t fly. That we know of. That’s the thing about mythic power – it’s malleable. Over the years, Superman’s powers, thanks largely in part to the hubris of a variety of writers, have often been redpenned and correctional taped. Back in the day, Big Blue had strength enough to move entire planets, supergenius level intellect and memory, unlimited physical senses, the ability to fly at light speed, perceive the entire electro-magnetic spectrum, breathe in outer space and use something called “super-hypnosis.”

Come 1986, they decided to clip his wings in the interest of giving him a challenge, and to make it easier on the writer to do so. His power, mysterious as is, alternately explained by light from earth’s yellow sun, advanced Kryptonian evolution, or superdense cell structure, is in the end very fucking up for debate, depending on who’s behind the pen. Who’s to say that hasn’t happened with people’s old-school heroes?

Maybe Jesus could fly.

Or maybe he was a time-traveling cyborg who was so damaged in the crucifixion that it took him nearly three days to repair himself.

Think about a digital transmogrifier that can change water into wine and re-organize the atomic structure of five loaves of bread and two fish into a near-infinite nutritional feedback loop. Think about antigrav grip pads retrofitted with H2O treads. This is less a description of a celestial savior and more of a sci-fi movie monster.

If a man can walk on water and leap skyscrapers in a single bound and come back from the dead, then anything’s possible, however unlikely. A monster falls out of the clear blue sky and saves the world. Sounds like a bad joke, but stranger things have happened.

Just because they wear tights and capes and robes and sandals doesn’t make monsters any less monstrous. Just because they’ve got a winning smile doesn’t make them any less freakish.

So what happens when a monster that, after thousands of years of nothing but day-glo deities and synthetic superheroes, actually looks the part falls to earth with a sight to save us all?

How happy are we scared little earthlings to see our freaksavior then?


Shane Koyczan

The man speaks for himself.



Nine days short of six months, a complete artistic overhaul (courtesy of one Mr. K. Dixon), and a severe reduction of my intarwubs-presence later:

I am *still* Matthew Lyons and this is *still* Lies and Chicanery.

And I have been watching you.

Oh, yes.