Scrapbooking, Silence, Slint

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This Rabbit Hole is about scrapbooking and poetry... Wait! Come back! It's also about post-punk indie-rock. (Ok, you can go if you like none of those things.)

Yeah, I keep scrapbooks. What of it? Not like your Aunt Helen does, but, hell, there's nothing wrong with what she does either.

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I started scrapbooking twelve years ago, during a particularly crappy period when my insomnia was keeping me up all night with nothing to do. It’s activity without any real purpose that seems to quieten down whatever's going on in my head, and helps me ride out the unwanted wakefulness.

I was inspired by William S. Burroughs who was a compulsive scrapbooker and hoarder of news clippings, fragments and images. (You can see an example of his stuff here). I copied his love of scrapbooking and skipped the heroin addiction and fetish for firearms.

In an interview in the Paris Review, talking about how important scrapbooking was to his creative process, Burroughs said,

"In one sense a special use of words and pictures can conduce silence. The scrapbooks […] are exercises to expand consciousness, to teach me to think in association blocks rather than words. […] Words, at least the way we use them, can stand in the way."

Once I started, scrapbooking quickly became a way of inducing silence when my mind was too busy for sleep.

Over the years, my adventures in scrapbooking have been pretty haphazard, but that’s what scrapbooks do best. Mine, like most people's, are full of college, quotes, trivia, photos, and bits of memorabilia. To me, they’re pretty sometimes and pretty ugly when they need to be. They’re cool and daggy, a dependable source of pride and embarrassment, and like Burroughs said, a means to finding a useful, creative, inner silence that's somewhere just beyond the horizon of words and thinking.

I remember one evening-slash-early-morning that was really enjoyable. For some reason, I don’t know why, it was probably 3 or 4am, and I was listening to Slint’s “Good morning, Captain” over and over. A friend of mine had lent me a copy of their album, Spiderland (1991), and I was blown away. I kept thinking, ‘They sound like my favourite Perth bands! They’re like O!, Adam Said Galore or Mukaizake.’ And since I fell in love with those bands before I fell in love with Slint—in my mind, till this day—Slint was influenced by our music scene, not the other way round.

There’s something indescribable about “Good Morning, Captain.” I was so taken by it, and I just had to do something while I was listening to it over and over. I printed out the lyrics and set them out. I felt a little dumb doing it—like some fan-boy writing the names of his favourite bands on his pencil case at school (ooops, I kinda just did that above, swapping a pencil case for a blog)—but I also didn’t care because it was just for me and no one else to see. (Damit, what am I doing showing it you?! Oh fuck it, anyway…)

“Good Morning, Captain" is so enigmatic. The song is chilling, discordant, driving, delicate, fragile, heavy—a sound that's always threatening to topple over or blow up. The vocalists speak rather than sing, and lyrics themselves put me in this room, this place, a dark place. It still gives me the same chills listening to it now as it did when I first heard it. It makes me frightened, and fascinated.

When I was a kid, the prog-rock concept album, War of the Worlds(1978), was really popular. The album is kitsch and terrifying with Richard Burton doing the narration. My folks had a copy, and they would send me to bed and put it on the hi-fi system that my dad, an electronics enthusiast, had built for himself. They were trying to be responsible parents to me as a 7-year old—or however old I was—by not letting me listen to it. But what they didn’t know was that, by sending me to bed, they had created the perfect conditions to experience that album, lying in the dark, hearing the whole thing from start to finish from the other room—alone, terrified.

“Good Morning, Captain” gives me the same feeling as the War of the Worlds album did back then, but in an even more wonderfully sublime way, probably because it's more literary, visual and textural than its campy, disco counterpart.

It's kinda like poetry in a way, but a more immersive version of it.

Not letting words and meaning get in the way

I'm comfortable characterising what Slint does as poetry because what the hell does ‘slint’ mean anyway? ‘Slint’ is not a word. It sounds like a portmanteau—like how 'fog' and 'smoke' are crammed together to make the word 'smog.' ‘Slint’ sounds like it might be a combination of slit, or stint, or sling, or slut. It’s sort of slang, slant, glint, hint and all of those  things all at the same time, and to me, that’s the definition of poetry—all partial glimpses, all innuendo, and no one connotation.

Poetry, and all works that are ‘poetic’—which I'd count certain types of film and visual art (including, of course, scrapbooking)—simultaneously point in multiple directions, never settling on any one pathway. The words and images paradoxically create an organised space that defies proper, ordered meaning. Poetry can be anything it pleases—like it can be pornographic but not ‘porn.’ It’s the brush of someone against you at a bar that’s full of exciting possibility, and nothing that could become disappointing by being acted upon. I guess that’s what I like about scrapbooking and Slint and all those other bands—it’s that sense of possibility. Poetry and poetic things, well the way I think of it, is a position you can occupy, inhabit, dream in, and see what you want to see.

I guess my point is that poetic things don't have to mean anything in particular; you just have to let them take you where you want to go.

It reminds me of that e.e. cummings poem with the lines…

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

[…]

–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

cummings’ poetry is often pure ‘form’ and a burlesque of meaning. What you saw in those lines just now is not what I saw, and it won’t be the same the next time we revisit it.

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Just read the poem again if you don’t believe me, or listen to “Good Morning, Captain”, O!, Adam Said Galore, Mukaizake or Radarmaker—or, if those things don’t appeal to you, anything else that gets at you from the place beyond words and thinking.

Rabbit