"Furman Pivo believes he [plus beer] may be the cause of a rash of streetlight outages. This sense of empowerment transforms him into the Beer Mystic. He has a mission and a mandate. Or does he? In any case, 1987 NYC will never be the same and the rest is history or myth or delusion."
Bart Plantenga was once the editor of WFMU's LCD Magazine. Nowadays, he's working on a book called "Beer Mystic: A Novel Of Inebriation And Light". Each chapter of the novel is being published on a different website - the full list of chapters is viewable here, chapter 31 is at Onomatopee and chapter 32 is below in this post.
As a mantra of some mendacity, Djuna’s “I’m so tired of faking orgasms for your benefit” had begun to attain a screechy hollowness the more that others [Nice, Elsa, et al.] contradicted her. Corn flakes and a flat Belgian Palm is breakfast. Was my black-eye voodoo – the dowsing of streetlights – just an exercise in selective perception or was there an element of psychokinesis involved? Was I consciously making things happen? More reading. More Nice research. Stay tuned.
In bed, when things used to work with her – the horsehair wig, the canicular incense, three strips of raw bacon down my brief front, and the virgin suctorial massage oil allowed Djuna to envision someone else girding her jutting hip bones. Even insisted I say certain things in a certain way, things I suppose he’d say. Mr. Times Square or the Brechtian clothes bandit? Did he still wear my clothes?
She might slap in a cassette of Eric Clapton’s Greatest Hits. This reminded her of the 8-track in his car, a vintage ’58 Oldsmobile customized in a very post-modern way so that totally uncool became cool again. “When you held an 8-track you knew the technology was somehow a future in reverse.” This goes for many of the bands of sad optimism as well, bands that had made careers of turning rock ’n’ roll into spiritual profit, bands she remembered that would get at the tautest span of my tympanic membrane inducing – when combined with injudicious imbibation – the secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, which eventually causes the nerves to send a distress signal to the brain that the stomach’s bile and bad meals are malevolent cargo that must be expelled through vomiting. With great urgency. Equation: bad rock + cheap liquor = puke.
Our scenario – the orgasm as harbinger of imminent collapse, the euphoric peak as linchpin of denouement – had, by then, become complete. I was someone else. An intermediary, a mnemonic dildo. I eventually had to burn that wig. It looked silly anyway. Itched like a mockery of a mockery. The satire molding into the very thing it satirized.
I insisted she accept me for who I was. So she promptly began ignoring me altogether as much as my bad habits allowed. Walk right through me. Made sure I kept my luggage packed near the door. Helped me look for a new sublet. Even asked Mr. Times Square if he couldn’t find me a dank basement of some affordability somewhere far away.
“Anywhere, anywhere, as long as it’s outta my hair,” she sang. I had gone the way of some flesh. I threatened to leave, fairly regularly, walk out forever. Her belly laughs echoing in the hall. I had just recently given her a cassette mix of five versions of “Don’t Mess With My Tutu” I’d played at the station. I called it my “aural bouquet” – a peace offering, a way of staying longer with the unpaid rent mounting. Why do I bother?
Little did I know this tape would soon be used against me. She began to take to it. Take from it. Began to sing along with it, percussively punctuating the beat with sharp punts to my beer luggage. Singing loud enough to obliterate both my corporeal and any remaining spiritual presence I might’ve had left in this hellhole.
I have many obscure things on tape: Sounds that have been culled from the brink of the underside; items melding speculative electronics to the bleating of a rare wildebeest; bands that strip every fourth note out of show tunes – plundering fantastically the notions of popular song. Someone from Kew Gardens named Samuel Perps who claimed he regularly channeled Samuel Pepys and Samuel Johnson: “A man’s never happy for the present, but when he is drunk.” Military marches transformed into dance music – ransacking it to turn it upside-down and against itself. The more obscure [the Residents doing John Philip Sousa in a submarine, Eugene Chadbourne performing “Creator Has a Master Plan,” the Dingleberries covering Satie and Del Shannon, or “I’m Sorry” by the Inflatable Boy Clams] the more firepower it contained. The more dissonant [Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or Merzbow Lite] and a Japanese album of airplanes taking off from Tokyo International Airport, or the more frenetic [Rahsaan Roland Kirk] or excellent site recordings of Greenland glaciers collapsing into the sea at 110db, the more I could temporarily dismantle the new clean calm that Djuna had discovered in her new job. A haughtiness that separates the wheat germ from the chaff. Djuna had also been receiving phone calls bloated with sinister silence, the kind that linger, simmer, terrorize. They occur only when I’m not around and she is sure its me and Kelly and Rita and... “It’s probably Kelly’s Texas Chainsaw sense of humor.”
It is certainly not Elsa Triolet who recently told me her name was a source of great anxiety, because her namesake was a famous Russian fast- living bohemian, and the more kids mocked the French pronunciation that she insisted on – Trio-LAY – the more she became known as an easy lay or the opening syllables of a Bavarian yodel song. Which spiraled into a strange almost self-induced enslavement to this cruelty and led further to her contemptuously fulfilling their wildest notions of “easy.” All confessed to me while Elsa was soaking in a bathtub of warm beer to make herself more attractive to me. This is what sometimes redeemed Elsa, her ability to make the desperate into something playful. Afterward, I see images from an old Fellini movie: a plumply voluptuous woman is being teased by children on a beach.
Djuna’s new exercise regimen truly bugs me. It combines mundane everyday activities with exercise. New sunlamp bulbs have replaced the regular reading/combing-hair bulbs. She throws out anything that might be mine, including, I suspect, some vintage empties. Builds up her calves and thighs while waltzing along to André Kostelanetz. There is a preparatory
feeling, spring’s in the air and she is bursting at the seams. She even sips tea, eats soup with ankle weights around her wrists. All this drives me to early beer, and throws off precisely calibrated biorhythmic feeding schedules. I stare at the dull walls. What can I tell Georg or the sour ladies when they glare at me in the hall?
The disc jockey part of me fell to new lows [misuse of power] whenever I engaged Djuna in cassette combat. She sometimes wore headphones to bed to tune out the phone or my breathing or the clink of green bottles as I set about to pull them from the luggage and, yet again, rearrange my bottles to give me a sense of where I am going with who I am becoming. To be forever departing without leaving, to stay and not be present, to be forever in the entranceway on the way out.
Or she might plug in one of her endless-loop cassettes – her “Life Support System” – to tune out car alarms and smoke alarms and me. It’s the sea and the wind with gulls in the background. A free extra for having gone on a Club Med holiday. Going out in New York is essential, you see, because so many people in so many so small living spaces are dividing these living spaces into even smaller spaces by living with people they do not know and do not like. Some may call it marriage or cohabitation but the line of greeting cards calls it “roommates from hell.”
Some days she doesn’t even take her headphones off – from breakfast to work to gym. This, for her, makes the city bearable. An agreeable container of sound. There were many to blame for her unhinged so-called lifestyle. It was them and I was the main one of them.
But before she met me she had no inkling that cassettes could be more than mere consumptive devices; she had no idea they could be creative devices or implements of torture. She did not know that all over the world rare people in outback bunkers and pirate radio stations communicated via cassettes. She did not know that entire lives could be found on cassette. Or maybe she did but just didn’t care.
Not only had Djuna begun to tape over my priceless cassettes [with shit radio!] but she’d also begun to appropriate a lot of MY life soundtrack songs for herself. In other words, recycling on numerous levels. And with her headphones on she could sing along at strategic junctures in our coexistence. She had actually managed to turn these prerecorded friends against me. You got to hand it to her.
She had already appropriated for HER arsenal: 10 versions of “Mack The Knife” [including the Harmonicats], Butterbeans and Susie’s “I Wanna Hot Dog For My Roll,” Gale Storm’s “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” and Sidney Bechet’s “Laughing In Rhythm” and that rare vinyl compilation gem from Topeka “The Assholes Cover Other Assholes.”
Advertising works this way, too – appropriating key songs that used to inform the heart and then re-routing them to stimulate affairs of the wallet instead. You make a list and it’ll sound like a funeral oratory of your fondest memories attached to certain songs.
Just the other day she made off with Mae West’s “I Like a Man What Takes His Time.” This is provocation. A heightened call to increased security. And “Bing Bang Bong” by Sophia Loren. Their mere association with her forces me to erase them from my repertoire. I can’t listen to them any more. And then she just alters the lyrics to suit herself – and persecute me. This is a
form of psychic colonization. No other way to describe it. She has even begun to color-code the cassettes by moods with nifty colored dots lifted from work. Or is it the mood commiserated? Or alleviated? She has also begun to lock them away in her dresser. Wears the key around her neck.
I’ve begun to retaliate. There are songs she doesn’t like and will never like, and these are the ones I now embrace and seek refuge in. “Le Twist du Canotier” by Maurice Chevalier is one, anything sung by a man in French but especially Eddy Mitchell would also qualify. She also hates Merzbow and John Cage, especially “4’33”.” I took this kind of sparring seriously. I rifled through her things, souvenirs, weird Polaroids of her topless in the arms of bleary-eyed men, key rings from places I’d never heard of. And eventually I ran across her prized cassette, Eric Clapton Live. To her credit, it wasn’t so much the quality of the music as what the music evoked for her. I covered the knockout tabs so I could record over her Eric. I had thought long and hard about what I’d use to erase this part of her identity, so caught up in her memories of a simpler times when men had muscle cars and 8- track tape decks. My skin prickled with delight.
Over “Layla” I recorded Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel.” One memory sinisterly obliterating another. It was like smothering someone with her own pillow. It was voodoo. Foreplay. And the early bio-psychological signs of tumescence amused me. I could just grab the clump of unraveling swelling and wag it in her general direction and say simply “SEE?!” Over “Bellbottom Blues” I laid down Dada Frolic’s “Jackass Song,” which she found “totally excretory.” Suddenly they’re becoming my faves. Other noisemakers she can’t bear: Reverb Motherfuckers, Pussy Galore, Shockabilly, Haters [waterfalls of broken glass], Diamanda Galas [opera sung from a bed of nails], Zoviet France [reprocessed found sound loop de loops from the North of England who on their Ergot-Go album tried to interpret the hysteria caused by ergot, or a naturally occurring fungus on various grains. The consumption of grains tainted with ergot induced hallucinations, the seeing of god, and outbreaks of “dancing sickness” portrayed in some of Brueghel paintings], Butthole Surfers [the cynical solipsistic implosion of punk], BoyDirtCar, Spike Jones, Mark Stewart and the Maffia, Étant Donnés [stylish French obscurantism], Albert Ayler [primal sax therapy], and any scat singing or yodeling. Yodeling to her was a sign of impending insanity. It is what men did who were about to experience castration. Said the decapitated heads of the executed probably yodeled as they were being skewered on wrought iron pikes. She had recently tossed my cassette of Jimmy Rodgers’ “Collected Blue Yodels #1–14” that Kelly had copied for me against the kitchen wall. I still find shards of the plastic entering the soles of my feet. This makes forgetting difficult, painful. “D for Delaware, D for Dopey, D for Djuna / That gal that made a wreck outa me.”
I think of Kelly when he spots a homeless person and regularly says “That’s me in 10 years.” I think of Kelly because I am now fiddling and rewriting these same notes over and over again. The crazy thing is nobody – well, maybe Djuna, and Nice has seen a selection – has ever seen them before. Like grafitti on the inside of your skull.
“Same wid scat singing. Yodeling drove Goethe nuts and no wonder.” So, it was with some mission that I traveled uptown into the East 90’s to attend the Oktoberfest in Manhattan’s Germantown – a fair where the streets are paved with plastic cups. I combed the candy-striped maypole and edelweiss decorated stands and stalls for yodeling tapes and some “real” spiked German helmets from World War I. I found three – “Yodel With Cowbells and Beer Steins” by the Wild Kirchli, “Mein Liebster Jodler” by Maria Hellwig, and “Jodler und Musik mit Bravour” by the Brigitt’s Trio [Brigitt on the cover in miniskirt and dirndl] – that seemed to particularly exemplify an aspect of schizophrenia, i.e., the “annoying” ability of yodelers to sing harmony with themselves.
After scoring the yodel cassettes and LPs, my mission still held two folds: Discover good beers and find the REAL St. Pauli Girl, rumored to be in attendance this year. Ever since I’d been a teen I’d been fascinated [aroused?] by the directive “Enjoy a Nice Cold St. Pauli Girl” – the first occasion of sexual innuendo linked to the inebriatory pleasures offered by beer or at least a beer bottle label.
I careened through the hordes, through the shadows cast by the housing projects, asking every fetching gal with sun-reflecting-off-clear-lake-eyes, in traditional skirts, puff sleeves and lace bodice, “Bist du die mädchen von St. Pauli?”
At the stands I enjoyed imagining their flesh bursting out of their hastily tied bodices. I also enjoyed saying, “Ein bier, mein schatze.” Wondering aloud whether, to them, beer was masculine or feminine. I met a young couple, Johan and Margaret, brewers from Bavaria, who’d emigrated from Germany because they’d been unable to convince German officials to allow them to name their first child Bierstübl or Beerhall, because it may “endanger the well-being of the child.” I was fascinated by how easily pagan imagery [goats, maypoles, reindeer, trees] had been incorporated into Christian iconography. And how this was affected by the inebriating modus of beer. As well, I was interested in how cozily religion stood in proximity to the bacchanalian excesses encouraged by beer. How one thrived on the other and vice versa. Sister Doris served us Mallersdorf in flugelhorn-shaped steins. “In Germany priests and nuns regularly sit down with you at long tables to taste the new doppelbocks,” Margaret noted. “How come breweries so often use the cross on their label?” I inquired. “This makes it your Christian duty to drink.” Johan said with some gest. “Ja, der Priest thanks unseren Gott, blesses the new batch, then leads the singing of praises to the ur-bocks,” Margaret added. “Jägermeister has that deer with antlers and a crucifix right above its head.” I wanted to come off as scholarly. The regular lifting of huge iceberg- thick one-liter steins helped Doris maintain a wonderful muscle-tone in her arms and shoulders.
“‘Danke meine grosse Gott,’ is what it is saying in the stained glass above the entranceway of the brewery native to our village.” Margaret said. “So your gods and priests ain’t worried about how close you get to divinity with the help of beer? They don’t feel threatened?” “Not at all. Gott protects our right to pleasure,” Johan corrected. “Wow! Tha’s my kinda god.”
“You see, water that is blessed is a sacrament, a sign of the spiritual effects of our Gott. You pray through them for Gott to accept the prayers of those who use these blessed things like water with reverence.” Margaret. “Water is full of mystery – that’s why people find it frightening to swim in the ocean at night.” Johan.
“Yes, it can express something spiritual, it cleanses and purifies.” Margaret. “Beer, which is of course 99% water, is doubly imbued with the mystery. A Belgian Lambic, for instance, can be traced in the etymological sense to the Middle English alambic, now alembic, meaning anything that transforms, purifies, or refines.” Johan. We have some admiration for the Belgians and their beer.”
“I see your point.”
“Not all yet. I have more. An alembic lamp, for instance, provides heat and also light, a special kind of light.”
“A light that purifies?”
“Ja, and more. The word alembic continues back to the Arabic for still, stillness and tranquility, or perhaps still, as in distilling device consisting of a vessel – the Greek ámbix means cup – in which a fluid is heated and vaporized and a cooling coil condenses the vapor.” Johan.
“Wasn’t alcohol the first liquid we knew that dissolved organic compounds such as fat, like something that can aid the disappearance of fat, substance, façade, or impediment to spirit?”
“Perhaps you have taken it further. But it is no accident the association between spirit as in manifestation of soul and ‘spirits’ which can mean the essence or active principle of a substance, or even besser, a highly distilled liquor.” Margaret. Their motto was obviously: TO KNOW MORE IS TO ENJOY MORE.
“Yea, you mean like spirit, the soul, like yuh know, you can almost feel soul in the cognac vapors clinging to the sides of a brandy snifter.”
“Pear-shapes, and perfect as the breast of a woman who loves you... dare I say, breathless.” Johan looked at Margaret. Margaret smirked and seemed to offer me her eyes to drink of, they seemed to say: the fewer resentments you harbor, the happier your life will be. But then her eyes were beckoned from back in the festive crowd and she curtsied and he tipped his Bavarian felt hat and they disappeared into the maelstrom of the folk dancers twirling one another until their red-beet faces blurred beyond recognition.
Beer Mystic Chapter #33 is at De Player >>
bart plantenga is also the author of Wiggling Wishbone and Spermatagonia: The Isle of Man both published by Autonomedia. His book YODEL-AY-EE- OOOO: The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World received worldwide attention. He is currently [not] working on a new novel, Paris Sex Tete, which lies around like an apathetic, half-clad, dissheveled paramour while his new book on yodeling Yodel in HiFi, will no doubt be a bread-winner of epiglottal proportions. His radio show Wreck This Mess has been on the air since 1986, first on WFMU [NY], then Radio Libertaire [Paris], and finally Radio 100 and now Radio Patapoe [Amsterdam], the world’s most untamed and oldest pirate radio station. He lives in Amsterdam.