Horror Movies / Part 1 "Getting help from unlikely places"
As a life-long horror fan, be it movies or books or model figurines etc, there’s a sense of calm (or at least acceptance) attached to my feelings about cancer. I’m not sure if having a particular love of night creatures, mystery & crime stories (and the "body horror" of David Cronenberg's films, the surreal and sometimes terrifying science fiction writing of J.G. Ballard) means that I’m more or less prepared for the presence of death in our everyday conversation. I don’t mean to be lazy or careless with that statement… it’s just that morbidity and other life-ending commentary is part of the reality of having a serious illness. It’s appropriate to be humble in the face of that word, “death”, because it allows it to be talked about freely. It has to be admitted into the room, outside of the safety that fiction allows, and spoken of in plain words. A certain fascination and occasional obsession with darkness and death influences most of my writing and music… but that fascination has made certain moments in the last few months seem less frightening. It’s kinda like – I imagined there was a monster under the bed for so long that the shock of finding one there was actually lessened.
Somehow, in my life, I feel a weird sense of peace… peace from an unlikely source. I don’t like to use words like “deserve” and I don’t need to ask “why is this happening to me, my wife, my family?” - It comforts me to think of this experience as just a form of nature – grandly and randomly, nature in all its variables. I don’t look for supernatural meanings for this strange disease… Nature is imperfect, nature cannot always balance the trials of the body, so people have illness and those people and their families do their best to be strong and brave. Seriously, I am reasonably afraid of werewolves, nuclear bombs, great white sharks that walk on land... but I work everyday to not be afraid of cancer. Taking away its mythic self-importance, taking away its dread, is helpful. When I imagine it as, well, just one more part of my life it stops being a monster.
Horror Movies / Part 2 "In the making"
In two thousand and one I had a middle of the night conversation with my friend Edward. We were laying on the floor, crashing at a friend’s house in Chicago after a concert of some kind. We stayed up talking about a horror film he had been imagining. Five years later the conversation still lingered in my head and had taken more and more space. In that span of years we had become close with a group of wonderful actors. In a type of potential terror (terror is always part of creativity for me, terror of failing and terror of turning on the flow and it being weak or dried up all together) I began to write a script (based on Edward’s idea and with his blessing). After spending most of my life writing – all of my life actually – this was a new challenge and pleasantly baffling. I read other people’s scripts in awe and with a desire to understand the format. I can’t say that I was truly prepared but the story was in my brain fully made and I hoped I could somehow get it written. With the grace and support of my wife, I set up shop in a small room in our upstairs. It was winter and the confined space (we live in a rather big old house but I needed a kind of hovel or cave to hide out inside) felt incredible. I took a pause from work and other long-term projects for that week and went pretty batty, writing all day and night. On breaks I went from script… to favorite films in the genre… to comic books… and tried not to be a distracted “a-hole” to live with… feeling the strange distance that making art can create between you and all other people. In the moment of making music (at least when it’s with a band, not solo recording of practicing in your room) – you’re there – so close with other people, sometimes even with an audience if you’re lucky. With painting and writing – I’ve always felt a scary closing of my other senses and sometimes truly lost myself for a while… hours, days, weeks. Loosing myself in a horror movie script was wonderful and sometimes awful. But it was completed, at least a first draft of a hundred or so pages, in that week of early 2006. Flashing forward – I was fortunate enough to work on the project with a large group of artists… actors, cameramen, editors, stage managers/producers, musicians, costumers… eventually making a 12 minute film together. Although the goal was (and continues to be) to film the whole “feature” script, I step back with astonishment at how many people came together (around one small set of words made on a desk in the upstairs office) to “make the words real.” It was beyond my will power to raise the money for the feature length film and the long production story lasted almost three years. Without several of my closest friends involvement (putting in a huge amount of work) it would never have happened at all. Ultimately, three years for a 12 minute short film, seen by very few people… so, was it worth it? Yes… Every second of every rehearsal, every room with the hum of conversation, every second of the film shoot, every gut-punch during editing, every moment of surprise, every breath.
The process was one of my all time favorite experiences… and I am eternally grateful to the folks that made it possible. The story was a loving tribute to many things – the haunted character of our neighborhood in Louisville, KY…
the idea of the “unquiet” dead and what they would “return” for… but the working process became the real narrative for me.