dinsdag 11 januari 2011

Supreme Fiction

An introduction to Spilt Milk
(Full appendix to the limited edition Subbacultcha! publication 'We are fucked & North American Hamsters' by Tao Lin and Spilt Milk)

Spilt Milk or, as I’ve been referring to it lately, the Milk, started out as some sort of dead poets society, a poetry reading club for people who didn’t read poetry but would like to. But really it was just me and my collection of unread poetry books.

Actually, in the very beginning it was me and my collection of Peanuts paperbacks. (You know, the comic with Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the whole gang.) The first lyrics that were adapted under the ‘Milk’ monicker were lines culled from Peanuts strips. One song I can still recall is How Can You Tell If You Have A Broken Heart:

Funny, adorable, cute stuff. Heartbreaking too. Ha. I should play that one again some time.

This was in 2007 I think, when I still had a job, and coincided with my starting to surf the internet for po...etry most of the time there. That’s how I stumbled unto James Tate, via David Berman of Silver Jews, who also writes poetry, by the way (see recommended reading). Tate was my gateway drug into poetry, his mundane surreal prose poems being the first I really enjoyed reading. To continue this awkward analogy, Goodtime Jesus would have been my first funny cigarette:

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?

A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled

back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-

tiful day. How ‘bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody!

So, being in the setting-things-to-music-mode from doing the Peanuts songs, I set the poem to music (on a borrow
ed acoustic guitar, with 3 chords (E, A, D)). A little later I heard John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats on a live bootleg, reciting Philip Larkin’s This Be The Verse:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra just for you.

But th
ey were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

I got his Collected Poems, and set some of those to music, learned one more chord (G) after which it was time to form a band.

The first Spilt Milk line-up was me and this boy genius Bart van der Zalm, who played some amazing guitar. We did our first gig at De Nieuwe Anita, and though it wasn’t very good, it was fun.
After a bit more growing up in public we hooked up with Marcel Duin, at the time drummer of Appie Kim, soon after which Bart split the Milk (musical differences) and it was just me and Marcel for quite a while.

By this time (2008) I was really getting into this poetry thing, reading a lot of quite accessible, mostly prose poetry by poets like Charles Simic, Billy Collins, Russell Edson, Raymond Carver (who is probably an even better gateway poet than Tate, come to think of it), and a lot of anthologies of contemporary, ‘indie’ poetry. I would like to make a special mention of this one poem by Michael Robbins, Alien vs. Predator, which is thoroughly bewildering and does funny things to your brain:
“(...) I go by many names: Buju Banton, Camel Light, the New York Times. Point being, rickshaws in Scranton (...)” (full poem here.) Setting more and more poems to music and getting a little bit better at playing guitar in the process it was time to hit the studio.

We recorded I thin
k maybe 8-10 songs with the great dutch poet Henk Koorn and his muse Natascha van Waardenburg. They did a really good job, we sounded like a bad Pavement playing Velvet Underground songs, and we released 2 of them on cassingle: Charles Simic's A Dog with a Soul and Wallace Stevens' Tattoo:

The light is like a spider.

It crawls over the water.

It crawls over the edges of the snow.

It crawls under your eyelids
And spreads its webs there--

Its two webs

The webs of your eyes
Are fastened

To the flesh and bones of you
As to rafters or grass.

There are filaments of your eyes

On the surface of the water

And in the edges of the snow.

By now I was getting into older stuff by late, great american poets like Stevens, William Carlos Williams and Robert Frost. Some of their poems wer
e from before 1923 and hence in the public domain, which seemed like a good cut off for the time being, since there turned out to be quite an overwhelming lot of poetry out there, once you got into it.

Marcel and I spend most of 2009 playing strange, quite difficult poems by Stevens like A High-Toned Old Christian Woman and Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb (hardly understanding anything of it, renaming them with catchy titles like Supreme Fiction and Icy Élysee), more accessible poems by Frost like The Road Not Taken (aka Two Roads) and a whole lot of great early prose poems by WCW (many of which were found here.) Remco Mooijekind joined on bass guitar and backing vocals and in this now classic line-up we played some chaotic, electric live shows at Vera and De Nieuwe Anita again (and again). At the end of 2009 we recorded some of this material ourselves, among other songs an amazing, distorted Icy Élysée with a slammed door and a drum solo that lasts 8 minutes which I ho
pe we will one day get round to releasing.

In 2010 we went acoustic. Our live s
hows turned into shambolic, drunken sing and stomp along affairs, and producer Jan Schenk offered to do a recording session, for which we asked Brenda Bosma to sing on some songs because, you know, I can’t really sing. The song she sang lead vocals on turned out to be one of the most beautiful recordings I’d ever been part of, I thought, and so did the great folks at Subbacultcha, and they made it mp3 of the day. Along with 8 more jams it also got released on cassette by Subroutine Records’ sublabel Subroutine Cares as The Spilt Milk & Brenda, to favourable reviews.

After that I learned still some more chords (C, Em, Am) and we started adapting more poems for Brenda to sing. Subdued, quietist songs mostly, though we still like to rock out a little, especially since Daan Overgoor joined on lead guitar. Remco quit the band (to focus on his awesome supermarket paintings) and got replaced by the equally great Jan P
ieter van Weel. (Marcel’s still part of the Milk, but has been really busy lately so we’re looking for a drummer, as well as a free jazz saxophonist... Anybody?)

At the end of 2010 this new “Doug Yule-era” line-up (Marcel, Brenda, Jan Pieter, Daan and me) recorded some more songs with Jan (production, percussion), mostly about death, loss and funerals, featuring lyrics by a variety of the dead poets mentioned above, with the addition of E.E. Cummings:

Buffalo Bill's
who used to
ride a watersmooth-silver
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeons justlikethat
he was a handsome man
and what I want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death

(For some reason Blogger won't allow for the correct formatting. This is more like it)

We also did a poem in portugese by Carlos Drummond de
Andrade (a pick of Brenda’s), a cover of a Bob Dylan song and some evergreens by W.H. Auden and Larkin... All in all an album's worth of songs which we hope to release early 2011 (working title: How to Perform a Funeral). Which would round things off quite nicely since when Bart and I started out all this time ago our tagline was that we were gonna be a “coverband for funerals and cremations.”

Except that we also recently did these two songs based on the work of the young (and living) writer Tao Lin,
which need mention here, ofcourse. Brenda did an interview with him for the Subbacultcha blog, and came up with the idea to do a song to go along with that. North American Hamsters, recorded on my mobile phone, turned out really funny, weird and bleak (much like Lin’s books, unsurprisingly), so we thought it would be nice to have a b-side for it so we could release them as another cassingle or something. We Are Fucked seemed just as funny, weird and bleak, and we asked Subbacultcha if they’d be interested in releasing the two Tao Lin songs in any form. They came up with the great idea to release it as a booklet containing the full chapters those songs’ lyrics are based on, with a url and code for a digital download of said songs inside. Subbacultcha members should have gotten this along with the february issue of the magazine, and it’s also available here. You should read it, it’s funny, weird and bleak.

We hope you’ll enjoy it, buy Lin’s books, find something to your liking in the stuff mentioned in this little piece and its very subjective accompanying reading list, or surf the internet on the job all day discovering your own favourite poems and poets, and if you come see us live some time, be sure to bring your maracas and have your Of Heaven Considered as a Tomb memorized.


Random recommended reading list

David Berman - Actual Air

James Tate - Selected Poems

Philip Larkin - Collected Poems

Charles Simic - The World Doesn’t End

Russell Edson - The Rooster’s Wife

Billy Collins - Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems

Raymond Carver - A New Path to the Waterfall

The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets

Wallace Stevens - Harmonium

Robert Frost - Mountain Interval
William Carlos Williams - Al Que Quiere!

E.E. Cummings - Tulips & Chimneys

The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry