No Context: An Interview with the Magik Markers
Wanted to ask about the lyrics, which you both say were the start of the record really. Seems like there's almost a mythology there--a pretty dark one too, lotta death, rot, decay. I spot what I think are references to serial killers like Ted Bundy ("Taste"), but also some stuff like Updike ("Four/The Ballad of Harry Angstrom"), right? Wonder if you guys imagine a consistent thread being pulled through the whole album? Or whether each song constitutes a kind of isolated incident. . . Certainly the *feeling* the whole album promotes as a whole has a lot of consistency to it--a kind of queasy, discomfiting consistency.
Elisa: When I was writing that verse I was thinking of Ted Hughes' "Birthday Letters." It is meant to be a song for the bush league batters, the song about the people too good or too weak for their own good, who didn't or don't watch out for themselves in the world. Gene Clark was someone like that, he gave so much of this light and this beauty out, and I feel like never got back what he gave. The world kind of wasted Gene Clark. The world kind of wasted Peter Laughner. Phil Ochs. My father is a man like that. People who don't know their value. There are voracious people in the world, who are unselfconscious in what they take and never say thank you. Vulnerable people are often surrounded by these voracious people. If you can be an artist and voracious in that way, you can often be very successful. The survivors are not wasted by this world. People like Bob Dylan or Keith Richards or Leni Riefenstahl or Norman Mailer, they don't do a lot of apologizing or pussy footing or saying thank you. The world does not lay waste to them, they built bulletproof skins, or they were born with them. Ted Hughes as well. These are not the people "Taste" is about. It is about the ones who shoot and miss, the ones who never even had it in them to shoot. The people too good, or too weak for this world. I am neither.
Harry Angstrom for me is an ultimate American. In the finest sense that we can be Amercian as well as the worst sense. I think my idea of the American character is that we possess almost all of humanity's best and worst traits helium pumped to Macy's Float size: that is Harry Angstrom. I love his optimism and his complacency and his nostalgia and his constant motivations being only fear, sex and death at all times. He is joy-filled and horrifying all at once, completely empathic and callously diffident at all turns. He takes no blame and takes all the blame. I think Harry Angstrom is a more true portrait of the American man/woman of the late 1950's early 1960's than Sal Paradise for sure, and holds true now. Because Harry gets in his car and tries to go, but cannot. Misreads the map. Gets lost. Needs gas. Misses home. He is our optimism and our failure to act on our intentions, our fear trapped in our mouths. Finding our joy and freedom in moments instead of in the way we live our lives: when Harry grabs the Reverend's wife's ass or orders a Daiquiri. I think of him as a great hero of American fiction, like Bartleby, or a Horatio Alger character, but Harry never gets any credit. His beauty gets no acknowledgment. No one reads the Rabbit books anymore, or not to the extent they should be read. Updike, perhaps rightfully so considering his Richard Bach books and all those key party couple explorations, got marginalized and labeled 'un-cool' and sexist. He, like any great artist transcends his human weaknesses in his art, possibly even despite himself. I think Harry Angstrom deserves a ballad like any other tragic hero.
Responding to something that Pete said--a lot of people our age seem to have grown up with an eternal gratitude towards Sonic Youth or Forced Exposure, 'zines and bands that were almost gateway drugs before the internet for people who didn't live in cities or have access to stuff that was a little bit more avant or obscure. . . is this a role Magik Markers are trying to play now? Does the internet change any of the rules of a game like this one? What's it like when you tour and you get into a town like the one you grew up in?
Pete: Yeah I still have some copies of FE that I got back in high school. I poured over them with a religious fervor. They were like a blueprint for my early musical education. I know some people that thought that the writers actually made up the bands that they talked about just so they could come up with these fanciful descriptions. But for me it was so good to know that all these bands were real and that there were secret histories to be unearthed... whole zones that I had no idea about. The quality of the writing really made me wanna hear the music and it was so rad when it actually surpassed my expectations and literally changed my life. Like when you first discover a weird alien world like krautrock, where uber grooves and futurism combined with chemistry can alter your brain channels.
I recently had the experience of performing a Spectre Folk set after a reading by Byron Coley. It was for me one of the coolest readings of the sort I've ever witnessed. Byron read a few different stories about Joey Ramone, Sandy Bull, and John Fahey. There was a particularly awesome one about D. Boon and how he leapt into the air when he played causing the whole stage to buckle and resonate like thunder on touchdown. Man it was heavy taking the stage after Byron had invoked these spirits who'd rewired the genetic code of American sound... like we were performing on hallowed ground. It was a really awesome reminder of why I got into playing this kind of music in the first place. I had the feeling that we'd gone through some kind of rite and I went through the pass with a total regeneration of my beliefs in the limitless possibilities open to me as a musician.
I don't know if we actively play this kind of role as a band. It might be cool one day... but right now I think we're just working on getting our own sound together. It seems like the internet makes it easier to find out about stuff, but it doesn't necessarily point the way. I haven't seen a whole lot more great writing as a result of blogging or whatever than there was in the great age of the 'zine. There's probably an equal amount, but there's still nothing quite like the tactile experience of holding some underground rock mag in your hands and hearing some would be scribe pontificate on the latest Royal Trux or Dead C record.
It's cool beaming down to places in America that are stuck in some other era. Like Iowa City, looks like some idealized Hollywood version of a 1950's downtown. Or Missoula Montana where quiet insanity takes place in elks lodges in the shadow of the most enormous gray mountains I've ever seen in my life. Or New Orleans, remaining New Orleans in spite of the fact that they're still fucked up 3 years after the levy broke. When we hit towns like these I get filled up with the feeling and I really wanna do it.