Saturday, 19 May 2012


Not a band named after a book or even a quote from a book, but a band named after an author; which was either an extremely deferential piece of homage or one of the most off the wall marketing campaigns ever.
(Even puts Radiohead to shame. [Whose latest gimmick is a real corker: exuberant ticket prices!
Maybe you should have thought that one through, guys].)

Harry Crews: The Band:

A short lived project created by female post punk heavy weights Lydia Lunch, Kim Gordon and Sadie Mae.

Crews, the writer, is their muse, and they make much of his themes, words and ideas.

Their music is most appropriate, capturing the mood of the writing in their bombastic sound.
(Think Big Black [with sticks] with a mighty injection of oestrogen, so more scary!)

Lunch screams and rants in a most gratifying manner; Gordon big-ups literature: "They don't censor violence in books, coz They don't think anyone reads."

Not an easy listen, but there is a Sonic Youth song and even a Teenage Jesus and the Jerks' number to appease the ol' folk; a couple we can hum nervously along to after being chastised by Lunch: "ALL MEN THINK THEY'RE CHRIST!" [her capitals]

Several tracks take their titles from Crews' titles: Gospel Singer, The Knockout Artist, and what I think is one of the best novellas of the twentieth century: Car.

If you've never read it: SEEK IT OUT! [my capitals]

Harry Crews, the writer:


A man, Herman, is thrilled by cars, they are his life.
He's so passionate he decides to eat one.
People around him see opportunity: Herman eating a car will be a public event, a spectacle, a wonder.
He will eat a half ounce a day, in public, that half ounce will be shat out the following day, in public - but behind a little screen: some decorum, please - the shat out piece of car will be moulded into a tiny replica of the very car Herman is eating. And then sold.

A couple of days into eating the car, Herman has a strange experience:

His eyes were open, but he felt himself dreaming. He heard his blood roar in his ears, and he heard cars in the roar. He saw cars in his blood. They squealed and careened through long curving veinous highways. He took his hands off his stomach and held tightly to the bed. He had not expected this.
   Filled with terror and joy, he tried to wake up. But he was not asleep. His eyes filled with cars. They raced and competed in every muscle and fibre. Dune buggies raced over the California sands of his feet; sturdy jeeps with four-wheel drive and snow tyres climbed the Montana mountains of his hips; golden convertibles, sleek and topless, purred through the Arizona sun of his left arm; angry taxis, dirty and functional and knowledgeable, fought for survival in the New York City of his head.
   And his heart. God his heart! He felt it separate and distinct in his chest. Isolated and pumping, he knew its outermost limits. And every car that raced and roared in his vision of himself finally ended in his heart. An endless traffic of Saabs and Fords and Plymouths and Volkswagens and modified buggies of every sort and Toyotas and cars from all over the world lined up and entered his pounding heart.
   He watched, amazed and stupefied, as he filled up with cars tighter and tighter until finally he was bumper to bumper from head to toe. His skin stretched. His veins and arteries blared with the honking of horns, jammed with a traffic jam that would never be over because it had no place to go. Cars cars everywhere and no place to drive.'

So Herman can't eat it.

But what about the money?

Herman has a twin: Mister.
No one would know; Mister will eat the car.

But can Mister manage it?

The first performance doesn't go well: Mister is in pain with a seemingly damaged throat.

Attended by a doctor, who believes Mister's problem may be psychosomatic, they are joined by an anxious Herman, an agitated promoter, Mr. Edge, his assistant Junell, and Mister's hooker girlfriend Margo, who goes on to make what has to be one of the greatest and most surprising speeches ever uttered in the whole of modern literature:

[Warning. Explicit]

e wanted to eat it," said the doctor, "but he didn't want to eat it, if you see what I mean."
   "I don't see what you mean because what you say doesn't mean anything," Mr. Edge said.
   "His throat kept closing up on him," said the doctor, "trying to expel..."
   "I can tell'm what you mean, doc," Margo said. "I can explain it."
   They all turned to look at her where she stood with Herman by the window. Even Mister, his throat swollen and red, cut his his eyes in her direction. He was lying back on the bed. His breath whistled in slightly parted bruised lips.
   "Everybody's got a gag reflex," she said. "If you put something far enough down your throat, you gag, everybody gags. You don't have to think about it, or want to do it, you just do it. That's why it's called a gag reflex. Right, doc?"
   "Right," he said. "But..."
   "But listen to this," she said. "There are whores who have no gag reflex." She paused and they stood silently watching her. She saw the look in Junell's face and shrugged. "I'm a whore. It's my business to know such things. Some whores can open their mouths and let a man fuck their throats. It's a beautiful trick, but it's not something you can learn. You've got to want the cock in your throat. You've got to want it so bad that the reflex just doesn't work. Such whores are few and far between because as everybody knows, most whores hate fucking. But once in a while a whore really loves cocks and she's got the best of both possible worlds. A whore like that can make a fortune, an absolute fortune in two or three years. It's a speciality act. And everybody loves a speciality act. But you think a whore like that quits with her fortune? Of course not. Because finally she's not doing it for the money, anyway. She's doing it for the love of cocks. And she keeps that throat of hers in service as long as there's a man who wants to put something in it."
   "Jesus," said the doctor, "Jesus Christ!"
   Mister's throat was pulsing and heaving while Margo talked.
   In a tiny voice, Junell asked, "Can you... Do you...?"
   "No," said Margo. "I can't. I don't." She looked at Mister. "And he can't either. He's trying to fake it." She walked over to the bed and looked down into Mister's stretched, bloodshot eyes. "You poor son-of-a-bitch, you can't fake it. It can't be faked."

Harry Crews - Naked in Garden Hills (1990)

About the Author
Man Hates a Man
You're It
Gospel Singer
Knockout Artist
The Way Out
Bring Me Down

Decent vinyl rip @320kbs
Harry's Angels here

Selected extracts from Car, cited in Classic Crews, Gorse. 1993.


infinite fool said...

Ah, Harry Crews. The Bukowski of the south. The trailer park Faulkner. Never did get that whole "southern gothic" thing - a vision of rural America that appeals mightily to people who've never been there - nothing in any of it looks anything like the real thing, though. Great writer, then, if yer into science fiction.

As the the band - yep. Sounds very much like good music sounds. Thanks.

roy rocket said...

'The Biography of a Place' is right up there with Heinlein and Le Guin.

Wot you talkin bout, Willis?

infinite fool said...

I guess what I'm saying is that as much fun as Crews can be, my bullshit meter is always pegged in the red when I read his stuff. His work has about as much a resemblance to the world he is ostensibly chronicling (a world with which I am intimately familiar) as Heinlein or LeGuin's work has to the world that Crews is ostensibly chronicling.

Doesn't make his books any less fun to read, just hard to take seriously. He kind of reminds me of Nathaneal West or Clifford Odets (two writers to whom he owes an obvious debt) in that way.