A novel exclusive: read an extract from Adam Gnade's new book
DiS is pleased to present, here, an exclusive excerpt from the debut novel of one of our favourite songwriters, Adam Gnade (MySpace).
Gnade’s ‘talking songs’ first came to our attention when he released his Run, Hide, Retreat, Surrender album in 2005; a DiScover interview later we were smitten enough to release his Shout The Rafters Down! EP in 2006 (download). Since then he has collaborated with another of DiS’s favourite acts, Youthmovies, and is set to tour with the Oxford quintet again later this year – details here as and when they’re confirmed.
Gnade’s debut novel is called Hymn California, and is available now via DutchMoney Books. You can order it online here. What’s it about? Best know that before we get into things. Press release:
“Gnade is currently writing the prequel novel to Hymn California along with the full-length album Trailerparks. His experimental-Americana/noise-folk songs combine dense, spoken, idea/imagery-packed vocals with layers of banjo, minimalist drums, bells, and nontraditional/modified guitars. Gnade enjoys anarchist texts and books of folk remedies, MadDog 20/20, swimming in rivers, playing shows on staircases, pomegranate tea, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Saul Bellow's The Adventures of Augie March. His next (music) tour will be in Europe this November.”
Hymn California’s cover art
This is a confession. This is an admittance of ignorance, and who wants to cop to that? I will give you no answers — because I have none — but I’m going to talk. At you. To you. About you. And by talking about you and about me, maybe some of this goofball world-dream nightmare nonsense will make sense. Or maybe it won’t. It's a slippery thing to guess at — no hard and fast rules, nothing but questions and incalculables, big and daunting like great thunderheads moving like boxcars to rain down on us.
Three weeks ago, on a western line out of Norfolk, I stepped off the Greyhound on 6th and walked Portland's empty streets towards the house where I'd be staying — the big empty creaking Portland house where I am now, alone in the basement at 5 am.
But it was 5 am then too. It's always 5 am. The eternal juju hour. 5 am, off the bus with its hissing brakes and sleeping, cramped riders, and me raw-boned and hungry into the street, the city still purple twilit and chilly.
I walked clear across town, then rode a MAX train east with homeless men in Trailblazers caps talking to themselves and dotcommers with phone buds in their ears talking to themselves, and teenage girls with iPods and book bags and fat white faces or sleeping babies, pink and frowning through baby dreams, in their mothers' arms or awake and sucking a bare, perfect, life-giving nipple from a bare, perfect chubby breast. And there were lifeless men in suits and sunglasses, pretty Chinese girls, wide-eyed kids with mohawks and smudgy chimney sweep faces, holding their bikes in the middle of the train, as we lurched to a stop at the Lloyd Center Mall.
The MAX train gave me to the bus which let me out onto the street again and 10 minutes later my life as a Portlander began. Portland, Oregon. (“Portland, Oregon and sloe gin fizz. If that ain't love, then tell me what is,” goes the song.) Portland in the fall. Autumnal Portland with maple trees dropping yellow and orange leaves onto wet, black pavement, smoke trailing from brick chimneys in Alberta, lines of coke on smiling drivers’ license photos in bathrooms at shows, kids passing brown glass pipes at parties while bands play in basements and sing songs about you and me and us and them ... and us versus them ... and us not needing them and them not understanding us.
Portland in October — which is excess!
Dale O’Malley and I go visit his friend Allen at Allen’s big, gabled, Tudor-style three-story in northeast Portland. Bearded and impassive, Allen talks in a Californian accent which sounds more Wisconsin. He apologizes after packing his 10th bowl of the night. "Gawd, you guys, I'm so sorry. What kinda example am I setting? Oh, gawd. I come from the ’60s. All I know is excess."
Excess ... excessive, loud, shaking, jumping, good Portland, where days haze into each other and nobody gets anything done. Even the waitress at the Mexican food joint on Morrison Street is high while she takes our order and asks me, "Hablan usted Espanol?"
"Si, si ... por su puesto,” I think, but really just shrug. “Claro que si. Porque no, mija. Naci en una ciudad a la frontera. Trajeme comida! Me gustaria TODA. Quiero comer el mundo y el cielo yr el mar y toda toda toda!"
Toda! Everything! Excess! Excess after months in lazy, swooning, summertime Virginia, where — once again — I fell back into my own damn head, where haunt old ghosts with names like Self-Doubt and Puritanical Ideals and Anxiety and Atheism and Sexual Repression fueled by Fear and Second-Guessing.
I have spent too long wallowing in darkness, thinking the only way to be taken seriously as a man is to act serious — which in my confused mind meant ‘sad’. Sad … and living in anxiety because I couldn't imagine life without it. But who needs it? Why not be happy? If the brain is nothing but coils and wires, why not run a diagnostic? I don't have time to hide out in my skull anymore, no time for shivering and cowering behind walls and dropping deeper into this bummer I was hardwired for before I was even born. Unplug from the power grid. No more. Be a man! Go thou forth and be plentiful under the stars! Go yell and be alive. Celebrate celebration. Move fast because the slower you walk, the faster you die. Eat well no matter how poor you are, because what is money anyway but a trap you can outsmart? Drink well from the well. If you're going to drink do so exuberantly. Talk on phones like it’s the last time you’re going to talk to that person. Laugh like your woman laughs because hers is a laugh of the Earth, big and bold and messy. An unafraid laugh.
Frances, I'm writing this to you because you understand that the most life-affirming thing you can do is ignore life's rules. That's the key. See and say whatever you want to see and say. Spend time with the people who challenge you to be brave. Forget the concept of morality — and don't ever moralize. Drink ’til your mind goes genius. Stay awake for days on end and see clarity at the other side. Debase yourself. Run into the ground, but do so honestly. Breathe deep and look straight on at everyone — stare into them, your eyes burning like dry ice chips. And if so and so or whoever or what the fuck’s his face stands in your way and gives you What For and you don't like it, bring him down hard until his head is goddamn hamburger! Embrace violence because all life is violent. We are born blind and skinless red and aching into violence, and our death will be violent just the same. Don’t hide your animal side just because you’re smart enough to know it’s animalistic. Be an animal if you're going to be at all, and shout with animal joy and animal pain.
Tomorrow’s Saturday and I’m going downtown. I want to walk below the skyscrapers and bank buildings and towers which stretch like massive tongue depressors and toilet paper tubes and giant harmonicas over the city. I want to walk through the street market below the Burnside Bridge, where hippie girls with round bellies and healthy skin and babies in woven cloth side-sacks try to sell me crank. The street market — the Saturday/Sunday market — is vulgar. I want to burn it down just as much as I want it to go on forever. It’s all potent smells: food cooking in kiosks and booths, jerk sauce beef on skewer sticks with barbecued charred bell peppers. Giant Texas donuts or churros which smell like sugar cane and hot grease. Fat, pink, maggot-like shrimp on shishkabobs. Or teriyaki chicken on white Styrofoam plates with rice and macaroni salad. This is not for me. Give me falafel and hummus, wine, Greek fries, Greek salad, give me the food of the Greeks, three bucks with yellow saffron rice and a drink.
Smell the rotting cabbage rising in gaseous steam from trash cans. Or the stink of piss on sidewalks. Cigar smoke. Nag champa incense. The smell of sweat — pungent, bitter and foul or heavy and rich and packed with pheromones and sex and musk, humanness.
Overhead the skies will be gray because they are always gray, and I'll walk the crowded walkways where men my age with gaunt faces under beards and knit caps and girls in brown tank tops with no bras and dark tufts of armpit hair sell crystal wizards on pewter chains, rainbow hacky sacks, tiny blue and red and black and green tie dye shirts sized for babies and dogs or … rain-sticks, lighters, djembe drums — and everyone walks around with beers in plastic cups laughing and eating hot peanuts from white paper bags with the words “Hot! Salty!” printed in red letters.
I move with the crowd and end up under the Burnside Bridge where a group of shadow-faced, glaze-eyed drummers kneel over bongos and buckets in the half-dark of the ramp and beat out a jungle rhythm and girls with long hair dance barefoot, grinding their hips into invisible stone statue cocks of pagan gods ’til their thighs drip wet — they’re getting god visions off acid tabs — and somebody plays a tuneless acoustic guitar. Stunnng, stumm, strimm, strang it goes. There’s a song there, but it’s hidden.
The street market, I leave it and want to take a shower. Then I want to go back again.
Portland in the fall. The hot neon apricot sunset to the west. I'll write you a postcard about it, explaining the weather when I should be telling you that I miss you, that I need you, that I need to smell your skin and rest my forehead against yours and listen to your laugh and touch your hair, smile at your dresses draped on dressers and your tiny girl shoes tossed haphazard in the middle of the living room floor. Last year in San Diego — at New Year’s while I uncorked a bottle of wine — I told you, your sister Rebecca, and your cousin Bethany that I was going to die sometime this year. Had a premonition. A flash of future time. And that scared me because I hadn't yet decided what lies in the darkness, what face will meet mine — if any — when I step into the Void. But today, walking down Hawthorne Street I realized, and suddenly, that I’m not afraid to die. I’m afraid of being forgotten. And that that's how everyone is. Dying is easy; the idea that we’ll one day be forgotten by everyone on Earth and never thought of again is the hard part. And with that, the last knot of fear disappeared from me like a vapor into space. I have no answers. I have no plan. But goddamnit I’m going to talk. I am going to TALK!
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