When I couldn’t find the inspiration for a seasonal card late last year, I contemplated sending one out celebrating the 29th of February. Looking back on this day, I’m kinda glad I didn’t do that either.

February 29, 2008 turned out to be a day pretty much like any other.

Eerste zinnen: Dit lees je nooit

Het boekje met alle columns die Jeroen van Merwijk schreef voor het Utrechts Nieuwsblad, begint aldus:

Jeroen van Merwijk — Dit lees je nooit
Eerste zin
Is dat nou moeilijk, een column schrijven?

Waarop het antwoord luidt, Nee, hoor. Een column schrijven is het makkelijkste dat er is.

Toen ik na afloop van zijn voorstelling in Amersfoort dit boekje aanschafte (immers, ondersteun uw armlastige cabaretier), vertelde hij dat de lezers van het Utrechts Nieuwsblad niet zo gecharmeerd waren van de columns. Daar kan ik wel inkomen. Als Van Merwijks stijl je ligt, is het (op de kop af) 123 pagina’s feest. Als zijn stijl je niet bevalt heb je er wellicht een zware dobber aan. Dat is natuurlijk ook waar. Gelukkig bevalt zijn stijl mij uitstekend. En aangezien ik niet denk dat ik over stijl nuttige dingen kan zeggen, en voorbeeldje na de knip.


First Lines: Tales of H.P. Lovecraft

In my CD collection there are quite a few bands who have delved deep into Lovecraft’s work to find inspiration for their art: Iron Maiden (look at the covers of Life after Death and No Prayer for the Dying), Metallica (“The Call of Ktulu”, “The Thing That Should Not Be”), The Vision Bleak (they’re pretty much all Lovecraft, all the time), Rage (“In a Nameless Time”), Orphanage (“At the Mountains of Madness”), etc. One of the funniest horror movies (“Evil Dead”) leans heavily on that dreaded volume, that blasphemous tome of arcane lore and unspeakable rites, the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon. So, realistically, it was only a matter of time before I actually read H.P. Lovecraft.

Although most of his fiction is freely available on the internet — long live the finite amount of time copyright lasts — I never came across an inviting volume. Call me old fashioned, but reading long form prose is something I think should involve books. Picking up Tales of H.P. Lovecraft was more or less a classic example of judging a book by it’s cover: the two cover blurbs are by Stephen King (The twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.) and Neil Gaiman (If horror and fantasy are cities, then H.P. Lovecraft is the kind of long street that runs from the outskirts of the first city to the end of the other). The page 69 test doesn’t really work for collections (in this case, it falls near the end of The Call of Cthulhu). The first line of the introduction didn’t really grab me either: In writers like Henry James and Edith Wharton, the gothic tale may compensate a conventional, restrictive life; in others, notably Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft, the gothic tale would seem to be a for of psychic autobiography. But then I noticed the quote which preceded the introduction:

Book read
Tales of H.P. Lovecraft: Major works selected and introduced by Joyce Carol Oates
Furst line
The most merciful thing in the world … is the inability of the human mind to correlate all it’s contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

Incidentally, these are the first lines of The Call of Cthulhu, and they did win me over. And as it turns out, the idea behind this quote — that there is unimaginable horror and dread lurking just around the corner — is pretty representative of this book. Lovecraft’s brand of horror and fantasy, or better yet, weird fiction leans heavily on mood and atmosphere, rather than action or plot. And therein lies what would be my only point of criticism: the sparse action that takes place happens at an, at best, glacial pace. You get the sense that dread Cthulhu might actually rise from his dead dreams in sunken R’lyeh before the story concludes. But then again, in most cases there isn’t a whole lot to conclude: in The Music of Erich Zann, Zann’s music keeps some unimaginable horror at bay; in The Colour out of Space, a strangely colored meteorite slowly corrupts it’s surroundings; madness lurks in a mysterious, undiscovered mountain range in Antarctica in At the Mountains of Madness; and in The Shadow out of Time, a scientists realizes that a dreadful shadow from a nameless time lies upon this very planet.

Lovecraft is hailed as one of the great (classic) horror writers. And despite the excruciating slow pace and abundant use of adjectives — blasted, dreadful, gibbous, blasphemous and curious adjectives — I tend to agree.

Finally a link I’ve been saving for this post: LOLthulhu. Also, Neil Gaimans I Cthulhu — or — What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?

Levels of Hell

Some people don’t really like “Total Eclipse of the Heart”. In fact, this is an actual statement I came across today: I hate that song, and believe there is a special layer of Hell that plays nothing but Jim Steinman songs. Of course, that would be paradise.

So I started to wonder what other levels of hell might be there. Doing what any sane person would do, I asked Google. Discounting Dante’s nine levels, apparently there are levels in hell

  • where disgustingly horrible film directors are sent when they die;
  • where programmers are forced to use textual Version Control systems;
  • where souls must suffer through selling and buying a house in the State of California;
  • where Barry Manilow sings to you naked, and you have front row seats, and he’s become a rapper;
  • where miserable pissants torment slightly-more miserable pissants;
  • where HR people reign;
  • where every boob you try to cop-a-feel explodes in cacophony of silicone;
  • where you are force fed by Ben and Jerry for all eternity and all is right with the world. Well, unless you consider that Santa only delivered presents to the good little children of Mexico City and completely forgot the rest of the world — D’OH;
  • where taxi drivers go;
  • where pony-tailed junior demons are developing major script options while they wait tables in Japanese-Ecuadorian restaurants;
  • where Elton John’s “Your Song” is on loop;
  • where el diablo forces you to don an animal costume and dance dance dance…;
  • where fat men … have their own body chub melted from inside the skin;
  • where hapless customers are sent to wait for their laptops to arrive from China;
  • where the angry beavers go;
  • where it never snows;
  • where people who drive their family members insane go;
  • where Satan will demand that you sit completely motionless in a dark room for a thousand years while listening to John Travolta lecture on the proper role of homosexual bush pilots in developing countries. Should you successfully complete that trial, you will ultimately be forced to marry and spawn children with Tom Cruise, the ultimate form of eternal punishment. Only one has ever reached this plane.
  • where they’re forced to watch Temptation Island, Paradise Hotel and Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? 24 hours a day;
  • where half of hip hop is now;
  • where the air conditioning is always broken;
  • where the authors of cheap detective novels have to read their own books forever and pay for their sin;
  • where you are playing Jeopardy and all the categories are “Things you don’t know”.

Have I missed any?

Seen live: Wende

Tonight, in the Stadsschouwburg Utrecht, I got knocked over the head. Again. It was the fourth time I saw a show by Wende Snijders, and just like the previous three times, it was totally beyond awesome. She has the voice and the power to convince me, even when I don’t have the remotest clue what she’s singing about. Tonight, she sang of course in French and Dutch, but also in English, Spanish and South-African.

Instead of a combo including cellos, violins, etc., she was backed by a jazzy combo of piano, bass and drums this time, which led to some different arrangements. I especially liked what Arthur Lijten did on drums.

Once again, I would strongly urge everyone to go and check her out. I might be slightly biased, but then it would seem I’m not the only one: the whole audience was ‘demanded’ a second encore. But she’s just that good. She’s touring this show until April, and here are two songs you might enjoy:

  • Je Suis Comme Je Suis (from Quand tu dors)
  • De dame vloert de blues (from La fille noyée)