Feline Alchemy soundtrack pt.5 – this is the end, beautiful friend

When Hollywood buys the rights to the greatest dark fantasy novel ever written, Feline Alchemy, the producers will make many unforgivable mistakes with regard to the script; this is a given. I have, however, managed to provide a bullet-proof soundtrack for the ensuing motion picture. Each song is not only groovy in its own right, but also provides insight and commentary on the associated chapter. It’s kind of like opera, really, except it’s good.

Chapter 17 – Sparklehorse, Painbirds

“Spiral down those hateful dears.”

No other band’s music has such a sense of fragility about it. Beautiful songs stutter, fall over and abruptly dissolve in confusion. You get the impression that the band, essentially Mark Linkous, is never entirely convinced, always trying to second guess itself and rarely satisfied with the outcome. It acts as a kind of antidote to the brash self-assurance the music industry generally assumes by right.


Chapter 18 – The Cardigans – I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need To Be Nicer

“It’s been a long, slow collision.”

I seem to remember people found it tempting to be dismissive of The Cardigans. There was the huge success that tied-in with the video game Gran Turismo. There was Nina Persson’s beauty. These things aren’t authentic; they’re not sufficiently real in indie parlance, and so people like to get cynical. Fortunately, flawless pop is immune to cynicism. Nor is it interested in appearing authentic. Tunes, glamour and wit inevitably win the argument.


Before Chapter 19 – Echo and the Bunnymen, Rescue

“Is this the blues I’m singing?”

When modern pop music was invented in Liverpool in the 60s the shadow cast by Messrs L & M over the local bands who followed in their wake was always destined to be daunting. Echo and the Bunnymen was the band that came closest to relishing, and living up to, that challenge. Rescue is one of the band’s earliest songs and shows how they evolved fully formed, without a tousled hair out of place and with pouting lips ready for the adoring masses.


End Credits – Spacemen 3, Transparent Radiation

“Uttering words about the turning tide.”

And as the lights dim on the set of Feline Alchemy, credits rolling, we need a suitably offbeat, uplifting and elegant epic on which to finish before we all emerge blinking into the light, to face the music in the real world once again. Transparent Radiation was written by The Red Krayola, a wilfully uncommercial, idealistic, hippy collective, and was made perfect by Spacemen 3. It seems to me to be an ideal song to have playing if you ever find yourself being burned at the stake – I can picture Joan of Arc listening to this on her Walkman as the flames lick ever higher.

You Wore Blue

It’s funny about wars –

(No, you’re right. Nothing’s ever funny about wars. But you remember what my sense of humour’s like, remember how it got me into trouble even at the best of times?)

But all I mean to say is it’s funny how wars get so familiar, like family. You don’t notice it at first but, after you get up close to a few, real close, you can’t help but see how much they all resemble each other. You see the same heartache etched on every face, and betrayal. That family likeness is unnerving. Most families share blood but this one shares bloodshed. It’s rising up all around you, day-by-day. It’s like a biblical flood with no Noah in sight who’s sailing to rescue his chosen few. Well, maybe Noah does still turn up to rescue the chosen few. What would I know about that? None of my crowd was ever lucky enough, or smart enough, or just low-down cunning enough, to get counted among the chosen few.

Anyway, I guess I never had much time for the chosen few any time I met them. And they had even less time for me.

(Good judges of character, those chosen few. Am I right?)

Let’s raise another glass to the chosen few! No, I can’t remember who the other glasses were raised to, either. I gave up keeping count a long, long time ago. I guess when you own half-a-dozen bars for half your life then alcohol’s the easiest way to go. At least you know you’re getting trade rates on the disease that’ll carry you off. That’s some consolation.

(I used to wonder if I would’ve made a decent consolation prize for you. I don’t bother with that anymore. You had the war and no-one could compete with all that history and glory you went chasing after. Where did it get you in the end? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to hear.)

Pause. Rick drinks, rubs his eyes.

When I get to looking back what I mostly see is you. I won’t lie. Then I see regrets. I get tired of all the regrets. They sit around like they own the place, putting their feet up on the furniture. No-one ever puts their feet on the furniture in my establishments, it’s not allowed; not in the States, not in Europe, Casablanca, Singapore. But those regrets of mine are impolite. They talk too loud and they point and stare like they’re a goddam bunch of VIPs invited along to see some circus act they’re sure is beneath them. So they spend half the time looking down their noses and half the time staring up where the tightrope walker goes wobbling along his bit of string. They’re waiting to see him fall, getting impatient and checking the time because there’s someplace else they’ve got to be, someplace more stylish.

I’ve been a tightrope walker all my life, but you already knew that. It’s not a career I’d wish on anyone. All that endless balancing tires you out. As for me, well, in my time I’ve balanced every competing demand you’d care to mention: smugglers, cops, pimps and heroes; liberty, equality and Nazis. Then, once you get too tired to keep on balancing anymore, you crash.

(I was crashing when I first met you. You wore blue, remember?)

The impact makes dents in you. It dents the better parts of you, leaves them faulty and hanging loose, exposed. They start to get callous then: your spirit, generosity, your hopes and trust. You can’t help it, no-one can. You get beaten out of shape as time goes by.

As Time Goes By…

He played it for you and sometimes, after you left, he still played it for me. And he always played it note-perfect. Tender. The patrons sighed, held hands across the tables. You’d have smiled to see them. I smiled at how little they understood. I smiled at how little you understood, too. It was an ugly smile; it got stuck in my teeth. Because no-one ever wins a war, Ilsa, not really; not even you and your heroes.

I never told anyone this but I used to picture that blue dress you wore, all red with bullet holes. And each time I pictured you like that I told him to play that goddam song. He never refused and he never once mentioned that anything was wrong, never let on that he knew. But Sam was never the same again.


This story was written in response to the speakeasy writing prompt #167 – You must include the following sentence as the LAST line in your submission: “But Sam was never the same again.”



What We Call Mother’s Day

It was a feast unlike any other meal we ever sat down to in our sheltered little lives, my brothers and sisters and I.  No one spoke much as we got settled; we never were a chatty family and mother had on her most serious face for the duration, so none us were minded to cross her.  It was her special day, after all.  It had been ages in preparation.  Well, you know what mothers are like: always fussing over the tiniest details, always wanting everything just so.

Sat at the head of the family, mother folded her arms, proudly, as she looked over my brothers and sisters and I; our eager, hungry little faces all aglow.  Then she folded her arms impatiently, I thought; because we were all standing on ceremony a bit and none of us had started tucking in.  Then she folded her arms with resolution and a sigh.  I knew what she meant.  All my brothers and sisters say it’s always been me who was closest to our mother.  I suppose there’s a bond that grows up between mother and eldest daughter, a recognition of sorts.  Everyone says I have her eyes and some of my mannerisms are the spitting image of hers, I’m told.  So, mother and I never needed to rely on words to spell out our ideas to one another.  Between us, a look or a shrug or a smile or a sigh was always enough.

So, it was me who first sampled the feast.

I heard there’s a celebration called Mother’s Day that originated in the United States somewhere; it was probably designed to sell some more greetings cards, flowers, etc.  Well, we Stegodyphus aren’t at all a commercial species but we’ve been celebrating our mothers since we first evolved from the web.  We celebrate every delicious part of her.

So, my siblings soon joined me as my smiling, venomous, spiky, little fangs sank deep into mother’s sparkly, loving eyes.  And as the goo of her filled me up, nourishing me for a final time with all that maternal tenderness she always swore by, I wondered about the little family I’ll hatch myself one day.  And will any of my daughters have her grandmother’s mannerisms, that same generous glow I always saw in her eyes?


This short story was written in response to the latest TipsyLit writing prompt:This week’s prompt must include an unusual or unfamiliar food. Your character could love it or hate it, struggle to determine how to eat it, not recognize it as food, there are so many possibilities.

So, I thought I’d focus on the most incredible meal I can think of.

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Feline Alchemy soundtrack pt. 4 – when  it hits you feel no pain

The penultimate instalment of the world’s favourite fictitious movie soundtrack is coloured by an element of mental disintegration, casting some doubt on the Bob Marley quote in the title. However, while music never anaesthetises pain for long it does provide one of the sparks of consolation when the days get too gloomy, right?

Chapter 13 – Joy Division/New Order, In a Lonely Place

“How I wish you were here with me now.”

With Closer Joy Division produced an album that was by turns frightening (Atrocity Exhibition), haunting (The Eternal) and uplifting (Decades); it’s also one of pop’s most perfect statements. You can’t add or subtract a note or a word on that record without lessening its spell. New Order’s brilliance was more hit-and-miss: spellbinding songs mixed with filler. In a Lonely Place is essentially NO covering JD, its sense of claustrophobia matching the circumstances of its recording.


Chapter 14 – 13th Floor Elevators, Levitation

“High above the ant hills.”

If the 1965-67 Beatles had been one of the “Nuggets” bands unearthed by Lenny Kaye they’d have sounded exactly like 13th Floor Elevators: a perfect pop sensibility marshalled in the service of an outlandish sound and psychedelic poems based on bits of Gurdjieff, Leary etc. Singer Roky Erickson crash-landed in the cuckoo’s nest, sadly, but this still sounds like sheer (weird) joy.


Chapter 15 – Sisters of Mercy, Anaconda

“Let it take her breath away.”

Goth – a swear word in some circles, sneered with derision. Personally, I quite like derision. Most people are almost always wrong, as we know. So if they started to agree with me then I’d start to worry. The best bands that were labelled Goth in the early 80s, Cure/Siouxsie/Sisters, didn’t simply slap on tonnes of eyeliner and pretend to be bats; they mixed in classic tunes with the snakebite. The early Sisters EPs sound exactly how I’d hoped Suicide would sound: an electro-pulse beat combined with high-strung, scratchy guitars and the world’s doomiest melodies.


Chapter 16 – Dinosaur Jr, Freak Scene

“What a mess.”

The drawl – it’s an underused approach to rock vocals, probably because rock music isn’t intended to be laconic, deadpan and shrugging at the world. Rock music wants to be wired, energetic, and buzzing with fist-pumping pseudo rebellion. J Mascis, bless him, couldn’t be bothered with any of that nonsense. The reason Dinosaur Jr still work as a rock band is due to his approach to playing guitar, which he treats mostly as a percussion instrument.

Feline Alchemy soundtrack –  part 3 of the songs that saved your life

To recap: Feline Alchemy, the genre defining dark fantasy novel, is to be filmed by Hollywood. Naturally, this means the rapier-like wit of the original text will be replaced by a lowest common denominator, bums-on-seats, FX-laden schmuck-fest replete with Dick Van Dyke accents and gooey romantic interludes… but all is not lost, because in these posts I’m providing the producers with a soundtrack so faultless that even they can’t screw it up. After the solid-gold, non-stop hitsvilles of part 1 and part 2, we stray into curiouser and curiouser territory in part 3 –

Chapter 9 – My Bloody Valentine, You Made Me Realise

“Don’t hate me cos I don’t hate you.”

When you listen to MBV at the peak of their powers you get the impression they were making music out of all the sounds that usually slip between the gaps when pop songs get constructed. The tracks on Isn’t Anything and the contemporary EPs seem like the negatives of traditional fully developed pop songs, ghosts of greatest hits beamed in from another dimension.

Chapter 10 – Howlin’ Wolf, Killing Floor

“I shoulda quit you a long time ago.”

Most people couldn’t get away with styling themselves “Howlin’ Wolf”; they’d seem a bit, well, ludicrous. But, in this case, it’s the name Chester Burnett that seems out of place. Chester Burnett might’ve been the name of a haberdasher, a friendly guy who sold you some buttons once; or a travelling salesman, specialising in pickles, say. But with a voice that sounds like a worn and weathered boulder rolling down a mountainside you’ve got no option but to take a name that’s more primal. Ladies and gentlemen, Howlin’ Wolf.

Chapter 11 – Faust, It’s a Bit of a Pain

“Who wouldn’t sell his mind?”

Krautrock as a genre divides opinion. It divides opinion because at its best it’s often like overhearing a motorway pile-up in which pop music was driving one of the cars and the other drivers were Faust, Neu!, Can, etc. Krautrock is a precise and wilful act of vandalism in that sense – that’s the joy of it. But people get teary-eyed about verse/chorus/melody, all mowed down in their prime. And so they disagree with the dangerous driving of Messrs Diermaier, Rother, Suzuki, etc. But that’s ok because Krautrock is the sound of pop music disagreeing with everyone.

Chapter 12 – Loop, Brittle-head Girl

“Trip me up inside your world.”

Pop music 101 – Pick up a guitar, hit the strings; if the noise it makes sounds good, repeat. Loop made it an article of faith to stick as closely to that template as possible. What results is music that’s like a mantra: it pulses around your head like an interior indie hypnotist and either you resist or get washed along with it and start to drift.