Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Meads of Asphodel: Black Metal's Harry Stephen Keeler

If there was ever a literary equivalent to THE MEADS OF ASPHODEL, it would have to be the novels of Harry Stephen Keeler.. Having always been interested in extremes, and being, back in 2007, in the process of writing a novel (completed in 2008, and due to be published this year), I discovered this author after doing a Google search with the term "worst ever author" - knowing, of course, that "worst" often means, not "really bad" necessarily, but "misunderstood genius or non-conformist".

Like the abovementioned English Black Metal band, Keeler violated all the accepted rules for (in his case, not composing an album but) writing a novel: he crammed his often long and convoluted and intricately-plotted mystery novels with all manner of bizarre ethnic characters, improbable coincidences, and an tortuous and highly inventive prose - something we can find parallels of in the MEAD's eccentric songwriting and flouting of Black Metal orthodoxy. One of the most often cited examples of Keeler's style is the following segment, to be found in the first chapter of his 1934 novel, "The Riddle of the Travelling Skull":

For it must be remembered that at the time I knew quite nothing, naturally, concerning Milo Payne, the mysterious Cockney-talking Englishman with the checkered long-beaked Sherlockholmsian cap; nor of the latter's "Barr-Bag" which was as like my own bag as one Milwaukee wienerwurst is like another; nor of Legga, the Human Spider, with her four legs and her six arms; nor of Ichabod Chang, ex-convict, and son of Dong Chang; nor of the elusive poetess, Abigail Sprigge; nor of the Great Simon, with his 2163 pearl buttons; nor of--in short, I then knew quite nothing about anything or anybody involved in the affair of which I had now become a part, unless perchance it were my Nemesis, Sophie Kratzenschneiderw├╝mpel--or Suing Sophie!

Such a segment reveals also a type of humour which can be readily identified in Metatron's spawn, what with the absurdly long titles to some of the MEADS' songs, such as "Behold the Kindred Battle Carcasses Strewn Across the Bloodied Dunes of Gilgamesh Mute in the Frenzied Clamour of Death's Rolling Tongue and Ravenous Bursting Steel" (Damascus Steel); "On Graven Images I Glide Beyond the Monstrous Gates of Pandemonium to Face the Baptized Warriors of Yahweh in the Skull Littered Plain of Esdraelon" (Exhuming the Grave of Yeshua); and "Falling with Lightning Rays Beamed through the Blazing Firmament Towards the Untented Burial Ground of Kharsag" (The Excommunication of Christ); or, the lyrics of that latter song.

Unsurprisingly, and not unlike the MEADS, Keeler had a dedicated following (peaking in the mid-1920s and early-1930s); while otherwise remaining a fairly marginal within the genre, never reaching the mass appeal levels of more conventional counterparts. We know plenty of very good, but otherwise orthodox, Black Metal bands who have attained commercial success; Keeler's literary counterparts, at least during the 1920s and 30s, were the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett - authors who, defined a genre and became successful, but who avoided the fervid, far-out eccentricities seen particularly in Keeler's later novels.

I mention Keeler a few times in Mister, and one of my birthday presents from my wife last year was a first paperback edition of Keeler's most popular novels (and, as far as I know, the only one that was ever made into a film), Sing Sing Nights.

The parallels between the MEADS and Keeler do not end there, but discussing them here would reveal more information than is appropriate.

I wonder whether Metatron would concurr with my appraisal.

1 comment:

  1. I am humbled you have compared the Meads to far more potent force than ourselves.

    Indeed the similarities are stark enough to warrant your thesis. It is a matter of opinion [normally those in a position to manipulate the mass mentality] whether both music and lyrics are perceived as relevant, conforming and all together in tune with the norm.Writing is no different, as is any medium one sets out to ruffle the feathers of the audience relating to that particular stimuli.. The apparent confusion is masked by the underlying clarity that both Author and Meads seem not to make easy for anyone to disentangle. To not concern ones self with the critical eyes of the media, to ignore their apprehensions, to walk the untrodden paths.The Meads are applying the same limitless creative individuality to the forthcoming opus as was offered the first. I Am aware of Mr Keelers work, but not in anyway knowledgeable enough towards his works to elaborate further

    I bid you well, as always..