New essay “The Sixteenth Tape” published in Creative Nonfiction Magazine’s TRUE STORY series. Careful, it’s a wild one.
I found a knife today, the blade of which is engraved on each side. One side has the words “ONE IN MY HEART” and the other “ONE IN EACH SIDE.” This would be a terrifying gift to receive from an ex-lover, yet it was a gift from my dear friend and musical compatriot Kevin Brace——mailed to me at my apartment in Flatbush, Brooklyn a couple years back. It arrived without note.
The engraved words are lyrics to a song I wrote years ago, 2002, for a band called Leaving Rouge. Back when we believed music could heal everything, that it held the answers. The spell. I thought I’d share that oldie here, the work of a twenty-three year old dreamer and some good friends: You Could Be The Knife.01.22.18
I still make music on occasion and it usually sounds like the Midwest. Although I wrote this song last year while I had pneumonia, shut inside my Flatbush, BK cage, it was about Ypsilanti. Neon-night driving, windows down. Midnight cowboy dreams.
<iframe style=”border: 0; width: 100%; height: 120px;” src=”https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=2162742642/size=large/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/tracklist=false/artwork=small/track=2316781631/transparent=true/” seamless><a href=”http://seanmadiganhoen.bandcamp.com/album/ocean-avenue-part1″>OCEAN AVENUE part1 by Sean Madigan Hoen</a></iframe>06.14.16
An indirect endorsement, but an essential (as always) perspective on right now.03.14.16
New Jersey drives Highway 1 like a drag strip. Highway is a facetious term for this stretch, a 50mph boulevard split in two by a three-foot high concrete partition. Lots of computer phone usage, rear end smash-ups, hasty lane changes—surprisingly little road rage, as far as I can tell. I’ve been caught dazing, gazing, usually at a succession of dire old corporate parks lining the way. The lawn of one multi-plex has been overtaken by Canada Geese. Another seems to be the site of a Delillo novel that may or may not have been published. When I pulled onto the gravel shoulder the other day and walked a few hundreds yards towards a structure guarded by signage reading SRI International, the sun lowered behind the branches, threw down a lightshow. I saw a very small black-haired woman there, crouched in the thickets, collecting dead leaves in plastic bags, never once looking up as I crunched right past her. It was her space and place, but as for her plans… I’m curious…
Darkness at 5PM does no good for nocturnal creatures, but don’t we savor those low-flying rays a little more come afternoon? Heard daylight savings time was designed for farmers tending the harvest, or school children when they used to walk their morning walk, or, finally, the bankers, something with the banks… international trades and such. Someday we’ll look into it. Not this Monday. Life on life’s terms. Time on time’s terms.
Been thinking about that tree-dwelling self-appointed god-woman at the end of Denis Johnson’s The Laughing Monsters. La Dolce. El-Olam—the Everlasting God. (her words). Her madness means something to her desert village of rags and bones. I have met her many places but never throned in a tree.
Keep an eye on the Keystone Pipeline, the maniacs simply will not stop: https://secure.sierraclub.org/site/Donation2;jsessionid=EA1F51F320BC2BD6B2C823112A76E370.app234a?df_id=24621&24621.donation=form1&SRC=E14LEGF001&autologin=true11.24.14
A Simple, scuffed-up meditation on huge, simple things. I spent a few of this summer’s heatwave evenings singing to the walls of my apartment and to those walking or loitering down below on 8th Avenue. My windows are always open. I’d make up songs, mumbling half-formed words to whoever was listening. On one occasion a group of born-and-raised Brooklynite youth joined together in a chant, calling up to me with a message I couldn’t make any sense of. Maybe they liked the sound. I’d like to think so, but I really don’t. But why not share an occasional song, ragged as it might be, like the days when people gathered in a living room and passed the accordion, or listened to Sweet Cousin Chucky tinkle away on the piano. Now we often gather here in the abstract, screen-to-screen, rarely at the same time. Between writing sessions, I sometimes improvise a quick jingle with no literary aims at all. Just the simplest words, however they come. If you listen closely, you can hear the sirens and the brakes hissing as the buses come and go—I’d gotten so used to the city sounds, only the strangest noises—a howling drunk or a gone-to-madness lovers’ quarrel—would even register. Or those boys, shouting with some groupmind that didn’t understand itself, because they looked so confused once I stuck my head out and shook my fist along with them, offering total solidarity.09.25.14
September 23: sister Caitlin’s birthday. It’s fair to say it creeps up slowly each year, the winds a little cooler than the week before, sometimes an early morning fog and brittle grasses that are warm again by noon. One year—I can’t remember which—I gave her this frame, having snatched the enclosed picture from an old photo album. For thirteen years now, it has perched on my desks and dressers, the thing I’d be sure to grab in the event of a fire.
Strange that it was only last year that I realized John Coltrane—whose records account for a good 15% of my non-collector’s collection—shared the same birthday as Caitlin. Having no finite ideas about things astrological, it’s nevertheless a nice coincidence to ponder, in this case. As much as any writer or thinker, he’s my hero in the realm of art; yet he spoke so few words. He didn’t need to, of course. I suppose Caitlin didn’t need to, either. It’s not language I think of when remembering her, but an essence that’s always changing and full of wide-open feelings I’ve only begun to understand.
Honor to lives lived, the good ones.
Thank you, very kindly, for the inquiries about my musical past.
I was (am) conflicted about any merger between my writing life and the music I’ve made and still, on occasion, make. At times, I’ve attempted to disown the records I’ve taken part in; in the case of a particular album, I’ve bought every copy I can find in order to destroy evidence of its having existed. Obliviously, and despite the musical tales in Songs Only You Know, I hoped I’d be able to keep these lives apart—an ironic notion on more levels than one, if you’ve read the book (and consider the internet).
Though I don’t view Songs as music autobiography, I know a small audience was attracted to the book due to an awareness of my first band Thought of Ionesco (a going concern in the first 2/3rds of the book). To my view, TOI (in which I played from age 17-21) made for good storytelling due not to its artistic merits (if it had any whatsoever), but for the hysteric and pathetic missions we undertook as young men. For those who’d like a sample, my suggestion would be to seek out the song “Figure” from the 1998 album A Skin Historic. Recorded live in one take (save vocal overdubs) and mixed just as hastily, it’s a seven-minute piece of sludge that evokes several things the band was known for, including a narcotic improvisation section. We considered it “headphone music.” The following year, 1999, saw the band’s sound change to a less complex and dare-I-say “rock influenced” brand of chaos. Our listeners did not like these final recordings (made when I was 21), though I felt the “screams” were better captured at these final 1999 sessions, as on the song “Learning an Enemy.” A mentor named Tim Pak recorded each of the band’s four records (in three years) and numerous singles in a former wig shop called Wonder Wigs on Nine Mile Road. Tim worked on a truly proletariat level, making records for pennies, and was invaluable to the Detroit music scene of the ’90s.
Known as a “hardcore” band, TOI operated with the low-budget, DIY spirit of hardcore punk, but aimed for a high form of sonic destruction and did so with the blind conviction of sad, angry young humans. I’ll vouch only for its honesty. If you’d like, uou can read an interview I gave about the Songs Only You Know and Thoughts of Ionesco: HERE.
As for what followed, it’s no exaggeration to say that I wrote and recorded hundreds of songs between the years 2001-2006, under my own name as well as with various bands. Stylistically, it was a nearly schizophrenic turn away from “hardcore,” a change accelerated by my sister’s death and my ensuing reliance on expressive, consoling records by Nick Drake and The Red House Painters. Much of the music I made haunts me, as it was always marred by the troubles of those times. There’s such a keen difference between wild obsession and focused intention—volumes were created, yet so little material was truly realized. Some of these songs, though, thrived in a small community of music lovers and friends, primarily in the Midwest and, especially, in Detroit. Flattered by the book-related interest, I’ve done my best to compile a few songs to supplement “Part Three” of Songs Only you Know.
I’ve called this collection exactly what it is: Old Slow Sad Ones. [download/stream]
What unifies this batch of songs is that they were recorded by David Feeny at his Tempermill Studio. Some of these were written in a Kalamazoo cemetery, and I remember weekly drives toward Detroit on I-94, propelled by cassette copies of albums I loved and a dream that someone out there might someday listen to my songs on a long, dark road—that’s what I wanted it to be, I suppose: music you feel when you’re alone. Sloooow, loooong songs that evoked the wee hours and quiet Michigan terrain. The bands who helped me make this music broke up before anyone heard these recordings. We were in our early to mid twenties. Over ten years later, I still have no perspective on how bad (or good) the music might have been.
A few of these tracks were performed with a band called Leaving Rouge. On others, I was joined by whatever friends I could coerce into learning the songs. Which leaves me with a feeling I should have expressed in Songs, during that hazy moment at the end when the faint rays of Now begin to slowly dissolve the past: The music was never in vain; it gave me friends, and love, connection to what’s right here.
Photos in this post by CJ Benninger, one of a few photographers who documented our corner of the Detroit music scene.07.30.14
The desk at which 98% Songs was written and revised: now in pieces at the curb.
It was an ineffective bit of cheap furniture; even worse was its accompanying chair (chiropractors would do well to keep these items on the market). For the last two years the desk’s legs were held in place by continuous applications of something called Gorilla Glue. On two occasions it collapsed mid-sentence; one one occasion it was kicked apart and reassembled. After beginning its life as a collection of particle board components packaged in and shipped from China, it was assembled by hex key in Brooklyn, NY and then lived in four different apartments over a span of eight years. Five years of cigarettes were smoked at its edge; later, three years of nicotine gum was gnawed here. This desk will not be missed, yet hard-earned money was “gotten out” of it.07.29.14
Tore through Kevin Barry’s short story collection Dark Lies the Island (Graywolf), many gems within, humor that hurts and the employment an Irish-centric tongue that gives the whole thing its own special brand of scintillating brood. Great stuff.
Old friend and Kalamazoo denizen DJ Kray Liotta makes great summertime mixes, feel free to steal them HERE. Themes vary per mix, but it’s always good with Kray.
Thirty-six stories above Sixth Avenue the place was all chrome and glass, windows staring flat-out at another scraper, which from that view looked like a vertical runway shooting heaven-ward to obscure every last smear of sky. I suppose people with thirty-six story window offices get used to this kind of stimuli, but to me the whole world seemed to shift step-by-step as I walked the windowside hallway—a megacity optical illusion. These windows gave a new perspective. The screen in the lobby flashed a video loop over the scene, reflecting in the windows and glass and gleaming surfaces. I sat in the lobby watching multi-mirrored images of Paul Stanley in full starchild black-and-white face paint, the hirsute chest and pouting—oh, baby, do me—lips. Ah, yes, we are in Rock Land, 2014-style. And, I do not lie, within a minute a new face was reflected from the giant lobby screen and it was the face of none other than Jon Bon Jovi. Of course, I know these faces. Everyone does. But do we enjoy them? Get your face out of my face. Building security had escorted me on the elevator ride up, as was procedure when dealing with visitors who aren’t in possession of a photo ID.
Dave Marsh, it turns out, is every bit the veteran rock and roll lover you’d imagine a glory-day’s Creem and Rolling Stone journalist would be, just riffing on Detroit and Iggy and Mitch Ryder within twenty seconds of making my acquaintance. He sat down beside me on the lobby couch and shot right into a conversation, whatever the hell he and I felt like talking about then and there: Detroit Unions, civil rights heroes who’d mentored him out of a hicksville upbringing on the outskirts of Pontiac. As a twenty-year old he’d lived in a house with Lester Bangs, their wild man energies banging around the premises and on one occasion combusting during a living room wrestling match incited by their disagreeing views on the merits of the first Black Sabbath record.
This stuff pours out of Dave. He tells a great yarn.
He talked on our way into the studio, and as the engineer was getting the levels, and as his intro music was playing, and when he got the cue—1, 2, 3, you’re on—he talked right into the first sentence of the radio show, and it was all interesting. It went like that, talking about the book and mostly about whatever crossed Dave’s mind, because the guy just rolls with it and it’s uniquely fun to be around. Much gratitude that Dave liked the book and invited me into his radio zone. Tuesday night, NYC.
A ticket came my way tonight and I took it. My affection for the true-blue screamers, an old-timer like Keith Morris, is all about vitality, the antic Zen-prankster style he has going, his rust and sparks voice, fifty-eight years old, down for life with punk rock ceremony. OFF!’s sardonic bite is pure pissed-off fun, sans pain. The band has too much rock and roll in their groove to settle entirely for old-school rhythms, so everything swings in a trashy fashion [Mario R. is a heck of rock drummer]. Irony seems the self-defense mechanism of the digital age, but OFF!’s videos do a nice job of wagging a forked tongue at punk rock, whatever that is. They’re making fun of the thing even as they’re doing it better than anyone else around.05.18.14