NOTES ON DOOM

BY ALEX S. JOHNSON
1.
It’s almost impossible to think of modern doom without thinking of Jesus.
***
Modern doom is a strange thing, the result of media saturation with extreme, apocalyptic imagery. We think of protecting our vulnerable body parts from injury, but never of our eyes, which are the direct conduit of reality to the brain. We even seek out extreme imagery above and beyond the daily dose fed to us by the mass media. Some part of ourselves has grown addicted to the fear-thrill circuit, that recently-acquired mechanism by which we thrill ourselves sick with artificial stimulation. I believe that the crucifixion of Jesus is the Ur-moment whereby this sickness took hold.
Jesus preached a positive doctrine; his message was one of love, hope and humility. He tried to impress upon the powerful the notion that mere wealth and physical/material power does nothing to feed the spirit; for his efforts, he was beaten, scourged and forced to carry his own cross to the place of his crucifixion. The rest is history, or at least a Mel Gibson film (spoiler: the Jews did it.) The onus is on us, then, to either defy his message (love and peace) or embrace it, thus risking material security for a higher goal. The former path leads to a strange sort of new war, whereas the latter forces us to be compassionate to people we despise. Neither is easy, and both are amenable to sentiments of doom. Therefore, without Jesus there would be no doom.
I think it’s important to distinguish effectively between doom, dread, fear, terror and horror. But since I’m not Edmund Burke, and aesthetic philosophy is not my academic strong suit, and because I’m lazy, I’ll just say that doom is a subset of a larger complex of emotions that encompass dread, fear, etc. Doom is just the more, some would say the most, dramatic of these emotions, and can be evoked by a diminished 5th–just listen to “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath and you’ll see what I mean. Doom is dread’s more voluptuous cousin, a kind of Baudelairean mistress who reclines at the feet of Terror, indolently smoking from a long pipe.

Coleridge, De Quincey and many other great and not-so-great writers have commented on the elusive quality of fear as an anodyne, a sort of soul tonic. Once doom becomes a sensibility, it ceases its grip on the real and infiltrates what we see and experience. The sensibility speaks to and of overstimulated nerves, a condition known as “neurasthenia,” for which the only proper treatment is darkness, incense and the viewing of embroideries. The senses of the neurasthenic have become excited to the point that nothing sinks in anymore; thus, the victim must try increasingly desperate remedies to alleviate the symptoms of opacity, which may or may not include elements of fetishism, etc.

Thus, doom: The conscious decision of sophisticated postmodern humans to deliberately blur and dull their outer senses the better to increase the intensity of the inner life. The objective correlative of this experience (to mangle T.S. Eliot) is, physically, extremely loud and intense sound and a light show designed to set off convulsions and fits in the susceptible. To the rest of us, the doom sound is a soothing bath; we ask this sound to bless us with brief oblivion, in the name of the Ozzy and the Bobby and the Wino.
2. Notes made while listening to the second side of Hawkwind’s double live album Space Ritual at 3pm on a Friday afternoon.
:51 seconds in: Lots of hazy guitar noodling.
1:09: A killer space riff happens.
1:30: I’m listening for Lemmy’s backing vocals.
The song is called, I believe, “My Astral Soul.” It’s quite brilliant. Are those–fucking saxophones in there? A horn section? It’s like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass on atropine. Oh wait, “Seven days become seven years.” Some kind of Kabbalistic incantation. “I’ve cast the spell that eternity chained…” Very William Blake, this. More saxophones. The rhythm section, boats swept ceaselessly back by a surging tide, atop which swoop guitars and synths like black raptors…And I think of the rumor about the band Sleep, that they delivered the master tape of their epic 52-minute, entire album-filling song “Dopesmoker” in a skull bong. Not true, unfortunately, but still a great idea. What’s lacking, on reflection, is the connective tissue between or among these thoughts…the best I can explain it, if you’re there you’ll understand, and if not…you need to listen to more fucking Hawkwind, my friend.
A few stray chords croon like John Coltrane’s punk rock cat…a more insistently heavy sensation, like the good acid switching on…I remember this song now, something old pal Roche used to play for me back in the day: “bring all bodies to orgasm simultaneously,” which is just pure William S. Burroughs…”small babies may be placed in special cocoons…metal, not organic limbs should be employed whenever possible…” “Survival means every man for himself…do not attempt to rescue friends, relatives…” Burroughs tells in the book The Job of a special machine he invented to evoke riots and mental illness. “Do not panic,” indeed. The Goon Show meets the Black Acid on a space shuttle. The exchange is made, for good or ill.
But wait…this song is just Black Sabbath’s “After Forever” played more loosely…it’s the same damn riff…and my head keeps nodding, I can’t help it, the beat is infectious; I’m all about it, I want more, I want something mere music cannot provide….and then I have those scary thoughts like “fuck employment” and “I’m happy sitting right here listening to my music,” which thoughts I must drive relentlessly from my brain at the end of a cattle prod. Keep moving, you cows.

I have often wondered whether “the day job” is just a sinister measure designed by the World Controllers to keep us from paying attention too long to any one thing…because if you do have that time and space, you may start making Connections…like that between an excellent and mostly benign experience–listening to Hawkwind’s live double album Space Ritual at 2:55 on a Friday, for god’s sake., and not beating yourself up about it, but actually celebrating this spectacular indulgence…but there was indeed a time, called the 60′s, when this kind of activity would be encouraged, at least by some, for the purpose of spiritual growth. Think about it–what is yoga, or meditation, anyway? Substellar explosions…a kind of purple mist…is this “Master of the Universe:”? I don’t remember it being this hard and fast on the studio version, but it’s obviously Lemmy on bass…and then that voice, “The wind of time is blowing through me.” Michael Moorcock, the science fiction writer, was a frequent Hawkwind collaborator…one thing is for sure, Hawkwind know whereof they speak. Hold onto your heads, friends, it’s going to be a cosmic circuit…
3. Notes taken while listening to Deathspell Omega and other Music starting at 4:07 on a Friday afternoon.
Creeping metal—long fingers of cold steel—an arctic factory where the dead people are foisted on the living—the sorest of despair, a few stray lights instantly snuffed—God help us.
There is no help for the diseased; the wicked and the prayerful are both consumed by the deluge. Satanic monks chant the Hymn Uncomfortable. The wicked are now punished; their severed limbs drape impossibly tall jungle plants; it’s getting hard to breathe with all this sulpher; the Devil is clearly in charge; no hope now. The foliage consumes their heads; colorful parrots with spectacular plumage land on their moldering skeletons…
The question occurs—what is “crock”? What does famed literary critic and suicide Walter Benjamin mean by “crock”? The closest English equivalent I’m able to gather is “substances that fuck you up.”
Reading Benjamin’s earnest logs of the “protocols” of his experiments with various mind-expanding drugs back in days of the Weimar Republic, you kind of want to extend the kind pipe back across the 20th Century with the gentle admonition, “relax, Walt. It’s just called Getting High.”
Obviously Benjamin was not the first or only writer ever to document his drug usage, but he is a significant link between early Modernist critic/poets like Baudelaire and the thousand plateaus of Deleuze and Guattari. His hash-dilated consciousness contributed to his appreciation for arcades—literal arcades, to which modern American shopping malls are the closest equivalent. The hero-as-dandified bum model put forth quite seriously by Baudelaire in a classic essay on Idleness gets an upgrade via Benjamin, who saw the forms the future took in all –too-vivid detail. What we tend to forget, I suspect, is that today’s society is different from Pre-WWII Germany only in kind of madness, not in degree. As almost inevitably happens, those with the most sensitive nerve endings, namely artists and intellectuals, were harder hit than most by the carnage of World War I and the nihilistic lust for pure sensation that filled cabarets to capacity. But as I was saying about the Arcades—I think Benjamin was fascinated by their endlessly receding foregrounds, and the fact that they anticipated themselves. I know I’m not making much sense here, but I think as much sense as Benjamin does. But I don’t read German, so I can’t tell you for sure.
Feel as though I’m being unwound back in time…the master tape has been destroyed and in the end it’s just us and the insects…if I could only understand what the voices were saying, perhaps…but it’s a slim perhaps.
What sane human would subject himself to this kind of treatment, the daily abuse of his soul with earsplitting feedback and drone sounds? The answer is dubious and reflects on the narrator’s reliability. We are into some Deconstructive Territory here, make no mistake.

Remembering Oslo’s Inferno Festival, a week of insanity, no sleep and beer sweats. Somebody’s sick idea of a vacation—traveling to a very, very cold country to hear live, played at incredible volume, the sounds of puking necrotic darkness—sounds my soul has somehow called its own. How does this happen? Insufficient attention as a child? But I had lots of attention paid me, so it couldn’t be that…
I don’t believe necessarily that some people are born under a dark cloud, and thus specially attuned to perceptions that the masses lack. I think the times we live in are extremely uncomfortable, and adaptive measures range across equal extremes. Some turn to God, others to Work, others to Doom. In the end, we’re all corpses, but only the Doom Acolyte will freely admit this.

This is actually more Black Metal than Doom, but I am not a Purist. Venom could be equally doom and black metal; so could Candlemass. My Dying Bride flirt with the edges of black metal through their interchange with other extreme bands. Deathspell Omega are French, which means, I think, very little to the music. The main influences are Scandinavian.

***
Who speaks for Doom today? Which is not quite the same question as, Who is today’s Voice of Doom? The guys with the sandwich boards have taken over, filling your TV with their prophesies. It’s Obama’s fault. It’s the immigrants. It’s the domestic partners. It’s the terrorists.

But who or what is a Terrorist, anyway? What sort of beast might we draw if we earnestly tried not to offend any particular minority group in our depiction? The result would be a kind of blank target, a free-ranging concept that might accommodate many contradictory data at the same time. Useless to explain to an extraterrestrial what a Terrorist is, anyway: “Well, if you’re blue, anybody who isn’t blue could be considered a Terrorist. But we don’t want to exclude the non-blue. At the same time, we consider any non-blues possible terrorists even if they adopt the blue coloring, because, because…and it’s off to see the Wizard again, a plaintive rummaging through the debris of Western Civ for weapons, or tools, anything to get the machine started again.

The Truth is that there are no Terrorists, only acts of terror temporarily associated with a certain cause, what Barthes or Foucault might call Nodes of Terror. Terrorists can only be defined negatively; they are the opposite of their victims. But even this definition stands on logical thin ice, and does not explain Muslim extremists killing other Muslim extremists for the crime of not belonging to their sect. It does not explain Timothy McVeigh or other idealists formed and trained by the United States military, men who came to believe that the patriotism they had nursed in their bosoms became the snake that bit them.

Limitless treachery…and this is where the Empire sinks into enigma, and the moving finger ceases to write…some good and interesting words committed to paper, some deep ideas examined close-up. Writing has done its job of therapy and transmutation, and if this feels hard, remember what having a day job was like?

Fucking terrifying.
***
The good thing about a loose format like this Notes on Doom is that it may encompass any genre, any kind of wild, experimental form, even a novel composed of random pieces and dressed up to look like nonfiction. A Genre to End All Other Genres—forget slipstream and Bizarro, those are for chickenshits; what we need is a high-amplitude riff, a minor key power chord played with maximum volume and distortion. In other words, we need a Doom Fiction as an adjunct to Doom Metal.

Doom is a powerful enough concept to drag even the most recalcitrant Muse kicking and screaming through the mine-fields. In a way, Doom Metal becomes a metaphor for the times; it’s loud, it’s ominous, it’s scary, and at the same time, spiritually fulfilling and even comforting. A Black Madonna, a dark Mother Goddess.

Autobiography is the sacred form of the age, which is perhaps understandable; all of us want to be recognized, and most of us want to be recognized in a positive way. Entire relationships can rest on a shared feeling of frustration and loneliness, fueled or not with shared addictions which help them mask the sense of helplessness before Cosmic Forces…writing autobiography is no more of a gamble with public taste than talking about yourself for hours on end. If, for once, you have something interesting to say, people will listen. The same goes for writing.

A writer fumbles around for a form, feeling in the nooks and crannies of Modernism, Naturalism and even Science Fiction and Mystery; every day, genres seem to be converging. This is also I think a sign of the Times, a harbinger of the Singularity. Once the Singularity hits, all things will become perfect; it is the postmillennial secular form of The Rapture.

Ain’t gonna happen folks, I hate to tell you now. But you’ll thank me later when years and years from now the planet is still around and we can’t move around in it because of the mess we didn’t clean up now. Sure, aliens could come along and up humanity a few I.Q. notches, as happens in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. But they probably won’t. And neither did aliens build the pyramids—Egyptian slaves did that. The cleanup will be intense and may involve centuries, but by then will be Too Late, Too Late…

The authorial masks slips off to reveal yet another, like a series of Russian dolls packed inside one another in a time/space manifold. This is the place where the Helpful Hardware Man must appear, if he is to be seen at all. This is the vortex where All Roads Coincide, all Visions meet, all Circuits are Completed. We have left Borges far behind, still looking for his reading glasses, and entered the AllSoul, a sort of corporate hybrid of a mental state composed of equal parts terror, dread and revelation.

Or not.

In the 19th Century, all authors needed was a subject. The point of view was assumed easily enough. Now that same point of view is an experimental shuttle. Who, we might well ask, actually speaks?
Who, indeed?

The air is filled with bits of poisoned shrapnel. Air raid sirens coalesce. Stacks of amplifiers light up and melt down simultaneously. What few resources we have left are parceled out to the truly needy. The rest of us suck on our lips and hope for the best.

Posted by Dr. Sax - 14/08/11 - 2 comments