Homeless Takes Readers on A Not-So Magical Journey with Hank Williams

by jerome spencer


After all the tremors amassed their destruction, she somehow stood. And this, more than her excitable laugh or sophisticated shape, was what Hank Williams realized he loved so much about her.


I’m not going to pretend that This Hasn’t Been A Magical Journey So Far isn’t an odd read; it’s specific and weird and kind of obscene. It’s also brilliant and insightful and hilarious and heartbreaking. Homeless uses a storytelling technique so compelling, so masterfully crafted and so unique that it’s impossible not to get wrapped up in his bizarre adventure through what I can only assume is a subconscious gray dreamland that fades in and out of an even more gray reality. The narrative takes its reader through every possible emotion at an almost dizzying pace and is painfully visceral at times. But it is definitely odd.

This Hasn’t Been is about Hank Williams – not the famous country singer, but a guy that “could be effortlessly interchanged with the final note of a really sad, heartbreaking, old-fashioned country song” – and his road trip through his own mind with a giant talking cat named Sid in van they call Nancy. Not just any road trip, but a very harrowing, vulgar road trip on a gray highway through an endlessly gray desert while being lethargically chased by the abyss, eating everything in its path. This Hasn’t Been is also (and actually) the love story between Hank Williams and Patsy Cline – also not the country singer – in a psychiatric facility. It’s a fast and impossible love; the story of two human beings intertwined and doomed from the beginning slowly awaiting their demise. It’s about both of these things because these are the same thing.

The juxtaposition works mostly because Homeless is adept at weaving them together with purposefully obvious hints and indications, none that I’m going to give away here. The cast of characters is small and unsympathetic, lending itself to some uncomfortable moments that I don’t want my mom to ever find out I read and a very fluid moral compass. Homeless also pushes the story with the most brilliant and original similes, defying cliche almost instinctively, and the most obtuse and genius metaphors and symbolism since Lewis Carroll. It’s a fearless kind of writing and, while I’m reluctant to bring up Hunter S. Thompson, it’s reminiscent of the best parts of Fear and Loathing. The parts that actually withstand the test of time.

This Hasn’t Been had me laughing and reeling in discomfort while simultaneously enthralled and fully invested in it’s stakes. It pushes fiction to it’s most audacious limits while avoiding being weird for weirdness’ sake. It’s packed with raw emotion and unadulterated insight. I can honestly say that some of the most profound things I’ve pondered are in this overtly strange novel. It’s a hard sell – genre-bending and obtuse – but absolutely worth exploring and seeking out. If you get nothing else out of it, you’ll be wildly entertained.

Buy the book here.


Heart-On-Sleeve Word Vomit in “Quick Fix”

by Jerome Spencer

“i understand what it means to understand

i’m just tired of using language for it”

There’s urgency in Catch Business’ poetry. It’s as if she just pours her thoughts out as they come with little to no regard for a second perspective. I’m not talking about that pretentious, beat-worshipping, stream-of-consciousness word garble, though; it’s more like unabashedly candid, stark and startlingly intimate. The poems contained in Quick Fix are beautiful in their vulnerability and brave in their sincerity. There’s a cutting familiarity about Quick Fix, as well. Poems that capture that thousandth time you’ve checked your iPhone or opened the Facebook app to see if you’ve been ghosted or are just overreacting hit a little too close to home sometimes.

It would be a disservice to imply that Quick Fix is all heart-on-sleeve word-vomit and odes to smartphones, though. Catch has a knack for capturing the symbolism in commonplace situations, making the very personal appear boldly universal as well. It is because these poems are so current and immediate that they feel so personal. Catch is writing about the kind of things that happen every day and the tiny scenarios that play out in our heads, but she put a language to it. And that language is tremendous. There’s a tercet from “thinking of me” that I can’t stop thinking about:

for shock value we create miracles

i feel so small on my couch

ash on your belly

It’s so deceptively obvious, yet gets more mystifying every time I read it. And I’ve read this whole collection over and over again, each time discovering some new meaning or a different paradox to explore. No matter how often I thumb through the pages, though, Quick Fix never gets any less gorgeous.

Where You Go, There You Are: Talking with Frankie Rose

by Shannon Jay

Frankie Rose replied right back to my direct text message request to be interviewed — going as far to say she just gets excited to even be asked anymore. Despite being a major player in the indie scene for over a decade, the the former Vivian/Dum Dum Girl doesn’t need all those fancy managers, or anyone else for that matter.

 Photo by  Matt Lief Anderson
Photo by Matt Lief Anderson

“When you’re steering the ship, I think things go a lot more smoothly more often, you’ve only got one person that’s deciding – ME! And i like that.”

“Everything!” Rose responded when I asked what has changed in the music industry since she got her start, “I feel like a grandma now.”

“These young bands, they talk about their ‘brand’ or whatever, that’s not something we were thinking about, it was about the music you were making. There wasn’t this gross capitalist slant of ‘I’m trying to sell you something,’ it continues to not be a part of my conversation. I’m just gonna make what i’m gonna make,” she said, “and if you can wrap your head around it and you like it that’s awesome; I don’t know how affective that is at reaching people, maybe it’s not, but i’m also okay with that.”

“Our first tour we didn’t even have a cellphone in the car, we used an atlas to get places,” she said of life on the road with punk band Shitstorm, far from the “very luxurious” situation carrying her from Kansas to St Louis when I called. “we’ll play 3 nights and then take time off,” she said of opening for Alvvays, “I’ve never been so rested in my life.” 

Rose deserves to rest, working odd jobs throughout her career, the worst during her attempted escape to LA a few years back. “I was working out of an ice cream truck,” she said, “it was really dumb.” Personal tragedy, financial hardships, and uncertainty in her musical career might’ve been the dumbest part, because Rose actually likes sacrificing free time. Too much and she said “you start to take advantage of that, you think you have all the time in the world to do things.”

“There’s been years where I could have not had a job but I like having something to do that’s very structured.” In early 2000s New York, she tended bar while making music. “During the day, like a ‘Cheers’ happy hour bartender — I don’t like drunk people,” she specified, “I’m not the most social person, I won’t go out a lot, so to be behind a bar keeps me social.”

HEREIN WILD by Frankie Rose

Introversion may have drove Rose to go solo, and made LA all the more alluring. “I think I had some idea that I would have this space when I went to LA, and time, and isolation — but in a positive way, which turned out to be in a negative way,” Rose said. It was the time on her own she could’ve been alluding to on the opening track of what she thought would be her last release, ‘Herein Wild.’

“I was reaching my decade of being in New York, and it was after a kind of dark record cycle,” she said of time surrounding the 2013 release, “I was really disenchanted and I was like, ‘I’m never gonna make another record again!’ I felt trapped in New York.” 

She fled to her hometown of LA to be free, but expectation of paradise turned into an entrapment of her own creation. This feeling inspired her latest album’s title, ‘Cage Tropical,’ her first in 4 years. “It started out there just at my house making demos and recording stuff in my closet that I turned into a vocal booth,” she said, concluding recording after taking refuge in New York after being out west a little over a year. “It’s great there and it works for a lot of people, but not for me.”

“You have to figure out what inspires you,” she said about bouncing back, finding music the most discouraging source “If I’m blocked, I can’t sit there and listen to music, I’ll tear it apart; it’s like using my brain and the creative energy inside my body; I need to try something else because it’s all the same manna.” 

Instead, she went to art museums, watched films, and engrossed herself in “things that were inspiring to me in another way, things that I thought made the world beautiful and made me want to make something.” Influences encompassed her “fascination with magic — things that can blow my mind or make me look at things in a different way,” citing outer space and “whales in the ocean” as sources of awe.

“Pain is a great motivator,” which she induced by binging paranormal broadcasts from the recently deceased Art Bell. Initially exploiting her existential dread, it eventually inspired her to pen a song in his name. “I never send my music to anyone ever,” she said, “but I did email him, I never got a response – wish I had now.” 

With her latest record, ‘Cage Tropical,’ she’s able to reflect on a need to escape but inability to escape yourself. “Now I’m so totally in a different space, but at the time I was confused,” she said, but the record ends on a brighter note “Ultimately I was able to get back to New York and some of that changed… there’s some pop songs on there too that are happier and on the other side.”

While the albums are being made, however, Rose isn’t sure what they’re about until years later. “Every record I make is a little bit of a time capsule,” she said, “sometimes it’s not so laid out, especially my lyric writing, it’s never like ‘this is a love song, this is what this is about,’ but it’s more a feeling of what i’m having at the time.”

“I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it — and you can’t really take that away.”

“My tastes are changing,” Rose referred to the use of synths on the record, “they’re becoming more interesting to me than guitars, they’re like an endless puzzle.” Serving as a simpler setup and less people to manage, it’s made Rose’s recent tour with Alvvays carefree.

“With touring it’s kind of like a mixed bag, there’s so many different factors that can make something a horrible tour where you decide you never want to play music again, or an amazing tour where you come back inspired and happy to be doing it — luckily that’s this tour,” she said, rearing to get back to New York and make a new record, however long it takes. “When you decide something like that, it’s like looking up Mt. Everest, you’re like ‘i’m gonna climb this mountain, it’s gonna take a long time, who knows,’ but i have the desire.”

It’s a long way from where she was roughly 3 years earlier. “I was really heartbroken about music, so lonely, I find it to be a very lonely place for me, and I’m so grateful for that experience now and I got through the other side of it — and you can’t really take that away.”

“It was no easy feat,” she said of attempting to heal. “There was no one thing, I wanted to get through it so bad, I was willing to do anything it took to get through that heartbreak. That can sometimes mean doing uncool things like therapy, acupuncture, changing your diet, going to self help group — humbling things.” 

“take it easy on yourself, living’s not an easy thing to do”

Not one thing worked for Rose, but together all realms of self care got her through. “There was a time where I pushed open every door and nothing would work, nothing made me feel better, it takes whats it takes,” she said, hopefully. “Maybe someone will hear that and it will help.”
“I don’t think that you can rush healing, grief takes it’s own time,” she said, “it took what it took, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I keep throwing in these terrible chiches i’m sorry,” she interrupts herself, “I feel like I basically just wrote you a self help book,” a reflection of self criticism engrained in her process. 

“I’m my own worst enemy, I’m really great at beating myself up — ‘I feel terrible, and I suck for feeling terrible, I shouldn’t feel terrible, why do I feel terrible’ — I should, I should, I should,” her inner monologue echos, “but i say just take it easy on yourself, living’s not an easy thing.”

We end our chat on a fantasy of an all-female music festival. “I think we need a giant festival that’s not run by crazy conservative whackos, but where the women do everything, and I don’t mean like Lilith Fair,” but where cool chicks headline and females organize, run, and engineer. It’d be a far cry from problematic organizers like Coachella’s founder. “It’s appalling, it’s disgusting,” she dictates her disgust, “luckily they don’t like me.” I offered assistance in her dream, met with an enthusiastic “I’m serious, I would totally do that.” 

Thus, readers, I leave you with one question — who’s down to fund Frankiefest?

“The Garbage Times/White Ibis” Gives Fruitless Perspective on Doomed Beauty

by Jerome Spencer

“The night before, I’d opened an empty dumpster and a tiny rat was at the bottom, jumping up and down, trapped.
So I tipped the dumpster and let him go.
Which, for whatever reason, hurt.
Like hurt bad.”

The energy, pace and stream-of-consciousness writing in The Garbage Times/White Ibis pulls the reader along almost unconsciously.  You’ll find yourself digging in, hanging on to every frenetic word and turn of phrase, laughing out loud and flipping through page after page frantically and genially until – Oh shit. This is really sad.

Two (sort-of) interlocking novellas, The Garbage Times/White Ibis follows it’s narrator from the desolate, frozen streets of Chicago to the swamps of the theme park state without ever losing the author’s dry-wit and distinctive observations. While it goes from damp bar basements, shit-clogged toilets and sharing joints with homeless guys to family parties at the country club, evening bike rides and partying with Girl Scouts, Sam Pink never loses his fruitless perspective on all that is beautiful yet inevitably doomed within both worlds. And, yeah, that sounds fucked up; but is it?

No other writer captures the complexity of human emotion and the rollercoaster that is inner-monologue – particularly while simply observing the most mundane human interaction – like Pink. Often, while reading this book, I didn’t realize my heart had been shattered because I was distracted by my own laughter. Pink’s simple observations become metaphors or, perhaps, the basis for a new philosophy altogether. Whether it’s pessimism or deranged optimism, Pink always manages to sneak the wrong one (?) into every situation, prompting the reader to question everything. Or perhaps just accept things they way they are. The Garbage Times/White Ibis is almost insidious in its power, reminding us to seize and appreciate the beauty around us while it’s there because it’s only temporary. And it all falls apart in the end. Maybe.

It would be a disservice to Sam Pink’s impressive catalogue to say The Garbage Times/White Ibis is his best work, but, if you’ve never read his work before, it would be a great place to start.

“Animals Eat Each Other” Finds Sympathy in Shitty People

by Jerome Spencer

“I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.”

There are so many moments, passages and insights In Elle Nash’s powerful short novel, Animals Eat Each Other, that it’s easy to get lost in the story and forget to breath. It’s a penetrating account of a young girl’s three-way relationship with a volatile couple; A relationship so unyielding that the young girl’s real name gets lost in the surrender as the couple dubs her “Lilith.” This isn’t some quaint story about an innocent victim tormented by a Marilyn Manson-obsessed white trash couple, though. Animals Eat Each Other is a shadowy exploration of obsession, manipulation and the ruins of love and sexuality (even deeper, the fine line between the latter two). The stripped-down prose cuts through the clutter and the façade and tears you open like a dull, serrated steak knife.

Nash writes with precision and passion, narrating the tale like a retrospective and a confessional diary. Her insights are sharp and honest, exploring her own thought process with an almost bemused culpability yet showing little to no regret or remorse. Not to imply that she should feel any type of guilt, per se. Not one character in this book is what you’d call a “good person” by any standard. What they are, though, are real, complex and fully-developed people that illicit something resembling compassion and empathy. What Nash has done with this book is weave a story about shitty people doing shitty things to other shitty people that is somehow relatable and sympathetic, forcing its reader to exist in that hazy place in which right and wrong are subjective and perspective is the biggest lie and the only truth.

Animals Eat Each Other is dark, sexy and astute, the writing so concise and raw that it makes reading such heavy subject matter seem easy and intrusive. Nash’s evocative and intuitive prose pushes the story along, creating atmosphere and suspense. It’s like that train wreck in slow-motion cliché, but the beauty in this chaos that much more relevant and much more rewarding once you dig for it.

“Saul Stories” is an Exercise in Brutally Honest Ambiguity

by Jerome Spencer

“I stood there a long time and Saul stood next to me. I kept waiting for the beauty. It felt like I was always waiting.” 

I suppose if I had to explain what Saul Stories is “about”, I’d tell you something pertaining to a 40 year-old woman who hangs out with her teenage daughter, parties with her teenage friends and has a non-sexual (?) obsession with an underage boy. What Saul Stories is actually about, though, is moral ambiguity, societal expectations/standards and that hazy fog where art and life collide and the rules become unclear.

An imposing collection of short stories linked by the characters, Elizabeth Ellen crafts a relentless narrative that twists and plummets, conflating empathy with enabling and specifically challenging preconceived notions about the unspoken rules that dictate us. In particular, the accepted ideas about friendship, trust, and who can associate with whom. The main character of Saul Stories, an unnamed narrator, is so unlikable – an emotionally stunted “artist” living of a trust fund with no direction while financing a posse of delinquent eighth graders – that distrust for her intentions is imminent and fierce. The stories, however, are told with such brutal honesty and emotional uncertainty that her humanity takes on its own form and that form becomes the most relatable character in the book. It’s so easy to find oneself rooting for the narrator to win although it’s never clear what the stakes actually are or what any character in Saul Stories stands to win. 

Ellen never hits the reader in the face with any of this, though. The stories pummel through time, leaving the inevitable conflict and ugly parts implied like whispers in the community; like dirty looks from illustrious older white men who’ve invested a lot of money in something you obviously are supposed to be grateful for. It’s there. You feel it and everyone else does, too, yet no one ever talks about it. Ellen’s writing is masterful as Saul Stories reads like a candid conversation with an affable acquaintance that just shares too much and doesn’t give a fuck what you think. She never tries to sway the reader’s opinion or stance, merely gives an accurate review of the situation from one side of the story.

Smart without pretense, discontented without angst, uncomfortably funny and painstakingly direct, it’s almost cliché to laud Saul Stories as Lolita for the internet age, but it’s also hard to miss that assessment.