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A Conception Pathetic

I have always wanted to write a series of related songs, the story of which being revealed only over the span of multiple albums. This is to say that one song per album is dedicated to the continuation of the story. Not only would it be an interesting and engaging project of some duration, but it would—eventually—create a series of directly-linked songs outlining the evolution and maturity of the artist; which would be fascinating to listen to as, say, a nine or ten song collection. Unfortunately, this would take a considerable amount of time, and I blew my chance after writing the words to Gemini Becoming the Tripod, from Kayo Dot's 2006 album, Dowsing Sea Anemone With Copper Tongue. In fact, I would be willing to bet that no one ever even knew there was an attempt at a story bridging maudlin of the Well and Kayo Dot's Dowsing Anemone.

King Diamond has always been a favorite artist of mine, ever since first hearing Them back in 1990 when I was twelve years old. I had a copy of the cassette that was given to me—without any lyrics or liner notes—so it wasn't until two years later, when I finally bought a copy of my own, that I discovered the songs on that album were all connected and told a very cool horror story. This inspired me and put the idea in my head to do something similar. Unfortunately, neither having a band nor being a musician caused me to shelf the idea until the summer of 1996.

During those years, I had acquired King Diamond's Fatal Portrait, Abigail, Conspiracy, and The Eye; also, Mercyful Fate's The Beginning, Melissa, Don't Break the Oath, In the Shadows, and Time. I loved every second of these, delighting in the facts that Mercyful Fate did not take the concept album approach that King Diamond's solo material did, and that Fatal Portrait told a shorter story over the course of four out of nine songs. Conspiracy, moreover, continued the story told on Them, devoting an entire second album to the concept.

Another artist I had discovered via college radio before I had ever heard of King Diamond was Helloween. I heard their thirteen-minute long epic Halloween one Saturday afternoon as I fiddled with the antenna on my stereo to find the best signal transmitting from Southern Connecticut State University. This was one of the antiquated ways that kids discovered new music when I was that age. It was exciting, frustrating, and often raised more questions than it answered. College radio was how I first heard, besides Helloween, bands like Morbid Angel, Death, Cannibal Corpse, Forbidden, Lawnmower Deth, and Connecticut's own Fate's Warning. I spent the next year searching in vain for whatever album Halloween was taken from in my local record store. (Come to think of it, college radio was also where I heard King Diamond's Halloween for the first time...) I finally found a copy of Keeper of the Seven Keys part 1, and spent the next year trying to determine whether I loved it or hated it. Some of it was genuinely awesome German power metal with cool song structuring and lyrical concepts; but some of it struck me as a joke. Generally speaking, I'm not a big power metal fan and never have been. I've always found it too major key, corny, triumphant, and over-the-top for my liking. It's like Iron Maiden on cocaine. It's too much. Regardless, Halloween is a great song.

The album title indicated that there was a Keeper of the Seven Keys part 2. The final short and atmospheric track, Follow the Sign, even had the album title in the lyrics (sans “part 1”). Now I thought this was a brilliant idea. Aside from the feeling of anticipation it gave—similar to a cliffhanger ending of a show or film—I unconsciously shelved this idea as well for later use. A concept that spanned two albums! What a great idea!

As an aside, I did eventually manage to get my hands on a copy of Keeper of the Seven Keys part 2—on the same visit to Record Town in which I got my first copy of Don't Break the Oath, incidentally. Not only was the song Keeper of the Seven Keys, the long-anticipated continuation of Follow the Sign, awful, but the rest of the album was even worse. I gave it multiple listens in the name of fairness, but knew after the first listen that the entire thing was an utter disappointment. But this is neither here nor there.

Now A Conception Pathetic was one of the first poems I had ever written with the intention of being put to music. In 1996, shortly after graduating high school, Toby, Greg, and I decided to start a band which we called maudlin of the Well. Maudlin means sad, and a well is a place for ghosts to frequent and wishes to be made, so that was how we settled on the name. It seemed perfectly natural for me as a budding poet and writer to contribute my words to the effort, so I began to channel the bands I had been listening to the most at the moment—My Dying Bride and Tiamat, specifically. It certainly shows in these earlier offerings, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. When we first start out as writers or musicians—artists in any capacity, really—we tend to imitate and emulate the artists and heroes who have inspired us until we find our own voice. This was the case for me, at least, and it would not be until maudlin of the Well evolved into Kayo Dot that I finally found my voice. My earliest attempts were too full of archaic language and terms, too many “thees” and “thous,” and my rhymes feel forced. My original intention, of course, was to sound Romantic, but time has proven that the end result sounds merely dated. But we live and we learn, if we choose to.

Drawing from my limited experience and the inspiration I had found in bands like King Diamond and Helloween, and in the poetry of William Blake—which both intimidated and thrilled me—I set out to write a poem which would tell the beginning of a story. I never had a clear picture of the concept from start to finish; I only knew that it would span a number of albums.

Ambiguous, image-heavy and mystical writing, while evocative to read and suggestive to the reader's unconscious, is also sometimes next to impossible for me to interpret years after it was written. Especially in the beginning, when I had more trouble overall getting out what was rattling around in my head. So, from what I could remember and interpret, A Conception Pathetic refers to the literal conception of a child who will bring about the end of the world. The setting sun (an old man) is poisoned and murdered by an evil moon (the woman), and the world is cast into darkness. A third character, intuiting evil to sprout from his own seed, allows himself to be seduced by the moon. I am unsure as to whether he is the sun before it rises, the midnight sun, but this thinking may be too advanced for my age. He lays with her, and the horrible child is conceived.

Rough, yes, and primitive; but I still feel it is a commendable first attempt at an ambitious—although hackneyed—concept. There is one couplet—“I saw in one room a CANDLE / And in another a votive WREATH”—which is a paraphrase of a quote that can be found in the liner notes of motW's Bath. This quote is as follows: “I remember seeing a crown in one room, and I know a chariot goes in another. And I remember seeing a crown and a chariot together somewhere, but I can't be exactly sure where.” This quote comes from the instruction manual to an Atari video game that was released in 1983 as the third (and final) installment to the Swordquest series—Waterworld. I have written elsewhere concerning the spiritual and creative impact that Swordquest has had on my life, and this couplet is one of my earliest lyrical proofs of this.

This story was re-worked into a longer prose-poem that could only be found on the back of the first maudlin of the Well t-shirt Toby and I designed later. It was called Part the First. Unfortunately, I wore my t-shirt until it fell in filthy rags from my body, and I have no record of the actual prose-poem. As an aside, the maudlin of the Well album called Part the Second has nothing to do with Part the First.

The second poem I wrote as the continuation to A Conception Pathetic was called Riseth He, the Numberless. This appeared on motW's Leaving Your Body Map. It opens with a quote from the Book of Job as the third character—the father—from Conception realizes the gravity of the sin he has committed. The lyrics to this song are much easier to follow and more straightforward, and describe the horrible incarnation and birth of the creature conceived in the previous song, and the general feeling of ill omen experienced collectively by the world. The recaptiulation of the couplet regarding the candle and the wreath was inserted as an intentional tie-in, so there would be no mistake that Riseth He is the continuation of Conception. There is no prose-poem to accompany this installment.

After Bath/Leaving Your Body Map, maudlin of the Well evolved into Kayo Dot. I have always been fascinated with this seemingly abrupt creative and conceptual metamorphosis, as both Toby and I seemed to have experienced a “growth spurt” independently of one another in our respective concentrations at this time. I can remember sitting in Toby's apartment and listening to him play what would become The Manifold Curiosity and The Antique, and being completely blown away by the song structure. He explained to me how he wanted to write songs without repeating parts, songs that would grow as opposed to following any sort of formula or style, and I loved the idea. While motW has a pleasant, trippy feel to it, and is eccentric, eclectic, and interesting to listen to for its varied musical palette alone, Kayo Dot is something entirely different. Choirs of the Eye has a darkly beautiful feeling that I can only describe as well-crafted nightmare free verse. It's insane.

At precisely the same time that Toby was experiencing whatever it was that caused him to change his songwriting methods entirely, I was experiencing my own lyrical maturation. I had recently started smoking cannabis, and it expanded my mind—which, unless I have been misinformed, is what drugs are supposed to do. While most people tend to experiment with this wonderful plant in high school, I waited until I was twenty-three. In retrospect, I feel that this late coming to the party was actually beneficial to my growth; I was in a (slightly) more adult headspace then when I was fifteen. I could more fully appreciate its remarkable psychological effect in nudging open an aperture to my unconscious and giving me glimpses of what was creeping around down there. Aum Namah Shivaya.

I had also, at this time, gathered the courage to dedicate my life to the accomplishment of the alchemical Great Work, which I have written about elsewhere. Now this decision was made with the utmost gravity and seriousness, as I knew it would completely change the trajectory of my life from the material to the spiritual world. The effects of this decision were felt on multiple planes, and as a partial result, I feel that I gained a foothold on my creative slope. Not only could I reach into my unconscious through my new aperture, but I could sift through its contents and use what I found in my writing. I could transmute unconscious images. I dropped the “thees” and the “thous” (mostly), I stopped thinking in terms of linear poetic verse and mechanical meter/rhyme, and I began to allow myself to write what naturally flowed. As stated above, I found my voice.

Over a period of months, I experimented with this new method of writing. I wrote a number of poems that would become the words to both Choirs of the Eye and Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue. One of these poems was called Gemini Becoming the Tripod, which appears on the latter album. It is the final installment of my multi-album story, and is even more ambiguous than Conception. I don't want to say that is was forced, but by this point I had more or less outgrown the idea. I felt that with a limited number of songs per album, devoting lyrical content to the continuation of a rambling story with no foreseeable conclusion was a waste of space. I had, and have, more to say!

As a result of this tear, Gemini is written behind a nearly indecipherable veil that is best left to the reader's imagination to interpret. I couldn't tell whether I wanted to continue my story in the name of duty, or move entirely in the new direction my writing had taken. So, using the appropriate symbolism of the Twins, I blended both directions and concluded the story with an abrupt cataclysm. The tale changes perspective and moves further inward, so to speak. Inward toward the molecular level, to be precise. The symbols of the first two poems—the waxing moon poisoning the dying sun, the seduction of innocence, and the birth of a monster resulting from this union—became a mere foreshadowing of the tremendous evil to come; they have morphed into a metaphor. To be succinct, Gemini Becoming the Tripod refers to splitting the atom and the nuclear catastrophe that will inevitably follow. The Twins—or the atom—are the lunar woman and the narrator, and the unnatural “child” of their coupling is the result of fission in the universe of spirals. Kaboom. The End.

It's funny the way things turn out. What seemed a perfectly reasonable and interesting experiment when I was eighteen had evolved into a burden by the time I was twenty-four. I ended my story with decisive and abrupt violence, in harmony with any nuclear holocaust, and satisfied myself with a trilogy of songs that I still have difficulty tying together. Ultimately, I think, if you want to tell a story, use the tried and true format of a concept album. Or, at most, have one song on two consecutive albums directly related. Otherwise, too much time in between efforts will eventually stifle both the story and the storyteller. Toby asked me once about Gemini Becoming the Tripod shortly after it was written. He had speculated that the words were about my personal first success in MAGICK. I explained that it was the third installment of my story, to which he replied, “Oh.” In retrospect, as I write this almost twenty years later, it seems that the poem is about MAGICK. Maybe not my earliest, or first, successful experiment, and certainly not in plain language; but it represents an act of Will, a re-focusing of energy and intent onto a more personal and unique path. It is precisely the cutoff point for me between my lyrical conceptualization as a teenager, and what it has grown into.

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