There are two kinds of metalheads: those who have a sense of humor about underground metal, and those who don’t—who look upon pictures of chubby shirtless white men in corpse paint and leather pants, wielding painted nerf weapons, with the utmost seriousness.
Joseph Mosconi’s Fright Catalog is the type somewhere in the middle, the one who obviously finds the whole thing just a little funny but is serious enough about it to kill you in the alley behind the show and use your head as a set piece, just for fun. (for an excellent guide to metal songs used as source material for Fright Catalog and more, see Leif Haven’s review on HTMLGIANT). But for all the metal references, Fright Catalog looks and acts more like a high-school goth girl, the one in vintage flower-print dresses, who when you least expect it gets REALLY MEAN, taking you down with a barrage of obscene language and threats. All of the aforementioned things are some of the reasons I keep Fright Catalog on my coffee table.
Fright Catalog is, after all, the ultimate fetish object. By the admission of the publisher (Insert Blanc Press), the work was run through an “online Color Theme generator” in order to determine the different color combinations of text and background corresponding to each stanza. “Every color theme,” the confessional/disclaimer states, “addresses your feelings and is employed for certain moral ends.” We are indeed in the realm of advertising. The “twilight contract/of the black/fascist” that starts the text proper is in part the one signed by the beauty of the object and the contract we sign in purchasing it.
The tension that arises between the ugliness of the language/rhetoric (a word that appears multiple times) and the beauty of the object is a perfect enactment of the commodity fetish. Or, in Mosconi’s words:
The nod to Oppen’s famous stanza (“Thus/Hides the//Parts–the prudery//Of Frigidaire, of//Soda-jerking– . . . big business”) in Discrete Series, paired with a reference to Keats, suggests an inquiry about beauty, minimalism, and poetry’s place as a commodity. This may be “bad business,” but it is also what George Orwell might have called “good political writing” in “Politics and the English Language,” in that Mosconi simultaneously refuses to shy away from the language of violence while avoiding or recontextualizing overtrodden phrases like “commodity fetish.” Of course, Fright Catalog also revels in the decadence of language (something Orwell hated), especially of occult neologism (necrobobsledder). Fright Catalog is good/bad political writing. The text places us somewhere between the catastrophe of everyday life and extreme terror, which, at this point (Mosconi’s point, I think), are the same thing. Welcome to “the department of/apocalyptic affairs.” This horror of the everyday might be best understood in the most over-the-top, self-indulgent language: “For engagement to/be profound/it must first be/superficial.” This is realism, and we’re fucked.
About midway through, the speaker addresses us directly: “Aching/ for a switch/to turn off/mankind//an epiphanic/vomiting/of blood/I hope you fail/miserably/& never accomplish/anything/ever again.” The funny (and I mean Beckett “funny”) thing about Fright Catalog is that most of it is everyday circumstance in the key of the histrionic: “Wonder that on/my rotten cabin/ponders a baptism/in the warm piss/of slaughtered children.” Welcome to our state of permanent war.
What’s actually scary about most metal is that it’s a bunch of pissed off white guys with bloodlust. And that, truly, should scare the shit out of anyone.
Kim Calder lives in Los Angeles, where she studies contemporary literature and critical theory at the University of California, Los Angeles. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Maryland, College Park, and her work has most recently appeared in Unsaid Literary Journal and at Joyland Poetry and Jacket2.