The Noblest Path: In Celebration of the 11th Hour

The Tale of an Ancestor:

These medals-do you see these medals?

Look how they gleam in the lantern light, monsieur bartender. Look how fine they are, perfect in form and shape.

Can you read? No? Don’t worry, neither can I. But I have been told by good people what they mean.

Served with honor.

Served with distinction.

They were earned in Africa; they were earned by my sweat and I paid for them in the coins of terror. Yet all I can remember is the sand, the heat, the screams and roars of rifles. I know the smell of both gasoline and death very well.

All I can remember.

Paid for.

Whatever they’re worth, I shall sell them to you, here and now. Just grant me more drink, of beer and wine. No, no fuck that, good monsieur.

Whatever you have that is oldest and strongest.

I

The clock is about to strike 11:00.

And when it does, I wonder, shall I break? Shall I sigh in relief? In any case, I hope that I at least have enough weariness to cry. I hope that in the 27 years of the life I have lived, I hope I have enough perception to detect the felling of the embers. The cooling of the barrels, and the growing of the grass.

II

When I was younger, they seemed old.

When I was their age, I knew not how I felt.

But now I am older, and I see just how young they were. They were children, naive and innocent to the infinite horror before them. And if they were here today, at my doorstep, I would make sure they come in and I would wrap them in blankets and serve them beer along with warm bread. I would do whatever it took to keep them from stepping back out of my door, regardless if they were friend or enemy. I would lay down all of the events that have happened in the hundred years since then-books, newspapers, movies, music, nothing would be spared. Their legacy literally laid out before them.

But I know they must step back out that door.

For that is what the tides command.

They must return to the mud, ash, lice and terror.

There is ultimately nothing I can do.

But if I could show them one last thing before they fully left, I would show them the clock. I would show them the hands, pointed at that now sacred hour. And I would tell them that no matter what comes next, no matter the vastness of the void and the gore, to never stop looking for those hands. Clutch your crosses, don’t stop praying. And never stop looking for those guiding hands. For if ‘7’ be the number of heaven, then 11:00 is the hour of heaven.

III

The clock is about to strike the eleventh hour.

I see now, the cry that must be rallied through the streets. We see so much violence every day, of all stripes and designations, why should the smote of a note of an unfeeling book be the tipping point for our weary senses?

And yet, that is the defeat the true enemies of humanity, indifference and selfishness, want of you. Yes, we must be strong in our day to day and let it be said that I don’t denounce that. But no matter how strong we must be, let there ring a lyric of weakness.

No matter how much of our own wars we face, let us not be immune to the imperceptible. When the hour of peace finally comes, let us all feel it resonate across our open eyes, our open hearts.

Rest in peace, young brothers. Rest in a peace that could not be granted to you here, but certainly upon golden shores. For empathy is the fairest maiden, and she is holding your hand as she walks you down a path that is wholly hers.

For hers is the noblest path.

I pray that is a path we may walk

Rest in peace, young brothers.

I’m looking now at the clock. I see where it’s at, how close the seconds are.

There!-The clock has just struck the eleventh hour.

The war is over. The war is over, at long last, the war is over.

The war is over. The war is over.

The war is over.

It’s over.

I

Update & New Series

Bon soir, everyone. Sorry it’s been some time, I’m well aware of the criticism all of you may have. But no, I’m back on the case yet again, with an announcement of a new series. You see, one of my hobbies is tabletop role-playing games, and for awhile I’ve been wondering if there was some way to incorporate this hobby of mine with the rest of my writing.

Enter Chronica Feudalis. This RPG, written by Jeremy Keller, is a wonderfully written book that facilitates historic role-playing in the middle ages with a focus on realism and historic accuracy. Beautiful in it’s prose, I’ll probably give a full review of the game itself soon. But what I’m going to be doing is taking my players, playing solo and group adventures, and recounting them here on my site as a new series. It should be fun, look forward to it soon.

Aline & The Magic Pear: III

She was trying to think.

She was trying to think about the moment and not what it would soon be like to be free of the hell she had lived in for a year.

She was trying to think about what she would say to try and get the wicked ogre to eat the fruit that would spell his ultimate doom.

But most of all she was focusing on being calm and being natural, trying to harness whatever rage still flowed in her veins into this, her final mission, if she was not careful. And as she walked into the entrance, holding the pear behind her in her hands, she felt the disgusting cool of the wooden cabin welcome her like a vulture’s claws wrapping themselves around a mouse. And of course, there was that ugly ogre, Brute, sitting by his gross living-room table on his chair, looking smugly expectant as rivers of anger flowed through the squelches in his brow.

Aline tilted her head down, looking at him with unflinching intensity, breathing with hard anger.

For a moment, neither said anything.

“Don’t just stand there girl!,” Brute roared, clearly uncomfortable with the vicious stare Aline was destroying him with. “Get over here now!”

But Aline stood as still as as the mountain; only a slight breeze rustled her hair.

Brute blinked in stupid confusion; ‘Did this scrawny human girl just disobey me?’ But that was impossible, he would kill her if she disobeyed him.

He immediately stood up, hoping that his eight-foot height and bulky frame would scare her back to her senses but this too was ineffective. So he began walking towards her, raising his hand to strike her across her stubborn face. But before he could, she raised her right hand in front of her, holding the red pear in front of her.

“Un moment, monsieur,” she said aloud and Brute did stop for a brief moment to eye the oddity in her hand, only to smack it out of her grasp. The moment was fast but she saw the pear fly across the air and hit the nearby wall.

No!, she thought to herself as she focused her gaze back on Brute who had now wrapped his ugly claws on her shoulders and was shaking her with great, angry strength. Aline heard inconsolable and unintelligible anger in his voice as she saw her hair whipping all around her. She was being shaken so hard and with such force that she thought that if she didn’t keep her neck straight she thought it might break, before he forcefully threw her hard on the ground, causing her to hit her forehead against the floor.

“Ugh!,” Aline coughed in pain as she began massaging her forehead, all the while Brute roared so hard, the dust in the air was pushed all around him. Aline didn’t pay attention to him for she knew that he was just blabbering on about how she could never disobey him like that without punishment. And yet, in that moment, the only thing she found herself doing was being angry; not at the ogre but instead at Aurore, of all people. How is it that her mother, the most beautiful and gentle woman Aline had ever met had not just let herself become shattered but had also left her daughter in the dregs of a hideous, unstoppable, offensive beast like this monster?

Aurore.

Why?

How could you do this? How could you do this to yourself and to your daughter?

“Hate,” Aline whispered to herself, spitting a tiny bit of blood onto the floor in front of her while trying to get up. “I hate you, Aurore.”

Pardon?,” came the deep voice of Brute, confusion swathing through his anger. Aline looked back up at him.

“How did my mother shatter? How is it that I am here, and have only memories of living with my mother and then suddenly being here?

“I have no idea why I’m here right now.”

There was a moment’s pause from Brute before he made a quiet chuckle which of course quickly turned into a belly grabbing, full forced laughter.

“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.

“Stupid girl, it looks like I shook you into idiocy,” he said, while looking down at her coyly. “But as I told you once before, your mother lost a bet with the king of the goblins.”

“What bet?”

“The bet that she could not fall in love with him or else she would turn into diamonds. But Matthieu, the king of the goblins is shrewd and cunning; he courted her the way all men who want a woman only for the sake of a game court them.

“Do you know how men court women only for the sake of a game?”

Aline shook her head and Brute smiled smugly.

“Some find those with little self-confidence and force themselves into their lives by way of sweet blessings. Others find those who have a little more confidence and let them think they are in charge of the relationship and the situation, even when they are clearly not. But your mother, well, she was not either of those types of women. She is the strong and mystical type, the type of woman that is the hardest and most satisfying to conquer. To conquer strong women like Aurore is hard.

“But Matthieu is patient. And so, by using his charms, his magics, his cleverness and his vernacular she could not help but fall in love with him. And when she did, in a gasp, she turned into diamond; all according to his plan, his plan to steal her magic.

“But,” said Brute, looking disgruntled and angry, stopping himself. His already angry brow suddenly became more intense.“But the queen of the fairies was watching over your mother. And when Aurore turned into diamond, she shattered her to protect her from falling into his clutches.

“Yet, fortunately, I was lucky enough to have claimed Aurore’s heart. Even now, Matthieu looks all across the kingdom for me.”

Aline listened intently, while memories of Aurore flooded her vision, cold goosebumps creeping across her arms. Looking up at Brute, she asked him plainly, “Why am I in your clutches then?”

And for the first time, Brute looked at her with but the slightest hint of something other than cruelty and malice. It was a look of condescension tinged with a small balance of respect, as if this was something his young prisoner should know herself. And yet, even this was laced with sarcasm and credulence. Still, his answer was honest.

“Because you are closest to her heart,” he replied.

For a moment, he kept looking down at her while Aline, dirty and calloused, covered her mouth with her hand and let out a small tear. Any sympathy Brute may have had had quickly left his senses. But he turned around to where the red pear had landed, went over and picked it up. It was small in his massive claw.

“A red pear?,” he asked the air. “And it is warm with the softness of a slight magic.” Looking over to her, he said, “Once I eat it, you will go back to work immediately.” Aline then looked up to see Brute, without anymore hesitation, throw the fruit into his mouth and swallow it with a loud, juicy crunch.

Then, nothing.

“What a strange flavor,” Brute said. “Hot, with an Earthy flavor. Like a heavier, darker cinnamon flavor.”

Aline watched expectantly from her corner on the floor. Had the magic failed?

Then, Brute went to say something when he suddenly stopped, a horrified expression on his face. He made a few puzzled, painful gasps as tears began to flow from his eyes and smoke began to pour from his mouth in lengthy plumes.

“Aaaah!,” he loudly screamed, clutching his throat and falling onto the floor. Aline stood up, watching in horror as Brute’s entire body soon began smoking and sparking, his dirty clothes quickly catching fire while he rolled in agony and futility.

What have you done to me?!!,” he roared as the fire consuming his body from the inside began to fume from his bubbling skin and start igniting the entire cabin on fire. He was in such pain, he was destroying the floor with his bare hands as he pounded them in painful vain.

In but a moment, Aline was beginning to find herself in an inferno.

But still, she was paying attention.

Brute, who was writhing on his back, quickly turned onto his gut and was trying to crawl out to the back porch door when Aline saw her opportunity finally before her. She ran over to the struggling ogre and while his back pocket was undefended, she pulled the iron key from his pocket, surprisingly cool in her hand.

Without a moment to lose, she ran up the stairs to Brute’s room and let herself in to the poorly maintained room that consisted of a lone mattress in the corner, several piles of trash and next to a little stand, the ornate box that held her mother’s diamond heart.

She had just grabbed the box when she heard the heavy stomps of the ogre coming up the stairs. Knowing that he was in a rage and no longer had any patience for her to be alive, she noticed his long window, the one he had used to watch her work in his orchard with for several months.

“That has to be it,” she told herself. Looking around the room that also had smoke breaking through the cracks in it’s walls, she put the heart’s box on the ground, grabbed Brute’s little nightstand and threw it against the glass of the window, shattering it. She picked the heart’s box again and noticed a clear bottle that messily read ‘alcool‘ next to the nightstand when the door to the room opened and Brute came in, practically nothing more than a flaming, angry skeleton.

“Give me back your mother’s heart!,” he roared with fury, running over to where Aline stood. With few options left, Aline picked up the bottle, pulled out the cork that sealed it and threw it against the monster that had enslaved her for a year of her life. At the same time, she picked up the massive pillow Brute slept with, a hard and disgusting thing. And with the ornate box still underneath her arm, she leapt out the window with the pillow underneath her while the explosion that once was Brute followed behind her like a shadow.

Of fire.

Aline could feel the heat of the flames against her feet, and she felt the breeze of flying for but a moment before the hard slam of the ground against the pillow and her body.

“Ooph!,” she shouted as she landed, rolling on the ground and trying to absorb as much of the blow as she could. She looked up to see that the cabin was completely on fire, and some of the nearby pear trees were also beginning to catch fire as well. Quickly getting up and holding the key and box as tightly as she could to herself, she proceeded to run as long and as hard as she could, out of the orchard and into the forest.

How long she ran, she could not say. Barefoot and with but her working dress, she felt the stabs of the forest floor and the slashes of the tree branches against her face and shoulders. Pollen, thick and annoying, infiltrated her nostrils, making her sneeze.

But she was free.

“Wooh!,” she began to scream in joy, ignoring the pain she felt. She was smiling and felt more joy than she had in a long time. The dirt on the forest floor had a clean feel to it against her feet, the branches provided great swaths of cool shade and the air was thick with the smell of blooming flowers. She laughed loudly, over and over again.

The monster was gone and she felt no pity for him.

Eventually, as darkness began to descend, she eventually found a small, woodland pool. Stopping by it’s banks, she rested the key and small treasure chest on the shores and took a few steps in. The water was brisk but felt good. There, she took a few deep drinks from the clean mountain water and cleaned her feet and arms, washing the sap and dirt away from her face and hair, occasionally letting out a small laugh and smile. Everything just seemed bigger and more open than it ever had before. When she was done cleaning herself off, she began twirling and dancing in the shallows, kicking water and splashing nearby fern plants.

“Yaaaaaay!” she yelled, letting the positive energy flow through her. She was so, so happy.

She was resting.

Which is why she did not immediately notice the boy.

Looking down in the water, she followed the silver swimming of a tiny fish by her feet. As the fish swam into the deeper part, she saw a shape she did not immediately recognize. At first she thought it might have been a small statue deep in the pool. But when she looked closer she saw that some twenty feet away from her was the shape of a young man who looked like he had lost conscious underwater and was drowning.

“Oh mon dieu!,” Aline cried when she finally realized what it was. She looked around the shore and saw no other evidence that the boy had left any belongings on the shore. She bit her lip, panicking.

Seeing no other options but not being much of a swimmer herself, she took a few steps forward and a deep breath before she dove down to where the boy was as best as she could. Here, the water was cold and the depths were making her head pound as she dove as best as she could. Her head was ringing like a bell from the pressure and she herself was running out of air. But she finally grabbed the boy by his shirt and just as she began having to gulp water, they made it to the surface.

She was coughing, sputtering with water.

“Poor, poor heavy boy” Aline grunted as she held him as close as she could. Using all of her strength, she carried the well dressed young man to the shore and over to her belongings, laying him on his back. Exhausted and without energy, she could feel herself passing out. But squeezing her hand into a fist, she slammed it against the young man’s chest as hard as she could.

Once.

Twice.

Thrice before he sat up and began sputtering and coughing great amounts of water from his lungs.

“What, no!,” he shouted while looking around himself, appearing unsure of his surroundings. Wiping a few black hairs from his handsome face, he found himself looking into the wet, exhausted face of Aline, blinking from fatigue.

“You, you saved me,” he whispered politely.

Aline tried to weakly smile before she passed out on the spot, her head falling on a soft, comforting pile of red leaves, that had not been on that shore but a second ago. Not far from her head was the key and the iron chest. And for a moment, inside, the heart beated for but a moment.

CRASHDOG – OUTER CRUST: THE LAST GREAT PUNK ALBUM OF THE 90S//20TH ANNIVERSARY RETROSPECTIVE

Crashdog’s 1997 release Outer Crust is the last great punk album of the 1990s.

As someone who identifies himself as a punk rocker, I don’t say that lightly. Indeed, depending on how eclectic your taste is, you could say that the 1990s were chock full of amazing punk albums for specific subgenres in a way that future decades would fail to replicate, from RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication being the greatest funk-punk-rap hybrid albums of that decade, to Streetlight Manifesto’s Keasbey Nights and The Suicide Machines’ Destruction by Definition being the decade’s best ska punk albums, all of which regardless are fantastic albums that I love. So it is not my intent to start a flame war-you can take all my opinions with as many grains of salt as you want. And yet, as far as I’m concerned, Outer Crust is equal to Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 Songs as the greatest straightforward, no sass, punk rock album of the 1990s.

This last June marked the album’s 20th anniversary-and this article really should have been put up back then, on the 1st, which was the day of it’s original release. But it wasn’t put up on that day because I was not paying attention to myself and my dedication to writing at the time as much as I am now. And so on this, the final day of 2017, as belated as I am, I find it prudent to celebrate this album, it’s message, and it’s unsurpassed, heavy anarchic sound, as it is a true unspoken masterpiece of an album that deserves far more attention than it currently does.

A little background; Crashdog was one of the first Christian punk rock bands, arriving onto the scene in the late 1980s. Coming out of Chicago, they were based out of Jesus People USA. They were openly political and perhaps because of their location in one of America’s most famous and urban cities, their music had a liberal bent. Maybe that isn’t so out of left field today, but it still feels uncommon to see openly liberal or social-oriented Christian discourse. And yet when I listen to Crashdog’s music, I hear a lot of thought, intelligence and heart. I don’t feel deceived in any way when I read their lyrics, I feel encouraged because I can feel the urgency of when they were written. As someone who was born in the early 90s, my favorite decade, I become fascinated with what this band and the people behind it thought about this era that I was alive for and remember so little about. They spoke out against the GOP, they spoke out against the Yugoslavian civil war, they spoke out for women’s rights, against racism and racial inequality, and they spoke out for marriage as well as many more relevant topics. In summary, all of their music is deeply tied with 90s culture and at the same time immediately hits me with everything I personally am interested in.

The original vocalist, Spike Nard, sang on Crashdog’s first three albums, Humane Society, The Pursuit of Happiness, and Mud Angels, released from 1990-1994. I like these albums but to me they sound a bit more like grunge albums, not the straight punk sound I constantly crave. And while I like Spike himself, I ultimately prefer the voice of the next singer, a certain Andrew Mandell, who had originally played guitar on those earlier albums. 1995’s Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus is another good album with some standout hits that unfortunately goes on a little too long. All the while, they played at Cornerstone a few times and kept trucking on with their political and spiritual focus guiding their musical talents. In any case, everyone should also go check out these older albums if they are interested.

And then, 1997 came.

And with it, the release of Outer Crust.

Right off the bat, the cover art of a stylized, polluted cityscape surrounded by impoverished shanties grabs you with it’s stark, haunting atmosphere. A low lying haze of smog lazily floats along and there isn’t a single living person to be seen. I bring this point up because I had an interesting exchange with my uncle when I showed him this cover art. To me, as the viewer, it feels like I’m observing this glistening city that was built on the backs of my fellow, discarded human refuse, and now we’re all pushed out to the barrens, the titular ‘outer crust.’ In my uncle’s opinion however, he felt as if we, the observers, had built a heaven for ourselves as represented by this shining city despite being surrounded by an ugly hell, as symbolized by the shanties. This is a minor point but it’s definitely one of the more interesting debates I’ve had over an artistic piece in awhile.

But after you’re done taking in the art, well, that’s when you hit the play button. A short dialogue sets the scene. The next thing you know, you are immediately thrown into punk rock bliss. As much as I am tempted to go through each individual track and provide a breakdown in the classic review style, I don’t want to, as my hope is for everyone who reads this article to go out, buy this album on the band’s Bandcamp or to go get a physical copy and listen to it for themselves. Suffice to say, this album is a breathtaking, heartbreaking work of 37 minutes of punk rock mastery from beginning to end.

Now, I’ve shown Outer Crust to many people, of all philosophies and walks of life (basically anyone willing to lend an ear). And whenever I, respectfully, try to get one of my atheist or otherwise agnostic friends in particular to listen to this album, I sell it as “the only Christian punk rock album you should ever listen to.” And in order to do that, I bring up two points; the first being that it’s one of those albums where everyone involved, from the musicians themselves to the sound engineers, is firing on all cylinders. I couldn’t really find anything about the specific production of Outer Crust, but just by following the time of release, I can see that this thing took two years to make. But in those two years, Crashdog’s sound completely flipped. Gone were the earlier oi or grunge influences, Outer Crust is an astonishingly heavy, amazing sounding, 100% anarcho, crust punk rock album. And while some of this sound can be traced to a few older songs here or there, Outer Crust is the only Crashdog album that has this sound.

Outer Crust sounds like Crass turned up to 11; the album is blindingly fast, yet every song has a defined, heavy beat. It’s worth noting that the producer of this album (as well as some of the group’s other endeavors) was Steve Albini, which in itself isn’t too surprising given his extensive record and Chicago base. But some of the heaviness here feels in part similar to what you can see on something like his earlier work with Helmet, only better.

This new style of sound definitely comes in part from the fact that somewhere in those two years, Crashdog found a second guitarist to add to their original four piece formula, and the extra complexity immediately and constantly abounds, as Jason Burt and Mike Perlmutter proceed to see who between the two of them can riff and rock into oblivion faster. They are both amazingly on point.

At the same time, as raw as it is, Outer Crust has a very smooth quality to it. Despite being wonderfully down-tuned, it never has the feel of a garage or grunge rock sound. It doesn’t feel grimy in the least, and absolutely no fat is wasted here on the album’s fourteen songs; it is practically one solid stream of consciousness.

There are numerous fantastic punk choruses and while I am not necessarily trying to single him out, I think the aforementioned Andrew Mandell should go down as one of punk’s greatest vocalists. His voice drips with angst, the most important component for any punk singer, yet his vocals are also fantastically layered, clean, and raspy in a way that is amazingly melodic, especially when paired up with the fantastic bass and drum work, courtesy of Brian Grover and Greg Jacques, respectively. His lyrics are direct, immediate, but above all beautifully raw.

Long story short, Outer Crust is a fast, heavy, lean, dance worthy, clean, raw, politically charged, spiritually and emotionally driven powerhouse of an anarcho punk rock album. Do I even have to mention that by 97, nu metal and pop punk (the latter being one of the banes of my existence) had pushed out any chance of something like this ever reaching the mainstream?

Which brings me to my second point, about why this album is so top-notch fantastic.

This album, to me, showcases a band that knowingly or otherwise is on it’s final gasps. The reason why everyone is giving it their all in such an impressive way is because after this, it’s over, not unlike pulling out your last reserves of energy before you cross the finish line in a bike race. I’m not entirely sure what the reason or drama was, but it was nonetheless decisive. A few of the members went on to form the folk punk group Ballydowse, which I unfortunately have some mixed feelings about but is still a great band in it’s own right. There was some sort of statement on their hiatus in 2006, and in 2012, the group briefly reformed to play at the final Cornerstone music festival. There have been a few posts on Facebook, but I believe but that’s been it.

The end.

La fin.

And so, what of the legacy of Outer Crust? What of the legacy of Crashdog? A criminally underrated band putting out a criminally underrated album is far too common to be of some major music industry concern. At the same time, as much as I try to get people to give this album a chance, I will always understand if they’re not comfortable listening to the Christian message, or are just not attracted to heavy music like this. Those last two reasons are totally understandable.

And yet, this is my favorite album of all time.

In fact, one of my goals for 2018 is to memorize all the lyrics to all the songs, it’s that much a part of me. Because of it’s intelligence and sincerity, it has carried me through hard times; because of it’s speed and efficiency, it has become my favorite album to jump rope to; and because of it’s historical association with the era of my birth and insight, in it’s own little way, it has brought me closer to God and becoming a Christian in my own right.

So if there’s one prayer I have, it’s that by highlighting this album in the way that I have, I can do my part to bring it to the attention of someone like me. Someone who needs it at a similar critical moment in their life, which for me was the struggle of trying to graduate from college and get out of the house. Or maybe I can help someone who also considers themselves to be a fellow 90s kid that’s looking back at history and seeks Outer Crust’s social and spiritual perspective. I would tell that person that this album is not a substitute for the Bible itself, of course, but it may serve as a point of interest to help you on your path to greater wisdom, wisdom that comes from on high.

And so, happy 20th anniversary, Outer Crust. I do hope that this article achieves positive attention and traction, so that when we celebrate the 25th anniversary, the name of this album becomes ten times more celebrated. I’d like to give another sincere, thank you very much to all the people involved in it’s production. And of course, thank you God, for showing me punk rock to begin with.

Happy New Years, everyone.