The Nuremberg Rituals – An invocation of Mars

In 1834 Heine published Religion and Philosophy in Germany, in which appeared this prophetic warning:

“But most of all to be feared would be the philosophers of nature were they actively to mingle in a German revolution, and to identify themselves with the work of destruction. [...] the Philosopher of Nature will be terrible in this, that he has allied himself with the primitive powers of nature, that he can conjure up the demoniac forces of old German pantheism; and having done so, there is aroused in him that ancient German eagerness for battle which combats not for the sake of destroying, not even for the sake of victory, but merely for the sake of the combat itself.”

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The Houseguest (a playlet)

Cast:

AN ELDERLY ARISTOCRAT

HIS YOUNGER MALE HOUSEGUEST AND BIOGRAPHER

ACT I

SCENE ONE

(THE MALE HOUSE GUEST SITS IN AN ANTIQUE CHAIR AND DOES NOT SPEAK THROUGHOUT, WHILE THE ARISTOCRAT PACES ACROSS THE STAGE DELIVERING A MONOLOGUE. WHEN THE HOUSEGUEST IS NOT ACTIVELY LISTENING OR ACKNOWLEDGING WHAT IS BEING SAID, HE WILL BE WRITING DOWN WHAT HE HAS HEARD)

ARISTOCRAT

Tell me, my friend, have you ever loved someone so completely, so passionately that when they departed this life, you wished you had the courage to follow them, though you dreaded what might await you? I am not ashamed to confess that I have loved this intensely, with every fibre of my being. And though the loss of such a love has brought me acute anguish, the like of which you cannot imagine, I have not regretted having loved and lost, as the poets would have it.

I can’t imagine anyone having been as ill-used as myself, but I want you to know that there was a time when I knew true happiness and the memory of that blissful union is what has sustained me. Though I had lived a full twenty years before my beloved and I met, it was only from that day that I felt truly alive. Before then I merely existed.

Love is the very reason for living. Is it not? Without companionship, affection and the unspoken understanding that binds two souls who are in complete accord, we are merely sleepwalking through life. And I should know, for I have been in that wretched state now for what seems like an eternity.  And yet, I could not follow the one who was so dear to me into the unknown. The one who gave meaning to my life. Oh, believe me, I tried. More than once during those empty days that followed my bereavement when I thought that sorrow weighed upon me so heavy that it would stop my heart from beating and the blood from coursing through my veins. No living thing should have to endure being left alone in the dark after the very breath of life has been extinguished; when all that one has believed in ceases to have significance, leaving only memories. And what are those but vapour, a vague impression, a vivid dream that is glimpsed and is gone?

With their parting the loved one ceases to be real. Like those words you are writing so furiously lest you miss every element of my confession. And yet, despite my grief I could not summon the courage to end it. At the critical moment I could not make that leap of faith into the abyss.

It was not a question of fear or of belief. For if there is a heaven—and we have only the word of the clergy that there is (and this from those who do not seem over eager to forgo their terrestrial wealth and power for the promise of celestial reward)—, if there is a heaven, I know there is no welcome for me there. For I have been unfaithful to my love, having sated my hunger and desire with others. At first I was ashamed and cursed myself for my weakness, but then I realized that I could not help myself. I was at the mercy of a compulsion. Once you have known such desire, you must satisfy the craving. There is no denying it. Once you have drunk from the wellspring, from the fountain of youth, you must quench your thirst again and again, or you age more rapidly than if you had not known love in the first instance. If you are a passionate being as I am, you cannot live without it. It is an addiction.

I trust I am not shocking you. I have been alone for so long I have become somewhat indifferent to the sensibilities of others. And besides I have not entertained a guest – not since…

…but it has not always been so. In my youth I had a most enviable reputation as a socialite and a gracious host renowned for my lavish soirees on which I spent a considerable part of my not inconsiderable fortune. The remainder I squandered in empty and extravagant revelries after my bereavement in a vain effort to assuage my grief.

And over the ensuing years as my house fell into disrepair my fortune depleted to the point where I now condescend to accept employment to keep body and soul together. Yes, as demeaning as it is to one of my station, I have acceded to necessity and now ply a trade of sorts.

(SELF-DEPRECATING LAUGH)

And inevitably, the years have also taken their toll upon my body as they did upon my house. I have aged and decayed none too well, I confess. But I bear up. A little rouge to bring a blush to these pallid cheeks, a touch of greasepaint to mask the lines etched in my face and I have taken twenty years off my life. Ah, if only–

(PAUSES)

You remain unmoved? Greedily recording my confession in that immaculate copperplate hand that betrays a clinical detachment to the specimen you have chosen to study. But then this admission is precisely what you have travelled so far to hear, is it not? And, after all, I have much to confess.

How I envy you, your life among the gay whirl of society. And would gladly exchange it for my seclusion were it not for the bitter sweet memory of that love I speak of. The love that haunts me. I know that I am doomed to live alone and estranged from bustling humanity. I have paid a most dreadful price for my dissolute ways and excesses, but now I must endure the solitude that only the insane and the inconsolable must suffer. To experience the bitter-sweet longing of love and lose it once is torture, but to suffer the loss over and over again, as I have in my vain attempts to relive the one great love of my life, is a pain that gnaws at the very fabric of my being, at the burning ember that is all that remains of my soul.

(BITTER LAUGHTER)

But here I am again, playing to the gallery, wringing every wretched line of this pathetic melodrama that has been my life. And for whom? An audience of one.  I think it best that we part here, my friend. I am due to take the stage in a few minutes. You have seen my act once and I must confess, I stick pretty much to the same ‘business’ every performance. The locals are easily amused. They leer at the lithesome dancers in the neighbouring tent and they stare like frightened children at the exhibits, our carnival of horrors, our circus of freaks of which I—it appears—am the principal attraction. But once a man of the legitimate theatre, such as yourself, has seen our tawdry little entertainment, there is no profit in sitting through it again.

So I bid you farewell and a safe journey back to England. I trust you enjoyed your stay in our country. Oh, and good luck with your book, should you finish it. Though I’m still not convinced that your choice of title is a wise one. You would be better using my real name. Though I must say, I cannot imagine those genteel ladies of London pouring over such horrors no matter what title you give it. You’ll be hounded from your lodgings before the ink on the first reviews are dry.

Mark my words, Mr Stoker, you will regret the day you met me.

© Paul Roland 2013

Nosferatu, film poster (2010) by PanDisegnos

Wilfred Owen – A Strange Meeting

Wilfred Owen (close-up)

One of the finest poets of the Great War, Wilfred Owen—who is best remembered for his atmospheric verse ‘Strange Meeting’ in which a German and a British soldier encounter each other in the Underworld—was killed just one week before the Armistice was declared. On the day the guns finally fell silent his brother Harold, a naval officer, was overwhelmed by a feeling of apprehension and was later ‘visited’ in his cabin by Wilfred’s spirit. Harold’s reaction to the presence of his brother contrasts with the fears of fictional characters who are confronted by unquiet spirits, and for that reason his experience is strangely comforting. Harold was unaware of his brother’s death at the time of their own strange meeting.

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The Haunting of Charles Dickens

The Victorians were very fond of ghost stories and the most popular authors of the period relished competing with one another to see who could make their reader’s flesh creep the most. One of the era’s best loved storytellers was Charles Dickens, though surprisingly the author of ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Oliver Twist’ and other classics was not a believer in the supernatural. In fact, Dickens was a hardened skeptic until he had a disquieting paranormal experience of his own…

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The Man Who ‘Saw’ The Ripper

It is not an exaggeration to say that today psychics are consulted on an almost routine basis when the authorities have exhausted all conventional avenues of investigation. But in Victorian England ‘spiritualists’, as they were then known, were regarded at best as being either a novelty Music Hall act or at worst, fraudsters preying on the weak-minded and bereaved. The fact that clairvoyant Robert James Lees had been consulted on several occasions by Queen Victoria did not, however, make him a credible witness as far as Scotland Yard were concerned. When Lees offered his services as a psychic sleuth it is said that they laughed him out of the building. However, if the account published by ex-Scotland Yard officer Edwin T. Woodhall (author of ‘Secrets of Scotland Yard’) is to be believed, they were soon to regret their rash decision.

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Airship Pirates and Clockwork Quartets

Steampunk - guitar player with top hatIt may be of little concern to the bureaucrats who drew up the Trade Descriptions Act, but it’s an undeniable fact that there isn’t much punk in steampunk. At least not of the three-chord thrash variety spat out by the snotty, glue sniffing, safety pin and spiky hair, pogo-till-you-puke brigade who stormed the barricades back in ’76, or ‘Rock’s Year Zero’ as the NME would have it. Back then it was ‘Anarchy In The UK’ and the wholesale slaughter of the dinosaurs of corporate rock. Now it’s more like anachronistic fashion accessories in the UK and US as the likes of Abney Park, Sunday Driver and Vernian Process describe a dystopian fantasy world through rose-tinted goggles with a sentimentality that would make the late Bill Grundy doubt he could goad them in to saying something risqué about Queen Victoria.

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Paul interviews The Velvet Underground (1985)

The Velvet UndergroundIn 1985, just prior to the release of the ‘VU’ album (a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded in 1969 and intended for their fourth album), I had the privilege of interviewing Nico, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker for a national Sunday newspaper. At the end of each interview I mentioned that I was preparing a new album (to follow ‘Burnt Orchids’) and asked if they would consider playing on it, if I could get the multi-track tapes shipped to the States. They agreed and Sterling seemed particularly keen as he was eager to get back into music after taking time out to study for a university degree. I remember that he was very complimentary about my songwriting after he heard the tapes (backing tracks with guide vocals, not demos) and in a couple of telephone conversations he mentioned that he found the structure of the songs unusual and that interested him. But the tape formats were not compatible with the equipment in the studio he was using at the time and I let the project lapse, assuming that we would sort it out at a later date. I even had a letter from his attorney asking me to give him extra time, but I had an offer from UK psych label Bam Caruso and needed to deliver an album by a certain date, so I shelved the songs I had written for the VU and moved on. Then, sometime later, Sterling died and so did Nico.

It was not until last year, 27 years(!) after writing those songs that I thought of digging them out, dusting them off and recording them as I had been itching to get back to playing with a rock band after a year spent creating a solo acoustic project (‘Grimm’). The resulting album, ‘Bates Motel’ (which also includes songs written for a John’s Children reunion album at the invitation of frontman Andy Ellison), is released next month on the German label Sireena Records.

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Let the Blood Run Red (1983, Part 1)

Paul Roland braves the curse of the critics to trace the history of HAMMER – the house of horror

Prologue

During the early 1980s I was writing for a number of film and music magazines and, being a huge horror movie buff, I naturally took the opportunity to suggest a Hammer feature at one of Kerrang’s weekly editorial meetings. It is basically an introductory overview of the studio’s horror output and for reasons of space omits reference to a couple of my favourite Hammer filmsm ‘The Witches’ and ‘Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter’, but for those who are not hardcore Hammer fans it may be of interest for the brief quotes from Christopher Lee and the various Hammer ‘House’ directors. (My interview with Peter Cushing can be found elsewhere on this site).

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A Most Singular Specimen

It was a loathsome thing indeed that lay prostrate on Dietrichson’s dissecting table, a huge grub almost two feet long and eleven inches around the girth which contracted and expanded with each dying breath. Folds of glistening white skin rose and fell in regular rhythm, until at last it expired with a burbling hiss. The gas had taken its effect. Dietrichson put aside the moisture-clouded glass dome which had acted as a killing jar and examined the grub with his magnifying glass.

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Let the Blood Run Red (Part 2)

Paul Roland (still) braves the curse of the critics to trace the history of Hammer, the House of Horror

1960–1976

The following year, Hammer released no less than three films, two of which have since become classics of the genre, while the third, ‘The Two Faces of Dr Jekyll’, remains an interesting curio. Jekyll featured Paul Massie in the title role, portraying Dr J as a bearded, insensitive scientist, and his primitive half as a handsome, clean-shaven sadist. A unique interpretation and one which easily stole the acting honours from Christopher Lee, who had been relegated to a minor supporting role.

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