Thursday, April 07, 2011

Strange Magic

   One of my new obsessions is Joe Hill's amazing comic Locke & Key, the trades of which I've been devouring lately. Eventually, I'll get around to writing up those books for Goodreads and repost here, which is something I've been meaning to do for awhile*.The book is fantastic, but I'm not necessarily going to talk about it today. However, there's a concept within the book that's been on my mind lately. In the story, there is magic. It is old and powerful magic, and so far, it is completely unknown by the adults of the series, even the ones that dabbled in it as youths.

   This isn't a groundbreaking idea. Going back to Peter Pan (and probably earlier), the idea has been raised that if magic were real, it would only be understood or appreciated by children whose minds have not been closed by... well, prolonged existence, I guess. I think this is a natural concurrence, really.

   I feel like my childhood was riddled with this, the magic of everyday life. The night I swear I saw a ghost in a rocking chair in the top window of an abandoned house. The power of a ghost story**, an out-of-body experience... these are things that I swear all happened to me before my teenage years. There was the time I went to Europe with my grandparents at age 8, and I returned with sore, hacked-up fingers. I thought for some reason that if I left fingernail clippings all over the streets and alleys of Italy then a piece of me would remain there and imbue me the wisdom and artistry of the ages. Now, it sounds like a pretty childish and disgusting habit, but you have to think that many, many superstitions have been started by less.

   There were two places in Maryland that I was terrified of. One was an old motorcycle clubhouse that hadn't been occupied in over a decade, the other was a cluster of trees around a streetlight. These were places I was certain were haunted, or at least held the power in my mind to be haunted. Nothing ever happened there, as far as I knew, although maybe some of my siblings tried to convince me otherwise. I don't know what it was, but I would fall into a catatonic state before willingly walking through these places. Weirdly, the giant abandoned hotel down the street was more or less fine with me. But a cluster of trees.... whoo, boy.

   Obviously, things didn't stay that way. The juju of the world is replaced by cold, dry logic. Gradually, the places I was terrified of became the type of places I would venture on dares from myself and others. It was somehow a part of the maturation process. Go to the places you once feared, and once you're not murdered there, a piece of magic withers away from your mind.

   I remember the first time I worked up the nerve to check out the old clubhouse, and the worst of my fears were confirmed when I saw someone had spray painted a pentagram on one of the walls. There has been foul business here. There were sacrifices of children and unholy ceremonies in my minds eye. It wasn't until later that I realized that it was a certainty that these were put there by kids not much older than myself, and with the intent of frightening kids like me. In fact, I'd put even money on the culprit being one of my brothers, trying to secure a place where they could smoke cigarettes without me finding them.

   There's a reason that teenagers love to spraypaint that shit. Pentagrams, 3 sixes. Swastikas. These symbols all have a power unlike anything else we know. It isn't until you're older that you realize that they are just lines and mean sweet fuck all. 99% of the time you see these things, it's a dumb kid trying to evoke a gutteral response from anyone that sees them. Unfortunately, it still works for a lot of people. Remember in the 80s, there was that massive fear of devil worshipers. the story of the West Memphis Three is pretty indicative of the paranoia associated with this stuff, which now we all look at as kind of silly more than anything. I feel sorry for devil worshipers at this point, since all they can really evoke from me is a rolling of the eyes.

   Nowadays, I miss that feeling. I think that I, more than just about anyone, fought the dissipation of magic from my brain. My reading habits (consisting largely of sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, mythologies, and occult manuals) probably helped with that quite a bit. But time goes on, magic grows stale and abandons our imaginations to more material pursuits. The Wonder of the world is replaced with a much different (and scarier) kind of fear.

The more I've been thinking about this the more I've been upset. I want nothing more than the ability to continue being amazed and enchanted by the world around us. I want one day to hear my child speak and not dismiss their magic as childish nonsense. So I started raking my brain for the magic in my life, and how I perceive it. and I realized, that I never really abandoned the concept, nor did it abandon me.

There remains magic in music for me. Not in the same way I saw it as a child, where members of KISS might abduct me in my sleep, or how Jim Morrison was some kind of stupid shaman. It is more subtle than that. When I was driving the other day, one of my favorite songs, "The E Street Shuffle" came on. Not the funky album version, but the shuffling, slow version that Springsteen and the band did live. Bruce tells a story, this one about Clarence Clemons and how they met. It's a long story, and a funny one. But it ends with Bruce cowering in the doorway of a closed shop, hiding from Clarence, who he thinks is out to get him. The giant man extends his hand and, this is where Springsteen's voice is practically a whisper:

Sparks fly on E Street when the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot 
   and I almost had to pull the car over. I can hear, feel the magic in those words. I've probably heard that song two thousand times in my life, and no matter how many times I might've glossed over that line, it still has that power over me. It was there the whole time.  Ditto for the beginning of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin", which I was certain I never wanted to hear again until this morning when it floored me by complete surprise. 
There is magic in The Exorcist, when that ghoulish face appears. I know it is a special effect in a film, but that has never stopped me from shuddering when I see it. There is magic in every single episode of Pushing Daisies that drips with a charm that distills in me a nostalgia for things I've never known. 

There is magic in The Stand, when we are introduced to Randall Flagg***, and in the narrator's home (a crumbling, waterlogged hotel) in Amnesiascope.
As I've mentioned before, there is magic in so many comic books I don't know where to start.
Though fiction, these things all come from someplace very real. Stephen King has admitted that his inspiration for Walter Flagg, one of the greatest villains ever created, came Symbionese Liberation Army leader (and Patty Hearst kidnapper) Donald DeFreeze. DeFreeze was a prison escapee who convinced people to do horrible things for him in the name of justice. Horrible, but absolutely magic. Same could be said for Charles Manson or Wayne Coyne (probably not a fair comparison, but I needed good and evil, you see).

In my rambling, incoherent way, I guess I'm just trying to remind you that there is magic out there. It's not Harry Potter or satanists, but it's in the minds of you and your loved ones, and creators, and in the atmosphere at large. the next time you get a feeling, instead of listening to the adult voice in your head or to rationality, try to just go with it. Make a note of it. Tell somebody else about it. Use it to wonder at the world around us. I know it feels naive, and perhaps stupid, even. But it makes things a hell of a lot more enjoyable. Don't preoccupy yourself with life, preoccupy yourself with living.

*So I've been pretty negligent with my Goodreads account, largely because I am always reading either too much or too little. One of my hobbies lately though has been to write up graphic novels and comics, since I feel they could use a bit more legitimization. I've done a couple, and I plan to do more. Unfortunately, most of these "reviews" are just diatribes about legitimization of comic books. Anyway, maybe I'll post a few after this post.

**query: Have I told my Tockwogh Hermit ghost story story here? If not I will fix that.

1 comment:

Cotton said...

so, twenty minutes after I posted this yesterday I was in a conversation with some hippie and realized that I hated this.

anyway, more things with magic:
-The "Milky Joe" episode of the Mighty Boosh
-The Beatles' solos on "The End"
-seeing an owl in the wild
-Daniel Day-Lewis as Bill the Butcher
-fever dreams
-Charlie Watts' drums on "Sway"
-William Carlos Williams