Friday, September 29, 2006

Jay Munly: "Ten Songs With No Music"

The first time I saw Jay Munly on stage with Slim Cessna's Auto Club, I felt like I had travelled through time to some gothic southwestern desert town, only to be visited by a creature half-human and half-demon. He stood on stage and glared at the audience, unblinking, while he conjured up some vocal warnings from his own dark and private wanderings. His words (those that I could decipher) seemed to contain the promise of primitive folk magic filtered through a millenarian's prophecy of tribulationl. I grew curious to learn the sources of his inspiration and conviction.

I picked up "Munly and the Lee Lewis Harlots", and threw it into rotation with the Slim cds I had been listening to. Songs about prison eunuchs and rural conflict sat side-by-side with a dirge about tragic boxer Jerry Cooney. To listen to those songs was to enter a world of malignant emotionality and country intrigue. I was fascinated, and somehow conversely uplifted by its energy and sincerity. I wanted to hear more.

Some time later I learned that Munly had written a couple of books. The next time he came into town, I asked him about them. He said that they were out-of-print, but if I was so inclined, I might find a copy to buy on ebay for a hundred bucks. I resigned myself to never reading them. How was I to know that I would soon find someone willing to lend me their copy? I waited in anticipation until the book was recovered and passed on to me.

"Ten Songs With No Music" is a remarkably transparent title for a book of stories with exceedingly enigmatic content. From the blurb on its back cover, these tales sprang full-force without interruption from Munly's mouth to be translated via his Remington typewriter. While ordinarily I would view this claim with suspicion, I firmly hold to my belief in the truth of the statement in this case. And that's not just because of the multiple syntax and grammatical errors. In point of fact, while these lapses bothered me at first, I soon decided that they were inevitable (maybe necessary?) in its creation. Munly speaks through folk who would not have had the benefit of a lot of book-learning, and a careful revision of the script might jeopardize the authenticity of these voices. Perhaps they would have kept their silence if the author stopped to correct them.

As it is, the stories come off as genuine American folktales from a population plagued by the condescension of society. But they'd have none of your pity because they give no quarter. The characters are unashamed of their prejudices and proclivities. They have ways that cityfolk would be strained to understand. They speak in a rambling patois that requires the reader to drop his own preconceived notions of inherent logic and sense. I had to attempt to suspend my judgment and allow the writing to wash over my consciousness, and accept whatever meaning sunk down into my roots.

A miner walks away from his family, only to build himself a barrel and ride in it over a waterfall. A son is asked to show his merit working a portion of his father's land. A deacon leads his people to a makeshift raft made from personal belongings, and they await a flood of redemption. An angel tries to outrun the sun, and is transformed into a lowly stinking beggar. A mysterious man leads a crew of orphans into the fields to build a sanctuary, only to be set upon by grasping and lazy townspeople. An aggressive chinaman is set upon by a stranger in a country store. These are morality plays, but the weight of decisions leads only to greater ambivalence. There is less resolution than resignation. Once again, I strive for the embedded messages, but they elude me.

It would be nice to take my time with it, and decode it slowly through multiple readings, but I feel as if a borrowed book offers limited chances for that. I will finish the last story, and return the book to its owners. Perhaps some day it will be re-issued, and I can return to its puzzling contents. But until then I will await Munly's next work, which he says is coming soon.


Anonymous rose said...

thanks for writing this. it's difficult to find information about the book around this here internet, good to have a tiny glimpse.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you still have the book? If so, I'd be willing to buy it from you, if you're interested in selling. If not, would you possibly know of where I could find it? Thanks.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I only got to borrow the book for a limited time from his friend Slim. Sorry. I have asked about whether or not it will be published again, but I always get a convoluted answer. We can only hope...

8:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear People!

I scanned the whole book - so here are the files:


Alex Melomane

6:30 AM  

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