My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 41-year-old who falls asleep on public transport.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, "menk" is Scouse/Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal."
MENK 52: A FAG IN A WHALEBONE CORSET DRAPING HIS DICK ACROSS MY CHEEK
(Continued from last week. Read part two here and part one here.)
When I get on the number one train westbound out of Oslo on Sunday morning it’s full of healthy Norwegians with glowing cheeks, wrapped up in warm looking sports gear. The young and youthful are headed for the Holmenkollbakken ski jump. Everyone in this country loves ski jumping. I get off a handful of stops earlier in the relatively non-descript, snow covered, hilly suburb of Stemdal, and I do so alone.
Tucked away on a backstreet is a large but unimposing red brick building with no windows and little in the way of discernible exterior features bar a tiny brass door, less than 5-ft tall. Above it is inscribed: “Quicquid Deus Creavit Purum Est” (Everything Created By God Is Pure) – a kind of pointless motto, at best. I have to duck, or rather I have to bow, to get inside. It's not that the man whose last earthly remains are stored here, Emanuel Vigeland, was a tiny man in stature, but he certainly was a small man compared to his brother, the sculptor Gustav; even if he was no less of an artist.
The mausoleum of its reputedly dour and bitter creator, Tomba Emmanuelle is very dark when I step inside. I’ve always been close to night blind and after a morning of walking round a bright, snow covered Oslo, I’m at even more of a disadvantage. I can barely make anything out at all. So having stepped into inky darkness the first thing that hits me is the noise. The room is an unbelievable well of reverberation. The merest sound is amplified and echoed out for what seems like an age (15 - 20 seconds, depending on the literature you read). I see some wooden chairs in what I presume is the middle of the room. As I sit on the chair, its wooden leg scrapes against stone flag causing a staccato note that bounces languidly around the unforgiving audio space until it sounds like the violin section of an orchestra tuning up. Every little sound I make swells to fill the cavernous tomb.
As my eyes adjust to the darkness, the first thing I see, dead centre in front of me, is a fresco featuring a slightly larger than life naked woman holding a baby above her head. She is stood on the back of another woman – clearly dead – on all fours, with limbs sinking into the earth, head bowed, breasts hanging (expressly) like udders. Babies clamber up the pair of them. They are framed by a tunnel formed of new-born babies stretching up into the sky. All of the wall space I can make out is covered in naked human beings.
Further to the right is another naked female with her head partially obscured by more crawling human offspring, her legs are spread having just given birth and lying in front of her, still attached by an umbilical cord, is a screaming baby. The bairn has its eyes screwed shut, unaware it is lying among human skulls.
The opposing wall is a writhing mass of interlocked bodies disappearing off into the darkest unlit recesses. It is a wall of orgy, unbound, simply disappearing at the extremities into the dark as if the whole of humanity is fucking everyone all at once. The message is clear: in the midst of life, we are in death. Death and enthusiastic multiple partner rimming.
A skeleton plucks a child from a pile of skulls and holds it aloft, unable to look directly at it. The shape of the skeleton’s mouth is quite like that of Edvard Munch’s "The Scream". I fucking love the Norwegians – you just have to hand it to them.
When my eyes are fully adjusted to the dark I turn to look at the door. The small unprepossessing urn is in a tiny alcove above the door at head height. Above it two leering skeletons fuck in missionary position, the vapours that rise from them forming a giant interlocked column of bodies, a monolith of tightly entwined human forms, stretching up into the void; up into the Milky Way.
Back outside in the snow, I head for Frognar Park and specifically Vigelandsanlegget, the unique arrangement of 212 bronze and granite naked human figures, created by Emanuel’s brother, Gustav. Panhandling accordionists playing unacceptably chipper music are at every juncture, so I stick Sunn O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions on my headphones. Gustav Vigeland’s statues are bold, funny, wicked and delightful. Some of his women look uncannily like the Aphex Twin. A grinning, golem-like man juggles five babies. Elsewhere figures fight, cuddle, dance and so on and so forth. In the middle of the arrangement is the Monolith, a 47-ft tall, giant totem pole, carved from one single piece of igneous rock over the space of 14 years. It depicts 121 tightly interlocked bodies forming a beam up into the sky. It’s clear that Emanuel’s last act while alive was to parody Gustav’s Monolith – and its representation of the circle of life - for the interior of his tomb. Certainly his request that the interior of his tomb never be illuminated, doesn’t speak of noble intentions.
Later, I run into my friend Francine who is also in town for the same music conference that I’m working at. I tell her about the Mausoleum excitedly and how I’d gone there to get away from the crowds to chill out.
She laughs at me: “Chill out…”
I counter: “Well, sometimes these places can shake stuff loose and if you’re lucky, you can drop it and leave it there. I think I managed to unshoulder something this morning and leave it shut up in that tomb. And looking at those walls, I think a little bit of my woes won’t hurt Emanuel Vigeland any. Anyway, let’s go and watch some pop music.”
Sunn O))), statues of men juggling babies, a good meal with my girlfriend and son, Scandinavian pop music, hearing the record I’ve just put out on the radio for the first time, being introduced to recordings of Albert Ayler in Greenwich Village, seeing a giant penis carved in snow on top of a car in Stamford Hill, a Hasidic man explaining to me why he continues to watch Spurs even though it brings him nothing but misery in my local bakery, the song "Dude Without a Face" by Turbonegro, the return of David Bowie… all of these things are like bullet holes shot through a wall of depression, through which jets of sunlight penetrate like lasers. They may just be lucid intervals but they’re coming more rapidly now. Single shots are turning to machine gun fire. Soon there will be a hail of bullets. The wall will be peppered and collapse and for a short time, I will be bathed in burnished gold and burn up. And then, back to the swell.
Notes On Giving Up Drinking For Fabio (continued)
“When the hangover wears off, and when the overwhelming desire to just run down the offie and get a bottle of vodka in passes – and don’t worry, it does – it’s like putting on the sunglasses in They Live. Almost to a cruelly comical extent, you will have a clear, unfiltered look at alcohol culture in this country and it is simply astounding. Walking through the booze aisles in a very big supermarket becomes like being in some weird Doom/Duke Nukem first person shooter. I’ve gotten lost in alcohol quadrants of some warehouse-sized supermarkets, like Father Ted in the lingerie section on the Christmas Special. I had to leave a trail of bagel crumbs behind me to find my way back out.
“Count the billboards, the offies, the booze ads, the drunks, the pubs, the ambient ads in papers, the bottles and cans lying in the street, the people lying in the street, the people pissing in the street. The piss, the beer and the blood on the floor. Walk through Liverpool city centre on a Saturday night, Manchester city centre on a Friday night, Newcastle city centre on a Thursday night and it’s like descending into some kind of Hogarth painting. Walk through Soho and count your drinking options. This clarity goes after a while, thankfully – a man could become a sanctimonious twat quite easily.
“I cannot describe the deviousness with which my brain tried to make me drink for the first three months after I got completely sober and dried out, but eventually it gradually started easing its foot off the pedal. I remember at some point around six months in I realised it had been a few days since I had been really tempted to drink and that was really the start of the end of it being a giant drag for me. Whether I do or do not think about drinking every day now, it’s really just water off a duck’s back – and to be honest, I very rarely think about it now.
“Having to give up drinking is like having your heart broken or having someone you love die. It happens. It is unpleasant. You will get better in due course. You wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. You can’t really remember the full extent of how bad it is when it’s over. It is totally natural. It has the same definable stages. The worst stuff is the bit in the middle where you’re just ruminating, going over and over the same stuff in your head, time and time again. Trying to work out some kind of way in which it will be alright if you just go and have a shandy or trying to convince yourself you really need a glass of wine, or to start again but this time only drinking real ale.
“But this rumination is a positive thing. You’re deprogramming yourself. You are Dave Bowman and your alcoholism is the mad computer HAL, from 2001: A Space Odyssey and every crazy thought your brain sends you, is your disease saying: “Dave, I’m scared.” Or singing "A Bicycle Made For Two" like a Salem remix of Gucci Mane.
“And, like with heartbreak, the last stretch is not the worst bit but it is the most insidious. You have to want to let go. You have to make the decision to throw the last of the photos out or to put them in a box up in the loft, so you can start looking for a new partner. There will be people who spend the rest of their lives at this stage. Refusing to let go.
“Also, it’s like stopping drinking coffee or giving up meat or stopping smoking in a way. Either you stop or you don’t stop. There are no half measures. Don’t be the person who is constantly trying to find the really good caffeine-free coffee or gorging on Quorn or using loads of nicotine patches and sniffing other people’s cigarettes. Just give up and be done with it. Once it’s done it’s done. Don’t torture yourself. Move on.
“And then – touch wood – it’s over. Or at least, that’s how I’ve found it, up to now… it’s probably best not to get too cocky or complacent. But for the time being I’m happy enough that I don’t need to walk round on eggshells the whole time. I could be at a party now and sitting on my own in a room full of booze watching telly with an hour to kill before people turn up and while it would occur to me that I could drink half a pint of wine without anyone noticing, it would never actually occur to me to do it.
“Stopping drinking is not a cure-all and it won’t solve any other problems you have (and you almost certainly have lots of them if you’re drinking that much). If you drank for a reason – that reason will still be there when you sober up. However, it will ultimately be much easier to deal with dry. Like I said before, it’s an on-going process and sobering up isn’t the end result. The end result is stopping drinking and being happy with being sober and getting back the kind of balanced normal life you (maybe) should have had all along.
“All the reasons that you tell yourself now that you don’t want to stop drinking are completely wrong. It’s hard for me to explain but you will find out. I had some of the best times and some of the worst times drinking. It helped me in some ways when I was younger and I made a lot of enduring relationships with people via drink. Latterly, it also nearly killed me several times and made me really dysfunctional in many ways, both physically and mentally, so I don’t find it contradictory to say that stopping drinking was also the best decision I ever made and that now I’m intrinsically much more happy and healthy than I used to be. Certainly I have a better life for it now. All the stuff I wanted to be – outgoing, cool, the life and soul of the party, well, that’s just not who I am and I’m happy with that now and I don’t need drink to bring me completely out of myself any more. I’m happier in my own skin. Well, most of the time I am. And that’s a first.
“I can’t really go on about AA too much but I found it invaluable for the first three months of quitting. Go to a meeting and check it out. Some of them are terrible. Some of them are brilliant. Find one that suits you. Don’t say anything at first, just turn up and check out what other people are saying. If there’s one constant about people at AA, it’s that they can all make a great brew. And give me a good brew these days, and four times out of five I’m halfway to being happy already.
“Sorry if this has gone on a bit. Next time I see you, let’s talk about David Bowie instead.”
Previously: Menk, by John Doran - The Emptiness of the Prize