by Dan
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.



Johnny Horton - "The Battle of New Orleans"

In the century before this one, before the one you're in now, there took place a perfectly two-sided event. An event of epic proportions and of minor importance, of utter publicity and of complete privacy, of legend and of rumour.

A dignitary by the name of Douglas Millfield Ronce was something of a political gadabout. He was much enamoured with the pleasures of politics; the speech-making, the assurance-giving, the gladhanding. Although he had very little actual power, he liked seeing hope in people's eyes, as if he were an angel to them, bestowing upon them the gift of Heaven's promise. And combined with that, he was also secretly obsessed with the dark arts. He would tell his aides and confidantes that he was merely "seeking out all the aspects of Christianity", and to do that he must wade heavily in the waters of the Satanic realm.

One of his Dark Prophets, for he had many, often as much as ten in his employ, told him one day of the "Earth Mother Achilles". As all massive beasts, the Earth was in possession of a single, tiny weak point. A place that, when ruptured, would completely reverse the volumes of evil and good in the world. All that was good would be sucked into Earth's new orifice, and be replaced by a spewing evil. Ronce, now obsessed with this legend, decided to see if it were true.

He hired his idiot nephew Harlibut, an awkward young man of poor stature and worse manners. So ugly he could never take a wife, and too gnarled for any hard labour, Harlibut was something of a missed beat, like a spark made by a flint that doesn't catch; forgettable, useless, and may just as well never existed. A perfect candidate for Ronce's dark plan. He would send Harlibut to the bottom of the Great Sea, in a suit made of iron, to cut the Earth Mother Achilles, while he filibustered a distraction in the state Parliament. And this, dear reader, was the two-sided event of such note.

On the morning of June 14th of last century, Douglas Millfield Ronce began his speech while at that exact same moment, Harlibut was being fitted into an iron suit, in the hard morning shadows of a shaded dock.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, please, I have something I wish to say. For many a year now it has been known that the biggest and most change-worthy problem in our fair society is the proliferation and supportation and encourage-ation of collection thieves. I'm talking specifically about those scoundrels, those no-goods, those contra-swells that pilfer change out of the collection basket while they are passing it on down the row at Church on our fair Sunday masses at our fair Sunday churches. Now, gentlemen, this has got to stop..."

Harlibut walked along the bottom of the Great Sea, the map of his destination now burned into his memory, with an ease that surprised even himself. It was if he were born to find the Earth Mother Achilles, he was moving with grace and aplomb, two things normally never attributed to Harlibut. He felt a crooked stretching of his mouth, a twisting in his bent neck, a pull on his decrepit little soul. He was truly happy. Dark dust kicked up behind him as he belted down the slope of the floor of the Great Sea.

"...and another thing, taxes my goodness, taxes are the very thing this town needs to rid itself of in order to become truly one of the great cities of the world. No great city in the world has taxes, at least to my knowledge. Taxation is a primitive, backwards, step-downy way to live, it's uncivilized and I can no longer support it any longer. Upon completion of my point I will suggest to my colleagues who support my position to...rise up..."

Ronce was sweating. An 82-minute speech thus far, he looked across the room at a man with dark eyes. The man shook his head slowly.

"...But I am not completed, not yet, not yet at all gentlemen, for I have just begun to outline my position on the relationship between state and property. I believe property to be independent of the state and should be available to any man cunning enough to lay down his foot upon it..."

Just then, deep below the calm surface of the Great Sea, the young man named Harlibut found the soft fleshy endpoint of his journey. It was a white supple crevice in the sea floor, and he removed the sacred knife from its sheath and prepared to plunge. But suddenly, in the peace of the dark marine bottom, Harlibut felt sorry for the Earth Mother Achilles. It was a helpless and easy target, it had done nothing to deserve this treatment. It was beautiful. And he was happy.

And he felt a stir.

A stir all but unfamiliar to him. The kind of stir he used to feel, years ago, when he would catch a glimpse of the laundry girl's calf while she gathered soiled clothes from the floor of his hospital room. The kind of stir reserved for dim light, like the dim light of this sea bottom, the soft white light of the Achilles. Harlibut began to remove the suit. Even though he somehow knew this would likely kill him, he removed the suit. And in the moments before he was crushed by the pressure, the drawn-out coldness of the deep sea, he made love, for the first time, to the Earth Mother Achilles.

"...if the Bible says no then I say no, gentlemen, for there is nothing the Bible says that I don't also say. And may I be totally clear when I say, walk with God always because God is like an iron suit, he will protect you and he will keep you, he will carry you and he will shelter you, he will show you the way, the truth, and the light."



(image of General Dynamics, Annual Report, 1959)


Next Week: The Fiery Furnaces play Montreal. They are one of my favourite bands in history, they are consistently challenging, inventive, brilliant. I have written about them many many times. Come see them with me, at Cabaret Mile-End (a new venue formerly known as Kola Note) next Tuesday June 22nd, 9:30, 16$. Tickets available online, or at Cheap Thrills, L'Oblique, Atom Heart, and Phonopolis.

Posted by Dan at June 18, 2010 3:10 AM

why do i feel like Earth Mother Achilles is a parallel-world clone of God? Anyhow...

Posted by Pedram at June 18, 2010 5:24 AM

Fiery Furnaces rule. Their Widow City was totally under-appreciated, though. That's my pick. What was really wrong with a track like "restorative bear"?

Posted by Pedram at June 19, 2010 12:14 AM

beautiful "Harlibut" story.. and johnny horton sounds like a writer himself- eerie, indeed.

Posted by krather at June 19, 2010 1:02 AM

Johnny Horton's popularity necessitated much touring and driving - often during early morning hours where he found himself sharing the roadways with many drunken drivers. He became so convinced that he would meet his maker due to an intoxicated driver that members of his band reported he would practice driving off the road defensively and preemptively in a vain attempt to delay the inevitable. On November 5, 1960, Horton was killed in a head-on collision with a college student named James Evan Davis on Highway 79 at Milano, Texas; all his practice maneuvers were for naught as the pair met on a bridge. His wife was made a widow for the second time being as he married Hank Williams' widow. Hank Williams died after his last performance at the Skyline Club in Austin Texas. Johnny Horton died after his last performance at the . . . wait for it . . . Skyline Club in Austin Texas. There is a grocery store where the Skyline once stood and sometimes I sit in the parking lot there and think of Billie Jean Jones-Williams-Horton's tears and the delicate intricacies of fate.
I enjoy reading what you write a lot.

Posted by Darrin Ego at June 19, 2010 6:04 PM

I have a signed picture

Posted by Tammy at July 24, 2010 12:54 AM

Post a comment

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Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

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