Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dr. Johnson Wouldn't Get It

It was at about 11 o’clock last Friday night, at the bar of the Kinotheque Sangriaria, to which we had adjourned after taking in a movie at the neighboring Kunsthaus Kinotheque, that Nick, Vadim, and I most recently ran into our old friend Kevin Malebranche—aged 37, avowed Satanist, founder and proprietor of Pentagram Records, self-described purveyors since 1989 of all genres of heavy guitar music beloved by the Dark Lord Himself. In a certain subcultural register, at least, Kevin’s observance of his faith has become a part of local civic life here: on the first Friday the 13th of every year, at one of the largest rock clubs in town, he hosts a Birthday Bash for Beelzebub featuring live music performed by the most evil bands this side of the Phlegethon. A nice tip of the hat—or rather, horns, to Dantean cosmology—that this side of the Phlegethon bit, I’ve always thought.

But not to digress too far from the scene of last Friday: after politely offering Kevin a serving of sangria (which was just as politely waved away), Nick asked him if there were any new records he had taken a shine to. Whereupon Kevin, grimly resplendent in his black leather jacket, black Maskim Xul T-shirt, black jeans, and silver upside-down cross neck medallion, held forth monologically on the choicest new arrivals at the Pentagram record bins with all of the regal placidity of a salonière; distracted only intermittently by the ambient cigarette smoke, which he would absently wave away from his face at goatee level from time to time, and by his Spartan repast of pita and hummus. Nick and Vadim both seemed to find this disquisition at least mildly diverting; as for me, I could barely summon enough concentration to pick a few familiar band names—Dying Fetus (“Their latest 7” kicks—no, impales—uptight Christian ass,” Kevin opined), Carcass, Hatebeak—unholy relics of an era when I had taken a passing interest in the so-called underground rock scene At last, after what seemed an eternity, as they say, having grown either tired of talking shop or just plain tired, Kevin glanced at his watch and through a half-stifled yawn said, “Well 11:30—time to be heading back to the old crypt. Got to be up by six tomorrow to do inventory.” Leaving a half a tub of hummus and four wedges of pita uneaten, he paid his tab, bid us good night, and headed for the exit, revealing in his retreat the back of his jacket bearing the image of a Dia-de-los-muertos-style skeleton surmounted by the stenciled credo I’LL SLEEP WHEN I’M (UN)DEAD. Just a few paces shy of the threshold, though, as if the prompting of an afterthought, he stopped in mid-stride and—evincing in this combination of movements an admirable synthesis of Fordian efficiency and Fonzarellian aplomb—pirouetted around to face us, flashed a pair of forefinger-and-pinkie devil’s-horn salutes, tossed his head back, howled, “Indulge yourselves to the fullest extent of your diabolical powers!”, and swiveled back again, thereafter immediately vanishing into the night through the plate-glass double doors.

“Well, much as I dig the heavy guitar music, I’ve got to say that went on about ten times as long as it should have,” Nick then said, divvying up the last of the sangria.

“Not a bad egg, though, Kevin,” said Vadim.

“No,” I agreed, albeit, I must admit, a bit tentatively. For Kevin’s outgoing performance had catalyzed in me a certain revelation that had been in the making, in connection with him, for years; one of those negative epiphanies that I seem to be undergoing with ever-increasing frequency the older I get—one of those moments in which some heretofore time-tested piece of the Wisdom of the Ancients shows itself to be utterly falsifiable or simply unintelligible in vis-à-vis the archetypal phenomena of the present. In this case, the piece of wisdom was Samuel Johnson’s dictum that no man is a hypocrite in his pleasures. And so, having taken this revelation to heart I reiterated, “No. Not nearly a bad enough egg, I’m afraid.”