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New Reading: Frequencies, Volume 1

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FrequenciesThe first issue of Frequencies, a new biannual journal of essays published by indie press Two Dollar Radio, is, in its physical form, the melding of professional digital publishing and the DIY aesthetic of the 90s.

The cover image is an illustration of a man: scowling, working-class, probably in his 40s, eyes squinting, 5 o’clock shadow, pursed lips, and a hat that says “Fix It!” with a picture of a wrench on it. At first, he’s easily mistakable for a (so-called) hipster, one that resides in Brooklyn and works at a local bike shop or cafe. On closer examination, however, the wall of television sets behind him creates air of authenticity–a menacing one at that.

For the interior, artist in-residence, John Gagliano, uses a handwritten font for the essays’ title pages but traditional type for the essays themselves. There are old-timey advertisements for a fictional store throughout and full page illustrations to go with each story.

The debut issue includes familiar names: writer and critic Joshua Cohen looks at the etymology of “Open Sesame;” bookseller and Two Dollar Radio editor Emily Pullen interviews poet Anne Carson; and author Scott McClanahan writes about his large, and slightly off-kilter, family from West Virginia.

“Seven Interruptions of the Image” begins with seven photographs: Wild Ruins; Wardrobe; Untitled Photo; My Parent’s [sic] House; Yellow Dress; All My Bags Are Packed; and Blossoms. They are beautiful, haunting images, some unrecognizable, others just odd—all invitingly sad. Their aged quality—smoky pastels, prevalence of shadows, and dubious chemical burns—makes them look as if they were taken by a practiced photographer or someone with an iPhone.

Following the photos, coinciding with their titles, are seven short essays written by Blake Butler. Within the first two lines of “Wild Ruins” it becomes clear this is a collaboration:

My sister emails me the link to the website with the catalog of photographs she has taken in her recent days of life. As I open the webpage a siren outside the house that we grew up in moves into ear range where I sit at this machine.

Those familiar with Blake’s writing will know of his father’s dementia. “Seven Interruptions” is an exploration of their relationship and a record of the degeneration. In the first essay we learn that his father is in a nearby hospital. “Within one mile of this house,” Blake writes, “my father is in a building full of people he does not know. This is where he sleeps now.” The photo “Wardrobe” reminds him why.

McClanahan by John Gagliano Blake’s writing, as always, is hypnotic; his thoughts, heartfelt yet analytic. The linguistic twists and turns, the spiraling phrases: at first not making sense but then, eventually, unfolding upon examination.

“I don’t try to wonder if my father’s memory condition is something that will come for me in the same way. It will or it won’t,” Blake says in the fifth essay. And finally, you feel the weight. Blake holds you there a bit longer with “All My Bags Are Packed,” a photo of a suitcase, barely visible in the shadows and a sheer curtain distorting its position.

I can’t think of what I would fill a suitcase with if I knew I was going to leave this house for the last time. Maybe just as much of the air as I could get to fit into it, something later to have to breathe.

The final essay in Frequencies, “The Magic Merge,” is Tracy Rose Keaton’s personal account of growing up the daughter of a demi-celebrity father. Having been exposed to his rock-and-roll lifestyle, and the women who come with it, Keaton was familiar early on with the groupie: the “American invention,” the “quintessence of feeling like nothing.”

The groupie is definitely a consumer who ends up getting eaten in the end. Not fabulous enough to be a concubine, or glamorously sinister enough to be a succubus…

It was her father’s girlfriend, a super-groupie—“Tall and slender, with long raven hair, her ass was on the cover of a 1972 ‘gentlemen’s’ mag, perched on a bicycle seat”—that made Keaton realize she could never compete as one of these women. So, instead, she opted for her own “odd mixture of scowling misanthrope and cultural anthropologist in big black shoes.”

She found salvation in a Pretenders album:

One day my dad brought home the first Pretenders album and threw it on the brown velvet couch. He might as well have thrown a grenade. …

A pivotal moment in Keaton’s life:

When I was growing up, girls simply did not play guitars. … I had never heard a lady sound so strong and threatening and calm. … Some of the oldies-but-goodies have Betty Friedan. I’ve got Chrissie Hynde.

“The Magic Merge,” a nod to the perzine, is a natural close to a new journal that values experimentation and old school style.

Buy Frequencies at your local bookstore
More info about Frequencies
Read Scott McClanahan’s essay

Written by Gabrielle

December 13, 2012 at 6:50 am

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