Narrative and Technology
5 April 2012
All in the Family
Poe or Anne Decatur Danielewski, Mark Danielewski’s sister released the album Haunted on Halloween in 2000. She sounds like typical late 90s early turn of the century girl-grunge rock, similar to Liz Phair or Garbage. Poe is exceptional though, primarily because of the strange sounds and voices that give her music more of an eerie feel.
Keeping in mind that this album was produced simultaneously as her brother’s novel, House of Leaves, we can look at this eighteen song album as not just a soundtrack to the book but also as a way to better interpret the tenth chapter of House of Leaves.
The chapter begins with a description of Navidson’s elation in finally being able to venture into the dark unknown crevice that appeared in his house. Thus far, it has been made clear to the readers that Navidson has a thirst for the dangerous and the unknown, but still it seems strange that he enters the void, so to speak, without fear or hesitation. It’s rather unnatural, and quite frankly made me uncomfortable.
Poe fits into this equation, not so much lyrically although the lyrics of “Not a Virgin Anymore” fit pretty well if not taken literally, seeing as Navidson gets to explore the darkness of his own home unboundedly for the first time. I don’t count his first encounter with this space to quite be equivalent to “losing his virginity,” as it was cut short and he had to hide it from Karen. If we keep up with the sexual metaphors, that experience could be considered an equivalent to a teenager fooling around with his first girlfriend while his parents sit in the adjacent room. But for Navidson’s second opportunity, all his cards are on the table. He’s going in, with or without Karen’s consent.
The songs that fit well in the beginning of the trek into the darkness are songs that capture both excitement and fear. Exploration B, with it’s high pitched static-y noise and synthetic sounds, sounds grungy yet intriguing. It’s the grime that seems to occur naturally in the music that keeps the track from sounding pleasant, yet the grime is exactly what is most intriguing about the song. There is something about this strange instrumental that can’t be ignored, something about it that makes it hard to turn off. It’s a dark melody for wanderlust, which matches Navidson’s odd euphoric mood and the contrast it poses to his comrades, especially his brother’s ever growing panic.
“Lemon Meringue” has that same kind of creepy, dark, but this time lighthearted feel. It’s almost like we zoom into Navidson’s psyche and see this through his eyes. He’s very excited about being in this darkness, snapping pictures and examining his surroundings. The darkness isn’t as vast for Navidson as it was for Holloway and his crew. Zampano writes that “some critics believe the house’s mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it... the house, the halls, and the rooms all become the self-- collapsing, expanding, tilting, closing, but always in perfect relation to the mental state of the individual” (Danielewski, 165). If we take into account Navidson’s psychology, assuming that the critics are right, we can directly connect the less vast space as something “sweeter,” to use a lyric from “Lemon Meringue.”
This experience is something that brings him joy, and he does not find that space to be boundless, he expects there to be an end to the stairs, and so there is. It’s just as Navidson expects, it’s a dark strange space, the sour, but he has conquered it in a weird way, the sweet.
However, there is something inherently wrong with the song. It feels like a lullaby coated in sugar to conceal the curdling that’s actually happening at the center of the song. Compositionally, there is nothing strange about the notes, in fact most of them sound cheery, but Poe’s disinterested tone, paired with the weird synth that crops up occasionally, takes away from the cheerier aspects of the song. And of course, Poe’s deceased father makes an appearance at the beginning and end of the track, which never sounds anything but creepy in any of the songs on Haunted.
I listened to this Haunted in it’s entirety twice. Once on a casual walk through the park, and the second time while reading through chapter ten once more. Perhaps it’s not the best use of Poe in application to Navidson and his unusual content to wander around in a cold, creepy space, but as I read through the chapter again, these were the songs in my head. Perhaps that’s something to be said about my own psyche.