Meny Stäng

Bullet the words at the mockingbirds: The poetry of genre-crossing musician Wesley Eisold is not for the Squeamish

By Danja Philine Prahl

Wesley Eisold med Cold Cave. Foto: xkidx CC
Wesley Eisold med Cold Cave. Foto: xkidx CC

Where he comes from is perhaps as hard to say as where he goes. Wesley Eisold, born in 1979, has seemingly lived everywhere in the USA, besides spending some years in Germany. Fronting several bands of the hardcore punk genre (such as American Nightmare/Give up the Ghost or Some Girls) has gained him some fame within the scene, but the past years have seen Eisold exploring more electronic paths with his solo project, Cold Cave, ranging from experimental noisescapes to synth-laden new wave. What is notable about him, though, is not just this sharp stylistic turn or his tendency to meander from place to place and band to band. Since his hardcore days, Wesley Eisold has stood out for his lyrics. While many bands of the genre concentrate on simple slogans to be chanted back at them by the crowd – “Loyalty! Brotherhood! Integrity! Honor! Words that mean less than a spit to the toilet!,” Eisold scoffs in his tour diaries – there has always been a darker and more complex side to Eisold’s lines. Not surprisingly perhaps, as he is also a published poet who has appeared in the Columbia Journal for literature and arts. His first and only book to date, Deathbeds, is a collection of his lyrics, poetry and prose from 1999–2007 and was released by Eisold’s own publishing house, Heartworm Press. Although reprinted for its fifth anniversary in early 2012, Deathbeds remains almost impossible to get due to the small number of copies produced. However, for a writer this gifted with raw honesty and rhythmic flow of language, it would come as a surprise if his literary output should end there.

It may be due to Eisold’s hardcore roots that Deathbeds does not exactly treat its reader gently. In fact it is hard to determine whether the author feels more hatred towards himself or the world, but he handles his own misanthropy with a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude, flashing up in lines like the following dialogue:

Wesley Eisold. Foto: Aterna 2 CC
Wesley Eisold. Foto: Aterna 2 CC

“I thought you hate girls! Like you’re on some MC5 shit or something.“
“Nah, it’s not girls, it’s everyone.“

Despite these hints of self-irony, Deathbeds remains, just like most of Eisold’s song lyrics, a dark and intrinsically bitter read. The book bursts with strong language and neverending mentions of body fluids. Sex is a cornerstone of these early works, infiltrating nearly every single text of the collection as something made dirty and shameful by its compulsiveness. Women, in turn, become a necessary evil, though not all of them as evil as the one we meet in the following poem, titled “The Time I Almost Was A Dad”:

I’ve aborted your kid, she told me
I meant to tell you sooner
But I slept with this kid named Joel while you were away
So perhaps it was his
But Joel has herpes
So at least you’ll get something out of this.

This poem is essentially a tragedy in three acts, each act made up of merely two lines, each a verbal punch to the stomach. It is a prime example of Eisold’s talent to tell an ugly truth straight to your face, but rounded off with a bittersweet punchline that makes it impossible to hate him for it. The poem is also intriguing because it treats abortion from the point of view of the (uninformed) father-to-be, relating a situation that probably occurs a lot more often than we are aware of, but remains a taboo topic.

The fact that Eisold is a musician as well as a poet is especially evident in the rhythmic language that invades even his prose. For instance, “The Shower Nozzles of Mental Masturbatory Illness”, a short story in letter form that tells about Eisold’s college days and the meaningful discovery of a peep hole in the wall of the girls’ showers, holds rhyming patterns that blur the border between prose and poetry:

My peers were seemingly still drunk and moronic, each a potential Icarus, not flying but stumbling home hungover with a post-fuck yawn on the brink of someone else’s collegiate dawn. I had such a headache for the expensive confetti, nostrilized and ready, flared in synch with the same feet keeping the same beat that somehow pumps life into the songs that I just wished would die already.

Notably, motives from “The Shower Nozzles …” appear elsewhere in his work, such as the song “Spider Earth” by XO Skeletons:

Wesley Eisold. Foto: Alterna 2 CC
Wesley Eisold. Foto: Alterna 2 CC

Hanging around
The locker rooms of my heart
The shower nozzles of love
There’s nothing else I could do
Pre-fab pukes on
Some collegiate lawn
[…]
Post-fuck yawns on
A problematic dawn

Moreover, “The Shower Nozzles …” plays skilfully with the view of the outsider, part voyeur, part critic. Observing the arrival of the freshmen on campus, the narrator cynically remarks how

Christian parental passerbys speed through Pagan sponsored highways to deliver their babies to the challenges of a University. […] How cruel the world must seem when the palms delivering your babies trace the lines of all you’ve done to others but would never want done to anyone