Thanks to Cursed Arrows for submitting their record!
On our most recent annual Critical Masses team-building retreat – this one to the barren American southwestern desert regions of New Mexico – the weirdest thing happened. We’d arrived at the formless wilderness and randomly chose a spot along the side of the road where Matt H. parked the Winnebago. It was our hope to commune with nature and the spirits like the original inhabitants of this country, thereby attaining a higher consciousness and a communal oneness that would invigorate our respective columns and make all of us better writers in the long run. (Scovner couldn’t make it – he was putting the finishing touches on his now-best-selling novel. You know, editors, deadlines, pressure, etc.) We unpacked our gear and headed off at a 90-degree angle from the road, to wherever we felt ourselves led. And yes, if you were wondering, John had fashioned himself a Batman-esque utility belt for the journey. He was undoubtedly the most prepared.
Chris had the compass, but it was clear that his earlier proclamations about being an “expert” proved to be false, as his natural sense of direction was clearly dulled after years of reliance on Buffalo’s transit system. Yeah, we got lost pretty quickly, but as the mescaline began to flow through our systems, our whereabouts became less and less relevant. We decided to stop on a flat outcropping of rock and set up our tents, which we did with surprisingly little difficulty. We built a fire as twilight began to descend.
Around 6AM, the sun was peeking above the horizon, and I began to hear a faint sound. It was hard to pinpoint, as rocky outcroppings dotting the landscape wreaked havoc on sound waves. But I felt something in my soul, like I knew I would find exactly what I was looking for if I just followed my instinct. “Guys,” I said. “We gotta go.”
Matt D. turned to me from what had to have been the sixtieth marshmallow he was roasting over the embers of our fire. “Yeah. Yeah, we do.”
We quickly tore down our camp and, with me in the lead, headed toward the sound. After about ten minutes of walking, it came to me: “Matt, that’s music, isn’t it? I knew it!” Another twenty minutes later, and there we were – a stage made of vines grew from the moist ground surrounding a tiny oasis, and upon the stage a man and woman were playing a guitar and drums, writhing in the desert heat as deep blues rock and desert boogie burst from stacks of gleaming Marshall amps. The man and woman didn’t acknowledge our presence at all, yet these words visibly wisped from the speakers before being blown away by the wind: “Frightening, melodious. Savage. Tender. Male and female. Lips and eyes. Hands and teeth. Cursed Arrows.”
We sat transfixed. We could barely move, let alone breathe. We had never heard the songs before, but we knew them, knew their names. The desert heat baked them, and they were part of the landscape. “The Madness of Crowds” lived here, it kicked up a sandstorm that whirled around us. The words sounded wonderful, but meant nothing, and I realized after an hour or so I had scrawled “Lay your body facedown on the ground / Before the demographic winter” on my arm with a Sharpie. I stared at it as the letters moved like snakes, writhing along with the blood pumping through my veins just under the skin. It would still be visible two days later. I didn’t know then what it meant either. I glanced at Chris, and he had had the same idea: “Children carry monsters / in them selves” adorned his arm, the words from “Last Stop” (I gathered, from the air) failing again to make sense. Matt H. had simply written “Fateful Dissuasion.”
I was reminded as the sound filled our ears like a sandstorm how much this reminded me of PJ Harvey (the band has, fittingly, covered “Rid of Me”), or Patti Smith, or maybe even more appropriately the Israeli co-ed duo Carusella as although the woman in front of us sang more lead (as she played drums!), the man sang as well. They harmonized well when needed as on the strangely beautiful “Strip Joint Roundabout,” an oasis, to stretch the metaphor, of jangly pop in the midst of the blooze-rock bluster. But here they were like angels, these Cursed Arrows, here to show us the way. I think they played the entirety of The Madness of Crowds over and over, although it was difficult to tell time at that point. I closed my eyes.
I awoke to the midday heat, and as I opened my eyes, I realized we had collapsed in front of the Winnebago. I had no idea how long we’d been there. I was dying of thirst, and found my canteen where I had dropped it about 10 feet behind me. The rest of the group was slowly coming to.
“That was crazy,” I said, directed at no one in particular. “White hot.”
“Bitchin’,” agreed Chris.
“I don’t know, I thought the vocals were recorded weird,” Matt D. chipped in.
“I thought the vocals sounded fine. And what do you mean ‘recorded’? Didn’t you see that?”
I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. I was having a tough go of it.
But somehow, Cursed Arrows had saved our lives that day.
It was suggested that Wilmington, Delaware, be the destination for the next Critical Masses retreat. Matt H. seconded it. No more mescaline, we’d stick to beer. It was done.
RIYL: The Kills, PJ Harvey, Carusella, Patti Smith