by Rob Puchalik
I (meaning me, Mike here) got this story in the mail a few months ago. It's reasonably twisted. The guy who wrote it has a friend Brian who emails me with some regularity, and he was kind enough to send us Rob's story to post. Now you too may taste its magic.
"Thank You for buying 'HAT'," says the voice on the CD. It is Mike Keneally, and the CD is "Hat." I just bought the CD at the local music store. I was wandering through the store on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, and right next to there was a card with only one CD in front of it. I looked at the title, wondering who the sorry bastard was who only deserved one CD in his category in a store full of rows of CDs, everything from Paganini to Pearl Jam. I looked at the category and saw the name "Mike Keneally," in letters that seemed a little wider than the ones on the surrounding pieces of white plastic. I had heard the name before, on a Zappa album. I thought about it, picked up the CD and looked at it. One of the salesmen at the music store said, "Can I help you?" in a casual, almost friendly tone.
"No thanks," I replied, in a voice filled with preoccupation, "Just looking."
The same friendly-like voice responded, "It's Two Dollars Off day, everything in the store is two dollars off," saying the last part as if I really needed him to explain what "Two Dollars Off day" might mean.
I looked at the CD. I looked at the cash register, all of three steps away. I looked towards the casual, friendly-like salesperson. I decided to buy the CD.
The CD was marked $13.99, so I would get it for $11.99. Figuring out tax, it would come to $12.82. I had it all figured out by the time I reached the register. I threw the CD on the counter and looked up. That was the first time I had noticed the cashier.
The cashier was wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt that said "Joy Division" on it. He couldn't have weighted more than 100 pounds, he was skin and bones and nothing more. His hair was long and dyed stark black. His face was pale and toneless, as if he had been locked in a basement all his life. The interesting part, though, was his eyes. His eyes were grey-a deep, penetrating grey. They were almost a balance between his pale skin and his midnight black hair. I guess, at one point, they had been blue, but they had been corrupted.
He picked up the CD and ran it across the scanner, it rang up $12.83. He didn't say the price, like they usually do. He just looked at me with his grey eyes in a way that said everything for him. I handed him a twenty. He handed me back a bunch of bills and a few coins. I promptly deposited the coins in the beat-up, old, empty Ronald McDonald House collection box and shoved the bills into the pocket of my jeans. He smiled a wry smile and said his first words in, seemingly, ages.
With a voice that sounded like an old man, like someone waiting for death--no, more like death himself, he said, "If you want to return this, you can."
The last time I had heard that was from a concerned cashier who thought I might be disappointed in the third Led Zeppelin album. But this cashier didn't seem to say it as if I could return it. He seemed to say it as if he knew that I would. It almost sounded like a command, disguised as an offer.
"I'll keep that in mind," I replied, still mesmerized by the cashier's eyes.
"Be seeing you," He said, smiling his wry smile again.
I snapped out of my daze and hurried out the door, into the parking lot, where I almost got hit by a dark blue Camry. The driver honked as he drove by. I flipped him the middle finger, and ran to my Dad's red Thunderbird Sports Coupe.
The loud screech of guitar drags me out of the past and into the present. I look at the CD player. It's on track 7. I can't believe this. I completely missed 7 tracks of a CD. I walk over to the CD player and click the "Stop" button. "If you want to return this, you can." Even now his words are echoing in my head. What the hell could he have meant? I don't think I've ever returned a CD in my entire life. Well, maybe he heard the CD and didn't like it. Yeah, that's right, he didn't like it. So he's telling me that I can return it if I don't like it. Am I thinking rationally or am I just trying to convince myself that there wasn't anything freaky about that guy at all? I'm not sure. I don't want to think about it right now.
I shudder a little and look at the CD player. It reads "25" in bright blue digits. 25 Tracks!! How could there be so many tracks on a CD? I look around for the case. I find it on the floor next to my bed and I pick it up.
I flip it over and there's my answer. It occurs to me that this is the first time I've actually looked at the songs on this CD. There are no times listed next to them, so I break open the liner notes to see what's inside. There are all the words. I see the last words I remember hearing of this CD: "Thank you for buying Hat." I quickly glance through the songs, checking out the times that are listed next to each title. Yes, this certainly looks like a Zappa album. I hit play again.
I start listening to the album. It sounds great and I'm glad I bought it, why would I want to return it? I still don't understand what he meant.
I get about halfway through the album when I hear something. I'm not sure what it is. I hit the back search button and listen again. It's still there. I'm not sure what it is, but whatever it is, there's not much of it, but it's there, tacked on to the end of track 15. It's just a little sound, faint as the sound of a slow wind. I can barely hear it. I throw the volume control all the way to the right, and go back over it again. I'm not sure what the sound is, but it's very interesting. I guess that it's just part of the album. I let it run this time, and I listen to the rest of the album.
I spend the rest of the day out with my friends when I get home that night, I fall right into bed I hit the play button on the remote and out comes Hat. "Thank you for buying Hat," I hear, as I fall asleep to it. I dream about the cashier. I dream that he's in my room, telling me to return the CD.
I ask him why and he vanishes. I wake up at the end of track 15. Just in time to catch the sound. It's almost as if someone woke me up just so I could hear the sound again. Maybe it was him. Maybe it was the cashier- guy. I get up and turn the lights on. I start toying with controls. Balance, bass, treble, going over the noise each time to see if I can hear anything different.
Suddenly, it's 4:00 in the morning and I have to be up in three hours to go to work. I decide, once again, that the noise isn't anything. Just a dust speck on the CD or something like that. Yes, it must be a speck of dust. Or a scratch. Yes! That's why the guy told me I could return it! It was because he knew there was a scratch on it. Am I thinking rationally or am I trying to convince myself that I'm not crazy? I'm not sure. I don't want to think about it right now.
I shut off the lights and climb back into bed. As I pull the covers over me, I notice something different about my CD player. It's like it has stopped being an inanimate object and has been given a soul of it's own, like it has become some sort of gargoyle on top of my dresser I decide that I'm just thinking like a lunatic and that I should go to bed. I shut the CD player off, just in case.
The next day at work, I move like a corpse. I get yelled at three times in the course of six hours and I spend my breaks making up for lost sleep. I keep thinking about the noise and the cashier guy. When I get home, I look at the CD player. It's still a gargoyle. Just to be sure, I hit play and hit skip forward fifteen times. Track fifteen. I listen to the whole song, to see if there are any other sounds like the first one, as if a second sound would negate the effects of the first one. As long as there are two of them, everything is okay.
I find no such noise. I sit like a statue and listen intently. There it is. The one, sole, soft noise. It's not like a noise, it's more like a nothing. Barely audible. But I hear it as if it were as loud as Times Square on New Years Eve.
The next day is Monday, so during school, I ask my friend Mike if he can use his tape deck to play a tape backwards.
"Sure," he says, "don't you remember the time we listened to the secret message on 'The Wall'?"
"Oh, yeah," I say, struggling to remember.
"Why? What do you need it for?" asks Mike, curiously.
"I want to try something," I reply.
"Sure," he says, " just bring a tape over tomorrow and we'll toy with it."
"Thanks, Mike, I'll do that," I say, I don't speak to anyone for the rest of the day.
That night, I get a tape, slip into the tape deck, and hit record. I stare at the gargoyle for five minutes, at least. The gargoyle stares straight back at me. I hit play and skip to track 15. I record the whole track onto the tape. I hear it again. The nothing, as if, instead of something that is there, there's a space where there should be something, but there isn't. I listen to the tape to see if it caught the nothing. I hear it again on the tape. It scares me this time.
The next day, I drag my weary body through school, I fail a trigonometry test. Afterwards, I follow Mike home and I rush into his house, he runs in after me. We pop the tape in and Mike begins to play with knobs and switches. Finally, after a minute or so, he says, "We're ready."
"Well? Play it then!" I say, impatiently.
Mike hits play and out of the speakers comes a noise the likes of which I have never heard before. It is an ugly, distorted noise. Voices wail in an incomprehensible language, horrifying and frightening. I tell Mike to go forward a little. He hits the fast forward button, and then, realizing his mistake, quickly presses the rewind button. The tape comes to the end. Or the beginning, I'm not sure which. He hits play. There it is. The noise, the nothing, clear as day. Different, but still incomprehensible. I shout, "That's it! Go back!"
"What? Where?" Mike responds, confused, as he presses fast-forward and then play in quick succession.
"There!" I shout, even more impatiently, "Can't you hear it?"
"Well, I don't hear anything!" shouts Mike back at me.
"What do you mean you don't hear anything? It's right there!!"
"You're just hallucinating."
"Fuck you, I am not."
"Yes, you are. There's nothing there."
"Fine! Then give me my tape back!"
"Here, dammit!!" Mike grabs the tape from the machine and tosses it at my head. I grab for it and knock it out of the air, onto the floor. I pick it up and shout, "Bye!!" on my way out.
The next day, I'm late for school and I get a detention for it. When I get home, I lay down in my bed in despair. I'll never know what it says now. I can't use Mike's tape deck and my own can't play anything backwards. The gargoyle sits, watching me. I stare back at it. Had anyone been there, they might have heard me say,"Yeah, What do you want?"
Slowly I drift off to sleep. I have another dream about the cashier and the sound. The cashier is sitting on top of the CD player and it is skipping over the sound over and over again, only, this time, the nothing is slower. I can hear distinct sounds within the nothing. Almost as if they are syllables, of some ancient language. The cashier vanishes and the nothing stops. I wake up in a fever, late for school again.
The day drags by again. I get another detention and I am forced to see my guidance counselor. He asks me if I've been getting enough sleep at nights or if I've been having "trouble at home." I tell him, in a calm, succinct voice, to go fuck himself. Another detention. Finally, the day ends. While driving, my mind wanders off to the sound of the nothing, and the cashier. I run a red light-or was it two?-and I almost get into an accident with another dark blue Camry, possibly the same one that was at the record store. I get pulled over by a cop for speeding and for reckless driving. He asks me if I know how fast I was going. I calmly, succinctly, tell him to go fuck himself. I get a ticket. I manage, somehow, to make it home alive.
The night passes as the other nights have, bad dreams, unrestful sleep, and sweat. The next day at school, I turn down a date with a beautiful brown-haired girl, who runs off in tears after I calmly, succinctly, tell her to go fuck herself. The rest of the day goes on forever. The weekend passes without much care. I spend most of my time locked in my room.
The next day, the beautiful, brown-haired girl, tells me that I'm a pig and recites a speech that she must have spent the whole weekend practicing. Once again, in a somewhat spacy and inattentive voice this time, I tell her to go fuck herself. Mike, in his first words to me in nearly a week asks me, in a concerned voice, if I'm okay. Feeling creative, I tell him that I'm fine and that he can just go fuck himself. He calmly, succinctly punches me in the stomach.
That afternoon, I find something in the mail. A catalog from a computer store. Without much care, I thumb through the catalog. Until I come across a special page. One that grabs my attention and holds it with a picture and a catchy headline. It's for a program that you can use to copy music into your computer and fuck it up any way you want. "Play it backwards, forwards, slower, faster, clearer!" shouts the page, "Cut, edit, mix and personalize your music!" At the bottom of the page, I see some endorsement by Todd Rundgren. That figures.
Seeing my salvation in my hands, I rush to the bank to take out the money I will need. The ad says $499.95, but I take out 800, just in case.
I get there and I find it, laying in some bin, as if it weren't meant to be my salvation in a box, next to some useless word processing program. I quickly snatch the box in to my hands, and rush to the desk. Running past the salesman at a mind-sheering velocity to hear him say, "Can I-" before I reach the counter. I figure it out to cost $534.94 with tax. It rings up $534.95. I fork over seven one-hundred dollar-bills. The cashier looks at me funny as he pushes one of them back across the counter. He rings up the box, takes out the change and lays it on top of the hundred. Watching me through the corner of his eye. "Sixty-five and five cents is your change, sir," he says, cautiously. I grab the bag from his hand and rush out the door, leaving all the change and the hundred dollar bill still laying on the counter.
I get home with the box already open and the instruction manual half-read. I run downstairs and boot-up the computer, and install the program on the hard drive. I open up the program and I load "hat." into the CD- ROM drive, as per the instructions. I spend the rest of the day fiddling. I don't really accomplish anything as far as the sound goes, but now I know what to do when I want to find the sound behind the nothing.
I crawl up the stairs and into bed. Bad dreams and I wake up with a headache. I skip school entirely for the day. I sit in the basement all day and half the night, gaining nothing. I listen to the nothing backwards, forwards, slower, faster. I distort, reverberate, digitize, homogenize and pasteurize it. I still find nothing new.
The next day, I skip school again. I work on the computer from 11 A.M. to 3 A.M. the next day. Every time I find some new way to screw with the nothing, I have to go back and try everything again. I mix, edit, cut, slice, dice, and chop. Nothing works. I finally fall asleep on the keyboard.
I am woken up by my parents yelling at me. They tell me that I'm spending too much time on the computer and not enough time on my homework. I explain to them that I haven't had any homework for the past two days, which is the truth. My dad tells me that I'd better get my act together if I want to get in to Rensaller or M.I.T. I gingerly tell him to go fuck himself. He smacks me across the face. I punch him in the stomach. My mother shouts. He punches me in the face this time. My mother screams. I punch him in the face. My mother cries. He throws me through the sliding glass door. My mother falls to the floor, weeping and sobbing. I pass out.
I get rattled awake and told that I am to go to school and that if I ever do anything like that again, I can find another place to live. I go to school again. The beautiful, brown-haired girl, Mike and my guidance counselor all get their daily dosage of "Go fuck yourself." I get home and lock myself in the basement. My father doesn't speak to me at all.
I spend the next two days in the basement. I don't go to school or work-where I used to work, anyway- It's just me, the computer, and the nothing. That's what I guess it to be. Just nothing. I slow it down to a point where I can almost make out what is being said but there is still something wrong with it. After filtering out all the noises and clicks, I hear it. The message is scrambled! I spend the next day-and-a-half working on the puzzle.
I sit there in my own sweat. I haven't slept in God knows how long and I haven't showered in even longer. My clothes are beginning to smell rank and I haven't eaten anything in at least three days. I'm getting pale and I'm having dizzy spells. I hardly notice any of it at all.
At three in the morning on whatever day it is. I become frustrated to a point beyond frustration, The damn puzzle isn't working no matter how I try to figure it out. I've edited it and it sounds like I put it together the right way, I've slowed it down as well as I could, and I've distorted it in all manner of ways. It's not a nothing any longer, it's a something, but I can't figure out what.
Suddenly, the clouds open up and the sun shines down. I look at the computer with my jaw in my lap. The nothing isn't meant to be played backwards at all!! I quickly flip off the distortion and reverse the play. I rewind back over the nothing and wait patiently.
A calm, deep voice, one I assume belongs to Mr. Keneally, begins to tell me the "meaning of life."
When the voice is done, I sit in shock. The entire reasoning behind the world is revealed to me, as well as the events that will bring it to an end. "It can't be real," I think to myself, "It can't be." An inward sense, one I have never felt before, tells me that it is real and it is true. I have no choice but to listen to it.
"Thank you for buying hat," I hear, followed by the revelation that I heard with my own ears, only moments ago. Then, it comes. The solution to it all. "You can return this if you'd like," says the cashier.
I pop the CD out of the drive, load it into its case and run up the stairs. When I open the door at the top of the stairs, I see four suitcases and a group of boxes. All my things have been packed away, and are waiting for me to take them from the house. I walk straight past them and grab the keys to the Thunderbird. My father tries to stop me from getting out the door, but I push him aside and out the door I go. It's raining fiercely as I get into the car and turn on the engine. I throw it into reverse and speed out of my driveway. I throw it into fourth gear and take off down the street.
On the highway, I drive faster than I was ever willing to go before. 110, 120, 130 reads the speedometer. I get to about 145 before the car skids off the highway, across three lanes of traffic and into the barrier. The car flips over the barrier and rolls across three more lanes before finally coming to a stop on a patch of grass on the opposite side of the highway, upside-down, crushed, and bent almost in half. I climb out the windshield into the rain.
As I run down the highway, I take a quick look back at the car. What used to be a finely shaped, red sports car is now a hunk of blood- coloured, distorted metal. The wound in my head doesn't even faze me.
"Good," I think to myself, "The record store's on this side of the highway, anyway."
I run on through the rain until I reach the record store. I walk in through the front entrance, this time. I slowly make my way to the back of the store. The people all stare at me. Beaten and bleeding, I walk to the back register like a zombie. I see him. The "Joy Division" guy. He smiles as he sees me. I hand him the CD.
"I'd like to return this," I say, like a zombie.
"I know," he replies, "there are only a select few who ever want to keep this CD."
"I know," I respond, mindlessly.
I walk out of the store and all the way home.
A few months ago, an interview was conducted via cassette and word-processor by Keneally and Finnish journalist Juha Romppanen. On Juha's cassette, his questions were preceded by the following fanciful paragraph, describing his reaction to Mike's music. Since some of the words were hard to understand, Mike asked him for a transcription. It is very charming. (The interview appears in the January 1995 issue of the Finnish magazine RytmiMusiikki.)
"A description of images caused by Mike Keneally's two solo albums by a person who is not intelligent enough to understand all of the lyrics: What we have is an alter ego who uses name Mike Keneally for whatever purposes. He is Mike in Wonderland where almost everything is possible and yet so unavoidable. Sometimes he is a green man robbing the most wonderful flowers, sometimes he is a friendly little dolphin jumping out of a lake, a hairy dog wondering when will be his chance to run recklessly on the Wonderway One. He is a little black olive who has many sisters and brothers in an olive tree. Wups, one day he drops down and says: 'I'm an orphan now.' Sometimes his voice is very angry and as a king of woods he creates stormy sounds. And when you least expect it, he throws wienerschnitzel to your face and plays harp for a dessert. 'This is not a funny game anymore', someone cries and escapes. When Mike comes back from his wonderland and changes the wonderful clothes of his alter ego he is that dear old dad again with weird tales to tell to his young daughter and to every children in the neighborhood. If Mike was a composer and had a garden, it would be full of children wandering around and listening to his music which is a nonstop surrealistic movie to everybody's ears, a movie that Mike directs while gathering the dreams of his alter ego in Wonderland. But he can not direct his film unless he is a child himself. Everybody knows he is, and that is why everybody is equal in his kingdom of dreamy and extremely colourful delights."
Here is a picture of Juha, who wrote this:
The following is a verbatim transcript of Japanese resident "firstname.lastname@example.org"'s description of a Mike Keneally appearance in Japan during his brief solo trip there in January, 1995:
"It was a small studio. 8th floor of the Shinjuku Disc Union building. There's only 30+ people there but the space was almost packed.
Both the store and the record company virtually no advertising about this event. I think there is dead-line problem, probably. Maybe his schedule is very tight. And this trip is mainly for promotion, doing interviews for press. So I have to thank them just giving us a chance to see him perform.
Mr. Keneally appeared at 5:00 pm. Everyone welcomed him with huge applause.
After brief introduction by the staff, Mike took (his?) guitar. It was an Ovation acoustic. He performed in completely 'unplugged' mode. "Open Up", "Idiot Bastard Son" and a few songs from BOILS THAT DUST SPECK.
The performance was short but strong. Sometimes he play very fluid like ones on Zappa's Universe. and there's the moment he went rough, hard- strumming style. and his singing was very emotional. Sometimes he suddenly burst into screaming!
I was surprised. Because being an acoustic set, I expected kind of sweet songs, played tenderly. But anyway, I was massively impressed. That's for sure.
Then next, audience participation time (not really). Nobody even try to ask him a question so I was only questioner.
Here's Mike said to me:
Z's second album, Music For Pet, will be out this year.
Scott Thunes is no longer with Z.
Mike apparently not happy with Zappa's Universe CD. When I asked about touring of ZU, Mike said that Joel Thome might be thinking of it but he do not want to take part in it. No ZU anymore.
About a rumour that Mike is new 'vaultmaster' for the Frank Zappa archive. This is not true. Mike is helping Gail for some projects but never been in such a role. He already knows such a rumor has been around in internet.
After two concerts with Shankar, Mike took participated in his album recording. It was completed but unreleased. Anyway 'that's not good, so you can forget about it,' Mike says.
Paris tribute show is just postponed. It seemed not being completely cancelled.
And very surprising fact (well, at least, to me):
In conversation about his current activities, Mike revealed that he has recorded with Henry Kaiser. I couldn't believe it so I had to repeat asking. Yes, Henry Kaiser! I have confirmed it. It was quartet; Mike, Kaiser with a bass and a drum. It was not very improvisational nor noise-oriented. '(the recording is) very interesting and Henry is a very good guy', Mike says. This is also 'out this year.'
Mike is very generous, kindly answered my questions. And then, people got signed, took photograph with him. Some people got signed on their 'hat.'
I, personally, said to him that you should refrain from Zappa-cover doing things and concentrate on your own music. I just want to listen more your stuff. --- That's what I really like to say to him and I made it. Who knows what he think about my comment...
Anyway, it was memorable experience, indeed. Thanks, Mr. Keneally."
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