Upward, Not Northward

by Harvey Pekar

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credits

released 16 July 2013
Harvey Pekar is:
Eddy Marflak, Elliott Frank, Nate Kelly, Nick Kratsas, and Nick Schmitt.

All Music by Harvey Pekar All Lyrics by Nick Kratsas

Upward, Not Northward was engineered, produced and mastered by Noah Buchanan at Brainchild Studios in Cleveland, Ohio.

All artwork and album design by Kevin Czapiewski at Czap Books.

Additional Gang Vocals by Michael Phillips, Josh Fekete, Adam Paduch, Kevin Czapiewski, Jeff Russell, and Male Bondage.

Upward, Not Northward is available on vinyl at escapist-records.com

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Track Name: Are We Not Mammals?
Are We Not Mammals?[1]

Behold the self-proclaimed image of god - charter of the earth and sea, civilizer of the wild, courter of the heavens, territorial pisser of the lunar surface. Humanity - the unique superlative[2]. By all accounts scientific, artistic, and theological, I have transcended the classification "animal." This brain allows these opposable thumbs to shape the globe like putty. I am the lion tamer of the known. Call it nobility, call it stick-to-itiveness, I am the heir of an age-old collective consciousness. But, not unlike the feline at my throat, my life choices remain overwhelmingly dictated by that primal need to fertilize eggs. To call me a great ape would be more factual than derogatory. A distant ball of plasma and magnetic fields sustain me. I feed off the excrement of worms. Strip me of my tools and companions and reveal a frightened child to this world. Behold the infant upon his throne.

[1] “They tell us that we lost our tails, evolving up from little snails. I say it’s all just wind in sails. Are we not men?” Devo. Jocko Homo

[2] Walter: “Biggest, boldest living things in the whole world. Make you feel kinda’ small?” Jim: “Nope, big. I’m the one that’s gonna’ knock ‘em down.” The Big Trees.
Track Name: God Damn All Gentlemen
God Damn All Gentlemen[3]

This bus ride downtown is perfectly paired with that sullen Paul Simon song[4]. Static streets: the veins of that frozen lake. Cleveland winters are the greyest shade of bleak. Late night jokes and jabs from 1980’s silver screens[5] have accumulated and manifested as dark clouds hanging over this receding skyline. Chips rain down on the shoulders of bitter inhabitants - an ever-present reminder that opportunity lies elsewhere. We live in the shadow of the dead. What makes a man but where he’s from? We sing a belated eulogy.

[3] “No two things on earth are equal or have an equal chance, not a leaf nor a tree. There’s many a man worse than me, and some better, but I don’t think race or country matters a damn. What matters is justice. ‘Tis why I’m here. I’ll be treated as I deserve, not as my father deserved. I’m Kilrain, and I God damn all gentlemen.” Shaara, Michael. The Killer Angels.

[4] “In my little town / I never meant nothin' / I was just my father's son / Saving my money / Dreaming of glory / Twitching like a finger / On the trigger of a gun / Leaving nothing but the dead and dying / Back in my little town” Simon, Paul. My Little Town

[5] Beverly: “You got some place to go?” Howard: “Hey, if I had some place to go I certainly wouldn’t be in Cleveland.” Howard The Duck
Track Name: The Fraternal Order Of Uncanny Valley
The Fraternal Order Of Uncanny Valley[6]

Tradition values most those who hoisted us on two feet, who in dynamic refrains appealed the utterance of a parental honorific. Immediately demanded to pledge allegiance. An adolescence later we remain kissing the cheeks of alien kindred. Touch is communication like any other and can express emotion and listless formality. The fingertips of aged barbers and young lovers dissimilarly explore hidden cowlicks. But nerve endings are gullible receptors that speak in ambiguities. Indeed - comfort is universal at polar extremes, for blood absolves and isolation acquits. It is the vast middle lot, the unaccountable chronologists, with whom we never intersect. Lonely are the lives of parallel straight lines[7]. An arm’s length away - stretched forever outward. Colliding only in the misinterpretation of optical illusions. Those we have grown with but not towards, faces like foreign metaphors, and technology-bound ties from past lives. Rank such delineations and disembodied hands paint themselves into corners – trapped by endless shades of non-committance.

[6] “One might say that the prosthetic hand has achieved a degree of resemblance to the human form, perhaps on a par with false teeth. However, when we realize the hand, which at first site looked real, is in fact artificial, we experience an eerie sensation. For example, we could be startled during a handshake by its limp boneless grip together with its texture and coldness. When this happens, we lose our sense of affinity, and the hand becomes uncanny.” Mori, Masahiro. The Uncanny Valley.

[7] “Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity. He might talk for ever of care-charmer sleep and she of meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines.” Huxley, Aldous. Crome Yellow.
Track Name: Dear Tutankhamun,
Dear Tutankhamun,

(Ephemeral triumphs) Money does not grow on trees. Purses filled with Terminator seeds[8]. Polished copper plated zinc valued by gold in a Kentuckian vault. Planted my dollar bills, sowed my consumer goods: reaped nothing. (Frugal inheritance) Sages and John Does gave me seeds - cost them arms, legs, and elbow grease. They said, “Tend to these with will and opportunity.” Of what use are the fortunes of pharaohs? Rotting tangibility amid an oxidizing hoard. To what end, for what purpose, at what cost accrue the treasures of dead men? (Spectral magnum opus) Good fortune in hand: won’t trade my green thumb for the Golden Touch[9]. This shovel named “altruism” digs the way for posterity. Bury my body in an unmarked grave; I am so much more than this entropic carbon form.

[8] “A corporation is not a person. It doesn't think. People in it think and for them it is legitimate to create terminator technology, so that farmers are not able to save their seeds. Seeds that will destroy themselves through a suicide gene. Seeds that are designed to only produce crop in one season.” Vandana Shiva, The Corporation.

[9] “He took up a book from the table. At his first touch, it assumed the appearance of such a splendidly-bound and gilt-edged volume as one often meets with, now-a-days ; but, on running his fingers through the leaves, behold ! it was a bundle of thin golden plates, in which all the wisdom of the book had grown illegible.” Hawthrone, Nathaniel. “The Golden Touch.” A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys.
Track Name: The Fifth Beast
The Fifth Beast[10]

This train is moving! Our wake reveals footsteps – even missteps – that prove progress, and former selves that occupy vanishing points. Exponential acceleration keeps this train moving. But to the chagrin of post-war housewives with 199X daydreams of automaton butlers, we routinely exceed the prophecies of Roddenberry. Senses have limits, so this anabasis has a dampening effect. Like the presentist view of Elvis’ gyrating hips - a twelve second first flight[11] induces snickers and rolled eyes. “Race – gain safety. Race – gain pleasure. Race – gain comfort. Race – gain meaning.” Such is the anthem of our insatiable throngs, as we trample one another, chasing carrots on sticks. Free from breadline hunger pangs, we queue for the predawn black-Friday gorge. I have overtaken the fail-safe, my heels dig holes, I must let go. I – a noble non-contributor, but that beast keeps moving.

[10] “After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had a great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns.” Daniel 7:7, King James Version.

[11] “A sudden dart when out about 100 feet from the end of the tracks ended the flight. Time about 12 seconds (not known exactly as watch was not promptly stopped.) The lever for throwing off the engine was broken, and the skid under the rudder cracked. After repairs, at 20 min. after 11 o'clock Will made the second trial.” Wright, Orville. Diary.
Track Name: Calvin Pissing On The Competition
Calvin Pissing On The Competition

Logos and brand aesthetics pervade autobiographies and Christmas Eve dreams[12]. Destination-focused travelers wade through corporate art and regional kitsch. Bookshelves from IKEA catalogs - novels chosen by dust jacket color. Alma maters - medleys of radio jingles. Self-portraits - mosaics of paint swatches. Hymns of dead sitcom laughter and reality-TV mating rituals impress blind wooers with unquenchable needs and redemptive means[13]. You are contented caricatures of carnal philistines. Do not take me for an old man judging that which he has no stake in[14]. You are smarter than sameness. Do not humor the harbingers of generalities - buying souls with assembly-line identities[15]. Bring out your wax poets. Give me passion. Give me a challenge. Give me starry-eyed, long-winded late night conversations and adjectives greater than comparisons. Think of this what you may. Though I am ham-fisted and literal, I have never said words of malnutrition. I refuse to remain silent; I refuse to make noise without reason.

“The need to win the game is sort of so intrinsic, that we don’t really ever explore the full space of all the emergent properties of chess. We’re only kind of exploring these narrow branches that are possibly viable strategies. You wouldn’t be sitting there... playing your game of chess from your side and see this beautiful, tragic situation that you could act out and then act it out just because you want to... have this tragic situation emerge.” Rohrer, Jason.

[12] Mac: “Hello, I’m a Mac.” PC: “And I’m a PC.” Morrison, Phil. Get a Mac.

[13] “The television screen is the retina of the mind’s eye. Therefore the television screen is part of the physical structure of the brain. Therefore whatever appears on the television screen emerges as raw experience for those who watch it. Therefore television is reality and reality is less than television.” Videodrome.

[14] “Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us – in the simplest terms, with the most convenient definitions.” The Breakfast Club.

[15] “In the year 1908 Henry got up the courage to carry out his own idea of concentrating upon a single cheap car for the masses. One day, without any previous hint to his sales force, he announced that Models A, B, C, F, N, R, S, and K were out forever; thereafter the only Ford would be Model T. He closed the subject with his famous remark that ‘Any customer can have a car of any color he wants, provided it is black.’” Sinclair, Upton. The Flivver King.
Track Name: Confronting Nag
Confronting Nag[16]

My self-doubt can be crippling. Feeling like a bird with clipped wings - appendages can’t catch the wind. But I’ve grounded myself. Dumbo’s feather undermines my daring[17]. The blockhead in me contemplates my track record kicking that ball[18]. I lead a monastic life in this drove. Tired of being a face often seen but a person seldom known. Eyes: the gateway to the soul. My yellow pair prefers staring at the ground. Those times I’d disappear for weeks to find comfort in the glow of a cathode-ray-tube. The warm anonymity of overstimulation was my island. Good grief! This blockhead poises for a charge - full force at fear and doubt, shedding old traits like dead skin.

[16] “He was afraid for a minute, but it is impossible for a mongoose to stay frightened for any length of time, and though Rikki-tikki had never met a live cobra before, his mother had fed him on dead ones, and he knew that all a mongoose’s business in life was to fight and eat snakes. Nag new that too and, at the bottom of his cold heart, he was afraid.” Kipling, Rudyard. "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi." The Jungle Book.

[17] “Dumbo! C'mon, fly! Open them ears! The magic feather was just a gag! You can fly! Honest, you can! Hey, open 'em up! Hurry!” Dumbo

[18] “Okay, Charlie Brown… I’ll hold the ball, and you come running up, and kick it…” Schultz, Charles. Peanuts
Track Name: Junto
Junto[19]

Thought requires constant exercise. Cerebral mirror-shots always use hard light to highlight every fold of that garish grey/white mass. Entrust photo negatives to unconditional friends pantomiming the credentials of peer review. Hitting the minus on the magnifying glass has a way of aggrandizing the limits of freshly modest minor-league all stars. Despite my chicly framed lobes, be sure to distrust my glow. I beg of you - arm yourselves with white gloves, verite[20], and otoscopes; confront every fault and frailty; exhibit humility; take my strengths as your own. Demand an edit.

[19] “I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company.” Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

[20] “‘Someday I will have you strangled, Piter.’ ‘Of a certainty, Baron. Enfin! But a kind act is never lost, eh?’ ‘Have you been chewing verite or semuta, Piter?’ ‘Truth without fear surprises the Baron,’ Peter said. His face drew down into a caricature of a frowning mask.” Herbert, Frank. Dune.
Track Name: Silly Love Song Foie Gras
Silly Love Song Foie Gras[21]

I wrestled with saying this aloud for fear of playing a mopey dweller. But my truths must be examined and purged. For frame-abiding rhyme schemes mired with tired flattery, I present these truths with the frankness of formlessness. I used to avoid driving down our former street for fear I'd glimpse through a glass pane of memories. Now I am done feeling regretful and sad. I strive to be a dove flying from your paper bag[22]. No matter what we have now, no matter what we may have in the future - I will not dismiss the past. Whatever happened, happened[23]. Things like this may not have a place in the neat, rigid-lined, photo-book timelines of our lives, but they are no less important. If I had a fraction of the impact you had on me, I am certain you have emerged emboldened yet humbled. Sincerely, no post-relationship cynicism intended in my tone: I hope you're happy.

[21] “Some people wanna fill the world with silly love songs. And what’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, ‘cause here I go again.” Paul McCartney & Wings. Silly Love Song.

[22] “But then the dove of hope began its downward slope and I believed for a moment that my chances were approaching to be grabbed. But as it came down near, so did a weary tear. I thought it was a bird, but it was just a paper bag.” Apple, Fiona. Paper Bag.

[23] “Time - it's like a street, all right? We can move forward on that street, we can move in reverse, but we cannot ever create a new street. If we try to do anything different, we will fail every time. Whatever happened, happened.” “Because You Left.” Lost.
Track Name: Rot On The Vine
Rot On The Vine

Thirty ghosts reside in my shadow[24]. Their achievements: whispers in my ear. I cannot outrun them. They inquire: “Are you a typical 21st century twenty-something? A man seemingly confined to a time zone, who confides in UPCs and quotable platitudes. Oh fortunate son, you tread water, you run in place. Child of privilege, middle-class white male of the Peter-Pan Generation: what is your defense?” What is my defense? I scour my room where painstakingly saved-up pennies and stamp collections dwell[25]. Nothing but to-dos and wish lists and dusty dreams that prove I’ve always been more Cameron than Ferris[26]. What good is a labor of love locked under glass[27]? Even a hopeful future tense has nothing on the active present. I will smash my ceramic pig until I have spent every cent of my efforts.

[24] “Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey.

[25] “Particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.” Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.

[26] Cameron: “I’m dying.” Ferris: “You’re not dying, you just can’t think of anything good to do.” Ferris Beuller’s Day Off.

[27] “You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.” Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club.
Track Name: Blasé Babes
Blasé Babes

“I want to be swept off my feet, you know? I want my children to have magical powers, I am prepared for amazing things to happen. I can handle it.” Me and You and Everyone We Know.

Dreams are constructs of age. Time refines palates, presuming sophistication is the absence of simplicity. Sunrise desensitized. 18-year-olds wear cigarettes like merit badges as children gawk in ignorance and adults loiter in envy. Age is a constant aggressor. It inhibits with etiquette and belittles with hierarchy. Julian Years are artificial. Surely growth is subtler than the breaking of sacred trees and the ceremonial loss of skin[28]. But competition is more quantifiable than self-fulfillment. As if an orbital motion turned joy into a myth – men trap frigates inside bottles while boys sail paper boats on puddles. This Rube Goldberg machine delays happiness and impedes vision. But I spy an elephant in the belly of a snake[29], and he made my cheeks burn amid Santa Monica’s foothills, and flush when a waterfall mended a friend. Cherish the wet behind our ears.

[28] “They march slowly towards the homestead of the matuumo, carrying the leaves and twigs gathered from the sacred tree, mogumo. The initiates are warned never to look behind as they move along, for to do so would bring misfortune to them at the time of irua, and, furthermore, the childhood misdeeds which they have thrown over the sacred tree, mogumo, would come back to them. The songs they sing on the homeward march are directed towards denouncing all things that are not fit and proper for any adult member of the community to do.” Kenyatta, Jomo. Facing Mt. Kenya.

[29] “I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups and asked them if my drawing frightened them. They answered: ‘Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?’ My drawing did not represent a hat. It was supposed to be a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. So I made another drawing of the inside of the boa constrictor to enable the grown-ups to understand. They always need explanations.” Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince.