revew: Christopher Brett Bailey – Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight
Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight/
Christopher Brett Bailey/
Captain Estar Goes To Heaven is a 170 page sci-fi webcomic by Winston Rowntree. I must have read it when I was about 14-16 maybe. I think about it surprisingly often. I don’t even think of Captain Estar as Rowntree’s best work. Their science/spec fiction is excellent, their comics are wordy. In the comic’s final chapter Shirley Estar asks, ‘if you can get used to anything then how can there be a hell?’ For Estar, there is no healing of the self. She has killed and committed violence and mutilation and always will have. She is not only unworthy of redemption, but redemption is not even conceptually possible. Existence then becomes a sort of hateful limbo.1
There’s a collapsing effect when I look back at my (reading) habits as a teenager. The order in which things happened sort of disintegrates, and there is no clear separation between the ideological self I brought to the things I read and the ways in which they influenced me. I could claim that my enjoyment of Rowntree’s comics resulted in me holding the beliefs I do today. Or I could claim that I only enjoyed them in the first place because of the beliefs I brought to them as a reader. I could claim that because I still enjoy them when I revisit them I am and always have been the same person.2
There are a lot of bands from Derby I love listening to who are some combo of post/math/shoegaze/alt rock. All loud. Tentatively, I would guess that I’m into that sort of music because I grew up going to those local gigs. Maybe I’m only into these bands because they remind me of Derby. Maybe on some level the only reason I like anything is because it reminds some buried part of me of a middle-sized city in the East Midlands.
I went to a friend’s gig at the Vic when I was about 13 and one of the other bands were some sort of death metal atrocity. They were so loud that my hearing just disintegrated and everything sounded like screaming inside my ear canal. There was probably some sort of irreparable damage done that night but I stayed in the room out of some sort of duty. People always ask the d/Deaf, the blind, “have your other senses improved though?” I could chalk that bad gig down as a learning experience but sometimes people hurt and lose parts of themselves without gaining anything in exchange.3
I have a fever nightmare once that I am strapped to a huge metal scaffold. There is a thunderstorm raging, it is dark. I am being used somehow as a human battery and I will be here for the rest of my life, I might be here forever. I am tired and tense and I can see wind turbines on the horizon.4
Around the same time as all this I write what you might call fanfiction about me and my friends. This isn’t secret or private, I share it with them – the point is that I share it with them. Our lives are mostly juggled insults and trying to figure out what we think it is to be a man. I invent warped elaborations on our actual lives. Maybe it’s a kind of criticism. Somewhere in the gap between how we actually live and how I invent our lives, is the space we interact in. We’re each different in the other’s head. Certainly real but rarely honest. We might as well not know each other at all. We might as well never have done.5
(some or all of this may be untrue)
1. I’m not saying that Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight has convinced me there is no Hell, but it’s made me think about it. Not the Dante’s Inferno sort, but the I’ve-been-in-this-airport-for-days sort. If you treat the base premise of Heavens and Hells as a reaction to the terrifying infinity of time it makes sense that both operate in relation to the impermanent fleshly body and its sensations. Pleasure and pain are all acute – events – only if they’re short-lived. All of time isn’t an event, it’s too big. Maybe this is my roundabout way of saying that Kissing the Shotgun is marked by the silences either side of it. The periods before and after I subject my body to the physical experience of loud noise. In the bar afterwards I discover that for some of the audience the noise did nothing.
2. Also, it would feel lazy to insist that I was always going to enjoy Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight. I walked through the pissing rain to get to Contact to watch it. I walked through the pissing rain to get home again. At the risk of being trite, all these small bodily experiences have their affect. To take the view that my enjoying it was inevitable would also mean there wasn’t much point in going to see it, I got all wet for nothing. But y’know, if life’s a zero-sum game then what’s the point in ever doing anything. And what would be the point in going to see something I wasn’t going to enjoy. I don’t pay for these revew tickets anyway who cares.
3. I have a conversation in the bar afterwards as to whether we could have just not worn earplugs. What is the good of preserving our ears for the rest of our lives? Are we staving off hearing loss or are we waiting for something that’s really worth a piece of ourselves decaying for? Maybe it would have been sensible to go to one performance, gauge whether you wanted to lose some hearing for it, then go back the next day. But this feels like the sort of show that benefits from being new. Maybe you’d lose some hearing, but the fresh marks on your memory would already be there. So better to plunge in and be prepared to hurt.
4. The volume isn’t even the thing I remember, though. It’s the space I had to think.
5. Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight fails to wipe the slate clean, but what sort of aspiration would that ever be? I defy any single experience in my life to be definitive. There’s too much time to waste by trying to place punctuation. Language works on the strength of the past and the gaping future, the vibrations we send into both. Art and culture are mechanisms of attrition. We inch our way forwards, same as in any endeavour. Yes, we stand on the shoulders of giants, but those giants are after all only so many billions of single cells. There’s a cumulative affect, unpindownable, of all that art I’ve eaten, all the cells and molecules I’ve seen backlit and vibrating. Sending vibrations into bone at the same time gives them a certain extra richness.