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Prologue of The Vampire and the Dragon (PrOOF Vol. 1) - a novel by Mike X Welch

            Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

            A vampire walks into a slaughterhouse…

            I’ve been to this complex dozens of times before. It’s an amalgamation of several large buildings with some smaller offices at the front. I’m here to pick up…

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Excerpt from You Might Get It - coming soon as part of Writing Bloc's DECEPTION anthology

     My mother always said be careful what you wish for, you might get it. She’d said a lot of foolish things in a life littered with visits to rehab and punctuated by cirrhosis of the liver. She dispensed homespun wisdom the way her furtive purse-digging produced pills. I had never put much stoc…

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'Hallelujah' piece, written in 2010 as part of a series (That About Covers It) comparing original songs to the cover versions

That About Covers It Vol. 5 – “Hallelujah”

 

Leonard Cohen – 1984 – VARIOUS POSITIONS

John Cale – 1991 – I’M YOUR FAN

Jeff Buckley – 1994 – GRACE

k.d. lang – 2004 – HYMNS OF THE 49th PARALLEL

 

Few expressions have survived the millennia as well as ‘Hal…

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Excerpt from Convict 45 - a short story (featured in the Writing Bloc Anthology - Escape!)

(Our scene: hundreds of stinking, despondent prisoners stand in line for the gallows, where a swift chop from the axe man's blade awaits...)

     Convict 45 turned to the man behind him, who was elderly and frail. “So, what’re you in for?”

     The ancient, emaciated man parted his string…

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Various Rumblings, Writings and Rants - Mike X Welch

Prologue of The Vampire and the Dragon (PrOOF Vol. 1) - a novel by Mike X Welch

            Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

            A vampire walks into a slaughterhouse…

            I’ve been to this complex dozens of times before. It’s an amalgamation of several large buildings with some smaller offices at the front. I’m here to pick up the five gallons of livestock blood I’ll consume this month. I’m shown into the manager’s office and endure five minutes of banal chitchat typical when face to face with Morty. I avoid humans in general; partially because of the annoying ones like Morty, but also because I don’t like the temptation of slaughtering them and drinking their blood.

            The conversation is brought to a halt by the sound of something solid smacked against the relatively thin metal walls of the slaughterhouse.

            “What the hell was that?”

            Morty averts his eyes and answers “Nothin’. I dunno. Nothing.”

            What follows is a deep lowing which moves through bass registers well beyond even my hearing. Morty and I share a concerned look as his coffee cup vibrates off the desk and shatters on the concrete floor.

            “Cows?” Morty offers.

            I frown, but before I can call out the shifty and nebbish manager on his lie, the phone rings.

            Morty looks back and forth between the phone and I, his pinched face stricken.

            I sit back and cross my arms. Morty reluctantly answers the phone.

            I don’t let on, but I can hear their entire conversation. The squeaky-voiced secretary - who does her best to ignore me every time I come to the slaughterhouse - whines, “What was that?” her voice shrill. Morty winces. She prattles on for another dozen seconds before asking, “Do I need to call the Crow Corporation?”

            “No!” Morty answers a bit too quickly. “No, I’ll deal with it,” he asserts, hanging up while she continues to argue. He looks back to me, and I raise an eyebrow.

            “I’ll be right back,” Morty says cryptically, then hurries from around his desk and out into the hallway with a speed belying his belly paunch.

            I sit quietly in the now-empty office for a few minutes. When I hear the deep crying sound again, I feel compelled to track the source down. I can easily follow the panicked manager’s trail; the tang of flop sweat and lack of deodorant show me the way. After traversing several hallways and turning multiple corners, I come to a solid, grey painted wall. There’s a slight depression on the left, so I give that area a testing push. The wall moves inward. I lean into that part of the wall.

            Slowly – but silently – the false wall pivots enough to allow me through. There are orphaned strands of straw on the concrete floor. I pick up Morty’s scent again, but a different one immediately overpowers it. The normal smells of the slaughterhouse – livestock blood, shit and sweat -- are easy enough to filter out. This other scent is so alien, so exotic, that I have to bob my head around for a few moments to take it all in.

            I follow the combined scent-trails around a corner into a large room. It is nearly the size of a hangar. Three humans turn from their work on a massive, round, obsidian object surrounded by loose hay. One of them – Morty – disengages and starts walking briskly toward me. I find myself unable to look away from the black rock. Is it a meteorite? A coal deposit? Wait, is it moving…breathing?  Morty’s mouth is moving as he comes toward me, but I don’t hear what he says, nor care about the many gestures his hands are making. I am marching toward him as well. When Morty comes close enough to block my line of sight, I put my hand fully on Morty’s face and absently force him out of my path. The last thing I see are the other two men turn from the black object, their mouths perfect O’s. Then a blinding light comprised solely of pain is everything and everywhere.

Excerpt from You Might Get It - coming soon as part of Writing Bloc's DECEPTION anthology

     My mother always said be careful what you wish for, you might get it. She’d said a lot of foolish things in a life littered with visits to rehab and punctuated by cirrhosis of the liver. She dispensed homespun wisdom the way her furtive purse-digging produced pills. I had never put much stock in either of those ventures. I was starting to invest a little capital in that particular nugget, however.

     Mother’s voice was annoyed with me for not being more grateful. I envisioned her throwing wrinkled hands up in mock annoyance, then lighting a Virginia Slim; some people are just chronically dissatisfied. I sat at my kitchen table before two of my favorite things in this entire world: a bottle of Canadian whiskey, and Missy...my wife who died just two weeks ago.

     Missy stared at me from across the table. Every few minutes, an acrid stream of dark fluid dribbled down her chin. Her eyes remained unblinking, her body unmoving.

     Missy was unbreathing.

 

Writing Bloc's website: https://writingbloc.com/

Writing Bloc's first anthology: Escape! (featuring Mike X Welch's debut short story Convict 45)

'Hallelujah' piece, written in 2010 as part of a series (That About Covers It) comparing original songs to the cover versions

That About Covers It Vol. 5 – “Hallelujah”

 

Leonard Cohen – 1984 – VARIOUS POSITIONS

John Cale – 1991 – I’M YOUR FAN

Jeff Buckley – 1994 – GRACE

k.d. lang – 2004 – HYMNS OF THE 49th PARALLEL

 

Few expressions have survived the millennia as well as ‘Hallelujah’, which translates for most into ‘Praise the Lord’.  Fittingly, few songs have been puzzled over, appreciated, and re-worked like Leonard Cohen’s 1984 composition ‘Hallelujah’.  If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the song has been covered approximately 200 times by artists as disparate as Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi.  There are three versions widely acknowledged as not only the most accessible, but also the most important interpretations of the song:  John Cale’s, Jeff Buckley’s, and k.d. lang’s.

Leonard Cohen has been writing and performing music since 1967.  In 1984, Cohen’s sound took on more modern affectations with the introduction of synthesizers.  His forte had always been songwriting – so it hardly mattered what type of music was accompanying his lyrics.  As Cohen originally recorded it, ‘Hallelujah’ is a robust canticle to lust, a wry ode to the glory of sex and a sad hymn to the eventual end of relationships.  Not much was made of the song at the time of the album’s release; the popularity of ‘Hallelujah’ exploded due to it being covered by other artists (and used liberally in film soundtracks).  Musically, the track does not overdo the synthpop styling, unlike other tracks on VARIOUS POSITIONS and Cohen’s subsequent album, I’M YOUR MAN.  It keeps with simple bass, sparse guitar plucking, powerful gospel backing vocals (a typical Cohen arrangement), and never threatens to overpower the deep bass of Cohen’s singing.

Many are misled by the biblical references in the song and interpret it as a religious track.  Cohen sings two references that fuel this:  the first is a direct mention of King David, author of the Psalms; the second a more oblique nod to Samson, whose power was taken when the seductress Delilah cut his hair.  When taken as a whole, the second verse addresses, in order, longing (‘Your faith was strong but you needed proof’), temptation (‘You saw her bathing on the roof’), lust (‘Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you’), foreplay (‘She tied you to a kitchen chair’), sex (‘She broke your throne, she cut your hair’), and finally, climax (‘And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah’).

There are alternate lyrics that Cohen wrote which were not included in the original, but which he has sung live in place of his original last two verses; these alternate verses are the ones used in most covers.  They illustrate further the power struggle, and eventually the breakdown, of the relationship in question.  Cale and Buckley both cover the alternate 4th verse, but k.d. lang’s cover forgoes it.  In it, Cohen addresses the growing emotional and/or sexual distance in the relationship (‘There was a time you let me know, What’s really going on below, But now you never show it to me, do you?’), and fondly reminds his lover of when things were newer and more exciting (‘I remember when I moved in you, and the holy dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah’). 

In the 1990’s, Cohen the songwriter was highly in vogue.  Cohen’s work was being used in films (‘Pump Up The Volume’ and ‘Natural Born Killers’), tribute cover albums were popping up all over the place and his mainstream popularity exploded.  High profile covers by alternative superstars such as R.E.M. and The Pixies brought Cohen’s work to an entirely new audience.  One of the most significant results of these projects would be John Cale’s re-arrangement of ‘Hallelujah’ for the 1991 album I’M YOUR FAN.

Welshman John Cale was a founding member of The Velvet Underground.  His tenure only lasted a couple of years there, but he’s had a remarkably accomplished career since.  His multi-instrumental skills, frequent forays into different genres and his demand as a producer have cemented his musical legacy. 

Cale chose a simple piano arrangement, eschewing background vocals, for his cover of ‘Hallelujah’.  The effect was strong – the song’s brittle tenderness is laid bare on this concise, four-minute version.  Also significant is that the record showcased Cohen’s ‘alternate’ verses for the first time outside of a live venue.  Cale’s version tends to evoke less passion and more sorrow, and thus keeps with the later part of Cohen’s original composition – mourning the passing of the relationship itself.  Using a precise and direct diction, one can imagine Cale wincing with emotional pain as he sings his ‘Hallelujah’.

More sorrowful still is Jeff Buckley’s cover of the song, featured on his 1994 debut album GRACE.  Buckley is said to have connected with the song on a more sexual level than Cale seemed to, but the arrangement – this time done solely on guitar – is more closely related to Cale’s version than Cohen’s original.  Buckley allows his gorgeous voice to soar while the guitar stays calm – in this case, you can imagine Buckley singing this directly to his lover, perhaps even as they both lay in the afterglow.  Buckley slows the pace down considerably – his version comes in at nearly seven minutes – thanks in part to a sweetly played bridge two thirds of the way through the song.  After this, Buckley ramps up his vocal delivery considerably, clearly going for a strong finish.  Tragically, Buckley drowned in 1997.  He never experienced the considerable popularity of his beautifully rendered version, but it’s almost certain that it wouldn’t have mattered to Buckley – ‘Hallelujah’ was clearly a composition close to his heart.

Capitalizing on the more romantic overtones of the song, the makers of Shrek included the song ‘Hallelujah’ in the film and on its double-platinum selling soundtrack in 2001.  Curiously, the film featured Cale’s version, while the soundtrack featured Rufus Wainwright’s recording – which, while apparently inspired more by Buckley’s cover, uses Cale’s arrangement and is strikingly similar.  While the song was known before, its inclusion in the blockbuster Shrek caused its popularity to soar.  Thanks to this, Buckley’s cover, which of course owes everything to Cale’s arrangement, became exceptionally popular over the course of the decade.  There came a time in the mid-2000s where the song was nearly inescapable on the small screen.  Toward the end of the decade various versions of ‘Hallelujah’ were being used on the big screen frequently enough to lead to a prominent film critic calling for a moratorium on its use therein.  The film WATCHMEN seemed to kick the last nail into the coffin by featuring Cohen’s version while two costumed heroes made love in a hovering aircraft.

In 2004, k.d. lang covered the song on the album HYMNS OF THE 49th PARALLEL.  Marrying Cale and Buckley’s versions with a smattering of Cohen’s original, lang produced what Cohen cohort Anjani Thomas has opined as the definitive version.  Piano mixes comfortably with guitar behind lang’s dusky voice.  She makes no effort to keep the song small or subtle, and effectively creates an entirely different arrangement.  When the orchestral backing rises during the second verse, the song is awash in staggering beauty.  As with Cohen’s original, the dichotomy of pleasure and (emotional) pain is back in full force and undiluted on lang’s recording.  For anyone looking for the manner in which Cohen himself would likely have recorded the song in the 2000s rather than the 1980s, look no further.  It is possibly the crowning achievement for k.d. lang in what has been an already amazing and decorated career.

While the years have taken their toll on ‘Hallelujah’ both by misuse and simple overuse, the power of the song remains undiminished when listened to carefully.  Whether one prefers the sly delivery of Cohen’s original, the stripped-bare Cale cover, Buckley’s organic, fluid version, or k.d. lang’s soaring, gorgeous take, the song retains its pedigree as one of the better written songs of our time and a treasure that cannot be truly tarnished.

 

© 2010/2019 Mike X Welch

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‘Hallelujah’ – written by Leonard Cohen

 

I've heard there was a secret chord

That David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don't really care for music, do you?

It goes like this; the fourth, the fifth

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

Your faith was strong but you needed proof

You saw her bathing on the roof

Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you

She tied you to a kitchen chair

She broke your throne, she cut your hair

And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

 You say I took the name in vain

I don’t even know the name

But if I did, well, really…what’s it to ya?

There’s a blaze of light in every word

It doesn’t matter which you heard

The holy or the broken Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya.

And even though it all went wrong,

I’ll stand before the lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

(Below are alternate lyrics written by Cohen and used variously in live concerts, also used in Cale, Buckley and lang studio versions, whereas the previous two verses are not)

 

Baby, I've been here before

I know this room, I've walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew you

I've seen your flag on the Marble Arch

Love is not a victory march

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

 (the following ‘4th’ verse was not used in k.d. lang’s cover)

 

There was a time you let me know

What's really going on below

But now you never show it to me, do you?

I remember when I moved in you

And the holy dove was moving too

And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

 

Maybe there's a God above

All I ever learned from love

Was how to shoot at someone who out drew you

And it's not a cry you can hear at night

It's not somebody who's seen the light

It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Excerpt from Convict 45 - a short story (featured in the Writing Bloc Anthology - Escape!)

(Our scene: hundreds of stinking, despondent prisoners stand in line for the gallows, where a swift chop from the axe man's blade awaits...)

     Convict 45 turned to the man behind him, who was elderly and frail. “So, what’re you in for?”

     The ancient, emaciated man parted his stringy grey hair and replied, “Me?”

     “Yes, you.”

     “I killed a boy who was walking down the street, too close to my house.” The old man said, his eyes squinting a bit against the sun. “We’ve had this conversation befo-”

     “See, this is what I’m always talking about. You were minding your own business and this guy assaulted you, right?”

     “I was sitting near my window, looking for suspicious people,” replied the old man in a weary tone.

     “Right, like I said, minding your own business. This guylet me guess, he was one of those Acirfan types, right?”

     “I’m not sure if he came from Acirfa or if he was born in Asluggoth, but yes.” The old man’s demeanor brightened.

     “And he’s walking up and down your street, probably looking into your windows, right?”

     The old man considered this for a moment, then his bearing straightened. “That’s right.” He shot his fist out, punching the air awkwardly. “And you know what else?”

     “What else, my friend?” Convict 45 leaned forward conspiratorially.

     “His head was covered. One of those things thosethose…Acirfans wear. You know what I mean? So, you can’t really see their heads?” The old man’s eyes squinted in query.

     “That’s exactly what I figured.” Convict 45 straightened to his full height. “So, you shot this guy

     “Kid,” the old man interjected, his eyes turning down slightly.

     “You shot this guy, and you got in trouble for it, didn’t you?”

     “Well, yes. I’m in line along with you for the axe man.” The old man’s head bowed.

     “I’m so glad I was able to meet you before you died. You’re a true patriot!” Convict 45 thrust out his hand.

     The old man slowly gripped the proffered hand, his voice lowering in confusion. “You and I have been cellmates for two ye

     “I’ll tell you whatwhy don’t you go ahead of me. Take my place in line. It’s the least I can do for a patriot.” Convict 45 shook his hand aggressively, pulling the old man into place ahead of him.

     “But…doesn’t that mean I’ll die sooner?” The old man asked, his hand still trapped.

     “Look, it’s the least I can do. I will sing your praises.” Convict 45 beamed magnanimously.

     “Won’t you be dead three minutes after me?” The old man asked.

     “Maybe. Maybe so. And for those three minutes, I will sing your praises at the top of my lungs, friend. It’s my honor.” Convict 45 made a show of bowing his head to the old man, then finally released his hand.

     The old man thought a moment, then straightened his spine and said, “No, Sir,” he extended his recently freed hand to Convict 45, “the honor is all mine!” The old man stepped ahead of Convict 45, then turned back briefly and thrust his hand out again.

    Convict 45 was in the process of wiping his hands on his pants once again, but stopped and shook the old man’s hand. The old man’s hand was massive by comparison, and 45’s grip was limp.

     “What was that all about?” asked the man now standing behind Convict 45.

     “A true patriot. Someone who was truly inspired by me,” Convict 45 replied proudly.

     “Inspired by you,” the man repeated. “What did you do?” He was furiously scratching at multiple points on his body, such was his lice infestation.

     Convict 45 took a measured step back. “What didn’t I do, my friend?” he asked rhetorically, then paused as if waiting for an answer.

     In reply the itchy man furtively scratched at his genitals, then the back of his neck, then his genitals again.

     “I put the pride back into Asluggoth, that’s what I did.,” he crowed, “We were the laughingstock of the world for many years.”

     “I don’t remember that. Dammit!” The itchy man reached behind himself, his face contorted, trying desperately to scratch the small of his back.

     “Believe me. Here, let me help you. Let’s trade places in line, and I’ll scratch your back.” Convict 45 suggested.

     “But that means I’ll get axed sooner,” the itchy man thought out loud before scratching both armpits desperately. “You know what, that works for me. Go ahead.”

     Convict 45 smiled widely and changed places with the itchy man. He said to the man now behind him, “That guy’s got food in the back of his shirt,” indicating the itchy man with a thumb. The next three prisoners overheard this and surged forward, clawing at the itchy man’s torso.

 

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