Perhaps due to Luc Sante's essay on Buddy Bolden and his tune "Funky Butt" collected in Kill Your Darlings, I re-read Michael Ondaatje's distilled, disquieting book Coming Through Slaughter. Tangentially about Bolden, the legendary New Orleans cornetist who went mad within his music mid-parade, Ondaatje conjures a phantom, in that the only proof of Bolden's existence is to be found on Folkways Records, wherein contemporaries whistle songs of his. In a book filled with billowing, phantasmal imagery, a passage shook me. Bolden has lacerated the face of a colleague and since disappeared. A friend looking for him tracks down the victim, motionless in a dope din:
He found Pickett in the room of flies. The air damp and thick. He had to practically sweep the flies off his face and hair.That vision suddenly parallels something else I've recently reviewed, a DVD entitled The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story. Of course, most of said DVD is bereft of Syd, instead showing members of Pink Floyd talking about how they wrote "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" (about as appealing as listening to Wynton Marsalis performing Bolden numbers like "Funky Butt" and "If You Don't Shake, Don't Get No Cake," I reckon). At one point, one of Syd's drummers says that there were "no flies on Syd," meaning that he may've just been acting crazy. He then has an epiphany on-camera, realizing that Syd drew flies on the cover of Barrett! Ah, drummers.
He did this. Pickett clapped his hands near his face so the flies left it for a moment and then settled back.
The film struggles with the problem of how do you make a documentary of a disappearer? There are quick snatches of the band making the "Oik! Oik!" "Doy! Doy!" noises of "Pow R. Toch" live at the UFO Club, but it lasts just a few seconds. There is also home movie footage of Syd disintegrating and reveling in the clutches of his first LSD trip, fistfuls of mushrooms in his loosening grip. Even when there is a scrap of footage of Syd flecking at his guitar, in his black hole eyes, he's already vanished. Past that, we are given lots of visual metaphors for mental illness: empty rooms, shaky handheld cameras down hallways, slo-mo scans of both.
Empty rooms figure prominently in Coming Through Slaughter as well:
In the room there is the air...
and there is the corner
and there is the corner and there is the corner
and there is the corner.
If you don't shake, don't get no cake.
Recent reads that extend the metaphors: a story about the death of Disco D, and the death of honeybees.