The Dangerous And The Diarists by fightclubsandwich

Originally posted by fightclubsandwich in September 2009.

Lately, I have become – arguably – a keener diarist than ever. I’ve gotten a thirst for reading anything non-fiction and am writing anywhere between two and five pages a day. I’ve been writing diaries on and off for the last six or seven years of my life. It’s something I feel really proud of, and it’s hard to express why. In the same way that people are shaped by their experiences, my journaling has been influenced by any number of other things that other people have written. This article is a list of things that I read, that then either changed my way of writing diaries completely, or at least invigorated my passion for it. All together they form something of a brief history of my diary-keeping life, and thinking about these books (or thinking about thinking about them… which is weird) made me think about all the great reasons there are to keep a book you write in every day.

Mia Thermopolis

If you don’t recognise Miss Thermopolis’s name, that’s likely because she’s a fictional character, from the Princess Diaries books. I understand that the thirteen year old girl demographic is not exactly the prime target audience of this website, webzine, whichever, so I will forgive you for not being entirely familiar with this particular series of books. If you are a thirteen year old girl, I am very sorry, I will try to swear less.

Unsurprisingly, I started reading the Princess Diaries books as a thirteen year old girl, and was inspired to start writing my own diary immediately. The book is written in the style of the real diary of the main character, and the author, Meg Cabot, really makes the most of the format she’s chosen. Mia writes her diary in lessons, at school, especially Algebra, which she hates. She has written conversations with her friends, she writes about things that are happening in the classroom she’s in at the time; she makes notes about her homework; she composes silly lists with her friends about which actors they find attractive or their favourite TV shows. At some of the more dramatic moments she writes a statement of the latest plot development at the top of the page, says she’ll write about it later and leaves the rest blank.

I’d argue that it’s very true to the way a real teenage girl would write a diary, but the truth is, it’s such a huge influence on my own style of writing my journal. Like Mia, I write a lot of entries that start with declarations of where I am at the time of writing, e.g. in a lecture. I make notes about homework and used to have written conversations with my friends in the diaries of my teenage years. I realised soon that what really appealed to me about this style of Mia’s was that it went beyond a direct retelling of what she’d done that day. One of the most offputting things about writing a diary is the idea of churning out entries that read “today I woke up and got dressed and brushed my hair and ate some cornflakes for breakfast, and drank some coffee, and then went to lectures and we learned about African American writers who lived in Europe and how their nationality eclipsed their race and then I shot myself in the head because I found it so boring to write all this shit down so dryly.” (dear thirteen-tear-old-girl readers: I’m sorry about the swearing and the suicide joke, please do not tell your parents)

My actual diary entry for today consists, so far, of things I did last night, speculation about the future, my current state of mind, notes for the future, (I have to buy washing up liquid…) it’s just so much more fun to write stream-of-consciousness style, utterly structureless diaries. If you want to, why not go ahead and write four pages on a new scarf you purchased, or how some guy locked his dog in his van, but in the driving seat, which looked hilariously like the dog was driving a van, and totally leave out the part where you fell over and scraped your knee or went to the cinema or what have you.

Cabot obviously chose to write her book in this particular format because a diary is something that is shaped so completely by the identity of the writer. This is such an obvious thing to say, I know, but it’s true, and The Princess Diaries totally ingrained in me that whole idea of your diary being shaped by your own experiences, your own life and emotions and personality. It’s a chance to be completely in control of something and a way to express yourself in a way that is like no other medium with it’s complete lack of limits.

My Friend Natalie

I have a friend called Natalie, who I have known ever since we were both seven. I’d never hesitate to call her one of my closest friends, but it was only last year that she showed me her inspiration journal, and that’s the only part that’s really relevant to this article – to go any further would be to completely shed any pretences of real subject matter and completely derail this piece into self-indulgence.

Anyway, Natalie is an art student, and it was during her foundation year that she showed me this book. It was a small one – a little bigger than a quarter of an A4 page – which she treated as a scrapbook. It was amazing. It was gloriously multimedia – she just stuck in anything she saw and liked, basically. Adverts torn out of newspapers, drawings on the backs of envelopes, scraps of fabric, ribbon, sequins, photographs, playing cards, anything at all, every inch of every page was completely covered. The spine was tight and tense, the front and back covers nowhere near each other. She still maintains these inspiration journals, the last one I saw had playing cards with typewritten words on them (notably after we saw The Dark Knight this summer) and drawings of trees she’d done, among other things.

Maybe it’s cheating to include her on this list, since technically, Natalie doesn’t keep diaries. These books don’t have dates, they have very few words, and those they do have are mostly incidental. But I just love the idea of adding a collage element to diaries. The next one I started after seeing Natalie’s was filled with ticket stubs, patterned tape with Christmas trees on for giftwrapping, pictures of Matt Skiba, chewing gum wrappers, images cut off flyers for art shows or bands playing gigs (that I did not go to). This diary ended up extraordinarily fat and difficult to close properly, but the mixed media approach was so much fun, and it felt like a way to rejuvenate my love of keeping diaries – it’s difficult to write one every single day, so I told myself that for this one, I would just have to put something on a page every day, it could be a drawing, or stick in some sweet wrappers, or anything at all, just so long as it was something. I photocopied a page of a Virginia Woolf novel at one point, became an even more avid magazine cut-up-er, and of course, allowed my housemate to draw a picture of “Moon Hitler” walking around in a Star-Wars-looking robot. (I don’t know why, either)

Henry Rollins

To be perfectly honest, I found Mr Rollins’ literature initially quite disappointed. I ran out and bought Black Coffee Blues immediately after having seen his spoken word show, which was such an utterly amazing experience – too brilliant to describe with any brevity here – so it couldn’t help but come off unfavourably in the comparison I couldn’t help making. Black Coffee Blues is simply just not a good expression of how brilliantly intelligent Rollins really is. The book can be split into two parts – the first is somewhere in the region of two hundred (I wish I had my copy of the book with me right now) very short pieces of fiction. They’re between a paragraph and a page long. Many themes are recurring, which makes it interesting to identify connections between them. Are any of them about the same characters? Rollins is very effective with what he leaves out, what he doesn’t tell you, in these short pieces, he cuts out morality, names, and plays around with tenses and perspectives, but overall the prose itself is kind of hamfisted. It gets a little frustrating, there’s this feeling that he could write something better than this and that the book is trying to articulate something really special, but it just… can’t

The second half of the book is extracts of diaries. This is the best part. This is the part that makes me crave Get In The Van – the work by the same author that consists entirely of diary entries. This is the book that was initially recommended to me, but they didn’t have it in Borders at the time. Rollins is a really good diarist, it’s a perfect medium for him, because he’s at his strongest and most confident when writing about either the world around him, or his and feelings and general introspection. His strength is not coming up with great ideas of things to write, it’s how he writes these things. And as I was reading the book, I got thinking about how that’s another way to think of a diary. You have all the material you could need, it’s just your own life, and it’s often mundane, or the same as the previous day; there are too many characters and too many details to condense into one page of words. But that there’s so much of it is a glorious thing. Writing a diary is taking your own life and times as raw material and strengthening your own voice, and making the telling interesting. This was what made me start to think of a diary as writing that’s no less real than a novel or poem or article such as this one. You find your own voice, and end up learning so much about time and how to arrange narratives chronologically and give opinions and get as personal as possible. Reading Rollins’ diaries is like reading someone transform their own life into… something else – I can’t think of a term that doesn’t sound so pretentious, in my head – only ever a snapshot or few pages at a time.

Henry David Thoreau

When I first applied to study literature at university, I was thinking about it in terms of plays, novels and poetry. This is probably the solid view of most people who look in on the field from the outside, and for the most part that’s the case. But I discovered, gradually, that there’s more to it than that. If you’re interested, it’s easy to find published compilations of written letters from a lot of famous authors – most notably Jane Austen and Alexander Pope, among others – and, I’m sure you could see where I’m going with this, there are journals.

Henry David Thoreau was a poet, but published a lot of his journals, and when I started studying him this year, it sparked a sudden interest in non-fiction writing for me. Most famously, Thoreau wrote Walden, his journals of a period he spent living in the woods, apart from society, and it’s considered a classic of American literature. This is such a good example of diaries as real, fancy-pants literature. It’s all polished up, of course, stuff that he wrote in the moment and then corrected and smoothed out later, before publishing, but it’s still worth looking at. Thoreau was fascinated by science – especially nature and biology – so the approach to the whole Walden project can be seen as similar to a scientific experiment, but applied to philosophy and how people live. Thoreau here puts his money where his mouth is, and weaves his life and his work together, and that’s an approach to writing journals that we can take from Thoreau. Walden is an example of complete expression, something that Thoreau obviously put a lot of work into and something to be proud of, and writing a journal gives one a lot to be proud of. Even the most unwilling to write can build up a really prolific body of work, without it even really feeling like working. You can write whatever you want to write, within this framework of stability that you’ve set out for yourself. My favourite way of looking at a diary is still as pages and pages of pure blank freedom, that slowly become a piece of the writer themselves.

I guess there’s no conclusion that I can come to that’s not completely trite and obvious, but the bottom line when it comes to keeping diaries is that there is beauty in the individual special-little-snowflakeness of someone’s journal. Diaries are kind of like rice, they’re just blank, plain things that, with the right additions and flavourings, can be moulded into the most interesting, satisfying things, but even on their own, before being touched, they’re still so intensely blank and empty that you can’t help but being filled with hope and excitement about all the things that you can write inside them, even if I am moving way away from my rice analogy. It’s one of those things that everyone approaches differently- this year I am living with a girl who writes one page every evening, a regularity which I could never enforce up on myself, and I can only wonder about what her journal is like to read. And every time I read someone else’s – the examples in this list being key – it just fills me with a strange sort of joy, a joy that comes from the confirmation that what I spend so much time and effort doing is really worth something, whether it’s art or work or whatever. Again, I have to say, I’m sorry about all the Disney movie sentiments that are drawing this article to a close, but in my defence, I did not know, when I started, that it was going to end this way. That’s just how it goes when you try to fill up a blank page.

Review: Demise Management – The Collective Vol. 1

Demise Management, which as from the name you can tell deal in heavy heavy metal, have put out a new compilation showcasing some of their most up and coming bands. Here at TwoBeatsOff, we love finding something that’s a bit off the main road and I have to say, this compilation is a bit like veering off track, finding yourself near a haunted house and having no way out. Bear in mind that if you’re into metal, that’s a very good assessment. This is also available for free download, so if you like progressive metal, give it a look –

Each track is very different to its neighbour, really displaying the range of talent on show by Demise. First on offer is ‘Heroes’ by We Are The Illusion. It starts off strongly, with some good metalcore vocals and appears to be familiar, yet interesting. And that’s when it breaks into some truly haunting vaudeville-esque instrumental that completely knocks you back. A great mix of melody and aggression, reminiscent of newer Bring Me The Horizon which as I have come to realise, is never a bad thing.

Followed by ‘Attentive Continuum’ by Visions is a little less slickly produced but in no way less superior. Time signatures are going mental. Complete with some spooky strings appearing throughout, listening to ‘Attentive Continuum’ feels like you’re getting your stomach ripped out and being made to watch as a cat plays with it. It’s like a constant assault, but about three minutes in, the clean vocals and melodic breakdown assuage your fears, before dragging you straight back into hell. If only this was Halloween.

’10 Inches Of Sin’ by The Long Count is interesting. A dual vocal effect is maintained throughout, with some ridiculous high pitched black metal affair and some plenty deeper Cookie Monster growls. While part of me really wants to enjoy this song – I love all the individual components in it – they just don’t quite gel together. An Opeth-esque acoustic guitar is brought in midway and a swap to slightly cleaner vocals appears which is a lot better; it’s a lot more together and a lot more convincing. On the whole though, not my cup of tea.

Chronographs are a band that we’ve been following for a while (which you’ll find out about when I finally get my laptop working properly; I am plagued by technical difficulties wherever I go) and ‘Tides’ is one of the first songs from their new incarnation. From the second the vocals hit, I knew this was going to be good. Chronographs have mastered the fine line between melody and crushing, crushing guitar, and it is well complimented by Jon’s perfect balance between growl and scream. As the name suggests, the song is simultaneously crushing and soothing; pulling you along like waves in the ocean, dragging you up above the surface before throwing you back under. The sheer quality on offer is incredible and this could be the most technically proficient song so far, but that certainly does not make it cold and mechanical. Best song on the compilation? I think so.

Entrosolet’s offering, ‘You Are (Not) Alone’ is also excellent. It’s not quite as heavy as some of the other tracks available (although its subject matter may be) and is possibly the most melodic song on offer, but it isn’t immediately noticeable; there’s a thread of something softer, something beautiful running throughout which gets more prominent as the song goes on. About halfway through, it breaks into clean vocals and that’s when it really hits you. Great stuff.

InHollow bring us ‘Tales Of How We Bleed’. A thirty second intro is there before the song pretty much rapes your ears. It’s murky, it’s damning, it’s a bit like a swamp monster. Things get a bit solemn, then they get heavy again. While I initially thought the production hindered the song, it actually helps make it a bit more terrifying. It’s not bad.

‘Until Sundown’ by Kraken grabs you right from the start. This is some fine metalcore, complete with heavy breakdowns and everything. It doesn’t really toy with your expectations, except for the clean vocals at the beginning which are very misleading, but it does everything right and that’s all you can ask for.

Final song is ‘A Battlefield Between Us’ by Plagues. My belief is that an album should always start with a strong song and end on one, which it certainly does. ‘A Battlefield Between Us’ is definitely reminiscent of that early ’00s sound and again strikes that balance between melody and aggression very well. Imagine really early Funeral For A Friend crossed with Parkway Drive and you’re about there. It certainly ends the compilation on an oddly uplifting feel, despite the lyrics. The song itself ends on a stellar breakdown, which would make for perfect mosh material. Nice.

4 out of 5 high fives!

Review: AFI – Crash Love

I wouldn’t be lying by saying that this was my most anticipated release this year. I’ve been excited about a lot of records coming out in 2009, but well… none of those were AFI. Which is why I was completely furious when I didn’t receive my pre-ordered CD for at least five days after the release date. Truth be told, I should have gone out and bought it from Rapture, but I wanted that extra bonus disc. It’s not even like I was waiting for the limited edition with lithograph plates which can be bought by you lucky Americans, but still, it’s AFI. I’ve got to have as much as I can get. And I’ve got to be honest, I can’t get enough of Crash Love.

Firstly, I’ve got to give praise to the band themselves. AFI have never sounded this in sync, and it just goes to show that this is the definitive line up. Everything fits so well – Jade and Hunter reach a great balance with Davey’s dramatic-as-usual vocals, and Adam keeps it all going with some awesome beats. With this in mind, I stress that the live show will be pretty spectacular, and you should definitely go and see them if Crash Love piques your interest at all.

Unlike the last three AFI albums, Crash Love has no introduction as such, and while that ‘once upon a time’ feel is lost from this album, Torch Song is just as entrancing and hypnotising as any of those introductory tracks. It’s still telling a story, but it’s more like the opening of a Shakespearean tragedy – we’re in mid conversation and we’re getting straight into the action. Torch Song is most definitely one of the most striking tracks on the album and an excellent one to start with, with its melancholic gang vocals in the chorus, crashing melodies and a typical return to Davey’s metaphorical wonderland. Nice start. There’s the ending though, in It Was Mine, slightly reminiscent of last album’s Endlessly, She Said, due to the epic chorus. Unlike Endlessly, it’s not a heart-wrenching epic all the way through, but the angelic choir in the climax of the song sounds wonderful, fitting Davey’s lyrics just perfectly.

And like the last two AFI albums, virtually every song on Crash Love sounds different. It’s a bit more streamlined than Decemberunderground, but there’s still a lot of variation. A couple of cues are taken from Jade and Davey’s side project Blaqk Audio, and you can hear that most clearly in Beautiful Thieves, with that awesome delayed guitar. My favourite song on the album is End Transmission, a deliciously 80s feeling track about a surreal road trip. I can’t wait to see the theories on the AFI boards about this stuff, really, even if the lyrics can really be determined to be about a particularly messy relationship. Too Shy To Scream struts along with a ballsy drum beat and a self assured cockiness that yes, AFI are just as good as they’ve always been. First single Medicate is catchy as hell, getting me singing along from the second listen and really shows off Jade’s skills with one hell of a solo at the end. AFI have always had a knack for the grandiose, and this is clearly seen on Darling, I Want To Destroy You, a song that could be as easily placed on Sing The Sorrow due to its rising vocals and dark, crushing guitar. The bonus disc is also really interesting, highlighting a few b-sides from Crash Love, Sing The Sorrow and Decemberunderground. It also shows a different side to AFI. For example, Fainting Spells starts as an acoustic ballad, until they totally tear it up with a rocking chorus and some of those frenzied hardcore screams from way back when. However, although some great songs are on this disc, it’s probably not going to intrigue casual AFI fans.

Where variation is a good thing, it’s also this album’s biggest downfall. It still doesn’t feel like a complete record. At least Decemberunderground had a clear beginning and end, whereas Crash Love burns out towards the finish. That’s not to say that the rest of the album isn’t fantastic. In fact, there isn’t a bad song on the album, but they just don’t sound connected. The only real defining factor to bring all the songs together is that this is a rock album. It’s not punk, it’s not horrorpunk, it’s not goth. It’s all of those, swirled together with 80s pop – influences from The Cure and Joy Division are rife throughout, as they have been for the latter part of AFI’s career – and the band have finally started to figured out how to make it work. It’s true, they can’t go back to being the happy-go-lucky punk band they once were, and they don’t need to, because Crash Love is truly great.

4 and a half high fives!

Monodon Monoceros

Originally posted by A.Von.Doll on 26/11/09. Click image for full size.

Iquanodon Anglicus

Originally posted by A.Von.Doll on 18/11/2009. Click image to see full size.