Review: Waxahatchee – “American Weekend” (2012)

American Weekend by Katie Crutchfield is the saddest record I’ve ever heard. This is a record to approach with caution. This is the ultimate soundtrack to every moment you spent alone; the ultimate soundtrack to a heart breaking or a soul tearing itself apart. This is the kind of record that can find your heart in the pitch black when you’re at your furthest away from anyone and extract your poisons. Conversely, it can take you to the lowest depths of your existential foundations. It’s a dark room at 1AM in a haze of alcohol and words of catharsis that you could say a million times over in your head but will flee the moment you face your demons. It comes from an acoustic guitar in crackling lo-fi and a beautiful 22-year-old woman who’s telling you that “I don’t care if I’m too young to be unhappy”. But in the end, Crutchfield could be saying anything she wants or nothing at all, and the sound would cut you all the same. To tell you the truth, after two years of on-and-off listening, I know little more than a few lines of lyrics off American Weekend. I’ve only ever heard sound in this record and it is already so overwhelming. In fact, I’ve never been able to handle this record in more than occasional doses, because I haven’t gotten that low in years. But sometimes, in the words of a man named Gareth Campesinos who has nothing to do with anything, “the low is what I came for”.

I’ve come to a crossroads in my life in which I have to decide whether I want to allow a future to accumulate in my lap on its own or work for the things that I want, and it’s only fitting that American Weekend–a record I know nothing about but feels like a knife carving away at my insides–is there for me. It’s because I believe in getting to the very bottom and having nowhere to go but up. I believe in redemption. I believe that sometimes, to face your demons, you’ve got to be brought to your knees, weeping and pathetic and ready to die so that you can’t fight or take the easy way out. Lately, American Weekend has revealed its ability to channel that in me. There’s something about those sounds: even the least gut-wrenching, soul-destroying songs like “Be Good” play like happy memories on a black-and-white projector screen from a time that deteriorates more and more in your mind as the days keep slipping away. I suppose what this record is to me is an appeal for change. I took a look at the very last four lyrics to this album and they read as follows: “You’re in the Carolinas and I’m going to New York / and I’ll be much better there / or that’s what I’m hoping for / and we will never speak again”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5ZMsO-iJXo&list=PL4ba-X-3ezbvH0L6_i0QayZ3flDzwbEda

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Last Ride of the 1st Czechoslovak Legion (My One and Only attempt at Historical Fiction)

Winter in Siberia, 1918, a half year since the October Revolution, it seemed to be the year of the Bolshevik. Russia was still in celebration over the event, the food and land that were to be given, the withdrawal from the war. So they forgot about us, the foreign legion that had fought, bled and died for a country not our own. Russia was Communist now, and wanted no any part of the war they had hated so much. We thought that we would probably be left here to rot and later disband, as another footnote in the history books.

But we were wrong, someone hadn’t forgotten us. And that was Germany, who, at the time, was still fighting in the First World War. We were the Czechoslovak legion after all, turncoats and prisoners from Austria-Hungary who had fought for the Allied side.

There was a price for Russia’s withdrawal from the war, in land and in blood. We were part of that price.

<<Chelyabinsk, May, 1918>>

‘Under orders from Comrade Lenin, you are all ordered to be sent to Germany! This is to be effective in a week’s time, until then, dismissed!’ Commissar Ilyavich, newly minted Communist party officer stood in his polished and pressed uniform, stark contrast to our bleak and ravaged battledress.

Grim-faced Czech officers strode out of the officer’s hall, ready to inform us of our ally’s betrayal (for that was what it was!). We soldiers already knew, of course, the cracks and general disrepair of the wooden and metal sheeting of the building did not make a secure area to conduct controversial business. That was what dinner time was for, after all, as we huddled like penguins around the open campfires.

‘Hey Kazimir, did you hear about what’s going to happen to us next week?’

Da, of course I did, have you heard what the officers are planning?’ The base was in an uproar over the news, even the officers were listening to the rumor-mill, and wild tales were abound of firing squads, trials and life-sentencing.

Like frightened rats we were, scurrying this way and that, ever wary of the cat. But even the most frightened prey may lash out at the worst possible moment for the predator.

Jan Syrový was our commanding officer and quasi-father to many of us younger privates. He was trained in an officer’s school in Austria-Hungary, but he was tough and not at all like the incompetent leaders of said country. And it was at night when he spoke to us in an open field. ‘We will not meekly go to our deaths,’ said he to his silent audience, ‘The Germans will not take us, and Russia cannot make us. This may seem unattainable to you, my brothers, but I say we will triumph over our enemies! For one last ride!’

Chelyabinsk was an open powder keg of dissent and revolution, just waiting to go off. So plans were made, and on the 14th of May, 1918, the light was struck that ignited the flames of open revolt.

<<Chelyabinsk railway station, 14th of May, 1918>>

‘Czech dogs! You traitors will not be long for life in a work camp!’ A Hungarian prisoner, in a carriage of other former prisoners of war returning to the Central Powers, spat at us Czechs waiting on the other side of the railway. He picked up a rock from the tracks, marred and pitted with no doubt years of being weathered by passing trains. His compatriots jeered him on.

Dasdivanya, Piotr, throw it!’ So he threw it.

And thus sealed his fate.

‘Hungarian pig! Men of the Czech legion, show these craven idiots how a real soldier fights!’ It was Syrový, screaming himself hoarse to get us moving. The Russian soldiers moved to stop us, but it was too late as they realised with horror that pistols were being drawn from our officers, and rifles being taken up from crates. The unprepared were shot down without mercy, and as the signal flare shone bright in the early morning sky, sixty thousand Czech soldiers begun their rebellion around Chelyabinsk and the neighbouring towns. Syrový made a speech later that day, after the hurly-burly had finished.

‘We will find our freedom, this I promise! Somewhere out there is a new homeland to make our own, a place to live out our lives, without fear of death and oppression at every corner! We are the masters of our fates! We are the captains of our souls! For a new homeland!’

‘A NEW HOMELAND!’ The crowd of soldiers roared.

Sixty-thousand soldiers could not take on the might of Russia alone, but we had help from the most surprising places…

<<June, 1918>>

‘Vladimir Kappel, commander of the Whites.’ The smiling man shook hands with Syrový, his swarthy Cossack features in contrast with Syrový’s leaner build. Kappel was a leader of a new army of Russian rebels, made up of those who would see the upstart Communist Bolsheviks overthrown, and for the old regime of the Tsar to regain its place.

We were deserters, traitors of the Central Powers, Germany most prominently. They were the disenfranchised, former officers and soldiers of the old guard of Russia; together, we fought the Soviets. This would continue for quite some time, as each victor drew the noose around the capital of Russia, Moscow, closer and closer.

They say ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend,’ and at that time, it was true.

<<Mariinsk, October, 1919>>

‘Kazimir, come over here.’ Upon hearing his superior, the aide moved over to the table. It was snowing again, and the brown army tent served as lacklustre protection in the cold of Siberia. We were camping outside a nearby town, a good place to take stock of our perilous situation.

‘What do you see on this map, Kazimir?’ Syrový spoke towards his aide, his lone eye looking straight through him.

A previous battle had left Syrový without an eye, now bandaged over.

The aide said,’ I see Kurgan, Marrinsk and the Trans-Siberian Railway.’

‘But do you see any major industrial centres? We may have encircled the Red and taken control of the outlying railways, but in the expanse that is Russia, assaults by our forces are ill-conceived and poorly coordinated. Already much of the spearheads are collapsing.’

‘The Whites are our allies, sir-‘

‘Russian. Allies. Fighting a Russian foe. Whereas we are Czechoslovaks.’ Each word was punctuated by Syrový’s finger, jabbing in the air. ‘And that is why we must go.’

The aide, falling silent, knew that the declaration was an order, not a request. They were going to lose, and it made no sense to fight for a losing cause when the outcome didn’t matter to the Czech soldiers in the first place.

‘Yes sir, I’ll inform the officers immediately.’ The aide left the tent, his cloak flapping in the wind.

On that day, the once sixty-thousand strong Czech legionnaires, now with a few less faces among their ranks, escaped Russia. We went to the port of Vladivostok, taking the  Trans-Siberian railway to get there.

We did find a homeland in the end. While Austria-Hungary disintegrated, a new country was being formed. A country called ‘Czechoslovakia.’

‘Jan Syrový became a general of the new army, and later prime minister of the nation, as you all know. And me? Well, I was the aide, Kazimir, and here I am, speaking to you all now. Feel free to visit the War Museum now that my speech is done, I’ll be around later for questions.’

Fin

The Knight Who Became King (WARNING: AWFUL ATTEMPTS AT ROMANCE AHEAD)

“Come, bid the men to ride with us,” snapped Regis Fontaine, King of Lorraine. The shieldbearer bowed and walked away, I took another step forward, just behind my liege.

“You’ve served me well, Renaud Gautier, your father would be proud. More is your due than what I could pay.”

“Thank you, my king, my service to you grants me more payment than you could imagine.” I bowed my head and waited. The king, now mounted on his white steed, surveyed the aftermath of the battle. I had been one of the captains who had led the charge against the Polish invaders. My valor and bravery had seen me well towards the enemy commander, who I had slain with a decisive blow.

“In fact, I do believe it’s time for a new Knight Commander, the last one disappointed me, see that you do not.” I bowed, “You are dismissed, Knight Commander.” The king wrapped his ermine cloak around his armoured form and rode away, his men trailing behind. The sun glinted on my own similar, but darker armour. Walking down that ancient hill, I got on top of my own horse, my aide, Jean, close behind me.

“Sir you know this peace won’t last, new threats appear each month thanks to our enemies. And what of you and Queen Guine-“

“Silence, Jean, let me rest.” Jean frowned but stayed silent. I smiled, today had been a long and bloody against an army larger than their own. That just made victory all the sweeter.

<<Later that night>>
“Good evening, my lord.” She and I had met again under the stars, I knew the risks we took, she did too; it changed nothing.

“My Queen, I am not so sure we should continue this, you husband, the king, my king!” I was left stunned as she moved in and pressed her lips against mine, her raven tresses shone brightly in the moonlit night. We stood together, hands clasped, outside the keep and surrounded by trees in a meadow. Our false faces when in public were unveiled when our true hearts met in close.

I was worried, the accomplishments of the day washed out by the troubles of the night. This affair would not last forever unseen. Even Jean knew the secret, though luckily he kept his mouth shut – most of the time at least. Guinevere opened her mouth to say something, but horror and recognition flushed in her eyes, something was behind me!

“Who goes there?” I shouted. A figure ran away from a tree too far for me to be able to catch him. Guinevere fainted onto me as I caught her. I knew what I had to do to secure my love, guilt stricken as I was. King Regis would not be allowed to deprive me of my beloved.

<<The next day>>

I stood in the centre of the throne room, guards surrounded me in a wide circle and courtiers tittered to their compatriots. The king looked down on me atop his marble throne, condemnation in his steely grey eyes. Guinevere in chains beside him and Nicolas Fontaine, Prince of Lorraine and son of the previous queen, now deceased, sneered at me on the other side.

“How do you plead for this treasonous act? I must profess with mine own eyes I saw you with the Queen!” Nicolas had never liked me; he had even better reason to do away with me now.

“Enough! Guards, take Renaud away!” I looked straight into the king’s eyes then, and smiled, a sad forlorn smile, one foretelling the events ahead. For it seemed that fate would have it no other way, and the only for my love for Guinevere to remain was to kill the man who had ruled and guided this land for years.

“I’m sorry, your Highness, but I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” I drew my sword and threw away the cloak around me, revealing to the occupants my plate armoured form. I raised my arm and dropped it. A signal for my cursed treachery. As I did so my own knights shouldered their way through the doors and engaged the guardsmen. I personally broke through and went for the king, tears in my eyes obscuring my vision and sorrow etched on my face. Nicolas escaped past me and screamed obscenities; I ignored him and went on. The king, face expressing shock, moved to speak. I cut him off. Literally.

“This ends here, my liege. I am sorry. For there is blood on my hands, and to look again I dare not.”

<<A few days later>>
Now it was I who sat on the marble throne, Guinevere on my left sitting on her own throne and Jean on my right standing nearby. It had been, no, is still difficult for me to sit or even stand in the presence of this room. A beloved king had died here, all because I had loved his wife beyond compare. A most treasonous act.

Many more crimes had occurred since, Regis’ old guard had to be removed forcibly and new ones set in place. Guinevere and I talk nightly now about our fears and tribulations that have plagued me since. They have not ceased, and even now relentlessly stalked me.

I sat alone in my throne room, or did I? It appeared that I wasn’t alone as I had believed. The speaker had arisen to begin his daily remonstrating. “You who trouble me so, can you not be banished from whence you came?” I spoke to it, reminding myself that it was merely a figment of my inner guilt. It didn’t calm me.

“Kingslayer and great betrayer! Do you feel the murders on your hands?” The apparition wailed at me. It was Regis in his royal robes of the time I slew him. Those same steely grey eyes stared right back at me, filled with hatred and promising unending torment. In his hand was the same sword that had ended his life, one that was in my hand currently.

“Begone unreal mockery!” I yelled through gritted teeth, sword in hand I swung right for the wraith’s head. It flew off to the left, laughing in my face. Its dark humour finally silenced with a swish of my blade, I kneeled, my hands on the ground and face sweating.

Will it ever be easier? I do not know, and I hope that it won’t for me as time goes on. Fate was cruel and the days never properly ended for me. It was a reminder of my black crimes and bloody usurpation of the throne. There was no hope for my conscience, but I wished for there to be hope for Guinevere and our descendants. My want and ambition for Guinevere had been the first step towards this unending trial.

<<One month later>>

“My King! My King! Nicolas rides to Lorraine!” Jean ran through the court nobles, arriving at the foot of my marble throne. I sighed and turned to share a kiss with Guinevere. Hopefully it would not be my last. My guilt was mine to bear. I would see it to fruition, this ambition of mine. A future with my lady and the baby she was carrying. I rose from my throne and bade my assistants to help me strap on my armour. Drawing my sword, the same one bathed in the blood of my old liege, I proclaimed to the onlookers and participants of the court.

“To arms! Call the mighty warhost! We march to defeat Nicolas, last of the line of Fontaine!” The men standing by roared, I smiled that same old smile, my wretched condemnation will only be ended when I deem it to be so, and certainly not by Nicolas. For the blood will never be cleared.

Fin

Ekphrastic poem- Joshua tay

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10,000 Warriors-Aftermath

The ordered land stretched forth,
It was a mountain, a plain,
It was as vast as the oceans
With every inch in symmetry.
Silent, unmoving, calm
Quieter than a pin drop

It was a peaceful scene,
The soil was calm, not a noise to be heard
Then a loud boom, a tremble, the flight of a bird
What could this mean?

Bodies were thrown against each other,
Many falling, many dying,
Until there is no more to be felled
Until the wounded warriors were no longer crying

The gruesome battle was over,
With neither side winning nor losing
Each fallen body, looking the same
They lay there dead, forever unmoving

Was it worth it? All that money
And tears and souls that were wasted
Forever lost on the peaceful land
It’s serenity, forever disrupted