Hats Off For Helmet

Today Adam gives us the heads-up on Helmet…

Helmet is an American rock band formed in New York City by guitarist/vocalist Page Hamilton (below, far left). Hamilton is the only member to have been in the band since its formation in 1989. The original line up consisted of Page Hamilton on guitar/vocals, Henry Bogdan on bass, Peter Mengede on guitar, and John Stanier on drums. Helmet has released seven studio albums and two compilation albums. Their music is characterized mainly by syncopated, staccato guitar riffs in drop C tuning, along with distorted time signatures on the drums. The guitars often produce a dissonant sound, which proved to be captivating despite the relative simplicity of a lot of the riffs themselves. Hamilton’s vocals provide variation to the music, as they sometimes consist of heavy screams and at other times melodic singing. Helmet has been categorized by different critics as alternative metal, alternative rock, funk rock, experimental rock, and groove rock.


Helmet first achieved mainstream success in 1992, shortly after signing to Interscope Records. Soon after they signed, they put out their first Interscope record, which was entitled Meantime. The album sold over two million copies and went Gold in 1994. The album contained singles such as “In the Meantime” and “Unsung.” To this day, it is Helmet’s most widely acclaimed album. The next album they put out was Betty, which provided a more melodic sound than the previous Meantime, which had a much heavier, darker sound. This was due in large part to Page Hamilton using singing in his vocal work a lot more than screaming. Betty was referred to by many as Helmet’s experimental album. It has a broader approach, with forays into some jazz and blues influences. Songwriter Hamilton did in fact study jazz at music school before forming Helmet, so he stated that in this album he wanted to indulge in some of those influences. Betty reached number 45 on the Billboard 200 and had two singles off it, with the songs “Beautiful Love” and “Milquetoast.”

Helmet broke up temporarily in 1998 and most people did not see a reunion in their future as the split was quite bitter, according to the band members at the time. However, the band did get back together after this hiatus and put out their fifth album, Size Matters. This album contained the single “See You Dead,” which was released in August 2004.

Stocking Up

Please pardon our brief silence here at Malvern Books, but we’ve been terribly busy making lists. You see, while it’s possible to fill the shelves of your soon-to-open store by asking a friendly book distributor to send you their “starter kit”—presumably a bunch of bog standard* best sellers they ship to every new retailer—we decided we wanted to pick each and every title ourselves…

bookshelfYep. Every single book. Spreadsheets at the ready, book nerds! Making a list of thousands of awesome indie and small press books is immensely fun, of course (and there’s so much good stuff to choose from), but it’s also rather time-consuming. And we’re hoping to finalize most of our selections before we head to next week’s BookExpo in New York.

In the meantime, I heartily recommend you check out these fantastic presses we’ve encountered on our Excel(lent) adventures: Calamari Press for irreverent contemporary fiction; Ugly Duckling Presse for beautiful poetry in beautiful packages; Pushkin Press for classics from around the world; and Tam Tam Books for “lost masterpieces.”

* I was curious about the origins of this idiom and whether Americans use it, so I googled it and found myself at the website of this excellent campaign. Whoever came up with the name for this, ahem, movement deserves a medal.

Thursday Three #5

In today’s Thursday Three, our weekly assortment of oddities in triplicate, we give you a brief introduction to three of the best writing guides.

1. Perfectionism your problem? Scared to ruin that astounding paragraph in your head by daring to write it down? Silly fool! Anne Lamott has this to say to you:

LamottPerfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.

Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life is the perfect kick in the pants for those of us who have trouble with the actual writing-stuff-down part of writing. Lamott is down to earth and inspiring, and her humor, compassion, and good-natured crankiness somehow make the pen-to-paper business feel less like torture and more like fun—urgent, essential fun.

2. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield suggests that writerly procrastination can be blamed on a force he calls Resistance:

War of ArtResistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work … Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work … Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it.

This all sounds rather dramatic, but Pressfield’s notion of Resistance will feel familiar to many aspiring writers—and viewing one’s mundane daily struggle to write as a minor skirmish in an epic, ongoing battle against Resistance is… kind of fun. The final third of the book gets a bit mystical and dippy (“I plan on using terms like muses and angels. Does that make you uncomfortable?” Why yes, yes it does!), but the first two-thirds of The War of Art may just make a writing warrior out of you.

3. John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction is for those of you who have conquered perfectionism and procrastination and are now going about the messy business of making sentences. Gardner sees fiction as the creation of a dream in the reader’s mind:

Art of FictionWe may observe, first, that if the effect of the dream is to be powerful, the dream must … be vivid and continuous—vivid because if we are not quite clear about what it is we’re dreaming, who and where the characters are, what it is that they’re doing or trying to do and why, our emotions and judgements must be confused, dissipated, or blocked; and continuous because a repeatedly interrupted flow of action must necessarily have less force than an action directly carried through from its beginning to its conclusion.

Drawing on examples from Homer to Updike, Gardner demonstrates the various ways in which writers have created these dreams in the minds of readers. He addresses practical issues of craft, including point of view, sentence structure, voice, and rhythm, and his chapter on common errors—mistakes that “snap” the reader out of the fictional dream—should be essential reading for all would-be novelists. He’s particularly harsh on writers who use fancy-pants Latinate terms where Anglo-Saxon ones would do; if your story features an “inhospitable abode” instead of, say, a desert of rocks and sand, well, there’s probably no hope for you.

Lows and Highs

A glorious day here at Malvern Books! Remember the carpet? The terrible, terrible carpet? Well, it’s gone!


Good riddance, oh chunderous tapestry of doom! The place is looking a little bare now, but we’ve already picked out some snazzy new flooring, and we very much look forward to celebrating its installation in the customary way: by taking off our socks and shoes and running madly around the room, crying, “Eeeee! So soft! So clean!” For those of you who enjoy the word swatches, here is the word swatches, and also (again!) swatches of our imminent flooring:


With the floor taken care of, it’s now time to raise our eyes to the roof. The good people of Austin take roof accessorizing very seriously. Here, for example, is the friendly chap who lives above the nearby Wheatsville Co-op:


And not to be outdone in the stuff-of-nightmare stakes, Atomic Tattoo crown their store with this octopus/dead guy combo:

Atomic Tattoo Sign

We want to do our bit to keep the Austin skyline spooky, so we’re thinking we’ll go with a sculpture of a giant pterodactyl, wearing glasses, reading a book, while perched upon a globe. What say you, Malvernians?

Nail It

Adam gets the week off to a hammering good start with a guide to Nine Inch Nails…

Nine Inch Nails is an American industrial rock band, formed in 1988 in Cleveland, Ohio. Nine Inch Nails’ music straddles a wide range of music genres. While it would be difficult to say who invented industrial music and even more so to say who was the first to successfully fuse it with heavy metal, the band that brought this blend to the eyes of the mainstream was unquestionably Nine Inch Nails. The band is in fact more or less the one-man project of musical mastermind Trent Reznor (below, second from right). Reznor is solely responsible for doing all the singing, writing all the music, and playing all the instruments, with the exception of live performances, where he employs a full backing band to play his music.


Reznor derived musical influences from various industrial bands, such as Skinny Puppy, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Ministry. After signing to the record label TVT, Reznor released his debut album, Pretty Hate Machine, in 1989. His first single was the song “Head Like a Hole,” which eventually aired on MTV in 1991. Around this same time, Nine Inch Nails played a slot on the very first Lollapalooza tour. Shortly after this, Pretty Hate Machine went platinum. It was the first industrial album to do so in the history of music.

After a stressful legal battle with his record label TVT, which was constantly trying to dictate the way Reznor made songs and would cause him to go on creative strike, Reznor eventually dropped his first record label and signed on to Interscope. Interscope allowed Reznor to set up his own record company, which he called Nothing Records. Reznor was able to operate with his new company from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. It was shortly after this that Nine Inch Nails released their first album from Nothing Records, which was entitled Broken. The album debuted in the Top 10 and won a Grammy for its hit single “Wish.” Not long after this, Reznor put out the album Fixed, which was a companion piece to Broken that was composed entirely of remixed versions of that album’s songs.  Reznor was officially a big star now and decided to work on his new album in Beverly Hills, in no other place than the very same house where the Charles Manson cult slaughtered Sharon Tate and four others. He made this area into a recording studio and began working on his next album there.

Reznor emerged again in 1994 with the release of the classic The Downward Spiral. This album was the one that truly put Nine Inch Nails on the map, even more so than they had previously been. It debuted at number two and went platinum several times over, due partially to the hit single “Closer.” The album takes a turn to the progressive side somewhat, as it is a concept album. It tells the story of a young, troubled man who ends up committing suicide. This album contained brutally heavy, pulsating songs such as “March of the Pigs,” “Big Man with a Gun,” and “Mr. Self Destruct.”

It tones down drastically with ballads such as “Hurt” (which was later covered by Johnny Cash), and the almost jazzy-sounding song “Piggy.” The album was followed one year later by the now-customary companion remix album, which was this time entitled Further Down the Spiral.

It was also at this time that Reznor began expanding his résumé to include the composition of film soundtracks, creating the score to Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. It was on this soundtrack that Reznor put out the angst-fueled anthem for angry youths throughout the world, “Burn.”

Three years after this, he wrote the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway. At this time, he was holed up in New Orleans, where he relocated after leaving Los Angeles, this time converting a funeral home into a recording studio for his next album. After a long absence, Nine Inch Nails put out their sixth album, The Fragile. This album debuted at number one but was still not as noteworthy as The Downward Spiral. The Fragile was followed a year later by the customary companion remix album, then a live album two years later. NIN released the album With Teeth in 2005, after which they have been putting out only remix albums put together by Reznor. Nine Inch Nails still tour to this day, and they are in fact headlining this summer’s upcoming Lollapalooza tour.

Poetry, G

Poetry Month is officially over (it’s now Short Story Month, apparently), but that’s no reason to abandon our arbitrary and occasional Poetry A-Z series…

G is for Glück, Louise

GluckAmerican poet Louise Glück isn’t the cheeriest duck in the pond—loneliness, divorce, and rejection are her favored themes—but she can shoulder the weight of myth like no one else, and her spare, intimate, unflinching voice is utterly compelling. If you’re new to Glück, her Pulitzer-Prize-winning collection, The Wild Iris (1993), is a great place to dive in, and the more recent Averno (2007) is also wonderful. Here’s a poem from Averno to get your weekend off to a hellishly good start:

A Myth of Devotion

When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.

Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

Gradually, he thought, he’d introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she’d find it comforting.

A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn’t everyone want love?

He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.

Doesn’t everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—

That’s what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there’d be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.

Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn’t imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
Persephone’s Girlhood.

A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you

but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you’re dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.