“Only you can change God’s unfortunate ways…”
Chapter seven: My Old Friend
One episode of the comic series that is considered a classic is Frank’s climactic showdown with one of his many arch-rivals, Karl Clinton. The conflict between the men had expanded outside the boxing ring, and their deciding confrontation took place in a secluded garden, on the outskirts of a strangely empty (and probably symbolic) city, at the dawn of a warm summer day. The story is written in a way that the victor is not made clear to the reader. In a series of trippy internal vignettes as he approaches the garden, Frank imagines the struggle with Karl. These hallucinogenic sequences are not hard-boiled ruminations on a long-awaited duel, but tender; softly-lit; fragrant with meaning. Following this, he enters; he exits again, alone. The interim is never revealed to the readers, who have to make their own minds up about what actually took place. One can search the preceding and following sequences for ample clues hinting at either outcome – at a win or defeat for Frank; at Karl’s death at the hands of Frank; the other way around (which is impossible considering Frank is seen leave and the comic continues); a tie; some kind of agreement; and, of course – considering the story’s gay subtext – a romantic consummation of their contentious relationship, which had developed slowly and subtly over the course of several years of issues. All of this is written and rendered to perfection, giving the reader a true glimpse into the beating heart of violence and the violent beat of love.
This song, with its ambivalent lyrics, seems to weave in and out of the comic sequence described above. That is a general rule concerning this segment of the album. There seems to be a woman involved, possibly one of the many obvious love interests that the comic introduced only to have Frank discard in favor of his love of combat. Alternatively, one might see the ambivalence as a nod to Frank’s alzheimer’s. In this version of the song, he is reliving memories that he can no longer separate. In any case, the line “I miss the caressing touch of your dick” was censored at the record company’s request. And that was probably for the better, as the story quite frankly needs the subtext to stay subtextual in order to keep the sense of mystery that has made it a classic in certain circles.
Chapter eight: Someone Better
Sunlight seeping through the patterned windows of European train stations; the dusty ride from country to country; and in Buenos Aires, the carnevalistic and carnal drums sound through the lens of industry.
This mysterious song at first glance seems to be sung from Arch’s perspective – after all, who else would write love letters on stationery from Credit Suisse but your friendly venture capitalist hero? At the same time, there are no records of any such letters at any postal service on the European mainland. Also, the achingly sentimental loneliness of the chorus is familiar to all readers of the comic as the distinct voice of Frank. And, of course, Arch and Frank never actually sent letters to each other. Their contact was limited to those last, shivering months leading inescapably to Frank’s demise. So what to make of this piece of music? One interpretation is that these are Frank’s thoughts as he lay in his hospital bed, his identity merging with Arch’s as a consequence of the disease – and as a final act of pained, trembling love. The unknowable love of the mentally ill.
The “she” of the lyrics is troublesome once again. If the song is sung by Arch, it is simple to reconcile with recorded history, as Arch’s pre-Sluggerhand life seemed to be completely within the borders of the heterosexual lifestyle. But then, what of the hypothesis in the paragraph above? This is a central mystery of this record, which has been investigated by many Masons of Truth to no avail. Maybe you will be the one to lay the final word at the grave of Sluggerhand?
Chapter nine: One Last Summer
This is the climax of the story, and on its face the most straightforward song on this, or indeed any, atcn album. This is obviously Arch reacting to the funeral and afterwards. Frank, the love of his life, is buried. He is at an impasse with life, having lost his man and failed on all accounts as a musician, as a venture capitalist (altruistic or otherwise), as a member of the human race. He makes his conclusions in this bombastic and sentimental song, a fitting tune for any christian sorrow party. (The inevitable arrangement for jazz trio or string quartet is quite forthcoming, I am sure.)
So is this a straightforward song / part of a comic / piece of historical fact / part of an abandoned rock opera / part of the rock opera to which you are listening? If you read the sentence I just wrote here on the subway and think about it, I’m sure you will agree there can be no such thing.
And this is the crux of the entire matter, reader. The crux is synthesised not by clarity, but by lack. There is a hole that is central to this fiction. One final clue, revelation, understanding or epiphany is missing from the picture. The Masons have struggled to fill this final gap and bring the show to its roaring conclusion at last, so that we can all move on with our lives. But it was not to be. You thought, having read this, that surely the answer will be provided in the next, final discographical entry about Sluggerhand. In response I wrote the following: Hate to break it to you, but the finale is about something completely different. The answer eludes us even today and the story is bound to be incomplete, its metafictional strands never to be reconciled. You read that and furrowed your brow in confusion or perhaps disdain.