Paying for My Misery

I don’t remember exactly where it came from, but I know I came up with the embryonic idea for Girth McDürchstein’s ‘The Hedge’ during my senior year of high school. In high school, I had two major obsessions: Pink Floyd – The Wall and girls. That may be oversimplifying things a bit (just two obsessions in four years? That doesn’t sound like me…), but I’m trying to make a grander point here, so shut up.

I think The Hedge’s genesis laid in the odd sense of betrayal I felt when I saw the movie version of The Wall. You have to understand: when I first “discovered” The Wall, I knew virtually nothing about Pink Floyd, their history, the intentions behind The Wall, or even the fact that a movie existed. Based purely on the audio recording, I came up with a wide variety of theories for What It All Means, often settling on variations of a Mad Max-style future dystopia in which a ruthless dictator rises and falls. Then I saw the movie and learned it wasn’t much more than self-indulgent mental masturbation about how hard it is to be a rock star. What the fuck?

So, The Hedge formed around the notion of a pretentious “artsy” heavy-metal icon driven made by the pressures of success (or lack thereof, the lyrics frequently imply) and guilt over abandoning the only woman he ever loved who loved him back. Because, really, what did I know at the time? I knew the maddening feeling of pining for (or lusting after) uninterested girls, and I knew the glorious feeling of finally meeting a girl who did have some interest.

I didn’t write a note or a word until college. After bailing on a music major at a rural Iowa college that shall remain nameless and transferring to Columbia for film, I became sort of consumed with the project. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what fueled the album — moreso than my comically unsuccessful track record with the opposite sex — were the feelings of isolation and alienation that I first felt at the unnamed Iowa college and subsequently felt in my early years at Columbia.

I became similarly consumed with an unrelated film project, which fell through for a number of reasons both within and beyond my control. When it fell apart, I moved on to the next idea: the movie version of The Hedge, which would mercilessly ridicule the stupidest parts of The Wall, pay homage to classic rock films by parodying them visually, and become its own beast with a narrative that structurally paralleled The Wall before diverging into a strange tale of compulsion and murder.

Like The Wall, The Hedge is framed by a long dark night of the soul. Girth McDürchstein, a comically unsuccessful rocker, checks into a Montana motel room on a stormy night and starts to reflect on his life, from early childhood to now. He’s driven mad by figurative demons, who tie down and gag the figurative Girth while the literal Girth brutally murders a motel employee and a prostitute before (it’s implied) killing himself. The cheesy metaphor of building a wall between “Pink” and his audience becomes an equally cheesy metaphor about a hedge maze trapping and confusing Girth.

Pussies like me tend to hide behind “It’s all just a joke” whenever expression of actual emotions occurs. I put my heart and soul into The Hedge while snickering to myself about how ridiculous it all was — and it was and remains ridiculous, and funny in many ways (to me, at least), but it also was and remains an honest statement of who I was and how I felt at the time I wrote and recorded those songs. Er, aside from the whole murder/prostitute thing. That was just sort of a lurid, psych-101 way of expressing angst.

Why does any of this matter? It probably doesn’t, but the tenth anniversary of my “release” of The Hedge into the wild (first on mp3.com — remember that? — and later, on its own website) is approaching. A few years ago, I had the grand ambition to rerecord it, utilizing the production techniques I’ve learned over the years, because frankly, it kinda sounds shitty. But rerecording it undermines the act of expression at the time I felt what needed expressing. I recorded a few songs, sent them to a friend for review, and he griped that Girth doesn’t sound nearly enough like a terrified virgin. Because, I’m sorry to say, I’m no longer a terrified virgin, and maybe I could act like one, but I’m not nearly good enough to recreate the intensity of what I really felt when I originally made The Hedge.

So, instead of utilizing production techniques to rerecord it, I’ve utilized them to clean up the audio, remaster it, and make the original recordings sound they best they ever will. Because, for whatever it’s worth and whatever it means to me or others, I’m sort of proud that The Hedge exists. Most of my songs are jokey and stupid, and much of The Hedge is no exception, but there’s an underlying truth to it that separates it from newer, more overtly comical songs.

I’m re-releasing The Hedge into the wild as we speak, courtesy of a new BandCamp account. That’s right: the title of this post is a pun. You have the privilege of paying for my misery, because I need money. More music will follow.

The character of Girth, and the universe surrounding him, has expanded almost infinitely over the years. An innocuous spoof of The Wall turned into a convoluted narrative in which Girth first claimed he was imprisoned for double-murder before new evidence overturned his conviction, and that The Hedge was inspired by his lengthy ruminations on what would have driven the actual killer to his actions. More information turned up, suggesting Girth lied about his prison sentence to hide the fact that he became a Brian Wilson-like fat, drug addicted recluse, and that the actual inspiration for The Hedge was a memoir of a Chilean teen whose drug experimentation led to very similar crimes to those described in The Hedge. Still more information revealed that this memoir, allegedly “translated” into English by an unknown scholar, was indeed written from scratch by Mormon activist Beatrice Sparks, the true author of Go Ask Alice and other books of teen self-destruction. And that, then, circles back to the idea that Girth actually did kill two people in Missoula in 2000, but he was neither caught nor convicted. Like I said: convoluted, all for the sake of ridiculous comedy on a blog nobody but me and two of my friends has ever paid attention to.

For those of you deeply curious about my BandCamp plans, I will be releasing a greatest-hits package on February 12th, the anniversary of The Hedge’s original release. I will devote time this year to finally recording the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, Girth McDürchstein’s ‘Fuck Machines,’ a concept album that combines my absolutely real fear of our societal reliance on technology and an exploration of the ways in which love and sex — and other emotions surrounding them — can both enrich and destroy society.

After that release, I think I may retire the character of Girth McDürchstein. The saddest thing about that is, I’ll be the only one showing up to his retirement party. Nobody else knows or cares. I’m not saying that to sound pitiful; it’s just a fact of life.

Posted by D. B. Bates on January 30, 2012 3:52 PM