The Horror Over the Coast interview by Chris EngThis is an old interview/article, but it’s new to the site. It appeared in the Oct 2002 issue of The Discorder. The interview and pictures can be found online here: http://discorder.citr.ca/features/02octdarkest.html
Thanks to Chris Eng.
The Horror Over the Coast: Meeting The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets
By Chris Eng
I shall plan my cousins escape from that Canton madhouse, and together we shall go to marvelshadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and manycolumned Yhanthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever.
HP Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth
He made love to the fishies.
The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, The Innsmouth Look
I put these words down on paper in the hope that there will be some kind of record to stand against the horrors that have been visited on me in recent days. I do not spare any hope for myselfthe forces at large are much too aware of the knowledge that has been imparted to meI can only pray that when they come for me, and come for me they will, that they will overlook these notes and someone may yet find them and bring them into the light as they deserve. Let me elaborate on my tale, though, and try to shed some light on how I came to find myself in this predicament.
Recently, a close friend of mine, halfblind with drink, suggested that we head down to one of the squalid watering holes found in Vancouvers seamy East Side to partake in a bit of the nightlife. I acquiesced and, fortified with no small amount of liquor myself, managed to seat myself among the locals, their eyes bulging unnaturally and their skin wan and pasty. It was a matter of two hours later, when sobriety started to reassert itself, that a manifestation of evil took the stage in the dingy bar and let loose a chorus of ungodliness and unrestrained evil. Possessed of nothing righteous in talk or manner, this poppunk/metal bandThe Darkest of the Hillside Thicketsasserted their love for a man, one HP Lovecraft by name, and the blasphemous creatures he expounded on in his fevered scribblings. I felt disoriented and the club spun about me wildly, pitching me back and forth, as powerpop chanting filled my ears (IE4! ShubNiggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young! IE4! Ygolonac! Cthulhu fhtagn!) before I slipped into a grateful blackness.
I awoke the next morning in my own bed with full recollection of what had gone on the night before. As unreal as it had seemed, or perhaps as I might have wanted it to be, I knew it had its groundings in reality and made my way to my bookshelf to study the book of Lovecrafts stories contained therein. Though many would dismiss it as the work of a crank, I now saw through it and perceived the taint of the unclean running black to its very core. These were not the work of a delusional madman; these timeless horrors from beyond the stars he described more than a half century before in his fantastic tales were all too real and were being paid homage to by this band with their frightful paeans.
Eager to find out more about these men, I wrote to them, posing as a fan. In short order I received a reply from their lead singer, Toren Atkinson, who was pleased to have received my missive and would be happy to answer any of my questions. I started gently, in order to gain his trust, and asked him if he could shed some light on the origins of his band. The response came quickly and was to the point.
Well, thats a question that we always get asked. Because its SO WEIRD, I guess. According to some people its weird to have an HP Lovecraft band. But this was in 1992 and we were way into Lovecraft. Especially me. Mainly me and Warren, our guitarist. I met Warren, actually, in college. In ceramics class or something. We had a mutual love of roleplaying games and cartoons. So, Warren and I decided to start a bandWarren never having played guitar before; I never having sang before. We knew not having any talent wed have to distract the audience somehow from our bad, nonexistent talent, so we decided costumes and HP Lovecraft were the way to go. That was going to be our schtick, so if nothing else, wed have at least that. Then we had our show; we had our papiE8r machE9 monster costumes; we had our antics and we received a smattering of applause. And that was good enough for us to do it again. No tomatoes were thrown, so that was encouraging.
I quickly penned a response, thanking him for the promptness of his reply and asked him about the importance of their costumes, trying to delve further toward the heart of the matter in smooth, gradual steps. Not two days later, a letter sat in my mailbox and I opened it on the street, hastily devouring the contents therein.
Well, he elucidated, after his opening pleasantries, weve been playing with the costumes for so long that I cant imagine us going on stage without them for two reasons. One, I personally would feel really stupid not wearing a costume. I know thats weird to think, because normally most people would feel stupid wearing a big monster head. Most people would, but I would feel stupid not wearing one. And the other reason is that the fans demand it now. If we went on stage without our costumes, wed get no end of trouble from our diehard, beloved fans. Our geeky but beloved fans.
Do you have groupies? I wrote back.
Do you want to get into this? came his response, scratched out on yellowed parchment in a thin, severe hand. Yeah, yeah we do. We have some groupies. Mostly male. I dont have to tell anyone what the ratio is between male and female gaming people and computer geeks. Because that is our core audienceId be the first to admit it. Yeah. We have groupies. Theyre mostly virtual groupies, but theyre groupies, I suppose. We have a decent following in Vancouver, I would say, but apart from two tours across Canada, were not that well known. But we have lots of fansCalifornia is full of Thickets fansand theyre all across the world, which is pretty cool. Theyre just unhappy that they never get to see us play live.
Convinced, at this point, that I had established a rapport with Atkinson, I endeavored to arrange a meeting between the two of us and he agreed, inviting me to his house for a cup of tea and conversation. I arrived at the appointed time, perhaps slightly early, and he answered the door bespectacled and dressed casually. Ushering me into the sitting room, he retrieved a pot of tea for us and sat, pouring cups for both of us. I was, however, determined not to waste any time beating around the bush and dove right to the meat of things.
When did you discover Lovecraft? I asked, sipping gently at the bone china.
Most people discover Lovecraft in high school and I was a late bloomer, I guess, because I think I was 19 or 20 when somebody gave me a book, and it was just BANG. I was there. There was no question. This was like nothing Id ever read before. It captured everything I thought was cool. You know, the monsters, the style of writing and the philosophy that mankind is an insignificant speck. It all clicked with me and it wasnt long before I was into the roleplaying game and started up the band. It was a couple of years later. But the thing is, once you become a fana lot of the people I know, theyre Lovecraft fans tried and true for the rest of their days.
I continued to sip at my cup, hoping it might mask my nervousness, and pressed him further on the eldritch and timeless creatures that adhered to no natural laws. Do you have a favourite Great Old One?
Its so hard to choose; I love them all so much. Cthulhus great. I think he appeals to the widest masses because hes one of the more accessible of the Great Old Ones. He at least has a definite form, if flabby and grotesque and horrific. And the octopus and the batwings? I mean, cmonthats great visual. And hes on Earth. Hes not at the centre of the universe like Azathoth; hes not inbetween the spaces we know like YogSothoth. Hes definitely the most popular and I think he strikes a chord with me as well.
There are those who think of the Great Old Ones or Elder Gods as evil, I continued; the sweat palpable on my brow and my heart fairly beating out of my chest. Do you?
Theyre not evil, theyre just misunderstood. I think a lot of peopleeven myself, back in my younger dayssay that Cthulhu is evil or that the Cthulhu mythos is full of evil gods, but really theyre above the concepts of good and evil. They dont follow human laws.
The terror on my face could no longer be contained and Atkinson was looking at me with deepening suspicion. Still, I could not hide the disgust and almost overwhelming compulsion I had to flee that house and never peruse the works of Lovecraft or Thicket again. Why? Why would someone worship these starspawned beings? Who would embrace such lunacy and proclaim Cthulhua dead squidgod whose immense corpse lies dreaming in the sunken city of Rlyehto be their savior; their squat, bloated deity? The answers to these questions no longer interested me and, excusing myself abruptly, I careened down the hall and out the front door into the stark daylight.
I hazarded a look back as I stumbled up the street as fast as I could go, nausea beginning to overtake me and saw Atkinson staring after me from the porch; the light in his eyes leaving no doubt as to what would be my eventual fate. I had angered him, and in so doing, I had angered others far more powerful than he.
It is three weeks from that meeting now. Strangers have knocked on my door every day and things clamber on my roof at night! I know not else how to describe them, the insectoid horrors! They come for me now, deafening me with the beating of their membranous wings outside my window, but I refuse to look. And their buzzing! Ah, buzzing so loud I can barely hear the clattering of the typewriter keys! They call to methe MiGo, the fungi from Yuggoth! Theyre trying to coax me out. When I dont comply, theyll force the jamb and Ill be lost. There it is! I have mere seconds left. My gun is at my side, for all the protection it will afford me. Let these notes find you safely. Goodb
By Chris Eng
HP Lovecraft was the Ramones of horror fiction. Where they never had a hit album, he never had a collection of his stories published in his lifetime. They were both prolific and both worked in underground genres. Both would have massive impacts on the mainstream and, sadly, when both their contributions were finally recognized, it was to be posthumously (with admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame falling after Joey Ramones death, and with the hardcover publication of Lovecrafts Best Supernatural Tales coming a scant number of years after his passing).
Cited by almost every modern horror author as one of the greatest practitioners of the form in the twentieth centuryperhaps everHoward Phillips Lovecraft lived a brief, solitary life spinning weird tales for Weird Tales magazine and others which offered him a pittance in exchange for them. Not even able to support himself from his writing (he did so from an inheritance fund), he died in relative obscurity in 1937 at the age of 46.
For someone whose achievements went, in the main, unnoticed during his life, his contributions to horror fiction are almost incalculable. On top of leaving behind a brobdingnagian corpus of work for future authors to pore over, he also wrote one of the first treatises on the genre, Supernatural Horror in Literature, and opened it with a simple and powerful deduction:
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
And what could be more fearinspiring than living out your humdrum daily existence, only to find out that not only are we not alone in the universe but our company is a race of ancient beings with godlike potential, living just beyond what we can perceive as the fabric of reality? The Great Old Ones, the Elder Gods: frozen under the Antarctic icecaps, imprisoned in a sunken city below the Atlantic, or biding time on one of the other planets of our own solar systemone only needs to uncover the slightest bit about them to be pushed over the brink into madness. And, in that, is one of Lovecrafts most enduring storytelling trademarks. Even more than his love of adjectives (gibbous, eldritch, Archaean, febrile) or his ability to skirt description by expounding at length on somethings indescribability (hence enforcing the fear of the unknown), was his unwritten edict that almost noone should emerge unscathed from his stories. It didnt matter where the peril came fromonce the truth about the universe was discovered (there is no God, only a race of omnipotent aliens who view humankind as insignificant specks), there were only two ways out: madness or death.
The outsiders viewpoint has been quintessentially lodged into almost all of his work, but it is perhaps most notable in his stories concerning the Great Old Ones (also known as the Mythos or Cthulhu Mythos stories, after Call of Cthulhu, one of his best known and mostenduring works). Men (for women were rarely mentioned in stories, and even then only in passing), already isolated, came into strange knowledge that no one else would possibly believe on their sayso, isolating them further and often only being brought to light in the form of journal entries, which is the format for many of the tales (a trend which continued itself in the work of other writers who expanded on the Mythos after his death via stories like Robert Blochs Notebook Found in a Deserted House). Their last entries reek of the authors sanity cracking about the edges or complain of strange beings coming for them in the night, and there is never any hope of salvation. The misunderstood or lonely are the only ones who see the world as it truly is and seek refuge in either death or the comforts of their own mind. In that context, its really not hard to see where Lovecrafts universality stems from. He ironically provided longdesired feelings of kinsmanship and understanding to those who stand at societys fringesthe gangly, overeducated, socially awkward and hermitlikebut perhaps its his other message that gives his work such widespread appeal:
The proposal that if there is a god, maybe were better off not meeting Him