The Horror Over the Coast Interview by Chris Eng

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 cousin’s escape from that Canton madhouse, and together we shall go to marvel–shadowed Innsmouth. We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many–columned Y’ha–nthlei, 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 myself—the forces at large are much too aware of the knowledge that has been imparted to me—I 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, half–blind with drink, suggested that we head down to one of the squalid watering holes found in Vancouver’s 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 pop–punk/metal band—The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets—asserted 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 power–pop chanting filled my ears (“IE4! Shub–Niggurath! 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 Lovecraft’s 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, that’s a question that we always get asked. Because it’s SO WEIRD, I guess. According to some people it’s 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 role–playing games and cartoons. So, Warren and I decided to start a band—Warren never having played guitar before; I never having sang before. We knew not having any talent we’d have to distract the audience somehow from our bad, non–existent talent, so we decided costumes and HP Lovecraft were the way to go. That was going to be our schtick, so if nothing else, we’d 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, “we’ve been playing with the costumes for so long that I can’t imagine us going on stage without them for two reasons. One, I personally would feel really stupid not wearing a costume. I know that’s 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, we’d get no end of trouble from our die–hard, 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 don’t have to tell anyone what the ratio is between male and female gaming people and computer geeks. Because that is our core audience—I’d be the first to admit it. Yeah. We have groupies. They’re mostly virtual groupies, but they’re groupies, I suppose. We have a decent following in Vancouver, I would say, but apart from two tours across Canada, we’re not that well known. But we have lots of fans—California is full of Thickets fans—and they’re all across the world, which is pretty cool. They’re 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 I’d 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 wasn’t long before I was into the role–playing game and started up the band. It was a couple of years later. But the thing is, once you become a fan—a lot of the people I know, they’re 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?”

“It’s so hard to choose; I love them all so much. Cthulhu’s great. I think he appeals to the widest masses because he’s 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 bat–wings? I mean, c’mon—that’s great visual. And he’s on Earth. He’s not at the centre of the universe like Azathoth; he’s not in–between the spaces we know like Yog–Sothoth. He’s 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?”

“They’re not evil, they’re just misunderstood. I think a lot of people—even myself, back in my younger days—say that Cthulhu is evil or that the Cthulhu mythos is full of evil gods, but really they’re above the concepts of good and evil. They don’t 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 star–spawned beings? Who would embrace such lunacy and proclaim Cthulhu—a dead squid–god whose immense corpse lies dreaming in the sunken city of R’lyeh—to 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 me—the Mi–Go, the fungi from Yuggoth! They’re trying to coax me out. When I don’t comply, they’ll force the jamb and I’ll 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 •

Lovecraft

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 Ramone’s death, and with the hardcover publication of Lovecraft’s 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 century—perhaps ever—Howard 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 fear–inspiring 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 god–like 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 system—one only needs to uncover the slightest bit about them to be pushed over the brink into madness. And, in that, is one of Lovecraft’s 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 something’s indescribability (hence enforcing the fear of the unknown), was his unwritten edict that almost no–one should emerge unscathed from his stories. It didn’t matter where the peril came from—once 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 outsider’s 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 most–enduring 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 say–so, 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 Bloch’s “Notebook Found in a Deserted House”). Their last entries reek of the author’s 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, it’s really not hard to see where Lovecraft’s universality stems from. He ironically provided long–desired feelings of kinsmanship and understanding to those who stand at society’s fringes—the gangly, over–educated, socially awkward and hermit–like—but perhaps it’s his other message that gives his work such widespread appeal:

The proposal that if there is a god, maybe we’re better off not meeting Him…