At the end of 2017, I was feeling pretty raw about the state of things in the U.S.: rising fascism, threats against women's autonomy and immigrants' safety, white supremacy run rampant — we barely had a glimpse of what was to come.
Not much felt good that year, including music, but I found some safe retreat in the quiet that could be found. I wrote a comic about that desperation — connecting the calm and the caustic — intended for NPR Music's year-end coverage. My brilliant friend Robin Ha, then between graphic novel projects, agreed to illustrate.
For a number of reasons, the comic never published. But I never stopped thinking about its essential idea: Quiet can be as restorative as it is destructive, especially for someone who struggles to articulate their feelings. So here is the script for the comic, sans illustrations that never came to be, plus a playlist of tracks featured. Revisiting now, the panel directions could use some work and I'd likely change the structure a bit, but otherwise I've kept the original text here. (The watercolor painting above is a collaboration by Robin Ha, my daughter and me, unrelated to this project.) Only a few friends have read the comic before now; I'm thankful for their encouragement. —Lars Gotrich
[I want a visual representation of how, in our quietest moments, we hear ourselves in music — in peace, in torment, in the depths of our darkest selves, and sometimes how a quiet little dance song can pull us out.]
PANEL 1 (SMALL)
[Could be the title/credits panel, too. Lars looks directly at the viewer.]
LARS: I've always been quiet.
PANEL 2 (WIDE)
[Teenaged Lars is surrounded by a crowd. There's an imaginary protective dome around him.]
CAPTION: Loud, fast and weird music not only fueled teenage rage, but the volume and swarm of bodies were the perfect excuse for avoiding people at shows… at least while the band was onstage.
[Lars circa 2002, probably in a dorm room or a dining hall with a new friend who is tall with swooped hair, black t-shirt — you know the kind.]
CAPTION: But loud, fast and weird music was eventually a window to other outcasts, especially in college.
TREVOR: Do you know Against Me!? They're playing Finley House tonight.
LARS: OK, yeah. I'll check it out.
[Lars walking on campus, wide-eyed at the sudden dawning of wisdom from a tiny Indian friend.]
CAPTION: And new realizations, dealt daily.
PADMINI: Do you think being born half-deaf in your left ear stunted your social growth?
LARS: OH MY GOD YES.
PANEL 5 (WIDE)
[Punks packed into a tiny living room, screaming the Against Me! lyrics: "Can anybody tell me why God won't speak to me?"]
CAPTION: I never quite felt like a punk or metalhead — and still don't — but resonated deeply with those shouts and shrieks and gnarly riffs. Punk and metal gave voice to my quiet darkness.
[I imagine this as a three-quarter page panel, or four large panels featuring each vocalist mid-scream with their corresponding lyrics. The artist and song title should be featured near the lyrics/drawing of the vocalist to identify.]
CAPTION: In 2017, there was reason to scream...
CAPTION: About the cost of women's emotional labor...
You walk through this world of mine
And I see through you and your lies
YOU TAKE NOTHING
— Ragana "You Take Nothing"
CAPTION: The racial profiling of Muslim-Americans...
وان كانو رفإتي?
(All my life,
they told me Terrorist
Where were my allies?)
— Haram "Not A Terrorist"
CAPTION: Violence against LGBTQ people…
The headline will read "Trans woman dies of old age."
She outlived her enemies. Homophobes rolling in their graves.
— The HIRS Collective "Trans Woman Dies of Old Age"
CAPTION: ... and how the upside-down of the everyday is real.
It’s a long movie, a long movie and you are not you.
[Lars screaming along to Priests in the crowd.]
CAPTION: I screamed along, too. I needed to.
[Crowd turns into psychedelic maelstrom — no bodies, really, or real shapes, just noise. Lars walks towards a glowing opening.]
CAPTION: But in the emotional noise that was consuming my heart, I increasingly sought out quiet music in a disquiet year.
[Panels 1-3 in one row. Then panels 4-5. Panel 6 on its own.]
PANEL 1 (thin, all text)
CAPTION: So in my moments of solitude, I'd turn off the news and mind a pot of grits, put on the kettle, take long walks and listen to the hum of the tracks accompanied by…
[Stovetop with pot of grits, cast iron with bacon and eggs, maybe some pieces of toast at the ready.]
CAPTION: Fingerpicked guitar curved from a burnt sky…
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ High aura'd "All The Spirits That Dance" ♫
[Lars with a cup of tea on the back porch, sun setting.]
CAPTION: Tape loops faded into pastel horizons…
LARS (thinking bubble): When is an ambient artist going to release an album as a loose-leaf tea?
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ Olli Aarni "Hehkuva tuuli" ♫
PANEL 4 (smaller panel)
[Lars walking his dog Cocoa Bean, who is the perfect Bean, crunching leaves.]
CAPTION: The surface of a vinyl record warped around a mournful, yet triumphant guitar melody…
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ The Fun Years "The Delusion Always Wins" ♫
PANEL 5 (wider panel)
[Even after many years, there's an inextricable and emotional feeling of "home" when coming out of the tunnel from DCA, and the first things I see are the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument. After dark, in particular, these monuments become lonely beacons standing apart. Lars looks out of the metro car window to these monuments across the Potomac, rendered like one of James McNeil Whistler's nocturnes — light splattered across the water.]
CAPTION: A pianist improvising nocturnes with sapropelic hesitancy, the sustain & decay rippling across the Potomac River like lights splattered across a dark canvas.
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ Tom James Scott "The Roseate Dreamlight" ♫
[Eyes peeking out behind the covers, beset with worry. Lyrics: "Fearin' not growin' up / Keepin' me up at night / Am I doin' enough? / Feel like I'm wastin' time"]
CAPTION: Beyond the abstract moods of instrumental music, pop songs especially knew that our hushed moments…
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ SZA "Prom" ♫
[Behind the bar, with fancy bottles of whiskey and mezcal. Lyric: "I need something more / I want something else / This is the well and I want top shelf"]
CAPTION: ... the ones we keep close...
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ Caroline Spence "Heart of Somebody" ♫
[A drop-sized person falling into a pool of water that already has ripples. Lyrics: "I’m only a particle, a drop in you, forever dissolving."]
CAPTION: … often speak the loudest.
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ Hundred Waters "Particle" ♫
[This is a full page, essentially two panels either split down the center or diagonally. I want to contrast the inherent darkness of quietness, which maybe we should just call idleness, with the light.]
[A large dark space, a cavern that grows darker as text cascades like a list of regrets. Lars in the corner, small.]
CAPTION: But that quiet knows me. It reminds me of the teenager who ran outside with a book between band's sets, who would be paralyzed to pick up a phone, and silently watched the world happen without him. The quiet can be a cavern, unforgiving in its echoes of memory.
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ GAS "Narkopop 2" ♫
PANEL 2 (small)
[Lars lookin' a lil' broken down, maybe slumped down in a chair. His wife Katie stares intently into his face.]
CAPTION: Stillness becomes idleness when I forget that I have my own voice, and that I have people in my life who want to hear it.
KATIE: You need to talk to me.
PANEL 3 (wide)
[White space. Turntable and speakers in the corner blasting a record. Lars, Katie and Cocoa Bean dancing.]
CAPTION: And sometimes I just need to dance to a dreamy pop song that sounds like clouds bursting in slow motion.
MUSIC CAPTION: ♫ Yumi Zouma "December" ♫
Stream the Viking's Choice playlist via BNDCMPR. Tracklist below:
Slamadeus, "The Miasma of Myth"
Cheri Knight, "Prime Numbers"
Tha War Zone (feat. BEZOTE), "Swervin in the Rain"
Lorelai Ensemble, "Prologue: Ecce quomodo moritur"
Burundi Cloud Music, "Backwards Mirror"
Riot in School, "Disco"
Carlos Niño & Friends, "WaterWavesArrival (with Jesse Peterson)"
Cloud Rat, "Rats and Mice and Swarms of Lice (Thou cover)"
End It, "Hatekeeper"
Tony Molina, "The Last Time"
Poison Ruïn, "Not Today, Not Tomorrow"
Em Cadet, "Rather Bee"
My Favorite, "Dean's 7th Dream"
hex sign, "defenseless"
Chat Pile, "Slaughterhouse"
Akio Nagase, "Tinsagu-Nu-Hana"
Aunt Kelly, "Worse for You"
Ferkat Al Ard, "Entazerni"
Sara Hebe, "Cheto Mal"
Mother Nature and Renzell, "Don't Worry"
Kristin Oppenheim, "Hey Joe"
syndrome 81, "dans les rues de brest"