David Herrle reviews the Half-Life Crisis spoken-word CD by Collin Kelley
produced by Collin Kelley
recorded by Denton Perry - Corgimanor Studios
(except for the live reading track - Steve Ramirez at the Ugly Mug, CA)
$5.00 + $1.50 (shipping/handling)
buy the CD
The artist chose the cool ones. How rare and pleasing. The artist chose the cool ones! Too many compilations, collections, and "best of"s tend to include more junk than gem, losing better representation of a writer, band, or whatever. For instance, the Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits lacks "I'm On Fire" - one of his greatest hits! Or Peter Gabriel's compilation, Shaking The Tree: no "In Your Eyes"! See what I mean? Half-Life Crisis is comprised of some of Collin's best pieces, six from his debut poetry book, Better To Travel. Of course, this is a matter of opinion and taste. But since it's my review, we'll grant that my opinion and taste are keen and reliable. Thankfully, Collin had the good sense to include cool selections from his poetical repertoire.
The CD is bookended and interluded by Denton Perry's uniquely weird music. Perry also recorded, mixed, and mastered everything at Corgimanor Studios (save the poem recited at California's Ugly Mug, recorded by Steve Ramirez). Collin is "hosted" by Christeen Snell, a friend to whom Better To Travel, is dedicated . "Hosted?" you ask? Essentially. Half-Life is not "live" in the typical sense. Except for "Why I Want To Be Pam Grier", the recitals were studio recorded. At first I was disappointed that Half-Life wasn't completely live (recording of actual poetry gigs). But after my second listen I thought: Well, it IS live in a sense. It's Collin reciting his work as he would at Barnes & Noble or Java Monkey.
Then I realized that the studio "live" aspect was more unique for its intimacy. Listeners can eavesdrop on Collin and Chris in a quiet room rather than listen from a public audience. The two speak naturally, unscripted, so each reading seems casually agreed on. Chris even recites two pieces. Her voice is lovely. And Collin's voice is made for spoken poetry (and radio): smoothly textured with a light, Georgian sweetener. I warmed to the studio format, considering Half-Life Crisis a "virtual" poetry gig - cough free. Hell, too many folks do "live" recordings anyway. But I would have liked more integration with the music, maybe accompanied by a poem.
"Battersea", my fave (and a gem from Better To Travel), is a poem capable of many replays that won't degrade the effect. It provides me with an alternative, complementary image and impression to add to my warmly visceral appreciation for James Whistler's Blue and Gold Old Battersea Bridge painting (c. 1872-77). The poem is also sincere in its impression, not hesitant to notice ugliness or drear in a popularly exotic location.
"Half-Life Crisis", the title poem and my second fave, touches on a very familiar, nostalgic ache of mine: gravitation to lost toys. Collin reveals his eBay quest for regaining the toys from his youth, identifying the quest as a defiance of slipping time and age: "I've spent a fortune restocking my hollowed-out chest." (What chest? A toy chest or his own chest?) He's aware of the "ticking clock"; he tries to fill "a hole that deepens each year". The poem ends with a look into an indifferent, truthful mirror and the narrator "no longer mistook myself for a boy". Once an adult dares to peek back, to reunite with his/her Rosebuds, a floodgate bursts open. The tiny particulars become sacred, all-important relics. And seemingly silly things like action figures or stuffed animal dolls embody beloved times and youth.
Collin claims that "Why I Want To Be Pam Grier" usually reaps applause. I can hear why now. The poem begins thus: "I want to pull a gun out of my hair and blow your head off." And the poem shoots from the sexy hips from there on, focusing mainly on Grier's renaissance in Tarantino's underrated film, Jackie Brown. Humorous, energetic, and...hell...it features the legendary Pam Grier! Booyah! Collin wisely clipped this from a public performance at Cali's Ugly Mug. It's a crowd pleaser, so the pleased crowd is appropriately heard.
"Sex In My Parents House" is, well, sure to turn cheeks crimson. Hearing it spoken is much more effective than reading. I dig the honesty and self-criticism and the blue carpet imagery. You have to read/hear it to understand. "Los Angeles" is an impressionistic interpretation of the city of angels and devils, a sharply sincere portrait, and a frenzy of solitude. Collin bluntly describes the Interstate 405 as "a shit-stained diamond". Ruined intimacy's powerful wake is grimly spoken in the very touching "Answering Machine" (another gem from Better To Travel): "...consider me exiled, expatriate, excommunicated. It is just your voice on the machine I could not face. Start. Stop. Pause. Erase."
Half-Life Crisis is a cool complement to Better To Travel because it serves as a bridge from his debut work to his more variable, different-toned - and more erotic - work (similar to U2's Rattle and Hum between The Joshua Tree and the innovative Achtung Baby.) Rather than dredge up a catchy conclusion, I'll leave you with the closing of Collin's "Diners At 2 A.M." (another CD gem, as well as a BTT piece):
...You light a cigarette,
I stir the cream.
At 2 a.m. we sit next
to our ghosts, still locked
And sometimes we do
not speak, because the past drowns
- review by David Herrle 2/2005
Read the recent Tea Interview with Collin
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