house of pale
In the fall of 1985 The Pleasures Pale were forming — meeting, writing and recording songs in the house I was renting on Marcella Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. That two-story structure on the city’s north side played a prominent role in my Dayton musical life. Married when I took up residence in 1984, and not when I vacated in 1987, I lived mostly without furnishings. Apart from a sofa, stereo, two crates for LPs and a bed frame/mattress in one of the three bedrooms upstairs, it was an empty house. And I had a strong sense it was haunted.
That the Marcella house was occupied by non-corporeal beings may or may not have been true, but I do know that the spirits of a marriage meltdown the year prior were lingering under the eaves. The majority of furnishings went out the door with the relationship to be replaced by a creeping, foreboding sense of sadness and regret. And I decided that’s how it should be while I lived there — alone with the aftermath of complex feelings and a strange, creepy symphony of creaking and moaning that habitually woke me in the night. On one such occasion, I went so far as to jump out of bed, rush to the top of the staircase and yell out to confront whatever it was making the odd sounds in the darkness downstairs.
“Show yourself!” I demanded.
I received no reply, no affirmation, nothing but chilled silence. I remember feeling almost insulted by the indifference: If it was the house being haunted, I was fine with that. But if the haunting was aimed at me, I wanted concrete proof.
The house also had a basement, perfect for band rehearsals. And it was here The Pleasures Pale developed their early sound. Excited with forming and writing for a new band but burdened by post-marriage emotional fallout, it’s entirely fitting that the house and its ominous character would wend its way into the songs being authored within its walls. What did come of those “strangely frightful nights” was one of The Pleasures Pale’s more artful works. We generally made songs that had a sense of immediacy; we weren't overly concerned with texture, mood or nuance. But out of one songwriting/recording session in the house’s dining room, for which Louie brought his upright bass, came a piece titled “Happy Love Ghosts.” As the chords, melody, rhythm and words floated into place — with Mitch picking out a figure on my Silvertone acoustic, electrified and amplified through an effects box — the process was surely a channeling of the house’s “possession,” as if the psychic energy trapped under that pitched roof was somehow funneled into an act of collaborative creation.
Of course the tableau — the house, the vibe, the times, me sorting through my troubles — inspired a number of other songs. Case in point: The adjacent neighbors were a youngish married couple with a couple of small children. It was apparent to me theirs was not a happy coupling, and the man was often abusive. I could hear their quarreling, and it disturbed me deeply, not only because it seemed terribly wrong and the woman was possibly being battered, but also because it echoed the painful despair of my own ill-fated union. My anguish at being unable to gracefully sort out my marital conflict was being echoed back to me. For sure, I was self-absorbed in the extreme, but it did seem that even other people’s lives were mocking mine.
Our early sets included a song called “Twirling Miranda,” a kind of folkish romantic tragedy, in the 19th Century Victorian sense, where the heroine throws herself from a high cliff into the sea as a last resort and escape from hopelessness. I failed miserably at finding a melody for the song and even worse at performing what I had in mind. The song quickly disappeared from rotation. But a song sketch committed to 4-track tape during one of those early writing sessions did survive to document Mitch and Louie’s brilliant guitar and bass composition. And it survived to at last be fully rendered with the melody and meaning initially intended, revivified and reanimated to fulfill its purpose. In a way, completing the song was a cathartic experience, a kind of three-decades-later closure on the torment I felt, alone in that house with the muffled sounds of emotional struggle surrounding me.
Both “Happy Love Ghosts” and the retitled “Hideous Monsters” were very rough recordings. But with enough fidelity and content to allow both to be exhumed, deconstructed, and like Frankenstein’s monster, reassembled into new undead creatures — two examples of the Pale at our most pale.
For this season of falling leaves, increasingly darker nights, and roaming spirits of unfinished business it feels apropos that both of these long-buried songs be finally fitted in proper shrouds and released together to find their destiny among the living’s most receptive souls. Find them now on The Pleasures Pale Bandcamp page at: https://thepleasurespale.bandcamp.com/album/happy-love-ghosts
PS — Further inspecting The Pleasures Pale’s early catalog, especially the tracks on the eventually to be released Daily Living Is a Herculean Art LP, I can tag a number other songs as hatchlings of 2623 Marcella’s uneasy ambience. In particular, “How I Dreamt of You” (likely the first demo recorded with Jeff Keating on drums) and “It Could Be Heaven” are both documents of days lived in a dreamy netherworld between heartbroken despair and hopeful resolve — where shame and loss entwine with libertine fantasies and self-renewal.
“In a room lit by the moon / Life’s trials consumed”