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Best Dead Masterpiece

by Sold Kingdom

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Still Life 05:36
Still Life I reached for the secret too late Spent decades peering out the gate Till the sunlight rusted And the prize over-ripened and caved in Now nothing’s real except what’s in the mind I’ve grown hunched and miserly with my time And lost belief in the necessity Or effectiveness of speech If you’re someone who knows this place Then I cannot seek you Because you’re long beyond the being sought A part of me still lives in that rich wet dirt Or wearing flannel in a rural basement Singing, “welcome to the machine” I’m finally looking like myself to myself again But they’re not impressed They know I scraped up the dregs And made a sculpture approximating beauty Maybe I'm better than ever But still growing transparent Is it the tattle-tale flatness of my cheeks Or simply that I’ve been seen around here for years And I can’t figure out where to go next Feel like I’m harboring a Faberge No one gives a damn about But it can go nowhere It can stay inside a box I hold And be legitimate And have taught me things And allow me to understand What an artist on the TV is saying Even the One I have now chosen Questions the fruit of my impulse He who has the same impulse And similarly does not value his own What gives one’s words authority What gives one’s art authority I’m bashing my head on this I’m whipping myself over this My pipe is stopped because of this There’s silence in my mouth As from the mouth of the artist on TV Arcs a skein of whitest birds
Never Found Mine I listen as another musician reminisces About being the kind of teenager I never was Sounding like maybe they actively touched The flame that singed them instead of watching it from a distance They say they felt at home in the spaces where music was made Coalesced with their kind But I never found mine Don’t wanna be tricked into wearing a jersey or flag I don’t agree with anyone all of the time Don’t wanna pretend like I do I struggle with the company of artists these days But maybe I always have Though it seems they’re all quite inspired lately Like a punch in the face makes them get things done And their words more real I dare them to hang in the grey for a day Without drinking themselves blind Though I appreciate the headway they made While I was grappling with my own damn mind Everything seems an argument over the definition of truth I don’t know what to make of you Who always have something to say I have no sense of righteousness Only confusion I’m just trying to write what I know And speak for no one but myself Relativism more dangerous than ever now Still I can't get an absolute out my mouth I’ve started to understand What the one I used to know was talking about Zealotry's not for the high minds But for those low-to-the-ground I keep it away from my Love I keep it away from the cave I’ve built for myself An idea that, once it left the mind Became worth editing out They just need something to clean up after To keep the fellows warm To commune with every Sunday To feed the hungry soul Something for popular songs And people who believe in the solid center Instead of the hollow core
The Only Thing First it's "Come here" Then it's "On your knees, babe" But I stay distant Doesn't involve me I'm in leather in an armchair And this is one hell of a joke I'm in the corner in stiletto And I'm having a little smoke And it's not me But it is me As I watch you Said it's not me But it is me As I watch you And suddenly I'm in In the bathhouse, in the Senate, in the fold I have a way A way to break the mold That kills me It's the only thing that makes me feel anymore! ("Innocent love?" What is this "innocent love?" I’ve never felt such thing as "innocent love")
A Certain Constellation You wrote me letters many years after To tell me I was full of shit And “love was a ruse to justify coming” Dripping with bitter syrup That wouldn’t come into vogue Until many years later In black rooms of roil and seethe And invade our daily vocabulary It’s pathological fear of missing out You go mad thinking someone knows A secret no one taught you I pray that you'll thaw out Before you kill Asking me to read Ayn Rand Begging me to see that you exist Flattering me with insults to my gender If I had dared To rise in your eyes Fall under your scrutiny and then fall in Love I can only imagine your rage You existed in my life before I even had a word for you In his accusations of the trick of makeup And flattering photo angles His disdain for putting one on His recoil from signs of frailty Entitlement With gentle hands Entitlement With “my best interest” With an old college try An illusion of honest effort You wrote me letters many years after To tell me you were full of
Pitfalls, Revisited I. A little part of me always transformed into my lovers Love was the sublimation of myself One said, "Cover your shoulder" One scoffed at my little girl clothes And I thought maybe they had a point So I started a trashcan fire Scared to speak a word Lest it be twisted into unanticipated forms Your misogyny didn’t recognize itself Even thought itself evolved It’s the one thing that I never miss at all II. First we felt like equals and you thought My intuitive key changes were clever Then when you were finished with me You reduced me to a trope Regarded me in stilted language To put me at a distance Some say I ought to feel you stole from me But until I give up running for the beauty I expect not to know love from vanity To be left with only glitter in my sheets Like each time Oscar’s golden, spoiled boy Alighted in the cruelty of morning III. Hey - you made me what I am Where did you go Pulling the strings of the show More determinedly now since I let you go I still picture you Alone at the end of a drink In the shadow of a hand-me-down weight machine Your forehead faintly lined And the glint of the blue-grey steel in your eye Dulled with daily duty And sallow time Tori sings of Bobby Vincent sings of John I sing of you, my sexless perpetual fantasy Floating around like a Chagall Teasing me You assassinated yourself And rose up like Draper Like Underwood Till I didn’t want you anymore And for that I kind of hate you IV. Oh god how I wish I could hate Wish I could hate Wish I could hate He with the accent and frosted tips Who despises nothing more than obligation Or he with the country boy aplomb Raking weak minds Into a congregation I can tell what you’re like when you're alone What made you cruel What made you devastating But you’ve built an arsenal And planned my demise While I’ve been here contemplating I always heard you out just a bit too long With the spiral cord twisting itself around my arm In a stew of arousal and pity I drink to the girl in the oversized glasses Whatever made her do this for a living I guess there's also a sliver of it in me V. Teresa you thought your vision was sharp But you had an unrealized handicap Like me piercing souls with my black-brown eyes But behind thick lenses, stumbling into things Delusions of power Thinking I could safely breach their bedrooms Throw my head back laughing Toss my hair Slice to their bones And come out alive Not recognizing the delicacy of my Sublime crushable windpipe Or that they could reduce me to A screaming blue Splatter of myself Circling tinier and tinier still Into oblivion
The Perils of Coattail-Riding Only now do I see it all clear Since I've passed the age you were then: Your moral ambiguity around certain literary figures Where maybe there shouldn't have been Your ivory milquetoast daydreams of revolution For which you also skewered yourself So none could call you humorless or un-self aware Even while pledging allegiance to self over all And that one song - a contrived ode That contrasted male and female reasons for cheating - I felt uncomfortable singing (I know now) 'cos it was mired in the binary (Somehow the song where you spoke as a drag queen Didn't make up for that, in fact Now that I think on it Your self-congratulation Detracted from it mightily) And all of a sudden I also get why my mother Was annoyed at your leaving some of your gear In my possession for years Like of course I'd keep it for you Though your wealth bought more square footage than I'll ever own Back then I sang and sang in chorus with you Thinking I agreed Not realizing I didn't A strange songbird more full-throated And lower-voiced than you But what I also hear in your old recordings Is the creeping of a fear I am only starting to know As my thirties narrow to a pinhole
Nebulous Creations I'm sitting with two young men At a picnic table in cold wind One throws ideas at a white space on his wall Kept vacant for this purpose One stuffs a file full of pieces of an invisible world That no one will ever see if he can help it And they expound on these nebulous creations unashamedly And I sit mute and burning with a history That maybe five people in the world have followed One became a different person who was an unscrupulous stranger One lost their mind, then reconstituted it In a strange robotic form The others had babies and learned a kind of importance That makes nothing else important, least of all Solo selfish bastards like me And there are clues I drop to this history And there are dark spaces I hammer words into at night That all the world can access That tell all my stories plain, if they only ventured to go there And I'm a business-minded, practical person Who knows the importance of a good elevator speech But I don't want to do that work I want those who need to find me come and find me And find themselves burning as they turn the pages and start Fitting the pieces together
Roses 02:01
Roses Last night I went to a panel talk And there was one who caught my eye because she sat With her legs crossed in purple tights And her elbow hooked over the back of her chair And the corner of her mouth was upturned in a knowing way And when someone tried to pin the spotlight to her She spoke in nonchalant generalities That shimmied out of the way And tossed a few clues that I caught But the depths remained Rippling, dusky, and un-plunged And even more beguiling, she said, "I'm just here to listen" And I wanted to shower her with roses
Latecomer 02:08
Latecomer Latecomer - don’t think you know anything What it was like The feeling of splintered wood beneath my hand The soft unlatching The view from that strange elevation It was golden And you and yours Can’t estimate its beauty Who never think in terms of what things could be Who make sure your heart curls up small Who don’t mythologize at all Latecomer - don’t pretend to know who I have been So maybe you are gentler than most And almost hush the coaxing of the ghost Don’t purport to grasp the history Recorded in a language only He and I can read
Why I Wanted to Go to Vegas This is why I wanted to go to Vegas With you and no one else Because nothing anyone ever said made sense to us Because you never wanted to marry me Because we’re still children: cleaner and dirtier than most Because you let me break you down for fun Because we like the gears of old clocks To snap photos of ourselves standing in the arch of time Because our families made us cut ourselves with words Because your hair was chemical And your skin was inked While your heart stayed fine and pure Because we watched a young man sing A song he wrote for his wife He howled like he was hungry And I feel you and I are superior With our strange and sudden episodes of abandon But general lack of need Like it's something we can choose to feed Or not Because the old king of the scene is going around Showing pretty women pictures Of the coffin he built for himself And your shoulder’s the one I rest my head on With you I stay a child I don’t embrace the drift Though I know it'll be the death of me You make me feel like a girl More than I ever felt like one A little cyclone blowing around the playground Showing off her scraped knees I want to grab you by your slim shoulders and shake you When you're thinking in circles That speed up your five o’clock shadow We have to figure out the right way to be together I still don’t wish to belong to anyone But I find myself always wanting to bring you home And I’ll never write a song for you Because you don't make me sick
This Much Red She died when the dust blew from her hands the last time But I’m still here across the way It’s just the odds have gotten steeper And maybe my smirk line’s grown a little deeper But I won’t respond to this by rushing Headlong into obsolescence I’m keeping my metaphorical collar popped Thank you very much I've been told I invent little games And see how long I can keep them up He likes it when I call him a selfish boy Lay into him with instructions It’s a game you need safety to play Trust to inflict A play you can’t act in without childish frustration And quivering bottom lip The parenting maxims tacked up Under his mama’s cabinet Warn against everything she later did wrong And the fallout from this is a gift Laid at my doorstep He’s a child hearing the fight in the kitchen Swell out of control Trying to stroke it till it heals But he can’t contain me No he can’t assuage me And his hand in the small of my back Will only enrage me He calls me out for bold disclosures About who I did what with He says “Why would you tell me that” And it makes me reflect on why I’d do it Something about preserving my separateness And saying "This is who I was before you And I’d still exist without you And I’ll never be your accoutrement No matter what this culture wants" I can’t accept my connection to these people Was completely arbitrary So I keep a piece of them with me Every now and then in the night I remember their warm humanity Dream them into something they were not She wants me to want what she wants: The buxom still life The rich brushstroke But I’m still a wayward Repulsed by labels I thought I might change with the milk of his kindness But I fight for myself all the more In the creeping warmth of this love When the middle of the song falls in Like a house on its own dark heart I crawl across the carpet Curling fists into the pile Looking up at him for a reaction Passion But he balances me out He says, “I can’t act like that” And one of my feet threatens the door Until I remember his temperance Is the thing I need the most
Affliction #1 You got me tight, trussed up Breathing in defiance of your coy constriction You took away my crowning glory Left me in meted out restriction And I always seem OK Till you get bored and want to play Pin the pain on the extremity And it's never been my philosophy To change my behavior for a stab in the dark Overhaul my life when success isn't even guaranteed I'll keep drinking and dancing in the face of you Eating and tearing around Unless you put me in the ground Why even bother You could leave at any time You've left before Hug me like Violet's punishing corset Then recede like these end-of-autumn trees
When I Listen to Mount Eerie When I listen to Mount Eerie I'm ashamed that what I think of first Is not the death of a loved one But the physical loss Of someone I probably never even loved Not spouse, not child Just someone whose pain I tried to shoulder for awhile Who was a little unmoored at the time Whom I resented For trying to use me as a blanket To smother himself with So I withdrew until he recoiled And suddenly wasn't there And the winter sunlight poured in And the absence left me shivering And leftover caring spilling out of me for nothing Into nothing Truthfully I'm really too old To maintain these sloppy habits And the thought that I can just go on like this forever But even this recognition is too much And makes something I don't want to let Crawl from the black of the bag I can't help but listen to Elverum sometimes And the more I listen, I don't feel sad anymore It's a cold, careful scientific study To prepare me for whatever may be coming Now that I've picked a partner Who seems impossibly healthy Who sleeps the right amount every night And adjusts the time he gets up So he can scrape ice off his windshield and still be on time Who is terrified of ultimate forgetfulness Whose aesthetic sensibilities and absurd humor Transcend anything as base as fucking Whose pullover and core of being are so downy I could die wrapped in them and not be afraid - Now I am vulnerable to this awfulness Elverum is singing But when I think about it In those old days Didn't this always lie right beneath the surface Of the glitter And the posturing And the appropriation of classic poetry? Didn't my old pretend love kiss the top of my head When I looked at empty wood planters and saw coffins? Wasn't I in my kindergarten principal's office Crying all the time About something I couldn't express? All of this always has been here And colored my responses to everything It's just that somewhere deep I knew the reckoning Was so far off It was pointless to think about But now It's not
If I Don't Write This It's Not Real You're feeling like you're better But suspect that you're worse Past the age where we still compliment each other's looks 'Cos we're no longer sure if it's nature or man That glues each other together You're supposed to know other things are more important Even now it's not quite real to me yet But it grows more dire each year I see footage of when It all started for others That's already a decade old And still I won't get it till I get it I’m a foolish child deciding I’m not ready To know what these things are really about And someday soon I’m sure the decision will be made for me I’ve always felt songs were for sadness, not parties But never for sadness this deep More for playacting and makeup and sex and things Monopolized by the young I want another decade with a fully formed brain Before the real departures start It's nothing but privilege I've had till this point Able to live grown with the whims of a child With those who made me Content to keep silent in the wings Just thankful I survived All of those raging youthful things Like visits to the scenes of old crimes And devaluations of my own mind But let's be real The next ten won't be like these were (Looking roughly the same and caretaking none but myself) No, these will make me tap into a wealth That may or may not prove enough I brace for a tax on my self Nights now I suspend myself in amber So my limbs float beside me nearly numb And I gently fall down a hole in the dark And words hit me at new angles And I've always thought I'm not long for all of this Which gathers more clout the further from childhood I drift Way back when, when some of my pain was pretend We sat at the edge of the buzzing green woods that pressed in And you smoked beside me And ash fluttered down on my shirt And you apologized but let it happen again I'd give anything for the harmless young pain I had then
Why I Can't Stop This Completely I wrote to him again last night After I truly thought I was done with it His rhetoric in recent years Had distanced me enough To make me slam the book shut But I was drunk And the music sounded beautiful And the tree from his old yard Was toppled by a storm this year That left its massive root system Flung up vertical And whereas the replies sometimes Used to take a year This time it was overnight And enclosed Was a snapshot of the view Right in front of him And I never used to be Able to write about him like this Just state the facts Instead of some idiotically Thirsty-sounding mythology That neither of us had earned And maybe for the first time His words are spare And not suggestive of anything And there's one part I especially like: "There's nothing wrong with nostalgia" And - ah - that's why I can't stop this completely He's the only one I know Who truly believes that And would say it aloud to me And I really don't want to "catch up" Would rather keep the notion of him At arm's length Scared how much of the old character is left But also scared how much of him is gone Some people you never won't question Some people you never won't question yourself around
Moth 04:09
Moth That day I saw an amazing moth on the concrete And I remarked on it to you The pattern on its back like a geometric tattoo And later when you were out Through the locked door While I was sitting in the middle of the floor I heard the young couple upstairs who fight And rumble sliding glass in the middle of the night Come downstairs And the girl saw the moth And in a performance fit to reverberate To the back of a vast theater Cried out that it looked like a devil And she didn't like the way it was watching her And began goading the boy into killing it And my muscles froze And the boy didn't want to And kept saying it wasn't doing nothing And it's just as scared of you But she wouldn't let up As if it were a test of his love or manhood And finally, my eyes stinging with tears that surprised me I listened to the fall of the broom One swat and eventually two And even that wasn't enough for her And my face burned with rage And I wish to this day I'd stormed through that door Flung myself under their incredulous gaze Scooped it up and carried it away But all I did was sit on the floor, eyes welling And when I crossed the threshold later Avoided looking down


BEST DEAD MASTERPIECE. The idea that art can be destined for obscurity, water-damaged in a musty basement, but still rich, intricate, available for discovery by someone whose personal preferences or life experiences cause them to ascribe value to it.

Cover: altered detail from Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie (1631), by Dutch Golden Age artist Willem Claesz Heda


released February 12, 2021

Album credits:

Bryan Walthall of Studio Image Recording, for his saintly patience with that infernal background noise. Drink's on me one day.

My family, for indulging me with years of excessive autonomy to counterbalance years of excessive proximity.

My DP, John E., for his perseverant affection when I am in the throes of mad-creator mode. Also, for allowing me to imprison him in a little room for so many evenings while I monopolized the largest space in the apartment.

The figures from my past who shaped me both gently and roughly and became the colorful characters that inhabit my stories.

The prolific independent artists in my life whose output forced my self-reckoning, ignited envy and desire in me, and generally whipped me on till the thing was finished.

Last and also least: the dynamic late-night duo of Old Grand-dad 114 & Top Ramen, my pet quarantine vice and the fuel that powered this unwieldy machine.


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Sold Kingdom Charlottesville, Virginia

Soothingly brutal bystander balladry

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