What is the Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum?
Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum is a reference to the sixth song off King Crimson’s 2000 album the construKction of light (spelling and capitalisation intentional). This song makes use of a lyrical style – a flow – probably inspired by Ginsberg’s Howl:
“Hat bandana Graham cracker jackhammer
In a nail file suit your self-service man
The world’s my oyster soup kitchen floor wax museum.”
The lyrics are a great example of Adrian Belew’s fantastic and bizarre wordplay, which characterised the lyrics of King Crimson from the eighties to the 21st century (schizoid man). And they’re designed to be read cyclically – every word is read twice, and every fragment has two contexts, two meanings. Clever. Not enough, in this form, to tell a proper story, or be considered anything more than slightly witty sophistry – but clever.
Of course it gave me ideas.
I have produced, at this point in time, about six hundred words of this type of wordplay, for two reasons: boredom at an Athenian airport, and because I believe that if the right words were chosen, this could easily become a form of poetry. I’ll post an example of my own cyclical work below – one I feel tells a kind of story.
“Ain’t no business like show business deal or no deal with it’s a horror story of my days of our livelihood rats in the alleyway to gloryhole in the road blocked website designer clothes make the man who helps others helps himself to seconds too late to know yourself ID certificate of admission of guilty pleasure resort to desperate measures up marketing strategy to fool around the world in 80 days of summer loving the alien invasion of privacy sun and moonlight sonata in g minor problem solver
Call now and get one free and easy to find fault lines of coke off a public toilet seat of power struggles in vain people of colour wheel and deal with Italian food junkie Madonna on the rocks off and on buttoned up coat of paint brush it off duty call me when you can of soup spooning it up and out with the bathwater
Bowl of cereal killer shark attack dog collared shirt stains green jungle giant squid ink well done in earnest effort wasted time keeping stock market crash course set on fire safety blanket measures updraft dodging taxes the brain waves good morning American dreamscape goat cheesecake factory made it big time for heroes journey home baked potato famine.”
Clearly a story about a self-made celebrity who enjoys fame for a short time and then turns to depravity and drugs, has trouble with an agent, realises the errors of his ways, barely escapes financial ruin, and returns to a life of financial struggle, but inner peace.
Or something similar.
This kind of writing benefits from references – take Belew’s references to earlier Crimson pieces (marked in bold) – in his case, because there was no intention of depth, they mean nothing but are nice nods to the fans.
“Cannibal dog house plan B happy
As a lark’s tongue in cheek bone china doll
The world’s my oyster soup kitchen floor wax museum
Don’t ask Y2 cake and eat it too
Nothing lasts for evergreen thumbscrew
The world’s my oyster soup kitchen door frame by frame.”
In my own work I tried to make the references represent a collection of ideas, make them a shorthand for whatever concept I wanted to convey. As references typically do.
“Hello and welcome can I take your order from command post office blocked number plate smashing pumpkin skinheads rally around a black flagship product placement on the shelf life on Mars Voltaire’s Candide text me when ready for action manager’s secretary-general election results are out and proud veterans marching bandying about nothing left to right now we’re going down on our luck of the draw a number of years later alligator.”
The Smashing Pumpkins and Black Flag, being punk bands, give off a culturally rebellious verve, and contribute the exact type of anti-establishment vibe I was going for. The Mars Volta is a modern progressive rock/metal band, famous for making bizarre, Latin-tinged music – their name being a reference to Mars, the Roman Ares. Voltaire was a famous Enlightenment writer and philosopher – his work Candide has survived for hundreds of years as a biting satire of romantic, heroic stories and of the theory of optimism held by major writers of the time. Clearly, in this work the references contribute to a sense of warlike revolution, in the musical, theological, and philosophical spectrum, which only increase the irony at the end – ‘later alligator’, being a childish phrase that entirely belies the build-up and tone.
I was reminded strongly of this Belew-wordplay when I came across the angel-language in Alan Moore’s newly released novel Jerusalem. Having never done any formal English literature study (a fact evident to anyone who’s read this far), my hypothesis that we’re entering Joycean territory remains unclear – yet Moore’s angel-speak, inspired by Joyce or not, is another clever style of wordplay which borders, dare I say it, on genius. And, bonus points, it works in prose form.
Here’s an example of Moore’s angel-language. Happily for non-English majors and people who don’t have Sparknotes bookmarked, Moore actually explains what the angels say after they say it, in plain English, unlike Joyce. Spelling is as intended by Moore.
“Theis whille beye veery haerdt foure yew,” It said, sounding concerned.
The ‘is’ or the essential being of this coming while as, from your viewpoint, it apparently goes by will be a sudden and extreme veer in the pathway of your heart with things that you have heard concerning a fourth angle of existence causing difficulties to arise within your mortal life, that is concluded in a graveyard where the yew trees flourish, and this will be very hard for you.”
The idea that he crammed all those concepts into seven words which are so close to being familiar vocabulary stunned me, and I had to attempt it myself.
The following work will likely be complete rubbish. Never mind, we’re experimenting.
“Hay wheire upthill claimber; youre awhey, seegulls and baccup beeloin for groind weighdown.”
Hay barrels, hey, come outside the hall; we’re up here, up the hill. Lay claim to climbing limber up; easy – you’re away without whey, – without food. See the gulls and all the gullibles below? Now back up, Bacchus, not too much holy pleasure, make a beeline for the ground, and don’t hit your groin on the way down, you’ve a weight.
Now obviously it’s not really very good. Nor should I expect it to be. It really is a monumental challenge to create something like that, and he’s made several examples, as far as I’ve read (though none quite as clever as that first one from earlier). Having tried to write in this style myself, I can appreciate the difficulty in making this type of work make sense, and find my respect for Alan Moore’s capability to have increased (although personally he seems quite insane).
The difficulty may be due to how my mind works, or perhaps I’m approaching this the wrong way. Unlike Moore, I don’t have a context – I’m not trying to communicate anything specific, just trying to get this technique to work for me. I also tried developing the nonsense and the meaning in conjunction – this is probably the worst possible way to write in this style, especially without a message.
I’ll try again, with a message this time. Something like, “Are you alright? I’ll get some bread and water. It’s all well and good.”
I’ll write the meaning out first, then coalesce it into the shorter words.
Air’s going down alright? Write your name for me. I’ll, for good or ill, get from the jetty Soma, so me and you can talk it out, some water, what her said was from a well, sure as Cromwell’s cruel, and good for you.
“Aire you allwrite? Ill jetty Somae wather. It’s Fromwell Goode’s.”
Maybe it just relies on selecting excellent words, like “heart” which can be turned easily into ‘hard’ and ‘heard’.
In any case, I’ll come back and play around with it a little Moore later, when I’ve improved.
Even if I can’t do it too well, I willcombe weirdplay, because I want the world to be my oyster soufflé mignon.