A Song for the End of Summer

It’s amazing, what can be done in a bedroom these days. Musically, I mean.

But first, meet Tom Humphries, from the UK. Apparently Humphries is a chef now, but before that played in several bands. I think, perhaps he should get back to it.

Listen to Out There Somewhere and let me know if you agree, Tom Humphries should be Out There Somewhere: on a stage, in a coffee shop, in a club.

It’s pouring rain here in New Jersey and the sky is white. Maybe it was the same in Sheffield when Tom Humphries wrote Out There Somewhere. Even with the upbeat acoustic guitar that reminds me of John Mayer, and the hint of Latin rhythm that provides a sense of warmth, there’s something bleak about Out There Somewhere. Something in Tom Humphries voice that is slightly empty—in a good way. It’s the same starkness that I’ve heard in Van Morrison’s voice, in Joseph Arthur’s. It’s like what I feel now, at the end of Summer.

The sweet background vocals from Andrew Jameson on Out There Somewhere provide another bit of beauty, as well as a nice foil for Humphries’ bare voice.

Now, I know you’re still wondering about the bedroom (caught you) so here you go: Tom Sheffield in a bedroom recording a song about his father. It’s hard to believe just how good the sound quality is. It’s also hard to believe that Humphries wrote the song Father just before he recorded it. It’s lovely and real, and if you’ve ever tried to write about a parent or a family member without the piece collapsing under the weight of sentimentality, then you know how tough it is.

I was blank, a blank slate
You can draw, decide my fate
Follow you round, in your wake

I been off the tracks, and I have steered
Away from love, floods of tears
But all the time, you’ve been here

I told my father I can grow
He said my boy, just stay close

So I say, what do you know
And I say can you show me
How to be, a better man than me

Nowadays, I feel strong
I need to thank you, you’ve helped me along
The twisted path, I’ve been on

You’ve seen me change, you’ve seen me curse
When things get tough, I come to you first

I told my father, you take care
Whenever I need you, you are there

So I say, What do you know
And I say can you show me
How to be, a better man than me

Frankenstein’s Monster

“The surest plan to make a Man is: Think him so.” James R. Lowell

Susan Heyboer O’Keefe uses rich and vivid language to paint pages of opposites as Frankenstein’s monster races through various European cities. He rushes towards and away from his intense emotions as well as a literal pursuer, but he himself is in constant pursuit of someone who will “Think him so”.

I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that this is a monster who longs to be a man, or is he a man who’s been ‘thought’ to be a monster? Either way, it is his humanity that drew me to him and caused me to sit up far into the dark hours of the night reading his story, which he conveys with a tormented voice via the entries of a diary.

I won’t use the central character’s name, it would be a slight spoiler, but I will tell you that the protagonist’s hunter is a man. This man, this obsessed stalker, is more of a monster than the protagonist himself.  Lust and rage rule the protagonist, but he is also possessed of tenderness and yearning. These characteristics are at odds within him like the mismatched body parts stitched together without. Despite the flaws his personality is composed of, I found myself rooting for the protagonist to escape from his pursuer, and even destroy him.

As I read Frankenstein’s Monster, I learned that the monster is not only a lover of poetry, but also a poet evidenced by the journal he keeps which tells his side of the story. Does that say something about poets? About writers? If you’ve read other books by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, you know she has a keen wit, so maybe, it says something about all of us. This reader is, like the ‘monster’ in this book, made up of a patchwork of parts: mother, spouse, sister, writer, musician and yes, when pushed, monster. I think we all have a bit of monster in us.

And the monster of the book’s title is pushed, and pulled, in many directions as he seeks to understand and embrace what he is. One of the things he is, at least by the timeline in the book, is an adolescent, and he is ruled by his newly awakened feelings of desire and by his anger. Like any adolescent he is very aware of what others ‘think’ of him, which throughout the book ‘makes him so’. He also struggles to come to terms with his parents, in this case his father, or fathers.

There are two fathers for Frankenstein’s monster; symbolic of the choices he faces when at this point in his life he realizes he must ‘create’ himself.  Then there are the questions about The Father, and to The Father. Ms. O’Keefe shows traces of brilliance in her writing when the monster of her creation ponders theology.

As there are two fathers in his life, there are two faces to our protagonist, man and monster, opposites. He considers tenuous love and burning hatred, the light of hope and the darkness of despair.

Frankenstein’s Monster is perfect reading not just for the month of October when spooks abound—I ran back to the bookstore and bought two more copies to give as gifts—but for any time of year.

Indeed, people will read and reread this book over the years I’m sure, for beware! Frankenstein’s Monster has been born again, and in his second life, as in his first, he is a classic.

To learn more about Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, click on the monster. Don’t worry, he won’t bite, but he may haunt you . . .