Brain Dead Blues by Matt Hayward

Irish author/musician Matt Hayward puts his impressive writing chops on display in his short story collection, Brain Dead Blues.

The lead story, “God Is In The Radio,” owes much to H.P. Lovecraft’sThe Music Of Eric Zahn,” only it’s more coherent and satisfying than the original. An aging rock star finds an inter-dimensional doorway hidden inside the notes of his latest tune.

Those little off notes in a Blues lick. The ones that make you think of sex and sin… Those blue notes and the tritone are where the secrets lie.

Music and melody drips from every page of Brain Dead Blues, and Hayward sets a colorful scene will a handful of well-chosen words.

The place smelled of sawdust and stale beer, but to him, it smelled like the raw stench of live music.

The intersection of melody and monsters is where Hayward shines brightest.

Something about the melody got under his skin, wriggled about like a maggot, infecting him. He vomited three times.

At times, Hayward uses his tales to portray the sad path modern music has taken.

Honestly, no one gives a shit! We’ve devalued music so damn much that people just expect you to bleed for free.

The real artists, the real musicians, they’re left working in coffee shops and garages across the globe for next to nothing…

A love of Lovecraft is evident in Haywards prose, from panicked, unreliable narrators, to creepy, cosmic creatures.

Other worlds. Worlds that would make you lose your mind even if you only gave them a glance.

Their faces did look eerily similar to an angler fish, lower lip eating the upper.

Hayward’s other literary strength is weaving fairy tales, folklore, and traditional horror tropes into something wholly original. “The Faery Tree” draws inspiration from “The Monkey’s Paw” while turning the “Tinkerbelle”-notion of fairies on its head. “Cordyceps” turns people into exploding seed spores, while “Critter” blends the best parts of ET and When Animals Attack! Even something as innocuous as a will-o’-the-wisp becomes a unearthly nightmare in Hayward’s hands (“An Angel And A Reaper”).

There are vampire and werewolf stories in Brain Dead Blues, but neither are what you’d expect. The vampire tale—“You Get What You Pay For”—is more of a rumination on eternal life and endless loss, while tipping its hat to the “creepy curio shop” trope. The werewolves in “King Of The Gypsies” belong to a kind of monstrous Fight Club that holds love and family sacred.

As an accomplished musician, there is a palpable rhythm and pacing to Brain Dead Blues. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it…until one of Hayward’s strange creations pops up and scares the shit out of you. 

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Tiny Writing On Bath Bottles Is Cruel Joke On The Naked

“Argh! I can’t tell the shampoo and conditioner apart!”

Every time I wash my hair I feel like the victim of a cruel joke…and not just because I’m naked in the shower. It’s because I can’t figure out which bottle is shampoo.

My wife and daughter use a lot of different products, from shampoos and conditioners to body washes and cleansing gels. Everything comes in pretty, decorative bottles with cleverly designed logos and packaging. It’s all too clever for me, who has weak eyesight, and can’t read the labels very well.

What’s in this bottle? I know the brand, and I know it’s called “Hello Hydration,” or “Body Envy,” but what is it? What’s Brazilian Keratin Therapy? Do I need that? One bottle promises “nourishing oils,” while another offers a soupy mixture of rosemary and eucalyphus. Am I really supposed to pour this on my head?

I’ve frequently have to exit mid-shower and find my fogged-up glasses so I can read the labels on bath products. Even with corrected vision it’s hard to tell what some of this stuff is. I know it will “strengthen, enhance, and heal” my hair, leaving it, “sleek and shiny, full of bounce and body.” I know it’s made with exotic-sounding ingredients like kukuli oil, moroccan argan oil, and teatree mint. These things are clearly legible on the bottle. But where are the words telling me what this stuff is?

Ah, there. Printed in a miniscule font usually reserved for legal documents are the words, “shampoo,” “conditioner,” or “body wash.” It’s usually written on the very bottom of the bottle, or stuck in the middle, sandwiched between two larger-type phrases. (Superior Shine / Rejuvenate and Revive).

Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com, I can differentiate between my hair care products!

Manufacturers in the cutthroat hair care industry have over-designed their product packaging to the point of uselessness. They are so focused on making their bottles look appealing, they forget to tell you what’s inside.

Admittedly, I’m out of touch when it comes to hair care. My wife and daughter speak the language; they know what all this stuff is and does. Many products use small-type on labels (“100% Spring Water” / “Chocolate Flavored Drink”) and I don’t demand such explanatory packaging from my hot dogs or potato chips.

But bath products are always used when you’re wet, naked, and vulnerable. You squint to protect your eyes from water and soap, so your vision is automatically impaired. If you wear glasses you’ve got double trouble. How are we supposed to see clearly in the tub or shower? Hey, Mr. Shampoo Guy, how about an easy-read label here? Better yet, put Braille bumps on your plastic bottles. This type of universal design would assist users of all ages and bathing levels, while teaching everyone a bit of Braille and the importance of touch. We’re all blind in the shower.

I’ve learned to pick out my bath products before I get in the tub, an essential procedure for anyone who wears glasses and/or shares a bathroom with a woman. There are so many strange and mystifying products in a lady’s bathroom, it’s best to keep your male toiletries to yourself. More than once I’ve fumbled out of a slippery shower, groping for my glasses, only to find myself holding a bottle of Nair.

Near miss! Lesson learned.

This column ran in TODAY Newspapers in January 2016. Thanks to my friends at PhatLabels.com for the life-saving labels!

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