Selections: Becoming Charlemagne


We think of the dark ages as a epoch of great violence. And while this is true, the same could be said of any era of history, including the contemporary. Violence, though it can be fought with the willpower of peace, is always going to be a facet of life on terra firma. And yet, the dark ages seem to be especially straddled with this understanding, formed in the collective, unconscious memory of Western civilization. The truth is far more complicated, however, and through the darkness and fog of distant terror, a light can be seen.

It is the light of the Carolingian renaissance.

What it Is

Becoming Charlemagne is the 2006 non-fiction book by Jeff Sypeck, a professor of medieval literature at the University of Maryland. The title is apt but, in a way, pleasantly misleading. By using his knowledge of the era, Mr. Sypeck presents the decades leading up to the coronation of Karl, king of the Franks, as the first Roman emperor in a thousand years, becoming what some consider to be the first European as well as the father of modern Western civilization, as a straightforward story. Thus, it is also the story of how the rex francorum became Charlemagne, the fierce medieval king of legend, whose influence still affects us.

How it Relates to the Hearth

For me, one who is deeply attracted to the imagery and idea of the pax francorum, this book is foundational. By identifying and presenting the history of what happened on Christmas day in the year 800 in such a straight-forward manner, the author also peels away a number of unnecessary embellishments that have accrued over the centuries and have poured themselves over this monumental figure. At the same time, we are provided with a fresh pair of glasses to view the Carolingian renaissance in it’s original context. And at the end of the book, I would say it does show the glory of this oft neglected moment in Western history, while still maintaining a neutral enough tone for one to draw their own conclusions. Therefore, it should be nabbed by anyone who considers themselves a medievalist and one who seeks the warmth of the hearth.

Fun Fact

I believe, in an interview, this book was originally conceived as one written for children, about the journey of an elephant named Abul Abbaz, who made his way to the court of Charlemagne. In fact, a good portion of the final stretch of this book goes into the actual history of this event, confirming it’s authenticity.

Aline & The Magic Pear: III

She was trying to think.

She was trying to think about the moment and not what it would soon be like to be free of the hell she had lived in for a year.

She was trying to think about what she would say to try and get the wicked ogre to eat the fruit that would spell his ultimate doom.

But most of all she was focusing on being calm and being natural, trying to harness whatever rage still flowed in her veins into this, her final mission, if she was not careful. And as she walked into the entrance, holding the pear behind her in her hands, she felt the disgusting cool of the wooden cabin welcome her like a vulture’s claws wrapping themselves around a mouse. And of course, there was that ugly ogre, Brute, sitting by his gross living-room table on his chair, looking smugly expectant as rivers of anger flowed through the squelches in his brow.

Aline tilted her head down, looking at him with unflinching intensity, breathing with hard anger.

For a moment, neither said anything.

“Don’t just stand there girl!,” Brute roared, clearly uncomfortable with the vicious stare Aline was destroying him with. “Get over here now!”

But Aline stood as still as as the mountain; only a slight breeze rustled her hair.

Brute blinked in stupid confusion; ‘Did this scrawny human girl just disobey me?’ But that was impossible, he would kill her if she disobeyed him.

He immediately stood up, hoping that his eight-foot height and bulky frame would scare her back to her senses but this too was ineffective. So he began walking towards her, raising his hand to strike her across her stubborn face. But before he could, she raised her right hand in front of her, holding the red pear in front of her.

“Un moment, monsieur,” she said aloud and Brute did stop for a brief moment to eye the oddity in her hand, only to smack it out of her grasp. The moment was fast but she saw the pear fly across the air and hit the nearby wall.

No!, she thought to herself as she focused her gaze back on Brute who had now wrapped his ugly claws on her shoulders and was shaking her with great, angry strength. Aline heard inconsolable and unintelligible anger in his voice as she saw her hair whipping all around her. She was being shaken so hard and with such force that she thought that if she didn’t keep her neck straight she thought it might break, before he forcefully threw her hard on the ground, causing her to hit her forehead against the floor.

“Ugh!,” Aline coughed in pain as she began massaging her forehead, all the while Brute roared so hard, the dust in the air was pushed all around him. Aline didn’t pay attention to him for she knew that he was just blabbering on about how she could never disobey him like that without punishment. And yet, in that moment, the only thing she found herself doing was being angry; not at the ogre but instead at Aurore, of all people. How is it that her mother, the most beautiful and gentle woman Aline had ever met had not just let herself become shattered but had also left her daughter in the dregs of a hideous, unstoppable, offensive beast like this monster?



How could you do this? How could you do this to yourself and to your daughter?

“Hate,” Aline whispered to herself, spitting a tiny bit of blood onto the floor in front of her while trying to get up. “I hate you, Aurore.”

Pardon?,” came the deep voice of Brute, confusion swathing through his anger. Aline looked back up at him.

“How did my mother shatter? How is it that I am here, and have only memories of living with my mother and then suddenly being here?

“I have no idea why I’m here right now.”

There was a moment’s pause from Brute before he made a quiet chuckle which of course quickly turned into a belly grabbing, full forced laughter.

“Who the hell are you?,” she demanded.

“Stupid girl, it looks like I shook you into idiocy,” he said, while looking down at her coyly. “But as I told you once before, your mother lost a bet with the king of the goblins.”

“What bet?”

“The bet that she could not fall in love with him or else she would turn into diamonds. But Matthieu, the king of the goblins is shrewd and cunning; he courted her the way all men who want a woman only for the sake of a game court them.

“Do you know how men court women only for the sake of a game?”

Aline shook her head and Brute smiled smugly.

“Some find those with little self-confidence and force themselves into their lives by way of sweet blessings. Others find those who have a little more confidence and let them think they are in charge of the relationship and the situation, even when they are clearly not. But your mother, well, she was not either of those types of women. She is the strong and mystical type, the type of woman that is the hardest and most satisfying to conquer. To conquer strong women like Aurore is hard.

“But Matthieu is patient. And so, by using his charms, his magics, his cleverness and his vernacular she could not help but fall in love with him. And when she did, in a gasp, she turned into diamond; all according to his plan, his plan to steal her magic.

“But,” said Brute, looking disgruntled and angry, stopping himself. His already angry brow suddenly became more intense.“But the queen of the fairies was watching over your mother. And when Aurore turned into diamond, she shattered her to protect her from falling into his clutches.

“Yet, fortunately, I was lucky enough to have claimed Aurore’s heart. Even now, Matthieu looks all across the kingdom for me.”

Aline listened intently, while memories of Aurore flooded her vision, cold goosebumps creeping across her arms. Looking up at Brute, she asked him plainly, “Why am I in your clutches then?”

And for the first time, Brute looked at her with but the slightest hint of something other than cruelty and malice. It was a look of condescension tinged with a small balance of respect, as if this was something his young prisoner should know herself. And yet, even this was laced with sarcasm and credulence. Still, his answer was honest.

“Because you are closest to her heart,” he replied.

For a moment, he kept looking down at her while Aline, dirty and calloused, covered her mouth with her hand and let out a small tear. Any sympathy Brute may have had had quickly left his senses. But he turned around to where the red pear had landed, went over and picked it up. It was small in his massive claw.

“A red pear?,” he asked the air. “And it is warm with the softness of a slight magic.” Looking over to her, he said, “Once I eat it, you will go back to work immediately.” Aline then looked up to see Brute, without anymore hesitation, throw the fruit into his mouth and swallow it with a loud, juicy crunch.

Then, nothing.

“What a strange flavor,” Brute said. “Hot, with an Earthy flavor. Like a heavier, darker cinnamon flavor.”

Aline watched expectantly from her corner on the floor. Had the magic failed?

Then, Brute went to say something when he suddenly stopped, a horrified expression on his face. He made a few puzzled, painful gasps as tears began to flow from his eyes and smoke began to pour from his mouth in lengthy plumes.

“Aaaah!,” he loudly screamed, clutching his throat and falling onto the floor. Aline stood up, watching in horror as Brute’s entire body soon began smoking and sparking, his dirty clothes quickly catching fire while he rolled in agony and futility.

What have you done to me?!!,” he roared as the fire consuming his body from the inside began to fume from his bubbling skin and start igniting the entire cabin on fire. He was in such pain, he was destroying the floor with his bare hands as he pounded them in painful vain.

In but a moment, Aline was beginning to find herself in an inferno.

But still, she was paying attention.

Brute, who was writhing on his back, quickly turned onto his gut and was trying to crawl out to the back porch door when Aline saw her opportunity finally before her. She ran over to the struggling ogre and while his back pocket was undefended, she pulled the iron key from his pocket, surprisingly cool in her hand.

Without a moment to lose, she ran up the stairs to Brute’s room and let herself in to the poorly maintained room that consisted of a lone mattress in the corner, several piles of trash and next to a little stand, the ornate box that held her mother’s diamond heart.

She had just grabbed the box when she heard the heavy stomps of the ogre coming up the stairs. Knowing that he was in a rage and no longer had any patience for her to be alive, she noticed his long window, the one he had used to watch her work in his orchard with for several months.

“That has to be it,” she told herself. Looking around the room that also had smoke breaking through the cracks in it’s walls, she put the heart’s box on the ground, grabbed Brute’s little nightstand and threw it against the glass of the window, shattering it. She picked the heart’s box again and noticed a clear bottle that messily read ‘alcool‘ next to the nightstand when the door to the room opened and Brute came in, practically nothing more than a flaming, angry skeleton.

“Give me back your mother’s heart!,” he roared with fury, running over to where Aline stood. With few options left, Aline picked up the bottle, pulled out the cork that sealed it and threw it against the monster that had enslaved her for a year of her life. At the same time, she picked up the massive pillow Brute slept with, a hard and disgusting thing. And with the ornate box still underneath her arm, she leapt out the window with the pillow underneath her while the explosion that once was Brute followed behind her like a shadow.

Of fire.

Aline could feel the heat of the flames against her feet, and she felt the breeze of flying for but a moment before the hard slam of the ground against the pillow and her body.

“Ooph!,” she shouted as she landed, rolling on the ground and trying to absorb as much of the blow as she could. She looked up to see that the cabin was completely on fire, and some of the nearby pear trees were also beginning to catch fire as well. Quickly getting up and holding the key and box as tightly as she could to herself, she proceeded to run as long and as hard as she could, out of the orchard and into the forest.

How long she ran, she could not say. Barefoot and with but her working dress, she felt the stabs of the forest floor and the slashes of the tree branches against her face and shoulders. Pollen, thick and annoying, infiltrated her nostrils, making her sneeze.

But she was free.

“Wooh!,” she began to scream in joy, ignoring the pain she felt. She was smiling and felt more joy than she had in a long time. The dirt on the forest floor had a clean feel to it against her feet, the branches provided great swaths of cool shade and the air was thick with the smell of blooming flowers. She laughed loudly, over and over again.

The monster was gone and she felt no pity for him.

Eventually, as darkness began to descend, she eventually found a small, woodland pool. Stopping by it’s banks, she rested the key and small treasure chest on the shores and took a few steps in. The water was brisk but felt good. There, she took a few deep drinks from the clean mountain water and cleaned her feet and arms, washing the sap and dirt away from her face and hair, occasionally letting out a small laugh and smile. Everything just seemed bigger and more open than it ever had before. When she was done cleaning herself off, she began twirling and dancing in the shallows, kicking water and splashing nearby fern plants.

“Yaaaaaay!” she yelled, letting the positive energy flow through her. She was so, so happy.

She was resting.

Which is why she did not immediately notice the boy.

Looking down in the water, she followed the silver swimming of a tiny fish by her feet. As the fish swam into the deeper part, she saw a shape she did not immediately recognize. At first she thought it might have been a small statue deep in the pool. But when she looked closer she saw that some twenty feet away from her was the shape of a young man who looked like he had lost conscious underwater and was drowning.

“Oh mon dieu!,” Aline cried when she finally realized what it was. She looked around the shore and saw no other evidence that the boy had left any belongings on the shore. She bit her lip, panicking.

Seeing no other options but not being much of a swimmer herself, she took a few steps forward and a deep breath before she dove down to where the boy was as best as she could. Here, the water was cold and the depths were making her head pound as she dove as best as she could. Her head was ringing like a bell from the pressure and she herself was running out of air. But she finally grabbed the boy by his shirt and just as she began having to gulp water, they made it to the surface.

She was coughing, sputtering with water.

“Poor, poor heavy boy” Aline grunted as she held him as close as she could. Using all of her strength, she carried the well dressed young man to the shore and over to her belongings, laying him on his back. Exhausted and without energy, she could feel herself passing out. But squeezing her hand into a fist, she slammed it against the young man’s chest as hard as she could.



Thrice before he sat up and began sputtering and coughing great amounts of water from his lungs.

“What, no!,” he shouted while looking around himself, appearing unsure of his surroundings. Wiping a few black hairs from his handsome face, he found himself looking into the wet, exhausted face of Aline, blinking from fatigue.

“You, you saved me,” he whispered politely.

Aline tried to weakly smile before she passed out on the spot, her head falling on a soft, comforting pile of red leaves, that had not been on that shore but a second ago. Not far from her head was the key and the iron chest. And for a moment, inside, the heart beated for but a moment.

Frankish Vision IV: Fantôme

There is a ghost in this house

There is a ghost in this castle

It can be heard when no one opens their mouth

It can be felt when no one speaks at the dinner table

There is a haunting presence

It is felt in the blooming flowers of the printemps

It is felt in the miserable, burning été, without stop

It is felt in the splendour of l’automne

But it is especially felt in l’hiver, when you thought it was gone

It does not want vengeance

I see her sitting on the empty chair

In the kitchen, I see her fretting with her hair

I see her playing with her childern, the memory

Through the fields and streets, I feel the lingering energy

She wants justice, closure

That you will never give her

So I am haunted, in your stead

And so shall I be, to this injustice,


This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn


Aline & The Magic Pear: II

“What is this, grand tigre?,” Aline asked the great beast, her strong voice laced with twirling rivers of confusion and anger while her hair pranced in the warm wind like many wild horses. She was still staring at the strange, white, magical pear, while the voice of Xavier informed her of it’s purpose. “It is an aspect of power that comes to those who are gifted with the sight of compassion and the hearth of fury, to accomplish a great task.

“Pluck it, than whisper unto it’s skein the mission you seek to complete and gift it with a kiss. Then give the fruit to the being you wish to have eat it and with but a single bite, they will have all of that emotion forced into their being, like the venom of a million vipers suddenly crashing in their veins. They will not only feel the emotion, they will also feel the hammer of the memories that crafted those feelings. All of this will slam into them, and the element associated with the emotion will wrack their body, fully. But be warned, for there is a price to be payed”

Aline’s gaze then immediately centered themselves and dived into the oceans of power that constituted the former prince’s grand eyes. For a moment, mortal and genii, female and male, determined and reserved stared into each other, their souls dueling in the divide between them. In the warm air, Aline searched for unpronounced truth hidden in the labyrinth of Xavier’s formidable, regal stare.

But she could only find cool honesty.

“And what is this price?,” she asked.

“The pear will absorb all of the emotion you put into it, an emotion you will never feel again. An emotion that will be as gone as the wind that now whispers across your palms will be in the next three minutes when you decide with finality the course of your predetermined, fatalistic, rouge destiny. And yet still, in this case, only your rage can defeat the ogre.”

Aline listened to Xavier explain the magic and to her slight surprise, she found she accepted the nature of the spell rather easily, for here she was talking to him to begin with. The magic was evident, but that didn’t mean she didn’t comprehend the possible severity of the action that must be done without any less realization as to it’s possible consequences. “I must sacrifice my rage,” she whispered to herself as she lowered her head and wondered what it would be like in the future to never feel anger again.

Would she be less different?

Would she not be as powerful.

Had it not been her anger that had helped her survive in the ogre’s prison for as long as she had?

Had rage really been her saving grace?

She closed her eyes and contemplated this for a second that was scraping at the lashes of eternity before she regained her focus and returned her attention to the tiger prince. “Not only is the life of me and my mother at stake but so are potentially more innocent lives, lives that do not deserve to end by way of the ogre’s violence. Lives full of their own miracles, tribulations, contributions and softer romances that must be felt by the meridians and leylines of this world. So do not lecture me on prices, prince, for I seek to do that which is gracious. And graciousness should never have a price.

“Or, so Aurore once told me,” Aline whispered. She briefly winced at the pain of thinking about her mother, before she once again gazed into the eyes of the tiger. All tears were gone.

“Than go and pick the white pear,” the tiger whispered sternly before he said with great force “and know that I will return to you in the future.” As he said this, a hard breeze rustled through where they stood and as it reached Xavier, he dissipated into a swirl of red pear blossom petals that became a hurricane that stormed the entire clearing. Across the prairies of this strange domain, the petals chased invisible spectres, shooing them away to the fits from whence they came, retreating from the power that surged through the tall grass of the meadows and threatened to destroy them.

Aline walked with renewed strength and confidence to the low branch where the pear hung calmly, past the reach of where Xavier rested while the red blossoms magically circled around her. She then plucked the white fruit and brought it to her lips, so that her breath graced it softly while she spoke. “I wish to kill the ogre.”

Then she kissed it; immediately, there was a flash of blinding light, and Aline again found herself in the beautiful pear orchard where she worked. At first, it seemed as if nothing had changed; the sun was still out and birds were still singing in the brisk April air. She looked around before she realized that she must have simply had a strange reverie; she had not been transported to the dimension of a tiger prince, not at all.

“Pas possible,” she said to herself.

But as she readjusted herself to her everyday surroundings, she became aware that she was holding something in her chill palms. She then looked at her hands and saw that in her grasp, she was holding a pear that glimmered with the fading mystery of a spell most consequential. Certainly, this was the same pear that Xavier had given her but there was a difference; no longer fresh snow white, the pear was now a deep crimson, like blood coated iron. It even pulsed with slight warmth that felt not unlike an ember’s shade, the warmth Aline knew came from her fine, royal rage.

For a moment she did nothing but stare at this lovely ruby crafted from sweet flesh while the songs of sparrows were replaced by the mellow caws of distant ravens.

Then, terrible, shrill shrieking interrupted the brief moment of contemplation. “Girl! I see you have a fruit in your hands! Come here now and face the consequences of your dim, reckless decision!”

Aline snapped back into reality, having zoned off. But though she had regained her senses, it was almost as if her feet were walking on their own accord as she strolled to Brute’s cabin, time seeming to have slowed, not unlike ice sliding across the grass of a meadow. And then she opened the door and let herself in to the ogre’s foul home.

Update-January 18th 2018

Hello all, just wanted to give a quick update. Sorry I have been absent from posting, but I started a new job with crazy hours and just took some time to get used to it. But actual writing pieces will be coming back soon enough.

Additionally, I will be adding some contact info. My goal is to make this site more well known and in order to do that, in part, you have to get the conversation going. I’m just looking at the best options for that.

Anyways, stay warm, everyone. It’s a brisk, rainy winter, so far.


Crashdog’s 1997 release Outer Crust is the last great punk album of the 1990s.

As someone who identifies himself as a punk rocker, I don’t say that lightly. Indeed, depending on how eclectic your taste is, you could say that the 1990s were chock full of amazing punk albums for specific subgenres in a way that future decades would fail to replicate, from RHCP’s Blood Sugar Sex Magic and the Beastie Boys’ Ill Communication being the greatest funk-punk-rap hybrid albums of that decade, to Streetlight Manifesto’s Keasbey Nights and The Suicide Machines’ Destruction by Definition being the decade’s best ska punk albums, all of which regardless are fantastic albums that I love. So it is not my intent to start a flame war-you can take all my opinions with as many grains of salt as you want. And yet, as far as I’m concerned, Outer Crust is equal to Fugazi’s Repeater + 3 Songs as the greatest straightforward, no sass, punk rock album of the 1990s.

This last June marked the album’s 20th anniversary-and this article really should have been put up back then, on the 1st, which was the day of it’s original release. But it wasn’t put up on that day because I was not paying attention to myself and my dedication to writing at the time as much as I am now. And so on this, the final day of 2017, as belated as I am, I find it prudent to celebrate this album, it’s message, and it’s unsurpassed, heavy anarchic sound, as it is a true unspoken masterpiece of an album that deserves far more attention than it currently does.

A little background; Crashdog was one of the first Christian punk rock bands, arriving onto the scene in the late 1980s. Coming out of Chicago, they were based out of Jesus People USA. They were openly political and perhaps because of their location in one of America’s most famous and urban cities, their music had a liberal bent. Maybe that isn’t so out of left field today, but it still feels uncommon to see openly liberal or social-oriented Christian discourse. And yet when I listen to Crashdog’s music, I hear a lot of thought, intelligence and heart. I don’t feel deceived in any way when I read their lyrics, I feel encouraged because I can feel the urgency of when they were written. As someone who was born in the early 90s, my favorite decade, I become fascinated with what this band and the people behind it thought about this era that I was alive for and remember so little about. They spoke out against the GOP, they spoke out against the Yugoslavian civil war, they spoke out for women’s rights, against racism and racial inequality, and they spoke out for marriage as well as many more relevant topics. In summary, all of their music is deeply tied with 90s culture and at the same time immediately hits me with everything I personally am interested in.

The original vocalist, Spike Nard, sang on Crashdog’s first three albums, Humane Society, The Pursuit of Happiness, and Mud Angels, released from 1990-1994. I like these albums but to me they sound a bit more like grunge albums, not the straight punk sound I constantly crave. And while I like Spike himself, I ultimately prefer the voice of the next singer, a certain Andrew Mandell, who had originally played guitar on those earlier albums. 1995’s Cashists, Fascists, and Other Fungus is another good album with some standout hits that unfortunately goes on a little too long. All the while, they played at Cornerstone a few times and kept trucking on with their political and spiritual focus guiding their musical talents. In any case, everyone should also go check out these older albums if they are interested.

And then, 1997 came.

And with it, the release of Outer Crust.

Right off the bat, the cover art of a stylized, polluted cityscape surrounded by impoverished shanties grabs you with it’s stark, haunting atmosphere. A low lying haze of smog lazily floats along and there isn’t a single living person to be seen. I bring this point up because I had an interesting exchange with my uncle when I showed him this cover art. To me, as the viewer, it feels like I’m observing this glistening city that was built on the backs of my fellow, discarded human refuse, and now we’re all pushed out to the barrens, the titular ‘outer crust.’ In my uncle’s opinion however, he felt as if we, the observers, had built a heaven for ourselves as represented by this shining city despite being surrounded by an ugly hell, as symbolized by the shanties. This is a minor point but it’s definitely one of the more interesting debates I’ve had over an artistic piece in awhile.

But after you’re done taking in the art, well, that’s when you hit the play button. A short dialogue sets the scene. The next thing you know, you are immediately thrown into punk rock bliss. As much as I am tempted to go through each individual track and provide a breakdown in the classic review style, I don’t want to, as my hope is for everyone who reads this article to go out, buy this album on the band’s Bandcamp or to go get a physical copy and listen to it for themselves. Suffice to say, this album is a breathtaking, heartbreaking work of 37 minutes of punk rock mastery from beginning to end.

Now, I’ve shown Outer Crust to many people, of all philosophies and walks of life (basically anyone willing to lend an ear). And whenever I, respectfully, try to get one of my atheist or otherwise agnostic friends in particular to listen to this album, I sell it as “the only Christian punk rock album you should ever listen to.” And in order to do that, I bring up two points; the first being that it’s one of those albums where everyone involved, from the musicians themselves to the sound engineers, is firing on all cylinders. I couldn’t really find anything about the specific production of Outer Crust, but just by following the time of release, I can see that this thing took two years to make. But in those two years, Crashdog’s sound completely flipped. Gone were the earlier oi or grunge influences, Outer Crust is an astonishingly heavy, amazing sounding, 100% anarcho, crust punk rock album. And while some of this sound can be traced to a few older songs here or there, Outer Crust is the only Crashdog album that has this sound.

Outer Crust sounds like Crass turned up to 11; the album is blindingly fast, yet every song has a defined, heavy beat. It’s worth noting that the producer of this album (as well as some of the group’s other endeavors) was Steve Albini, which in itself isn’t too surprising given his extensive record and Chicago base. But some of the heaviness here feels in part similar to what you can see on something like his earlier work with Helmet, only better.

This new style of sound definitely comes in part from the fact that somewhere in those two years, Crashdog found a second guitarist to add to their original four piece formula, and the extra complexity immediately and constantly abounds, as Jason Burt and Mike Perlmutter proceed to see who between the two of them can riff and rock into oblivion faster. They are both amazingly on point.

At the same time, as raw as it is, Outer Crust has a very smooth quality to it. Despite being wonderfully down-tuned, it never has the feel of a garage or grunge rock sound. It doesn’t feel grimy in the least, and absolutely no fat is wasted here on the album’s fourteen songs; it is practically one solid stream of consciousness.

There are numerous fantastic punk choruses and while I am not necessarily trying to single him out, I think the aforementioned Andrew Mandell should go down as one of punk’s greatest vocalists. His voice drips with angst, the most important component for any punk singer, yet his vocals are also fantastically layered, clean, and raspy in a way that is amazingly melodic, especially when paired up with the fantastic bass and drum work, courtesy of Brian Grover and Greg Jacques, respectively. His lyrics are direct, immediate, but above all beautifully raw.

Long story short, Outer Crust is a fast, heavy, lean, dance worthy, clean, raw, politically charged, spiritually and emotionally driven powerhouse of an anarcho punk rock album. Do I even have to mention that by 97, nu metal and pop punk (the latter being one of the banes of my existence) had pushed out any chance of something like this ever reaching the mainstream?

Which brings me to my second point, about why this album is so top-notch fantastic.

This album, to me, showcases a band that knowingly or otherwise is on it’s final gasps. The reason why everyone is giving it their all in such an impressive way is because after this, it’s over, not unlike pulling out your last reserves of energy before you cross the finish line in a bike race. I’m not entirely sure what the reason or drama was, but it was nonetheless decisive. A few of the members went on to form the folk punk group Ballydowse, which I unfortunately have some mixed feelings about but is still a great band in it’s own right. There was some sort of statement on their hiatus in 2006, and in 2012, the group briefly reformed to play at the final Cornerstone music festival. There have been a few posts on Facebook, but I believe but that’s been it.

The end.

La fin.

And so, what of the legacy of Outer Crust? What of the legacy of Crashdog? A criminally underrated band putting out a criminally underrated album is far too common to be of some major music industry concern. At the same time, as much as I try to get people to give this album a chance, I will always understand if they’re not comfortable listening to the Christian message, or are just not attracted to heavy music like this. Those last two reasons are totally understandable.

And yet, this is my favorite album of all time.

In fact, one of my goals for 2018 is to memorize all the lyrics to all the songs, it’s that much a part of me. Because of it’s intelligence and sincerity, it has carried me through hard times; because of it’s speed and efficiency, it has become my favorite album to jump rope to; and because of it’s historical association with the era of my birth and insight, in it’s own little way, it has brought me closer to God and becoming a Christian in my own right.

So if there’s one prayer I have, it’s that by highlighting this album in the way that I have, I can do my part to bring it to the attention of someone like me. Someone who needs it at a similar critical moment in their life, which for me was the struggle of trying to graduate from college and get out of the house. Or maybe I can help someone who also considers themselves to be a fellow 90s kid that’s looking back at history and seeks Outer Crust’s social and spiritual perspective. I would tell that person that this album is not a substitute for the Bible itself, of course, but it may serve as a point of interest to help you on your path to greater wisdom, wisdom that comes from on high.

And so, happy 20th anniversary, Outer Crust. I do hope that this article achieves positive attention and traction, so that when we celebrate the 25th anniversary, the name of this album becomes ten times more celebrated. I’d like to give another sincere, thank you very much to all the people involved in it’s production. And of course, thank you God, for showing me punk rock to begin with.

Happy New Years, everyone.

Frankish Vision III: Clothilda

This moment is her glory

She shines bright in the morning

Giving arms to the radiance around her

Giving alms to the daughters that found her

For seven years, she has worked to destroy

The shadow tower you tried to build over her joy

Every brick a cruelty, every wall, lain with her stress

And yet now she stands before you in golden dress

An address;

The tower has been illumined away

The knowledge and prosperity made the mortar sway

Until all your groomed evil’s weight collapsed

You cannot escape from your new Tolbiacs

Yet, still she comes to you and raises an offering, open hand

And you remember the moment’s stare, in distant land

When the both of you sat across from each other

And pleadingly, she sought truth you would not offer

Please, please be my lover;

It was difficult, to escape the lie of your wing

To unchain herself from your taunts and stings

But she persevered against your relentless sneer

All the courage of the archangels to free from fear

And yet, she understands the power of forgiveness

And for those she shelters, a light through the mists

You kneel to her now, as all will at St. Genevive

Married now to a new, beautiful light and eve

She is the bride of courageous peace

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn


Frankish Vision II: Hiver

What constellation, draped softly over form

What distant cries of magi, drifting and worn

‘Neath wolf and bearskin rugs, comfortable and warm

Yet in memorance, tidings forlorn

In Aachen, in moonlight shorne as the palace doth tremble

In Martinopolis, river sigh as chants bore from chalice wrought treble

In the borderlands, frost pretty upon the ancient Goth temple

Yet in preparence, bindings forewarned

Forget the sweeping rain, child has passed

Forget the need for soup, uncle has passed

Forget the beauty, I above have fast

But entwined with thine, I love and laugh

And so, I cannot forget what nigh relapse

For in this sea of beauty, I have completed many laps

And the oaks are my anchors, ice & sharp pine the frame

Hiver has come, soothe is thy name

This universe that exists spans the bredth of that which will make you burn

You will be taught to unlearn

I yearn for that which I must learn

And so, to God I go, sword in hand, to Carolingian graves, to make me turn


Selections: Jars of Clay


The early 1990s was one of the most productive, wonderful periods for the Christian arts. While Christian music is still produced and is powerful, it is but a mere echo of what was happening twenty-something years ago, when Christian acts were putting out songs that were somehow ending up on the greater pop music stations (Sixpence None The Richer comes immediately to mind). In retrospect, it may even be described as a golden age or renaissance-but this is not a historical analysis. This is a highlight of a specific album, from a specific band, one that may even have truly been at the forefront of this rebirth.

That band was Jars of Clay and this is about their first album.

What it is:

Jars of Clay was a band coming out of Nashville, Tennessee, having met in college in Greenville, Illinois during the early 1990s. For the most part, they have kept the same lineup and have continued to put out albums, the latest being 2013’s Inland. Their first, self-titled album, which came out in 1995, is my favorite album of theirs and also the point of this selection, though I also like Much Afraid and The Eleventh Hour.

How it Relates to the Hearth:

Now, I know that everyone’s hearth is unique unto themselves, but when I think of a soundtrack to go with the formation of your interpretation of the hearth, I can’t think of a better place to begin than here with the first Jars of Clay album. The music presented here, especially on the songs Boy On A String, Flood, and Blind is such a rich, warm, acoustic sound, full of stringed instruments and deep, sober ambiance. And despite what you may have gathered from my opening paragraph, this type of music wasn’t found solely in the Christian music scene; in fact, it was greatly shown off to the world via M-TV’s Unplugged series of performances, such as Alice In Chains, The Cranberries, R.E.M., 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, et cetera. The fact that this music blossomed during the post-grunge period is probably not a coincidence either. But what’s weird is this type of music really didn’t carry on too much longer past the mid-nineties, and as far as I can tell, it wasn’t prevalent during the 1980s either. Not even Jars of Clay really continued this style past their early albums, which is why I’m solely talking about this first album (though to their credit, it still shows up here and there). Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the power of this first album. I want to highlight the song Blind in particular; recall my statement that the hearth is a realm of both darkness and light (point seven, specifically). This is the defining song for that point in the Manifesto, the prime melody for that mood of both light and dark. Nay, in full disclosure, I believe I wrote the Manifesto of the Hearth while listening to that song and the entirety of this album itself.

Another important aspect as to why this is the quintessential hearth sound relates to the apparent beliefs of the band itself. In a later interview with NPR, which I remember hearing on it’s original air date, the band spoke of how they choose subtlety in expressing their Christian beliefs in order to make their music more accessible. I think this directly relates to my belief that the hearth shouldn’t be constricted by the ideals of dogma, that the hearth should be an inviting, neutral place in order to foster personal relationship, faith and the producing of art.

If all of this interests you, then turn off the lights, light some candles, grab some wine and go listen to Jars of Clay.

Fun Fact:

The band takes it’s name from the Bible verse 2 Corinthians 4:7:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Aline & The Magic Pear: I

Once upon a time, in a far-away land, there lived a beautiful young girl whose name was Aline. Smart and strong, Aline was a brilliant soul who was often enraptured by the brilliance of nature, from the crescending meadows of the nearby valleys to the shadows of the mighty Pyrénées that often covered her like a gentle, dark cape. Dark yet mighty, she told herself one day when she was young that she would reach their snowy tops.

“I can’t wait to see what angels live on those peaks,” she whispered quietly to herself one calm evening, wherein the pastures of lavender had been shaded a dark, cool blue by the falling night.

Sadly though, Aline found herself not living in the best of circumstances. For you see, though she was human, her mother, Aurore, had once been one of the hand-maidens to the queen of the fairies as well as one of the queens’ closest friends. But through circumstances she did not yet fully understand, her mother had been turned into diamond and had then been shattered, pieces of her having been scattered and traded by the hands of merchants and farmers all across the land. But the greatest piece of her that remained, Aurore’s diamond heart, had fallen into the hands of a terrible ogre, named Brute. And with the claiming of Aurore’s diamond heart, he had inexplicably found himself the caretaker of her daughter, Aline.

Aline remembered the night when she had first found herself in the dreaded mansion of the ogre, but somehow she could not remember how she had gotten there. Her head ached and she was confused, wiping pretty blonde hairs away from her eyes as she picked herself up off the cold wooden floor to look at the towering, immense and ugly creature, who held the diamond heart, still beating, in one of his massive claws.

“Hmm,” the ogre growled thoughtfully, as he stared into the shimmering stone with small, snakelike eyes, that were like tiny match fires in-between an ugly cliff of misshaped, goblinoid features that served as his face. His gaze was intense and visible amidst the darkness of his cabin and through the shabby window several feet behind him, Aline could only look out into the darkest night she had ever seen, hail and rain dreadfully pounding themselves against the walls, begging to be let in like a million orphan daggers.

“Give me back my mother’s heart!,” screamed Aline, as she ran against the ogre with all of her might, slamming her body against his long leg. But the ogre’s muscles were as hard as stone and Aline was sent flying back onto the floor with an “oompf!”

“Bwa ha ha!,” the ogre boomed with laughter while Aline massaged her shoulder, and while he looked over her. “How foolish of you to think you would be strong enough to stop me in any capacity, ma petite.”

But Aline had not yet given up; spotting a nearby stool, she got up off the floor, grabbed it, then ran back to the monster and slammed the wooden furniture piece against the ogre’s leg as hard as she could, only to feel the simple pieces of wood that constituted the piece break apart in her hands and before her shocked eyes.

The ogre laughed and snarled even harder than he had before, clutching his massive gut while flecks of rotten fat and gristle spewed with spittle from his fang-lined maw, some of which flew against Aline’s face, which she then quickly wiped away with the sleeve of her coat. Still holding the beating, diamond heart in his right hand, Brute reached out and shoved Aline with his left hand as hard as he could, sending her flying against one of the nearby walls.

The ogre laughed hard again, getting ahold of himself as Aline, adjusting herself against the wall, stared into Brute’s yellow eyes with her own fierce hazel-brown eyes unflinchingly, from across the room and between the skein of darkness.

“Give me back my mother’s heart,” she screamed as hard as she could. But the ogre scoffed, quickly looking away from the child. He reached into the back pocket of his enormous, dirty jeans and pulled out-compared to the rest of his filthy living conditions-a beautiful red box. When he opened it, Aline saw briefly that it was full of pretty but ultimately dead, red leaves. He closed the beating jewel into it’s red prison then pulled out from his coat pocket a dark, large iron key and locked the box. He then put the chest away in his back pocket again, still smiling smugly the whole time.

He then returned his attention to Aline, who was still staring at him in pure anger, and he shuffled himself to where he was standing right before her.

“I should eat you here and now while you’re still young and juicy,” he began. “But I believe I have a better use for you,” and as he finished this statement, he walked over, reached down and picked Aline up by one of her small arms. She instantly began thrashing in his steel-like grasp. “Let go of me, you foul ogre, let go of me!” And even though it was useless in his taut strength, she was fighting with such veracity that the ogre, who was leading her to the back door of his cabin, still had to stop and kneel down to her, anger in his eyes. “Stop struggling or I will snap your arm in two!,” he bellowed. Aline stopped struggling, but just barely, for her eyes still could not hide her anger, which was far greater than his.

And this he knew.

For when he saw the anger in her stare, he flinched. But then he recovered, with a fleeting air discontent.

The ogre made a sly, fanged smile at her. He then stood up and having reached the back door, pulled it open. Aline stared into the tomb of the night and only saw leaved, twisting shapes. “Though you may not be able to tell now while the sun is gone, I have here many dead and dying pear trees. Four-hundred thousand to be exact.” He looked down at her again. “Your task is simple; restore them and maintain them, though you cannot eat them. In return, I will let you live. And who knows? Maybe you will be lucky and I will let you see your mother’s heart again.”

Aline stared with hatred first at the ogre then, with angry huffs, at what must be a long orchard.

“Now,” the ogre said, closing the door and leading her to another small door next to the stairs by the front of the house, which he opened so powerfully, Aline thought he would pull the door off it’s somehow still intact hinges. Aline saw briefly that it lead into the basement of Brute’s house, before she herself was shoved all the way in, tumbling down a small flight of stairs that lead down into a cold, dirty and disgusting chamber, closed in by many musty walls. She moaned in pain, spitting out a small bit of blood, while the door to this place was suddenly closed tightly, trapping her in this frightful realm, as impenetrably dark as pitched tar.

Feeling the floor she found herself laying on, she reached out and felt something that she at first thought was a rock. But as she felt the long shape and somewhat softer texture, she realized in sudden horror what she had found. “Bones,” she whispered lowly. “These are the bones of his victims.”

She heard the shuffling of heavy footsteps away from the basement door, only for them to loudly come back. The door opened briefly, letting in a tiny gasp of light, and the ogre threw down for her the tiny rug he had kept by the front door. “You can use that to keep yourself warm, my human pet!,” he angrily laughed, before closing the door once again.

Aline took another minute to get to her feet before she ran up the small flight of the basement stairs and began angrily pounding on it’s surprisingly heavy frame as hard as she could, until her fists were covered in splinters. “You can’t do this to me!,” she roared. “Let me and my mother go!”

She yelled like that for several more minutes, until she heard the approaching thud of angry footsteps. She took a few steps back away from the door and meant to run at it when it opened so as to make her escape. But when Brute opened the door and Aline began to try to make her fast escape, she found herself suddenly splashed with freezing, icy water from the bucket held in his hands. This stopped her immediately as she gasped from the shock, wiping her wet bangs from her eyes.

“Silence! Quit your hollering!,” Brute frantically roared at her so loud, Aline saw the dust in the air shake around him. There was a moment’s pause while the fat Brute regained his breath and Aline, soaked and shivering, watched him intently. “Let me remind you that you are in this predicament because your mother lost a very important bet with the king of the goblins. Now she has shattered into a million pieces. And the only hope you have of bringing her back is with her diamond heart, which I have now hidden from you. So if you want to have any chance of bringing her back you. Will. Listen to me!

And with that, Brute slammed the door for the last time that night.

Aline, confused, tired, wet and angry, was forced to retire, where she tried to keep herself as warm as possible with the rug she had been given. She clutched her dress and coat tight and rubbed her arms as to keep warm. She was immensely sad and confused, trying desperately to figure out what had happened to her mother, and how she had fallen into this predicament. But though she thought long and hard, no answers would come to her.

For the next year, Aline-always begrudgingly-found herself working in Brute’s pear orchard, her body becoming hard and strong from the nature of the fieldwork. And indeed, what once had been a dying lot was soon turned into a beautiful place due to her surprising affinity for orchard-work. But though the pears she found herself surrounded by were beautiful and their blossoms smelled ripe and wonderful, they remained an impossible treasure to taste, for Brute kept a close eye on the orchard every night and every day, and he knew exactly when a pear had been picked. Only once had she eaten one of the pears out of famished desperation and Brute had punished her by taking her rug away for the night. The basement ended up being so cold she had almost frozen to death, so she kept as compliant and ate the bones, gruel and meat of the animals Brute gave to her as best as she could instead.

She never spoke to Brute who was content to watch her from his perch up on the second-floor of his house. As he had reminded her many times, “feel free to leave whenever you want, ma petite.” But then he would smile sickly and add “it is about a month’s trip to the nearest human settlement,and if nature doesn’t get to you first the wolves will with the absoluteness of death. And more than that, my house is protected by magic that makes it impossible for any human to find it. That means you won’t be able to find it either. And lastly,” Brute concluded with a sick smile, “you will definitely never see your mother’s heart again.”

So Aline was content to play along as best as she could. She tried her best to formulate a plan to escape Brute’s clutches but she could not find any way to escape that could include both her and the heart of her mother. And what’s more, Brute revealed to her his plan one night, just as the pears were approaching harvest. “If you are wondering why I make you work in my orchard as much as I do, it is because I knew you would be able to bring it to life spectacularly, for I could tell the moment I saw you that you have a magic for healing.”

Aline eyed him from across the floor where she ate while he looked down at her from his tall table and rickety chairs. “And now, my plan to feast has also come to near completion. For you see, in the next few days I will lower my spell that allows my house to not be found by humans-or other magical beings.” As he spoke, a sudden flicker of fear quickly raced across Aline’s strong face.

“Then,” Brute continued, “I will snatch up any passerby’s attracted by the sight of my delicious pears, and I will devour them.” Aline kept her gaze stoic, but thought to herself “oh no,” while Brute laughed his hideous, awful, smug laugh before he got up and pushed Aline back into the mold-ridden and rat infested basement.

Quietly, having remembered which steps were the creakiest, she stood close to the door of the basement. As she listened to him step in his heavy boots walk up the nearby stairs, to his room, where she heard him locking his door, she tried to glean any more details of his habits-searching for any weakness in his nightly routine. But, to no avail.

Deep in the bowels of that basement, Aline desperately searched for answers; she knew she could not allow anyone to be eaten by Brute on her good conscience. But she also knew that she would never let herself be killed by the ogre, not while her mother’s heart was still in his clawed clutches. “I am stronger than that,” she whispered to herself, while gently pounding her head against one of the basement walls that formed her prison. “I will be in charge of my own fate and I will save my mother’s soul. And then, with all of my strength, I will defeat the ogre before he has a chance to hurt anyone ever again.”

She stopped pounding her head against the wall and went to lay down as she thought about how little time she had left to come up with a plan.

“It is three days until my 14th birthday,” she suddenly realized. “And it is four days until the pears are ready to be picked.”

Grabbing her rug, she went to the driest corner of the basement where she kept a small pile of leaves she had gathered over her year of work as a small pillow and rested her head there as best as she could.

“What am I going to do?,” she whispered to herself quietly as she fell into a fitful sleep. “What am I going to do?”

On the first day of the last four days before the harvest, Aline was content to just work and let her mind wander absentmindedly, hoping that a brilliant plan for a daring escape would come to her on it’s own. This was a futile hope, but as she was pulling some weeds out in the cold, spring afternoon dirt she heard a loud snap-the breaking of twigs and a growl.

It took her a moment before she realized that the audibility of what she had just heard could only have come from a very large animal. She then immediately stood up and began looking around her to find the source of whatever it is that had made that sound, but all she could see was the dazzling greens and browns that come with the ripening of pear blossoms.

She wondered what could have made such an intimidating sound; the growl sounded as large as that of Brute’s! But the only animals that really ever made themselves known in the pear orchard were small, like insects and birds, which Brute often captured and used to feed his most poor slave. Furthermore, Aline had never encountered a wolf here, and the growl certainly had not sounded like that of a wolf’s.

However, her concentration was then split away by Brute’s bellowing, “get back to work, girl!” Snapping back into the present, Aline hurriedly began picking up the work where she had stopped, though her mind was still racing fervently, searching for a plan.

And still, none came. As long as Brute was alert and awake, Aline could not come up with any assured way to steal his key away from him safely. And Aline had no immediate concoctions, poisons or potions that could reliably put Brute to sleep.

On the second day before the harvest, Aline was busy cleaning up some of the branches of the smaller pear trees, when she heard the same snap and and an even greater growl!

This time, when she heard that growl, she looked behind the tree she was mending and saw a fleetingly fast blur of fiery orange-like a rabbit made of candle flame. She jumped where she stood, startled, and quickly chased after the blur for a short time to where she thought it had gone, but she found nothing.

“What on Earth?,” she whispered to herself. Not entirely unaware of how to stalk an animal, she tried to look for any sign of paw prints or scat, but could not find any sign that any large animal had recently passed by.

She continued for the rest of the day still desperately trying to find anything, be it an old weapon from an ancient war or unearthed path available to her that could help her escape and still, nothing that could be of use to her in this accursed orchard was found. And again, she went to sleep that night feeling the pressure to come up with a plan even harder then she had been before.

“Is it too late?,” she asked herself. “Am I out of options to save anyone?,” she asked herself while the horrid laughter of the despicable ogre rang through the halls of his cold cabin, loud and freezing. And Aline could only imagine how, up in his chamber, Brute was holding the beautiful heart of the lovely Aurore, staring and unjustly petting and caressing it, something he absolutely did not deserve.

For the first time since she had been imprisoned here, she cried. She let herself go and the tears poured forth with no dam of any kind to stop them.

That night, Aline fell asleep to the visions of rage she imagined against the darkness of the ceiling. Rage, which had been her guiding strength. Rage, which had told herself not to give up on. Rage and only rage.

And so it was on the third day, the day before harvest, the day that was Aline’s 14th birthday, that answers once cloudy suddenly became clear, like fire in a wheatfield.

Aline was mending the roots of one of the larger pear trees, the trees that had in a way lead to her downfall. It was one of the farthest clearings away from the house of the ogre but Aline knew that Brute was still keeping an eye or ear out for her-he always did. But that was the least of the reasons she had at this point in her life for why she was upset, for more than anything she was upset at herself for not being able to come up with a plan of any kind to save her mother, herself, or anyone else. And this in a way was another small victory Brute kept over her.

So upset was she that she did not immediately notice the sudden burst of red leaves and petals that suddenly surrounded her. When she finally did, she stood up quickly, wrapping her musty cloak over herself and the poor dress she wore, her blonde hair whipping around her like golden vines. All around her red pear blossom petals were swirling with sudden velocity and wind, and Aline could sense that magic was around her.

When the storm stopped, Aline found herself atop a red hill overlooking a strange, wine-dark sea. She turned away from the distant, intimidating waves and saw for miles and miles, red meadows that went like the bloody footprints of giants. These red meadows were devoid of trees, like a desert. Aline turned around yet again to look back at the large pear tree she had originally been working underneath. It was still there, though it’s petals and leaves had suddenly taken on a brilliant, blood-red color to them. And beneath those branches, at the base of the trunk lay a large, orange colored cat with long, sharp, black stripes along his massive body, staring at Aline with the intense eyes of a hungry king.

For a moment, Aline could do nothing but stare into his regal gaze, remaining as unflinching as she could be. “Welcome to my domain,” the beast suddenly spoke to her.

Aline gasped! “You are a tiger!,” she yelled. “You talk!”

“I am Xavier,” he spoke again in a loud, royal, deep voice that hinted at an intoxicating accent. “I was once a prince, a son of the king of the Genii, until my father exiled me for my ferocity. But though I am now old, and I don the form of this beast, I still have great power.”

Aline gulped, while a zephyr brushed past her. “You were watching me in the orchard these last couple of days?”

Oui,” said Xavier lowly. “I have come, possibly, to help you rid yourself of this miniscule nuisance, this ogre.”

“Are you going to defeat him?,” Aline asked pleadingly. “You are strong enough to kill him, prince, I can tell.”

“No, I am not,” Xavier began, his eyes glowing brightly. “Though your gilded presumption is most correct. But I hope you are strong enough to do so on your own, for the weapon I am going to give you has a price of it’s own.”

“Please, tell me, lord prince!,” Aline shouted.

“Look at the branches of the pear tree I lay beneath,” said the tiger. “What do you see?”

Aline looked on intently; though the tree once had many sweet fruit growing from it’s branches, now there was just one: a pear as white as snow that glowed with a small hue of magic, aloft on one of it’s bending noir branches. Aline looked back at Xavier who merely regarded her from his rest, exuding power from his frame.

He was waiting.

“Pick it, this pear,” he commanded. “And fill it with all of the rage you have.

“And you will kill the monster.”