Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mullen Remembers M*****d

In There’s a House in the Land, Shaun Mullen chronicles how a tribe of Vietnam vets and associated pals and gals made an old farm north of Newark, Delaware into an island of freedom. Like his earlier work, The Bottom of the Fox, Mullen’s House provides insights on the American Seventies. This time, however, he treats those of his contemporaries inhabiting the piedmont west of Philadelpha, PA to a wild and wonderful reminiscence. 
Thousands remember—and more wish they did—the Flag Day parties, with their roasting pigs, the house band Snakegrinder, the socializing of bikers with profs, the abundant garden among disused trucks and cars, the tanker-loads of Genesee Cream Ale, and the mountains of marijuana, much grown there. 
The Seventies were the shore the Sixties washed up on. Those who climbed out of the surf were left to rebuild the American Dream, shredded by Vietnam, JFK, MLK, THC, LSD. Who knows how many such islands of self-reliance and rugged individualism there were in America, but few had in residence an amanuensis as talented as Shaun Mullen.  Mullen shows that while American rules were shattered, American values persevered.
Mullen chooses a sort of roman-à-clef approach, changing almost all the names except his own, that of the band Snakegrinder, and the dog Meatball. I, receiving an advance copy for my tangential familiarity, will not fink, only that New Park is Newark, Delaware, and the New Park Tavern, portrayed in its piss-smelling splendor, is the old Deer Park Hotel. There, it is apocryphally reported, Edgar Allan Poe drunkenly cursed all who stopped in that village of philistines that they might never leave. Still, many will recognize lead singer “Edward,” who died on the railroad tracks while attempting to flag down a train, subsequently appearing in a dream to tell “Rafe,” the Weather Underground fugitive, to grab his kazoo and start singing center stage. Many bought belts from Doctor Duck’s leather shop, but few, beside myself, ever tasted a sub on a whole-wheat roll from his short-lived deli.
In episodes and thematic chapters, Mullen details the geology of “Kiln Farm,” the flora and fauna, the architecture, the dogs, the goats and other livestock, the roles the denizens filled and the crafts they practiced, the ambiguous status of women, the tragic crash that killed “Pattie” and her daughter “Caitlin,” and Mullen’s road trips to Aspen and the Florida Keys.
Eventually, the tribe moved on. They “didn’t so much grow up,” Mullen explains, “as succumb to the mechanistic gravity of the real world that compresses all but the roundest of pegs.” The vicissitudes of erstwhile freedom were neither good nor bad, but they accompanied some wonderful progress in education, ecology, and human unity. Hey, the shit-house Bible at the farm was the Whole Earth Catalogue, that “Access to Tools” for anarchists and late twentieth century pioneers.
There’s a House in the Land may shock or titillate, but Shaun Mullen captures the spirit of a time and place. Those who were there will chuckle and maybe weep.
Mullen will sign copies of There's A House In The Land beginning at 1 p.m. on Sunday, September 28 at the Blue Crab Grill in Suburban Plaza off Elkton Road in Newark. Snakegrinder and the Shredded Fieldmice, a popular Newark band in the early 1970s, will reunite for the occasion. The title of Mullen's book is from a lyric in a Snakegrinder song. (Postscript Sept. 8: Due to the high demand, a second show has been added at 8 p.m.)
Shaun Mullen blogs at Kiko’s House and The ModerateVoice.

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