My imaginary Kansas

The waning afternoon sunlight suffuses the waving wheatfields. Flashes of gold ebb and flow ceaselessly, like a drag queen undulating across a dance floor in a skintight lam頢ody stocking. Tiny farmhouses and John Deere tractors dot the horizon. I swear that if I ever get to bake a birthday cake for fashion designer Todd Oldham, I’ll duplicate that distant rural tableau in marzipan miniatures, right down to the last weather-beaten silo. My gaze returns to the highway, and I cruise deeper into the heartland.

Lately, it seems that all my journal entries and correspondence are punctuated with the same phrase: “I want to get in my car and start driving . . . ” No wonder. I’m scheduled to turn in the 60,000-word manuscript for my new book in three weeks. That’s roughly the length of 92 of these columns. I’ve written a little more than a quarter of it. My natural inclination when facing such a monumental challenge? To flee to Kansas.

I must have the deadline situation somewhat under control, because I haven’t been daydreaming about Montana. When things get truly ugly, I imagine going AWOL in Big Sky Country. I’ve passed through just once, exiting Hwy 90 only to purchase more peanut butter crackers and Diet Coke. Montana represents a blank canvas. I’d hide out in the Helena National Forest and eat baked beans warmed over a campfire. By the time my agent found me, I’d look so Grizzly Adams he wouldn’t want my goddamn manuscript anymore.

Kansas is different. I could write there. Literary renegades William S. Burroughs and Truman Capote found inspiration in the Sunflower State. It provided the setting for my buddy Scott Heim’s first two novels, Mysterious Skin and In Awe. “So many people, if they’ve been through Kansas at all, have just driven through,” he once told me. “Their idea of Kansas is this flat state with nothing to do. But Kansas can be a sensory overload; you just have to look for it.”

I’ve been to Lawrence, Kansas, twice. The first time was with those sexy hellcats Rocket from the Crypt. During a pickup game of Whiffleball, it was brought to my attention that I throw like a girl. I drank a lot of tequila that night striving to salvage my tarnished manhood. My next visit was a day trip with the Dog Boy, who calls Kansas City, Missouri, home. That day, my thrift shopping yielded a couple of disco classics: Class Action’s “Weekend” and “Just Us” by Two Tons of Fun (later known as the Weathergirls).

But the music I play when fantasizing about my imaginary Kansas has more to do with Scott’s descriptions than my real experiences. The entire 4AD Records catalog seems tailor-made for the region. The tribal drums and weighty chants of Dead Can Dance roll in like unexpected thunderclouds; the haunting arrange- ments of This Mortal Coil underscore deceptive simplicity with dark, romantic depth, like a cornfed farmboy with a terrible secret.

4AD just reissued a slew of CDs at budget prices. I never listened to the skeletal instrumentals of Dif Juz or the gothic pastiche of Clan of Xymox much in my youth, but this week I’m relying on their respective albums Soundpool and Medusa to inspire my inner adolescent to finish my book; I was much more creative as a teen. Should this approach fail, however, I plan on loading up my Toyota and seeking refuge with Hyperspherian. I don’t know much about this Lawrence foursome, save that they sent me an unsolicited copy of their eponymous album (Ecto Record Co.), and I can’t stop playing it. Their weird melange of Gary Numan, Steve Hillage (Gong/System 7) space guitar, funky electro, and, yes, that rarefied 4AD aesthetic is constructed from old analog synthesizers and drum machines, augmented by flute, saxophone, and deadpan vocals. How reassuring to know when I finally arrive in Kansas, I’ll find kindred spirits.