You were not my favorite.
Not initially, at least.
I knew of you. There — tucked away, the singular listing under “the Mars Volta” in the Hastings CD section — primary colors cover a mystery man.
His face is shrouded but the eyes are presumably looking ahead. Behind, in a similar vehicle, sits a doppelganger. They, too, are covered. A mourning veil? An executioner’s hood?
I did know that it was the only option: that is, Frances the Mute.
Years were spent looking over the cover of that CD and deciding not to listen to it.
It was too clunky; too harsh in some parts and too subdued in others. Minutes of audio-clippings that sound vaguely threatening. Screaming, synthesizers… Spanish? Is that Spanish?
Frances the Mute found me again years later.
I spent the hours that I stole from dreaming reading the lore that inspired the story, which then led to me reading about a silent motif of the album: opiates. In fact, the first single off the album, “The Widow,” laments addiction.
True: the song points more to Vismund Cygnus — our anti-hero — and his predilection towards prostitution. But the fable applies terribly well to the plight of opioid addicts: “Look at how they flock to him/ from an isle of open sores/he knows that the taste is such/such to die for”. The streets in Cygnus’ world have always been dealt within the shadows; he is a product of rape to a mother named Frances. He is an HIV-positive, IV-drug addicted prostitute, and a mirror to his upbringing.
The story itself is heartbreaking and tells of a hollow victory.
Still, this is not an album I loved from the beginning. Yet every time I start “Cygnus….Vismund Cygnus”, my mind wanders to the family tree that I feel as though I know so well. He does not want pity, in the end.
The tragedy bestowed on Vismund Cygnus only begets more misery, as he knowingly spreads his infection among his clientele. The listener can only hope that the senselessness of the deeds committed end with Vismund.
(Song recommendation by Stephanie Aguilar)