Since Destroy All Monsters was published last fall, readers have reached out with all sorts of questions. Some have wanted to know the best place to start this two-sided novel—Side A or Side B? Others have wondered about the book’s layers, references, and threaded interconnections. I’m not inclined to reveal the book’s mysteries, but I’m happy to provide a short tour and shine some light.
For intrigued newcomers and readers who want to revisit the novel, here’s a compendium of suggestive themes, behind-the-scene inspirations, allusions, and clues—presented as an alphabetical appendix.
The hit song on a vinyl single, or the song the record company bets will be the hit. Like a single or cassette, Destroy All Monsters has both a Side A and Side B. You can read them in any order, though okay, sure, you should probably start here.
See also: My Dark Ages.
This early rock & roll crooner is one of the ghosts who haunts Destroy All Monsters. Side A of the novel is dedicated to him. At the height of his fame, he shot himself in a game of Russian roulette on Christmas night 1954 and became rock’s first casualty and posthumous legend. His death launched his last song to the top of the charts.
See also: Pledging My Love.
The setting of the novel, a “conservative industrial city” that’s seen better economic times. It’s also the name of almost one hundred other cities across the U.S, as well as the hunting grounds of the Greek goddess Artemis, protector of young women, whose sacred symbol is a deer.
The flipside of a vinyl single, often an unusual song that isn’t released anywhere else. Fans tend to prefer B sides on contrarian principle. In the novel, Xenie and Shaun speculate these are the songs “where the bands bury their secrets.” Here it also presents the flipside to the “reality” of Side A.
See also: Kill City; parallel universes.
Mystical creatures. Some characters believe their songs can be used to speak across the divide between the living and dead.
Shorthand for each of the young male killers responsible for the epidemic of violence in small music clubs across the country, e.g. the boy in the blue hat, the boy with the scraggly beard, the boy in the baggy windbreaker, etc. The original assassin, introduced in Kill City (Side B), is simply referred to as “the boy,” and sometimes as “you.”
The real first name of Florian, who shed it as a teenager for something more exotic. His mother was the only person allowed to call him Bruce.
See also: Florian.
Popular Arcadia band whose songs went viral. They played a sold-out homecoming show, then left the city for better prospects. Not to be confused with “Armalite Rifle,” the single by post-punk band Gang of Four.
The Man in Black. Along with Ace, the other musical “Johnny” in the novel.
See also: Ring of Fire.
Anagram of Vladimir Nabokov, a pseudonym he used to write about his own work. Contributed an epigram to My Dark Ages (Side A), though you may have trouble finding the original source.
See also: Transparent Things; voices of the dead.
Situationist founder and author of The Society of the Spectacle, which argued twenty-five years before the internet that “all that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” Contributed epigram for the prelude of My Dark Ages.
These appear throughout the novel. Arcadia suffers an overpopulation of deer—they are short of food and disease is spreading, so hunters gather to cull the herd.
Destroy All Monsters (band)
Detroit band formed in 1973 by artists Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Carey Loren, and Niagara. In addition to making experimental rock and psychedelic noise, they created magazines, happenings, and films—an entire aesthetic universe. Later versions of the band featured Ron Asheton, who played with Iggy Pop. Destroy All Monsters’ punk and pulpy veneer often camouflaged their artistic sophistication.
Destroy All Monsters (film)
Godzilla movie from 1968 that introduced Monster Island and featured battles between such monsters as Rodan and Mothra. For possible connections between the novel and movie see this.
Often shared by multiple characters in the novel, sometimes in linked pairs and other times by an entire community.
Legendary seedy music club in Arcadia. In ARCs of the novel, it was erroneously referred to as the Dead Echo. It’s said to bear a striking resemblance, in terms of band graffiti and bathroom conditions, to The Milestone Club in Charlotte, NC.
Childhood friend of Florian in My Dark Ages, manager of his band.
Childhood friend of Xenie in Kill City, manager of her band.
BBC film made in 1989 by Alan Clarke, a despairing reaction to “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland which seemed never-ending. Clarke felt people had become numb to the phenomena of these repeating murders. Presenting a stripped-back sequence of killings, he hoped viewers would experience this horror with fresh eyes. One of the main inspirations for the novel, not to be confused with the Gus Van Sant film of the same name.
See also: Mass shootings.
What the band members in the book call the killers.
See also: zombies.
William Blake wrote that it “seeks its own form.” It also gives off a distinctive sound.
Flea market album
The cover features two women in headscarves, teeth smeared with lipstick, snarling at the camera. This album is treasured by both Florian and Xenie, presumably unknown to each other. They bought their copies from a woman selling a stack of them at the Arcadia flea market. She rented a table there for several weeks, then disappeared.
Her real name is Florence. Childhood friend of Xenie in Kill City, who gave her this nickname.
His real name is Bruce. Childhood friend of Shaun in My Dark Ages. His friend Randy calls him by the nickname “Flo.”
Fromme, Lynette “Squeaky”
Contributed an epigram for My Dark Ages. Infamous follower of Charles Manson, part-time philosopher, and would-be assassin of US President Gerald Ford.
See also: Eddie, Edie; Flo, Florian.
Favorite color of Florian’s mother. Color of Florian’s tattoo and his hand-painted amplifier.
Major theme of the novel, scrupulously unmentioned by both author and publisher, partly for fear of scuttling sales.
Florian’s mother, also known as Jeannie and Jet. A singer who stopped performing before her son’s birth. Member of a religious organization that believes in the sacred power of music. Bird enthusiast and the possible narrator of the book’s black pages. Her body is missing from its grave.
Local Arcadia group named for a potato bug that emits a cacophonous noise and/or an episode in the brilliant comix serial Love & Rockets. Also a great name rejected by my bandmates in Julian Calendar (not that I’m still bitter).
Title of the novel’s B Side. A nickname for Arcadia that’s gone viral. Plus the title of a fraught and nervy album recorded by Iggy Pop in 1975 during outpatient excursions from a mental hospital.
She raised Xenie from a young child after her parents died. In My Dark Ages, Aunt Mary has passed away and left Xenie her house. In Kill City, she appears as a member of a religious organization who believes in the sacred power of music.
Less prevalent ten years ago when I was making my initial notes for this novel. Numbing and despairing phenomenon throughout the US that feels never-ending.
See also: Elephant.
My Dark Ages
Title of the novel’s A Side. A plaintive 1976 single by Cleveland industrial punk band Pere Ubu. Sample lyric: “I don’t get around / I don’t fall in love much.”
The universe you think you know. The closer you look, the stranger it seems.
“Pledging My Love”
Haunting ballad by Johnny Ace, his last recording which shot to number one after his death. A favorite song of Shaun, who treasured its “yearning and disembodied” sound. It plays a key role in My Dark Ages in a lip-synched version.
“Ring of Fire”
One of Xenie’s favorite songs in Kill City. It plays a key role in a karaoke performance. Easy to forget that it’s a love song.
A boy with long hair. Florian’s oldest friend and the singer in a popular Arcadia band in My Dark Ages. Not a singer in Kill City. Xenie’s boyfriend in every possible universe.
In a world plagued by information and artistic overload, Xenie posits this as a radical alternative to making and listening to music.
Escape hatches built into stage floors to keep musicians safe. Portals to parallel universes and other stories.
See also: B Side.
Short 1972 novel by Vladimir Nabokov narrated by someone from beyond the grave who tries various techniques to communicate with the living. Last line of the novel: “Easy, you know, does it, son.”
Under the Paving Stones, More Concrete
Graffiti etched in Echo Echo, a cynical detournment of Situatonist slogan popular during May 1968 uprising in Paris: “Under the paving stones, the beach.”
Favorite color of Shaun. Color of the cassette he and Florian aimed to deliver to the Carmelite Rifles, as well as his guitar and his sweater that’s worn by Xenie.
Voices of the dead
“To the novice, the voices of the dead sound like static. It takes a patient ear to discern their musical murmurings, which resolve with infinite slowness, like the notes in a strange and shimmering chord.” —Vivian Darkbloom
Nickname of Jennifer Marx. She was called Jenny by her grade school friends, but later changed it to Xenie, which some believe was inspired by her reading Blue of Noon by Georges Bataille. Kill City is dedicated to her.
“You Can’t Kill Kill”
Song by Destroy All Monsters about duality, love, violence, and death, and the problems with going through all these things twice. It appears as graffiti in Arcadia. Sample lyrics: “You can’t kill kill / No one dies backwards / It only wastes time.”
Popular term in the novel for the killers. Per Wikipedia: “A dead body reanimated through various methods, most commonly magic.” Sometimes thought to represent repressed urges returning to life, bringing unsettled personal and historical debts back into play.
Jeff Jackson is the author of Mira Corpora, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His short fiction has appeared in Guernica, Vice, and The Collagist, and five of his plays have been produced by the Obie Award–winning Collapsable Giraffe theater company in New York City.