Monday, 19 December 2011

Geza Csath

Geza Csath



In the Mid 80's, I was attending a typical English suburban comprehensive school, when a schoolfriend of mine gave me a book of short stories to read. Something about this book “Opium and Other Stories” really grabbed me, I was fascinated by what little I knew about the life and works of this little known (in my part of the world at least) author.

After reading and returning the book, I tried for a long time to buy a copy for myself, but without the now ubiquitous internet back then, I was unsuccessful.

Last year, I was finally able to track down a copy of the long out of print “Opium...” and read it again, along with the authors' own diary, “The Diary of Geza Csath”.

The author was born Josef Brenner and lived in the early part of the 20th Century in Hungary. He was an author, playwright, violinist, music critic and physician. Evidently an intelligent, articulate, literate and well educated man. He studied medicine and became a doctor, and his access to various substances led him to experiment with drugs, something which undoubtedly led to his premature demise, more on that in a minute....

Anyway, rewind to me aged 16 or so; I was enthralled then to be able read something which seemed to me to come from such a distant and very foreign time and place, the likes of Geza Csath weren't exactly on the UK school curriculum. Nor will they probably ever be, come to think of it.
Back in the 1980's, Hungary, along with a lot of other Eastern European countries, was somewhere completely unknown to me and I guess most other people in the UK, being part of the now “Lost World of Communism”. All very different now, and all very different before then too, in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during Csath/Brenner's own lifetime.

Csath's life shares some similarities with the later, and considerably more well known 20th century author William S. Burroughs. Both came from well heeled backgrounds, both were drug addicts and both also shot their wives. But there are plenty of differences too.
Especially, Burroughs was a homosexual, whilst Csath was most decidedly hetero, and logs his sexual activities with various women - including his own patients - in detail in his diaries. At times, he comes across as almost a borderline sexual predator. Although living in a time before Rock and Roll, evidently, there was no shortage of sex and drugs.
Knowing about his work as a junior doctor, I can well imagine his experiences with disturbed patients influencing the subject matter of his stories.
The tales are often extremely dark and pessimistic, perhaps even depressing, sometimes even a little bit unresolved. One of my favourites is “The Surgeon”.
The original title of Csath's collection of stories translates as “Tales Which End Unhappily”.

Sadly, Geza Csath's life also ended unhappily. His drug experiments turned to addiction, and as is often the case, it all basically overtook and destroyed him. Eventually, after killing his wife (in front of their young daughter according to one account), and a failed suicide attempt, he escaped from a hospital and ended up committing suicide in front of border police who had apprehended him attempting to get into Serbia in order to check himself into a mental hospital. He was 31 years old.

Csath's diaries are as absorbing to read as his stories, and document his ever increasing need and obsession for morphine, whilst at the same time his ever-lessening enjoyment of it and eventually his self loathing and descent into the hell of addiction.
I will reprint below an excerpt from his diaries dealing with this, which has stayed with me since I first read it years ago:

In combating myself I can only report one bloody defeat after another. Not even in this respect is fortune willing to smile at me. The week started well with daily quantities of 0.044 and 0.046 which I divided into 3-4 portions. But yesterday and today I reached again that awful vicious circle which is the source of the most shameful remorse. The trouble always starts with not having the strength to wait for my mid-morning stool. Because when I succeed in doing this and the morphine leaves the intestines, then it is followed by a pleasant, all-day-long hunger which can be satisfied with the regular amount. But if the first sin takes place in the morning, still in bed or before the bowel movements, the same amount doesn't work properly, and causes no euphoria. To commit sin, to harm myself without enjoying it, this is the bitter thought tormenting me. If I had a gun near me, at times like this, I would blow my brains out, right away.

What do I do instead? Usually before the time is up, 3–4 hours after the first portion, I take the next one. This usually gives euphoric feelings lasting 20–30 minutes, followed by the most miserable, pitiful low, during which:

1. All human endeavours, industriousness, diligence, work, seem to be ridiculous and only hate-provoking.
2. All talk is tiring and stupid.
3. All plans are unrealizable and terrible.
4. All great, beautiful, and noble things are unattainable and futile.

At times like this I smoke one cigarette after another until I no longer feel the taste of the smoke. I eat oranges till I get tired of them. Disgusted, I play the piano. I wash. Visit Olga. Find life insufferable. I make an effort to entertain her, but I lack the true sexual interest, and, therefore, I am just getting bored there. To make my stay bearable I put in 0.02–0.03 in the toilet, hating it. This is followed after dinner by 0.02, then 0.01 and 0.01 again. The last one under the pretext that it already belongs to tomorrow's portion.... This is an immeasurably loathsome and despicable life. I am so disgusting, weak, and pitiful that I have to wonder why Olga still loves me, and hasn't become unfaithful to me. That my weak and forever veiled voice, my steady staring in the mirror, my cynical and shrunken penis, my drawn face, my witless conversation, my impotent, lazy life, my suspicious behaviour, my insolence with which I lengthily disappear into the WC, my stupidity haven't disgusted her yet, for ever and ever. I also think that I stink, because with my sense of smell impaired I can no longer smell the stench of my poorly-wiped asshole or the mouth-odor caused by my rotting teeth.

The above is one of the most articulate anti-drug statements I've ever read, nothing glamourous about drug use there. Perhaps he should be on the curriculum after all.
His text “Opium” from 1909 reads almost like a hedonistic drug explorer's mission statement, with it's promise that one can escape the everyday drudgery and “...live five thousand years in a day”, but the above, written a few years later, eloquently expresses the reality of his miserable addiction.

If you've read up to this point, you might be wondering “Why on Earth is Colin writing all this stuff about some obscure, long dead Hungarian author??”

....I thought a bit of background information might arouse curiosity before I talk about my next solo release entitled “PVZ”, named after an acronym Csath used in his diaries as a coded initialism for morphine. 

“PVZ” will be my first solo album since  Third Vessel. I guess it's fair to say the initial impetus for the album was my interest in his stories and diary. I have no idea why some things “speak” to me, as it were, but I found the stories and the facts behind Geza Csath's life a source of inspiration, and it all got me thinking about lots of other subjects.......


It's not necessary to know anything about Csath or any of his stories to listen to the tracks of course, the music will either resonate with you, or not, but I am posting this for those interested.

“PVZ” is not a concept album as such, there are no rock opera style characters, no messages nor any type of storyline, instead I have tried to distill certain moods, feelings and ideas and to express the contradictions of a divided character across the album's 11 tracks, alluding to some of Csath's writings along the way. I have imagined the sequencing of the album tracks almost as the arc of his life, referencing “Opium” and following on to more melancholic atmospheres. In places, it's certainly dark in mood, but I hope the overall effect and is both absorbing and engrossing for the listener, perhaps thought provoking also......

“PVZ” will be available as a download, and also in a strictly limited edition physical format early next year, depending on a few factors out of my control at the moment. I will be posting more details here when I have them.

Best,

Colin

NB, I am reliably informed by a native Hungarian speaker that the correct pronunciation of his name phonetically in English is “Chat Geyza” - as Hungarian typically has the surname before the first.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting post. I read Burroughs' 'Junkie' ages ago, and was repulsed, yet engrossed by his rather sordid account of his degraded life. It seems that we are often mesmerized by those things we know we should not touch. Eve and her apple I suppose...
    Anyway, I look forward to your next solo release. I enjoy your work very much. The decidedly darker tone should prove interesting. All the best!

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  2. What a fascinating story and launch pad for your next musical project. It's great when music is based on deep subjects.

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  3. Fascinating Colin, thank you. Looking forward to PVZ - and might try to track down some of that literature myself.

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  4. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0803052/ I recommend this movie, it's based on his writings.

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  5. Awesome! I can't wait for the album :) That was an excellent excerpt, as well.

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  6. the pronunciation is rather something like "chaat", not to be confused with that of the noun 'chat'.

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  7. looks really interesting, sadly, I guess is not that easy to get a copy of such book round here.

    anyway, sometimes we get inspiration from the wierdest things.... IMHO it's the best source of inspiration.

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  8. Never heard about Geza Csath before (curious to check him out now), but remember perfectly the effect "Christiane F" had on my 11 years of age: let's say it was like... a bomb.

    Really curious on what form will this theme take in your next music chapter ;)

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