Hi, I’m Greg from Witnesses. I’m based in NYC. Witnesses is a mixed-genre project, founded in 2016 thereabouts. Until now, most of what I’ve done has been doom metal or some kind of cinematic ambient. Some exceptions, but so far mostly that. My most recent releases are Doom II and IV. The former is very UK-doom inspired, the latter more favoring DCD and Jóhann Jóhannsson. Check it out!
This list was hard to make. It’s not perfect. How could it be? I hope you enjoy. It’s not in any particular order.
WITNESSES: 10 Books That Made Me
1 Edgar Allan Poe, The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe
I guess a lot of kids read Poe and/or Lovecraft and fall in love, so I’m not unique in that. I didn’t read any Lovecraft till much later in life, but Poe was formative. It’s not so much that Poe shaped my worldview so much as he was an aesthetic influence and for me demonstrated the visual power of the written word. The Tell-tale Heart was the story that I remember the most. I guess the simple point here is that Poe was the author who I think kindled my imagination the earliest. That vivid, macabre imagery you get from Poe and Lovecraft is something I definitely wanted to conjure on Doom II and will continue on the follow-up, The Collapse.
2 Frantz Kafka, The Metamorphosis
OK, short story, which I hope is OK. And let’s not forget The Judgment, The Castle, The Trial–every single one of these is a gift to humanity and essential. But I think The Metamorphosis is perhaps the most poignant in terms of alienation and dehumanization in modern life. I talk about Camus later, but when in The Myth of Sisyphus Camus talks about “rising, street car…”, that is nothing compared to waking up as a bug. I think it’s worth pointing out that I believe Kafka and his friends used to laugh at these stories; I feel like Milan Kundera talks about this somewhere. I hope that isn‘t apocryphal as I love it.
3 Camus, various
I’m sorry to cheat here and not list one particular work. If this were ranked, though, Camus would be the top in terms of shaping my worldview and perspective. No author, philosopher, or hero can provide a life guide; and hopefully that isn’t the point. And I don’t think Camus is a systematic thinker per se, but there is a stubborn belief in human dignity throughout his works that I think is particularly needed in these times–especially in America, where daily life is cruel, unforgiving, and mean, despite tremendous wealth and resources. If pressed to make a recommendation, I might land on his plays or the collection, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death. While it is common to recommend The Myth of Sisyphus, I don’t actually believe it’s his most moving work. And while The Plague is awfully topical in 2021, I love essays like “Reflections on the Guillotine” a bit more.
4 Are You My Mother?
My Mother was the center of my young life. I lost her a little over five years ago. This is such a sweet book and is one of my earliest reading memories. There is nothing more to add here.
5 Michael C. Tucker, The Marx-Engels Reader
I’d love to know the ratio of people that have read a page of Marx to people who comment on Marx & communism–especially Republicans (the American political party, not republicans). I’m not a communist myself (I don’t know what I am, really), but I think if you have not read early Marx; minimally appreciate Hegel; and at least wrestle with a few pages of Capital you are probably full of shit. Just stop commenting. There is a difference between reading Marx as a philosopher and political epithets and empty jargon. I think the key for me is the concept of estranged labor. I think this is younger Marx.
6 The Bible
I mean c’mon, this has to be on the list for some of us, right? I am not religious now and wasn’t raised particularly religious. But in my early teens it seemed like I should read it and I did, the whole NRSV. It’s kind of like reading Marx–I just feel you kind of have to if you grew up in a certain context, time and place, whatever. It’s like riding some kind of world-historical bike. I don’t know how you understand the world without understanding Christian mythology (a problematic mythology at its core that is often twisted into something even worse). Which leads me to #7.
7 The Brothers Karamazov/”The Grand Inquisitor”
I probably tried this book about five times before I was able to make it through. You do need to read the entire thing, but The Grand Inquisitor itself is incredibly subversive. I don’t want to say what it’s about. One should read it with no expectations. One should read the whole book. But I think there is a subversive moralism here that challenged me unlike anything before it–and maybe since.
8 Neil Gaiman, The Sandman
A comic book, but I elevate this to literature with no regrets. I think had I read this earlier in life I would have really struggled; it’s kind of like Nietzsche in that it is really hard to get if you don’t know the references, etc. In any of Nietzsche’s works as well as if you don’t know who he is responding to or critiquing, it gets really tricky. Not as tricky as some philosophy and social theory, but the arguments just won’t land without the connections. Anyway, I almost named my first metal album A Game of You (the fifth collection in the series). I was worried it could be misunderstood or perhaps be a weird trademark thing, so I just settled for the song. This was of course meant as a deep, admiring homage. A lot of my work is about identity and memory. As a cis, straight guy, perhaps it’s surprising I gravitate towards A Game of You, which features a prominent trans character. But I do. I love it.
9 Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
I write doom metal, you know? I feel like this is the literary forebearer. Not in terms of pacing, but in terms of the relationship of emotion over reason. Maybe we don’t think about metal music that way. But maybe we should? In any event, I gravitate away from this in my writing now and am moving towards more horror/macabre themes, but I think Sturm und Drang will always be there. I don’t want to abstract away emotions too much, I just don’t want them so much in the foreground as all that early MDB and Anathema (which I love!). Either way, when I discovered Goethe in my late teens, this was a holy book for those tumultuous times.
10 Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail
I’m cheating again with a letter, but I come back to this every year. The relevancy of this short piece I hope is not hard to grasp–it’s more important than ever in an American context. MLK is invoked all the time, and has even been commodified if I recall correctly. The key here is the critique of white moderates. As a white person myself this is part of the work I have to do. If the criticism makes you uncomfortable, then that to me is a signal of things working as they should.
Thank you very much to Greg for this beautifully-written and thought-provoking list. Witnesses make stunningly cinematic atmospheric metal. The latest album, IV, was released on 5th February 2021, and you can find it along with all the other Witnesses music here: