THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VI
– a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.
One of the great thrills – and perils – of being an artist is that self-perpetuating cycle of inspiration. An artist is struck by an idea, a concept, something that drives him or her to create…which in turn is discovered/interpreted by another artist and something else is created that yet another artist finds and…so it goes, around and around, constantly evolving, constantly renewing, constantly making new stories timeless and timeless stories new.
When I walked into a record store on a hot summer day three years ago, I had no idea what inspiration I would find there, or even any notion I was looking for it, but Fate had other plans and whispered a name into my ear…Two hours, much money, five CDs, a special edition box set and a great conversation later, my life would change more than I knew.
A few months later on a deathly boring Friday night, I was restless, unsettled, unable to sit down or relax, which usually means the Muse is about to pay a call.
I spent about ten minutes staring at a photo that night, fingers drumming my desk, wondering… “What if?”
“What if” is how all stories begin, when the conjuror pulls down his tail coat and reaches for his top hat and his wand, hoping rabbits are inside, waiting in the wings…to begin.
Two hours later, I had a short story that literally wrote itself. There was no overall plan of conception, no plan A or B, just one harebrained idea I ran with and a mood I wanted to express. My muse now had a definite face and form. I did know – even that Friday night – I had…something.
Something that could be important, something that held water, something that could evolve. As it did from that fated short story into a full-blown novel into the Devilscent Project, feeding right back into that bottomless pool of inspiration.
The story led to a novel, led to a perfume blog and the birth of a perfume blogger, led to the Devilscent Project and on to some of the most exceptional fragrances I’ve ever had the privilege to sniff.
Let me take you there, to a rainy night that begins…
It was a film noir, bluesy midnight in November. As wet with possibilities as the rain-slick streets, traces of perfumes lingering, taxis heading to the hotspots that would combat the chill of solitude and looming winter, ghosts of the storied past lurking beneath the copper spires of that haunted hunting ground of mine, the fast, feminine 4/4 click-clack tattoo of my high-heeled boots on the pavement.
– From Quantum Demonology, Midnight at the Crossroads Café.
Now imagine a café, a café that serves cappucchinos and conversation by day, and at night, the accoutrements of other, more intimate conversations in its dim corners. See its black-painted walls and its black and white poster prints of blues legends on the walls. All the greats are there – Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, and that grand-daddy of them all, the incomparable Robert Johnson. Only blues is played here, conjuring its own ghosts and stories. The furniture is bought at flea markets for cheap and doesn’t match, the white candles burn in red glass, red like the mulled wine Scandinavians call glögg that wafts from the bar this nippy night, redolent with cloves and cinnamon, raisins and almonds, packing another kind of punch against the chill of solitude and looming winter. But there’s something in the air this Friday night when the TGIF celebrations have moved elsewhere, for the place is nearly empty at this hour, the bartender is engrossed in a study textbook, and from the speakers, the long-ago haunted voice of Bobby Johnson sings:
In the far back corner sits a woman alone with her glass of wine, a woman neither young nor old, not on the make nor even lonely, least at all aware that in a few short moments, her life will be changed – forever.
Now…imagine all of that atmosphere, the November rain, looming winter, the Friday, the wafts of cinnamon and Calvados, clove and red wine, the scent of coffee and imminent possibilities, instant attraction, imminent danger…packed into a perfume bottle.
Precisely what Neil Morris did.
Neil Morris has without a doubt been the biggest surprise in a project that has brought me nothing BUT surprises since it began. His was the artistic vernacular I was least familiar with – having only tried two of his creations, Aegean and Rumi – but everyone said it – he would be a perfect fit for a project like this.
Five creations later, I can only agree. In these perfumes, I noticed a common thread, that perfumer’s artistic DNA that ran through them all like a silver pulse, dark and danger, intoxication and restraint, love and its hazardous cousin Id that we might know as lust.
I wasn’t expecting yet another surprise the day ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’ arrived, had no idea it was coming even. Can you imagine what such a wonder would do to your (already swollen) head? Bespoke perfumes for the Devil and Lilith are quite awesome enough, but to take the story that began it and spin a perfume around it simply blew me away to dandelion fluff.
Be careful what you wish for, You will get it!
This story in this bottle swirls and spins out all the elements – time and place, scent and space…it’s all there in a perfume so beautifully rendered, it’s hard to believe it’s a story and not a bottled Baudelaire poem.
That first, chill blast…the autumn cold that follows our heroine through her late-night trek across town, out of one man’s bed and on the streets in search of nothing more than a glass of mulled wine before her own solitary bed and her return to her own humbling life, a life that holds one last, fated hope she has kept her deepest darkest secret and her most fervent, burning wish.
Through the door, and the midnight hour isn’t far away, but it is warm and welcoming here. Coffee weaves its seductive traces like an invisible ribbon of sultry energy, but coffee is only the beginning and this is no edible dessert but a conjuring potion. Did I detect hints of the wine and the brandy just behind it, before that sweet and heady rush of spice? Rich and decadent, cinnamon and clove have their stories to tell, and if I close my eyes, I can surely smell the marzipan sweetness of almonds and yet…this is no gourmand. Something floral – her perfume? – but tempered by the spice, all of it balanced on that hair-thin razor’s edge between haunting and heady. There are intimations of desires in the mix – that couple in the corner talking in hushed and earnest voices? – and laughter (that floral note) in the other, a trio of tipsy girlfriends rehashing the week gone by. The midnight hour draws closer, the perfume grows darker and deeper, almost lusher if that’s possible. A sexy beast lays in waiting, a sexy furry beast of a chypre with mossy, darkly suspect intentions, for now, our heroine in her corner is no longer alone with her solitary hopes and dreams, now a man sits in the chair on her left where no one sat a moment before.
“You have potential,” that beast seems to say. “What if you could be somebody?”
What if that profondo base of what has to be labdanum and oakmoss (or else I should have my perfumista license revoked pronto!), a touch of..benzoin? vanilla? could make all those possibilities happen, make all her dreams come true? What if…all of this, and all of this perfume is only the beginning – of a story not quite like any you’re read before, of a dream that comes true, of everything you want, just within your grasp? It only takes a little faith, a little hope…
‘Midnight’ is all of these and so much more – one astonishing, unforgettable, unbelievable perfume not quite like any other. The crafty Neil left me no descriptions or list of notes, but I did find a card – written in Danish, no less! – that reads:
Who were you talking to at the café last night? You smell like him…
Beware those delicious wonders that lurk for the unsuspecting, in those dangerous midnight places…
The storied marvels of Neil Morris’ fragrances can be discovered for your delectation here.
Stay tuned for more devilry ahead!
Disclosure: A sample was sent by Neil Morris for review.