November Reads


I’m gonna drop everything I’ve written and publicly published (under my name) in November here! The links are the titles and the titles are the links. Check them out if you like. I’d certainly like it if you did!

Why you should listen to Wang Wen: Mainland China’s premier post-rock 

A deep dive into the music of Wang Wen, one of China’s oldest and most accomplished post-rock bands.

Dan Terminus’s “Automated Refrains” is a step into a new synthwave world

A review of Dan Terminus’s new album Automated Refrains. It’s a synthwave epic that creates its own world and story using lighter tones than is normal for the genre.

“Montage” shows a mix of effort from Block B 

A review of K-Pop act Block B’s new mini-album Montage. Montage is entertaining, fun, and breaks new ground in most spots but it has some disappointingly uncreative slow jams.

Australia votes a strong “yes” in same-sex marriage referendum 

A short news article on Australia’s referendum on gay marriage. In it, I touch on some demographics behind the referendum vote and what it means politically.

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard creates a psych-rock fantasy land in “Polygondwanaland”

A review of King Gizz’s 4th album of 2015, Polygondwanaland. It’s a progressive rock styled epic that knows what it’s doing and nails it.

“Perfect Velvet” is Red Velvet at their most and least interesting 

A review of Red Velvet’s bipolar new album. This album has some of the best girl-group songs in K-Pop, but also some of the staidest and least interesting ones too.

Thanks for reading and sorry for the silence!

~Austin R. Ryan

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No More Lifeless Horror


[Spoiler alert: this post reveals the ending of Oculus and The Shining – though you really should have seen that one by now]

The last time everyone in my immediate family was in town we all sat down to watch a horror movie. My family loves a good scary movie. We live in an old wooden Victorian home that seeps at the seams with the creaks and rustles that build tension in ghost stories. Fear has a fun and almost playful dimension to it in a good movie. But sometimes horror gets too hung up on fear and forgets itself. Horror movies often ignore the hallmark of a good story in favor of some cheap thrills. So many mediocre horror films butcher their own themes to manufacture fear and end up lifeless because of it.

Trying to think up a good horror film to watch, I recommended Oculus. It is a very well put together film with solid acting and camera work, but it was ultimately mediocre. “It has a pretty bad ending.” I’d say, but it was more than that. It was a potentially great movie that chose to be mediocre.

In the shiny new horror title Oculus, a pretty standard scary movie plays out with an interesting psychological twist. Two siblings pit themselves against a satanic mirror that essentially killed their parents. The sister leads the charge and eventually recruits the reluctant brother who mostly wants to move on. The novelty of the movie comes from the way the mirror twists the reality around the siblings until they have to find cues and create signs of sanity to avoid getting destroyed by it. Bone piercing dread slips into what would otherwise be another dull battle with demonic forces. It isn’t a perfect movie, with some twists and reality bending moments feeling fairly predictable and some standard horror overacting.

The two siblings standing next to the possessed mirror. Photo courtesy of a review of Oculus from the film focused blog The Movie Guys.  https://jordanandeddie.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/halloween-film-review-oculus-2013/
The two siblings standing next to the possessed mirror. Photo courtesy of a review of Oculus from the film focused blog The Movie Guys.

However its biggest failure is not in cinematography or acting, but the mismanaging of a great theme. Like any good scary movie protagonists, the hubris of the two siblings lead them into trouble. They assume they can handle the mirror. Obviously they can’t. The movie plays out with perfect pace and little problem as the mirror brings back the trauma it inflicted on their childhood. In the final moments Oculus shatters its own momentum and dismantles motifs just to keep the audience on edge.

In the last thirty minutes of the movie the siblings uncover repressed memories of the reality behind the death of their parents. Possessed by the mirror, their father kills their mother and turns on them. With almost no chance of survival and the end nearing the kids cower near the mirror. In one tiny act of defiance the dad turns the gun to himself – against the will of the mirror – and shoots. His body smacks the corner of the mirror and gives it the only blemish it ever had in its centuries long history.

What builds is a human theme that a sense of love creates reality; that this familial, human love is the only thing that could fight back against an inhuman, monstrous force. Even if it is just a scratch, it is the only injury on an otherwise indomitable force of dread. This theme gives real meat to an otherwise just well executed fear fest. In the end love renews sanity and brings clarity in madness. The message is incredibly hokey, maybe even gauche, but simultaneously timeless and sympathetic.

When the ending arrives and Oculus promptly picks up the theme like a prized vase it just made and smashes it against the wall to draw some shock from the viewer. The mirror lures the brother into murdering the sister by distorting reality so he can’t see where she’s standing. He ends up carted off to an insane asylum screaming about how the mirror did it, and it goes back on auction presumably to claim another victim. Where was the love the film painstakingly built up to? Where did the lucidity of family go? The end of the film drowned it out after explicitly telling the audience that it was the only thing that could not be drowned out. The end of the film weakened it as a form of resistance after explicitly showing it as the only thing that could fight back against the mirror.

Out of fear that the audience won’t feel afraid, Oculus contrives an awful ending that betrays its own themes in the ultimate low-risk horror move of killing off all but one lone, knowing character to clear way for a sequel. This is what’s truly gauche about horror. This is the turn off. Nothing horrifies mediocre horror more than sincerity to a theme. Without a theme any story becomes directionless and hollow. Unfortunately horror movies often ignore themes and motifs to pound fear into the viewer, but this just cheapens the genre to what many people complain it is now: lifeless, heartless, corporate creations with rehashed stories.

Horror should hit home. Horror should stick with you in good endings and bad for the way that it drives at a point – just like any other type of story. It takes the courage to stick to a theme and deliver on it to actually hit home. Instead, horror chickens out. It gets scared of commitment and the cold feet scary movies have to their own themes turn anything memorable in them to something immature and fleeting. The problem does not end with Oculus. The dilemma extends to movies like Sinister – that also forces a bad ending on the audience likely to pave the way for its recently announced sequel – and so many others that have a glimmer of greatness and settle for the alright.

Jack's insanity memorialized. Taken from this blog post./a=href>
Jack’s insanity memorialized. Taken from this blog post.

Thematically well made horror is not an impossible dream either and The Shining shows this by endlessly building on themes of interior versus exterior and pure delusion. The Shining ends with the father of the family, Jack, alone and frozen in a maze, a smile plastered on his face. Overlook Hotel seems fine on the outside, but it is a malevolent place trapped in a terrible time. Engulfed by the hotel, Jack takes on its character so completely that his smiling façade belies a twisted interior, all of which is frozen in place. The end of the movie completes Jack’s delusion by directly putting him inside an old, black and white photo of the bar he saw in his insanity. The themes of façade versus interior and delusion to even the time period play out in simultaneous perfection at the end of The Shining. If The Shining were made with an ending like Oculus’s Jack would butcher his family and snap out of it as the cops wheeled him away. It would feel cheap and it would lead to a sequel that would feel even cheaper.

Modern horror with a completely bad ending can also capitalize on themes to create a more memorable experience. Let the Right One In – an austere vampire flick – thrives off of soul-sucking loneliness that every frame of the cold, empty Scandinavian scenery compliments. The trials of a lonely boy with an ever working mother provide the basis of a sense of solitude that does not end until the curtain call. Let the Right One In paints a dreadful, ageless child vampire that hides behind an aging and dying thrall. With every moment the white as snow vampire girl further seduces the lonely boy. Her warmth to him radiates amidst his cruel classmates, absent mother, and the snowy Swedish landscape all around. The contrast of the vampire’s simple warmth to the boy’s cold life stirred up my stomach for a week. Through themes Let the Right One In creates a vampire that is simultaneously frigid beyond belief and the warmest thing in a boy’s whole world. I slept fine after the movie’s end, but I never forgot it. Stills of the film stick to the lining of my subconscious like paintings in a museum. The tremendous use of solitude had captured me.

The lonely boy sits bundled and guarded next to the vampire, who is warm even in the cold. Taken from the film's trailer.
The lonely boy sits bundled and guarded next to the vampire, who is warm even in the cold. Taken from the film’s trailer.

Films like The Shining and Let the Right One In make me want to return in earnest to horror. Yet each time I want to embrace the genre it rejects the sincerity of its own messages and motifs so suddenly and purposelessly that I have to deny the genre. I have to refuse it for something bolder. I have to find genres that have the guts and gore to say something real at the cost of pulling back on some emotional punches.

I am not calling for the end of all modern scary movies. I really want to love horror. Nor am I lobbying that all horror must be fine art. Slashers can deliver on themes too, and I don’t want to live in a world without them. Rather, I want to rally against what makes horror lifeless: the way it murders its own messages, motifs, and themes.

Why I write


I mused to myself in what normally might have served as a journal entry. I tried to pin down what exactly kept me writing, when I saw a post on WordPress offering thought on what other people write and writing out of jealousy. I had the feeling myself some, and still receive it in less frequent bursts nowadays. The post rambles a lot, and lacks clarity. I write most things for myself, but edit them for others. This was no easy edit. But below, in strange and uncertain terms, I explain why I write. As ever, but particularly now, I hope you gain as much reading it as I did writing it.

Everything’s marked by fine lines and people cross at intersections until the pencil marks blur into gray. The landscape painting becomes blackened smudges across a white canvas. I struggle with why I do things. Not knowing does not bother me, nor does thinking. If they got under my skin then I’d have shed this layer long ago. But I do get tired. Everyone does, and we all have to recharge. I have observed people as best I can from my specially tinted shades. I have many ideas, most flawed, but I do think people need to recharge. It gets exhausting to exist. Something’s got to shock the spark back into people. At least, something has to have kept us going this long. Other animals might do well with a good meal but man needs an inch more.

A human being needs something to invigorate the endless repeat. No matter how far the churn of progress pushes us, we still feel each moment of misery so sharply. More life and less death but there’s still something on the TV to complain about. Perfection’s not a point to reach. At least I cannot see it. If I could, I’d never believe it. So long as it eludes us, we have to make do with what we got. We have to accept that conscience creates context, and we will live in that context every day.

There’s painters that put a life together one calculatedly brilliant stroke at a time. Art’s their occupation. What a word to use. It is like your work invaded the country side of your life and set down some barricades. There are these people on wordpress that will shoot a like at my post before it’s been up a minute. As soon as they can they spread their name and their word. Some folks will hit it big here, and many more are trying to right now. It takes effort by the pound and desire by the tons. What would you have me say? I want to write like they write? I want to pour it in and out and exercise it daily to hit it big. I want an interview on day time TV and an Oprah sticker over the synopsis on the back. I want to live putting the pen to the page. Until what? Until the occupation comes. Until the countryside of my mind’s accepted the central state’s apparatus. Until they’ve given up all their grain and said, “fine, feed whatever fire you want.”

Do you want me to admonish that I have never lived in that rapturous moment of desire? How would you like me to answer, if you asked me why I write? That I am out to make it. That I am out to feed the economy with paper purchases. I am here to pump resource into the minds and across the mouths of your friends. Or would you rather I say I was Ting from the start? I just did. I set it all clear from the straight start. Then I sat you down in front of honest work. Beautiful, original work fashioned from a famished mind and full heart. Maybe I am here to motivate you right now. Maybe I am hear to make it larger than life so that every instant of my impermanent instance of existence can eschew across etches of intercrossing black lines coursing across the canvas. I have thought myself in circles until I lied down like a dog and fallen asleep. And I’ll do so again in no short time from now.

Here I set and here I stand. I once wrote for love of a life larger than my own. I wanted words to communicate the brilliance of my ever thinking mind. I never got that my brilliance, if real at all, exists only with another’s dullness. If I am a brand than you are the unbranded and my effort at understanding would singe your skin, and no higher either of us would be. I would shine like I were special, but a light that leads the way can burn. Much worse it can burn out. I wanted a piece of immortality worn by words and born across the rivers of time and valleys of space. I wanted those words to return to me with bags of money. I wanted them to come back with an audience that understood. More than anything else, I wanted that perfect understanding

I did not start so selfishly. I did not do it all for dollars and hollers. There was a fun in it. But for years I could never corner it. I never knew what that fun was, and how I got to it. Half the time I chased after the perfect words and loved each footfall in the race. The other half I forced it. Each step became a struggle. And I said to myself all the running could get me far. I did not know in what direction. I did not know why I wanted distance at all. I just chased, sometimes against the goal. When it felt fun, it would all flow like a river ran beneath my feet. When it dragged, I swam up the creek and into the current. My thoughts became a waterfall contorting across my body. They pulled me back. Images of fame and glory became growing pains. Cutting in swift pangs, my mind sliced me apart as I crawled up the current. Beleaguered and bedraggled I’d drag my mind mangled self onto the shore. I’d hope I waded up enough in the stream. And I’d ask if I still wanted any of it. Did I want even a letter left in the word “Author”? “Well fuck,” I’d reply, “I thought I wanted at least all parts of ‘writer’.”

Currents tend to dash things on the rocks. Here I set, here I stand, and to here I’ve swum. Figuring out the fun’s what it’s about. Let the military men set about occupation. They’ll free the majesty in their minds, and the peasants of their countrysides will emblazon the word “author” all across the fantastic slopes and flats of their heads. I am here. I work, I think, I talk, and I get tired. I want something invigorating to rewind the clock. I want to set my mind in starvation so I can start it all over again. Let me light up the page like woodcarver Ting broke down the branch. Let me starve my mind. The before and the after may become bloated. They may inflate with thoughts of success and failure. But the during, the nitty gritty of pounding every key again and again until these endless hovering bits of meaning shatter together into some broken up shit storm of menial thought, that belongs to me. That belongs to me because that’s my moment to wipe my slate clean. I hold onto it until it lets itself go. I’ll edit it in the morning. I’ll set it straight by night. I’ll post it in the afternoon, and I’ll tag it in the evening. But the moment I set on it I clear my slate.

I once wanted fame and fortune. Still they glitter like gold. Maybe they are. But I want a metal I can fight my battles with, not over. I want no metals at all. I want no distinctions, no anything. I just want a clear moment. I want the silence at the center of the storm. Bring me the vision in the eye of the tornado, words, and I will keep at you. I write to fast from the frenzy of fullness, until I can live life a bit emptier. Or live it however it fits. Or stop the prepositions and words letter by letter until I arrive right to the punctuation mark.

~Austin R Ryan

America My Love, Refrain 4


Have you ever woke up to find

You’ve no one to confess too?

 

Yes it breeds sin terrible and true

to not have some outlet through and through.

I speak to this page and he keeps me sane.

I tell my stupid small secrets of self-pain

 

But I never hurt myself so bad

As a few kids in clad, black

Kids can curse and hack, hearty

Even if you’re a cute and tarty, queen

You can quite quick adopt a scene, dark

Start writing shitty stark, songs

Fill poems with wrongs, in word

Taken from blaspheming herd, dead

With long dysfunction dread, lost

To commemorate your holocaust, wedded

With the wrist-blood you sweated, quick

Almost surprised by the response to a flick, slit

 

But if the emo kids

took a paltry pause

and bothered to listen

They’d hear the conductor’s voice say:

 

Please keep your blood

inside the body

at all times during the ride

Please discard

all of your baggage

before boarding the body.

if you need help securing yourself

contact the nearest priest

 

Ah, yes…

I know the tunes quite well.

The squalling of various clientele

ringing along to the drum beats

of their internal hell

 

It used be that you had to gossip

and you had to churn

out every piece of humanity

In the story marked

on the face of your neighborhood

 

But now people languish

in facebooks and tumblrs

twitters and emails

 

Not an ounce abated

by knowing that cries of help

are so damn dated

 

It’s all there

Packaged and assembled

By the foot of your door

 

Friend four thousand and seven

Meeting a massive mid-midlife crisis

 

Friend three hundred and twelve

Trying to find a major in which to delve

 

Who knows?

Maybe even friend 3

slipping very silently

into the throws of insanity.

 

Oh, the humanity!

 

When you’re at the opera

be sure to grab

One of those Plush balcony seats

well above

The stamping of staged feet

the noise is distracting

And you might miss the acting

 

And don’t forget

Your petite pair of binoculars

You have hidden

beneath the flat of your cushioned throne

without them

You might just stare someone to stone

with the squinting of

Your eyes so prone

 

~Austin R Ryan

Pointless Stories: Sleep in Winter Part 2


My dreams were not kind, though and I knew even subconsciously that I had a class to attend not so long from now with no alarm to save me. I ran through cycles of panic and half sleep. My subconscious offered me the sweet illusion of the personal responsibility I lacked. I dreamt that I would wake up and stare at the clock just in time. Even in my dreams, I did not delve far into the illusion, as my limbs would feel so weighted that I could not exit my bed, and I slunk back into heavy sleep. I dreamt of people entering and leaving my room, demonstrating all sorts of strange behaviors toward me. For my part, I felt too heavy to respond. I fell into a form of sleep paralysis where my body awakened and tensed all over. My eyelids felt heavy. The lines of my vision blurred. Clarity etched its way into my cornea here and there. I would have shut my eyes but the fluctuation between obfuscation and lucidity felt too interesting. Hallucinations of friends and acquaintances started to float about the room, conducting strange conversations that I could not properly recall. I could recognize that I was hallucinating. I had to pry my eyes open and watch reality mesh incongruously with this odd display of fiction fitted perfectly to my mind by a rebellious subconscious. The hallucinations started to scratch at some very old sores of mine. I grew uncomfortable with the stillness that radiated throughout my body. That stillness felt impure and ugly. It felt complacent. Waves of old buried dirt splashed against my mind, and my body hardly even let me see. I felt perfectly still in a very thick way.

I decided I needed to break this up with reason and reminded my mind that I was still not fully conscious. I told my brain to get back in shape and get the body moving. It took a massive effort. It felt like opening a bottle of wine. I slowly churned the action around the base of my spine until the tingling sensation of opening outward spread down my shoulders. My eyes shot fully open for the first time in what felt like hours. I sat up quickly. Only a good fifteen minutes passed. Twenty minutes sat between my next class and I. Ironically, I felt exhausted and let myself fall asleep again. Luckily my internal clock shot me up properly this time, and I woke up resoundingly ten minutes later, giving me the perfect amount of time to gather my things and get to class. I sat wide eyed in the class glazing over reality, just because it seemed the appropriate thing to do after enduring a bout of sleep paralysis.

I did not really take in much of what anyone said, but that might have been due to the class itself as much as my mentality. I never need strange sleep patterns to justify my boredom in this class. Supposedly the class teaches you how to write. As far as I can tell, it teaches you how to write dried up bits of glossy op-ed pieces that already litter the literary landscape. At best it helps you form up that lifeless academic voice into something a touch more persuasive. I made a few remarks mainly to make my voice heard and seem as though I were thinking actively. I felt underwhelmed at how they hit the class. I don’t know what I expected. I don’t know why I would think anyone would listen closer to me than I listened to them, especially in a class we were all being forced to take. I made a childish determination to feel upset about it and slinked back into my own indulgent and continual self-analysis. Later I’d slap myself mentally for getting so damn uppity and apathetic about the whole thing.

I shuffled out of the class and off to lunch. Still sore from feeling alienated by social interaction, I determined that I would not fall gracefully back into the social scenery. I spent the lunch sitting more silently than normal. I got back to my room with a full stomach and resolve to get out of my pointless funk. Unfortunately, my next class was coming up quick and I could not figure out much to do, so I just sloped up against my bed and let my momentum drain loose.

My girlfriend knocked on the door, getting me up to walk to our shared class, as is our routine. I enjoyed talking with her for a while. I always scrounge for a point when I am with her, though I know I really do not have one. I hardly have anything I want to say that I have not said to her at this point, being friends with her a year before starting up the relationship. Part of the fun was looking for something new to say. I would inspect my life and hers for some question of interest to ask or statement to make. It forced me to look a little closer at things and I enjoyed that element of conversation.
Astronomy class proceeded as normal. Having my girlfriend and a few good buddies in the class speeds things along, and gives me something to do when I get bored. Sometimes I would have to shrug off some interaction to get notes down or finish reading for another class. it did feel a bit rude. Though, that did seem the constant balance of a social life, getting efficiently rude enough to stay unbothered when you needed to without pushing people away.

After astronomy I remember sitting down and doing next to nothing productive. I think I spent a solid two hours browsing the internet uselessly before going out to dinner. After that I did sit down and read for a while until my roommate invited over another good friend and sat down to watch a documentary he told our group about earlier. I guess my own distaste for exclusion due to confusion or lack of effort in people triggered and I started to sort of lightly bitch about how we could get the whole group in if we waited until tomorrow. That was not entirely true, so we did resolve to watch the documentary that night. I still insisted that we try to get as much of the gang in as possible. We wrangled in two more people and had a good time of the viewing.

Watching a documentary on metaphysics of personal careers and reading a heady book about lifeless jobs leaves my head dense and my mouth babbling incessantly to clear some of the clutter. We all talked about dogs and I kept drawing back to my own dog, due to my blundering social incompetence and consistent internal dialogue that often draws me back to putting the conversation’s focus on myself or my own experiences. The group disbanded and I felt quite overburdened with thoughts.

The hot waters of the shower helped me loosen the various strands of crisscrossing thought. I left the shower feeling a bit more at ease. I joined my friends on the floor lounge and played some games for the rest of the night.

 

I rolled around in my bed for a while. It bothered me that I could not go to sleep immediately like I often did. My mind felt clear. I felt clean and living happily off of leisure time I would lack in the future. Something gnawed at me though, otherwise I would not have rolled around for as long as I did. I would not weave my blanket around me in so many different ways if I were not looking for the right way to lie. I could not tell if I felt physically or mentally uncomfortable. Gradually my fatigue seized me and wrapped me in that coveted wave of sleep. I knew the morning bell would yell out at me the same way the next day. I knew each step hardly removed me from that familiar buzz. It would strike again and again, morning after morning after morning. I wondered if that morning bell was what kept me awake at night. I am probably wrong. The throb that keeps me awake most likely stems from something much more difficult and vastly less interesting.

Some sort of study I heard about vaguely from a friend, who probably heard it from another friend who read an article citing a book that made the full argument, claimed that people start to embody fictional characters they really love. People project that fascinating fiction into their life because those lines of print must give you an electrical and wondrous sort of life. But no matter how close to Gandalf you get, you can’t come into work late and say that you’ve arrived just when you were needed. Not a salesman in the world dies like Willy Loman and if I really wanted to get a good night’s sleep I’d medicate myself and stop worrying about the existential. Maybe some of us do whatever it takes to make it all seem like a book filled with pointed pages.

 

~Austin R Ryan

Pointless Stories: Sleep in Winter Part 1


Today I woke up at about 7:50 am. The alarm shattered the silent air with beats that seemed concentric. The beeps sped up the longer the alarm stayed on, as a way to keep you from taking that extra five minutes that soon balloons into a half an hour. I sprung out of bed and quickly made my way to the alarm clock. Whenever I near it in the morning the beeps get faster and faster. Though they respond to time, it feels more like space. With each step I get closer to the core of the concentric circles and the sound grows quicker and harsher. The alarm shrieks faster and faster at me, delivering as much of an oration as it can before I silence it. Sometimes my finger slides right of the smooth black surface of the off button without clicking it. My tired frustration compels me to jam the button until the alarm stops arguing. I have my fill of interaction with people and I do not need my machines piping about their concerns.

My roommate, Peter, wakes up too, probably because his alarm won’t arrive much later, and we both have a class in the morning at the same time. I set my alarm ten minutes earlier than usual to beat a strange shower rush that developed in the mornings just recently. I have tenuous mornings, easy to derail. I move too slowly to feel at ease with any routine I set in the morning. My mind does not function as sharply as like either, so I yield to grumpiness, mostly because I feel inadequate in the pressured mornings. I deeply want to slink back into bed to face the day later, but I know that post-sleep I’ll be deprived of full faculties, regardless of quakes in routine. I gather my shower gear slowly. I did not buy a shower caddy this year because frankly the container store does not deserve twenty dollars for a cheap plastic box with a knobby handle. I know the overhead of perforating a cheap chunk of plastic does not warrant the price. I do miss the convenience of the shower caddy. It sucks to drop your soap or have your shampoo bottle break open while walking to the shower.

I get to showering and worrying about the time in one simultaneous and routine motion. I manage just fine, though. I brush my teeth and floss as well, recently deciding to try and force myself into more hygienic habits as I age. I get my stuff and take the stairs down. The elevator is just a quick so long as it goes straight from 5 to 1, but you cannot trust it. If you are in a hurry it’ll likely stop on all four floors along the way just to make your hubris seem Greek. Not to mention, I do not find repressing the desire to chew out the person using the elevator to transcend a flight of stairs to be a fun exercise in patience. If I am not in a hurry and not in a group then I tend not to care if someone uses the elevator to get up or down a flight of stairs. I would consider doing it myself were I them. When I am in a group I get this feeling of shared outrage that I must join in on to indicate I am fully human and not some sanctimonious Buddhist reminding people that frustration should teach us patience. Instead I revel in that emotional connection I create when another person and I judge a stranger in unison. I do not know either person, but at that moment I feel pretty well connected with both on an emotional level. Most people living on the second floor anticipate your reaction when they take the elevator. They either respond in a flash, with something along the lines of “I am sorry, I am just lazy.” They flash you this nervously jovial smile, knowing that one day one person in too much of a hurry to form restraint might start up a real argument with them. That smile prints them all over with guilt. Or maybe it is just a prankster’s nervousness that makes them invincible to anything but silent disparaging. After all, they chose the forthright path, and throughout the day ninety percent of the people you meet will not choose that path. That must be worth something. Otherwise they just stare straight at the elevator door and pretend they did nothing out of the norm. The lack of confrontation might save them from lectures, but one day I cannot help but think a senior rushing to turn in a thesis will plant a welt right in the back of their head.

I took the stairs though, so none of that would happen privy to my sight. I love the stairs for their consistency. They will not disappoint me. Even with my legs feeling worn, I plod down them at a familiar pace. I step outside and feel the slight cold of an all too warm DC November embrace me.

I always make my way to the dining hall to get a bagel and maybe some bacon in the morning. I walk up through the amphitheater. The amphitheater looks like a giant set of grassy steps leading down to a stage. The university maintains the grass perfectly, and even as winter approaches it glimmers green beneath the morning sunlight. Trees tower over the sides of the amphitheater, and a small creek runs a sneaky path along the left side of the large, leafy steps. You can hear its subterfuge if you listen close.

The trees begin to lose their leaves and to me they looked like they’re burning. An orangish red spreads on the outsides of the leaf until it forces them to fall to the earth. The cold weather spreads a burn across most of the foliage, but the campus remains well raked. The leaves speckle the ground, rather than coat it. We run our large brushes through a thicket of green hair, cut to a fine buzz. We foster the growth of massive barky limbs and let it stretch its legs out to touch the sky. Such is the treatment a national arboretum warrants.

My campus is small, but I basically have to cross the spread of it to get to my destination. We tucked the science building off on the north side, far away from the quadrangle and the bustle of activity around it. Only humanities receive such venerated locales.

I get to my economics class after a dull walk on tired legs. It feels long, but it isn’t. It just happens to be the grayest path to follow. Once I leave the neat green array of the amphitheater and quadrangle, I tread along a river of pavement, with towering slabs of concrete ringing me in on the sides. The spots of green are still there, but the campus on the far north side only receives a trickle of people going to and fro. It feels lonely and quiet compared to the bustle found elsewhere.

My economics class goes fine, though I have trouble focusing. My mind generates a few sharp responses to the basic economic principles, which I scrawl in my notes to ask the teacher about later. I can hardly remember them now, but I do remember our discussions centered on the use of patents and the creation of a complicated patent buyout system that would foster innovation and profits simultaneously. For the most part I agree with the lecture. Usually I find economics slanted at justifying itself. Economics traces out a clear path and I love and hate that about it. History’s splintered over the years, and we can no longer agree even on objectivity. But Economics, that young and brash bastard does not seem to give a shit about dissention at all. Sure, when you dive deep, Economists fight bitterly with one another, but no one’s questioning supply and demand, and they’ll all agree to devise sticky wages and frictional unemployment to support the flaws in their more widely agreed upon theories.

Economics always energizes me, but well after the morning’s passed. Walking back to my dorm, usually I can only focus on the nap I am about to indulge in. Of course as time passes I forget the specifics of economics and I regret not processing it right at that moment. The dilemmas of my morning classes are spending my free afternoons forgetting what I learned. I am dead tired walking back. An acquaintance of mine makes a quick interaction, notes that I am tired and lets me off the hook. Walking back through the amphitheater provides a different perspective. The wide steps lead down now, and I quickly clear past the creek whispering to my left and the wide empty stage. My eyes fix themselves against that large concrete structure of a residence hall I live in. It towers over the amphitheater and towers more and more as I slide down the hill of the amphitheater. Once I get back to the elevators, I find them both ascending to the upper floors. On another day, I might just hike up the five flights and fall on my bed. Today my legs will not allow it. The elevators take quite some time to get to the first floor. Each one stops at three floors, and they arrive nearly at the same time. Another person from my floor hops on the elevator and I remark that the elevators raced to the first floor. When I get back to my room I set my alarm for 11 AM. I intend to limit my nap to a half an hour. Any longer, and they say it only makes you sleepier. Recently I can recall all of my nap dreams.

So I napped and I dreamt about some interpersonal interactions in which I was quite the hero. Of course, the tale of a hero ends tragically, and just as the villain winded up to confront me, the whole world shook. The earth became the sky and the sky became the earth and it all faded beneath a concentric beeping. The rings of sound cascading in faster and faster forced that subconscious world of reverie and oddity to lapse back into reality. I stood up, turned the alarm off and then sat back down on the bed. I promised myself that I could shut my eyes for a second and remain upright. I lied to myself and made a perfectly noiseless transition into sleep. I strode right into my subconscious without even noticing. It all blended well.

 

~Austin R Ryan

The Opening Act


 

The eclectic and violently energetic Man Man chose to tour with a much more toned down and rhythmic Murder By Death. The Black Cat packed to capacity and not a person had more than an inch of air between them and the next fan. While gradually accepting every time I inhaled I would suck in a sour mixture of foreign breath and various cindery smogs. The bands did no share too many features. Man Man distorts the sound of a 1950’s dance hall into a bizarre cavalcade of toxic talk and jilted gibberish. Murder By Death cleanly constructs cinematic climaxes, weaving a western folk tune in with a web of modern stories. A soft rock and a punk rock band were not playing together, but they were different enough that everyone there either seemed eager for Man Man or Murder By Death, not both. It got me wondering what made them tour together, and how much it means to tour with another band.

A live show can tell you a lot about a band’s health, lifespan, direction, influences, and so on, but one show provides just one isolated incident. To get an honest idea of what “live” means in the context of one band requires devotion, time, and money. But it takes a few clicks and a search to find out who tours with whom, and in many ways that simple fact provides more answers than how the band behaves on stage.

It turns out you cannot underestimate how much it means when bands build a bond. Man Man toured with Modest Mouse (a similarly strange band inflated with violent volta centered vocals) back in 2007 and now members of each band formed Mister Heavenly. Two bands can tour then rapidly forget about it. Kiss and Rush toured back when Neil Peart just joined Rush, and neither band become integral to the other, but when two bands strike a chord on tour it can jumpstart careers and change genres. My Morning Jacket brought Dr. Dog into a new world of popularity and success by selecting the burgeoning band as their opener. The Mars Volta got their start setting the stage for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, despite The Mars Volta sounding quite unlike any other band out there, let alone The Red Hot Chili Peppers. The Mars Volta’s guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez occasionally played guitar for The Chili Peppers, perhaps leading the two bands to tour together.

Every instance above gives a glance into a part of a musical artist perhaps completely invisible otherwise. Omar’s involvement with The Red Hot Chili peppers and The Mars Volta demonstrates his prolific and splayed nature as a musician. Perhaps Man Man’s tour with Murder by Death demonstrates the conviction to tone both bands share. When a band like My Morning Jacket brings a band out of obscurity, perhaps it foreshadows forays into publishing and labels. And when Coheed and Cambria chose to tour with Between the Buried and Me and Russian Circles it might have gone a long way towards defining progressive metal as a genre, by amalgamating acts too weird for metal and too harsh for progressive rock. The next time your favorite band plays, be sure to get there early. The opener might mean more than the show.

 

~Austin R Ryan

The Difference


Burn the incense

Choose the sweet scents

The tense that makes sense common

 

Now talk the terrible truths

To the tone you tow

With folk that walk you to and fro

 

Now hit the nail

On the head

So in your coffin you can bed

 

The air you needs dry

The coffee you wants black

The talk you want is dirty

The game you want is smack

 

Don’t mistake me for

A wise man speaking true

Bulls be cowed

Mice be manned

And I am just as lost as you

 

I am looking for a man

Yes a wide hipped woman

 

I am looking for a sweet

Yes sea salt seasoned sour

 

I am looking for a time

Yes make my day

But do it by the hour

 

I am looking for the finish

Yes I want a winter war

And a dash of autonomy

To settle the score

 

I am looking for the start

Yes I want a place to part

A small town, a wedding gown

A beat for my heart

On an Aztec altar

 

I am looking for my eyes

Yes I want them rolled back

Inside my head to hear word

Of what I’ve left dead

 

I am feeling for my fists

Yes I need them balled tight

So in the night I might

Keep my wits held tight

 

I can’t quite find my speed

I can’t quite catch my mind

It beeped before the buzzer

It shot before the gun

It leashed before the collar

 

It bit the chomp

It topped the spin

It piped the lead

It pilled the sleep

And heathed the ledger

 

The water you need’s cold

The time you seek’s passed

The story you sought’s told

The first you find is last

 

Fiddle with your flute skin

And fill your oboes in

But don’t touch your tongue

It’s browner than your nose

And do not play with words

Since you never can know

who licked them last

 

~Austin R Ryan

America My Love, Refrain 3


Heard a man tripped out on Benadryl

Just for a cheap thrill

And some time he needed kill

Saying it seems somewhat shrill,

 

But everything has its cost

and his mind floated the bill

 

Never came out of it the same

It was quite a shame

 

These were the words, my ears came to tame

 

It is quite a shame

It is quite a shame

It is quite a shame

 

Being catholic can cut

Deep into the gut

And sometimes I wonder

Just for mind to ponder

How many still meander

Around their desire

Until it burst from them like fire

 

Never could catholicize my eyes

The proselytize really crucifies

But someone with mouth from word

Of gods great and grand herd

 

Once bothered to tell me

Of a banner man

who did pail with driving a nail

But never feared a hammering

When it reached for the tail

 

This one’s an old ale.

Probably something you know

something you inferred

or thought occurred

Even if from your ears,

the tale was deferred

 

In his hand he had the devil’s smooth grip

 

His heart all a flutter

his head all a flip

When a boy brushed by his healthy hip

 

He wasn’t a pervert like the rest…

I don’t mean to be crass, but

He just longed with his ass

 

And loved with his dick

 

Father, father you did your best

you smote smut, you saved the sick

You churned out charity, you prayed so merrily

but alas, alas you never loved a lass, a lass

father, father you’ve become a bother, bother

and no man’s left here to stop your slaughter

Jesus was your only reference

and Christianity your Alma mater

no real wonder

When the covers got looked under

they saw your eyes caught

between recompense

and soft, fleshy plunder

 

~Austin R Ryan