Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Whatever Meager Amount of Hope and Mercy

The idea goes like this:

Life beat you. Whether it’s alcoholism, binge eating, not eating, whatever it is, you’re stuck with it. Depression won. And to protect yourself from depression, you bought THINGS.

Flash forward a few years, and many steps towards improving your mental health, and you’re better now. You look at those things, the detritus from the mean years and you throw them away, because those things are what keep you down.

See, it wasn’t alcoholism, or disordered eating that was the problem. It was those things you bought yourself to make something of the day or week.  Those things, whether they’re periodical superhero comics (The Comics Reporter) or a video game collection (Ben Kuchera), they’re evidence of those bad months, years and maybe decades.


Those things you bought? Those things kept you alive. Depression’s a real motherfucker, and while no superhero can save us, maybe Superman can put you in a place where you can save yourself (shout out to The Hold Steady.) You bought those things to give yourself whatever meager amount of hope and mercy that you think you deserve.

There’s no piece of media that’s gonna beat depression or get you a better job or a more serene life. But what it can do is inspire you to take those first steps. And those things you buy when you’re depressed that stack up your house? They’re reminders of the person you want to be. They’re aspirational.

When you don’t need those stacks, you can begin the process of shedding them, like a winter skin. But when you do need them? They remind that at one point you thought you could do it. And your brain may/will tell you they're a sad reminder of the person you can't be anymore, but don't listen. That's the depression talking.

You can get better. It won't be comfortable, easy, or quick, but you can. So long as you can face one small fear, give yourself some time to breathe, and face a marginally larger one. Repeat that process. Seek professional help. You can get better. You're not dead yet.

You knew I'd choose Frank for this one, right? Right. Come on now, let's fix this mess. We can get better because we're not dead yet.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Complete Phonogram

Fuck what it means, that much is obvious. The Complete Phonogram as an expensive hardcover shows the team’s enjoyed tremendous success due in some measure to Phonogram. The Singles Club lead to collaborations with Warren Ellis and Journey Into Mystery, which lead to Young Avengers, which lead to The Wicked & The Divine, which became Wic/Div and the rest is a cottage industry of cosplay, fan art and merchandise (which figuratively, and literally, keeps fans in line).

How does The Complete Phonogram make me feel?

Wistful. Happy. Tired. I carried that giant hardcover around all day April 21st and it nearly wrecked my back on its own.

I carried that hardcover around figuratively much, much longer.

I read Phonogram obsessively in my raw, unemployed years and didn’t know I was burning when I was at rest. A hardcover that collects all of the comic and b-sides looks better on the shelf and is easier to reference. I won’t miss Kieron’s essays or annotations, and if I do, I’ve got the singles and trades.

A book this heavy feels like Phonogram’s finally finished now. It’d been overtaken by Wic/Div, and for good reason, the team’s busy growing into this generation’s Sandman. Now Phonogram can rest, and maybe I can too. I’m in counseling and untangling the rat’s nest of cables that’s my brain and behavior.

Phonogram’s a document of years spent listening to bands and letting it change or mutate or infect you. Or something else, in my case. Music held me together when I couldn’t manage that myself.

Do I ever wonder how music changed me? Years at a time, brother.

Phonogram’s done, and everyone’s in a better place. In 2011, I hopped a flight to London to see the boys at Kapow, and Kieron was signing alongside legendary penciller John Romita Jr, whose line (and forty years in the industry) subsumed Kieron’s. Six years later, that’s not the case, and there's a dense hardcover to prove it.

And for that dense hardcover, and what it finishes, a celebration and a task: I must happily wave goodbye to a comic that changed me.

It’s now the morning of April 22nd. There’s a secret Wic/Div party tonight, which Hannah and I’ll show up for. Maybe I’ll let her put makeup on me. Maybe I’ll go a little glam. I’ll say goodbye to Phonogram on the Wic/Div dance floor, which feels like it’s exactly the way PG would want to go. I’m closer to living a peaceful life now than I was when I first read Rue Britannia. That peace is due, in some measure, to Phonogram.

Thanks, gents.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Trap Them And Queer Them

Donald Trump won the election. Serious political commentators ignored the possibility or gave it no better than a 35% chance. Then President Trump won. It wasn’t quite Dewey Defeats Truman, but it did happen and it’s where the country is now.

Since then, news about grotesque abuses of power and appointments of actual Looney Tunes to federal office dominates the papers and television.

Election night, I expected to feel rueful and happy for my friends inspired by Secretary Of State Clinton’s campaign. I’d never seen so many of those friends excited on the morning of November 8th, and I figured Secretary Clinton’s victory was inevitable. So the next evening, I marched and chanted and went home. I held up a sign saying I was queer, bloody but unbowed. It did feel like that, I did feel like whatever we’re calling culture now landed one really good punch, but shit, I was still here, and it would require more than one really good punch to knock me down.

(Image above from Monkey Defies Gravity.) Trap Them played Subterranean six days later. I’ve got a long history with Trap Them, and I count on the band for spectacular live shows, due in large measure to vocalist Ryan McKenney.  Whenever I see Trap Them, McKenney goes off, whether it’s jumping into the crowd or perching on top of the barrier like a vulture, eyes set to kill, forehead oozing blood.

McKenney broke both heels in Europe (and one ankle) and according to the show I saw on YouTube, did the following European tour in a wheelchair. It was wrong to see McKenney confined to a chair, gripping that microphone like a neck of a man who never saw McKenney coming. Trap Them performed admirably, but when the band’s most dynamic member broke both his heels, it’s unlikely to result in an engaging set.

(Image above is from Metal Injection.) I almost didn’t go to the Chicago date. My brain was wobbly and my head swam if I moved it too quick. It’d’ve been prudent to lie down and stay home. I almost did, and then saw the earplugs I’d been hunting for. Fuck it, I said to myself.

My brain evened out and my head stopped swimming by the time my commute to the venue, Subterranean, was over. Subterranean is a three story walkup. There’s yet another floor of Subterranean to get backstage. How did Ryan McKenney get up those stairs?

I waited. Like Rats was unremarkable, and Yatuja was technically proficient enough that I’ll remember their name, but anything else about them is gone. Sorry, gents. An admittedly generously poured vodka cranberry later, and Trap Them was finally sound checking.

No sign of Mr. McKenney. I figured he’d be on the first floor in a wheelchair, and then someone from the venue would carry him up the five or six steps from the audience floor onto the stage. There’s another way to get onstage and that’s down one flight of an industrial metal spiral staircase from backstage. But imagining him going down those stairs was ridiculous. How would they carry a person in a wheelchair down that spiral staircase?

They didn’t carry him. He descended alone.

I saw McKenney push himself cast-first down each step of the spiral staircase. He wore casts on his feet and kneepads. He crawled from the bottom of the staircase at far end of stage right to the microphone stand. The venue would’ve carried him. His bandmates would’ve carried him. He crawled.

He performed the 45 minute set on his knees, thrashing around, using whatever he could for support and maintained the baleful, wrathful presence he was known for. He flung his body like he hated it, and yeah, broke open his forehead mid set. I’m focusing on Mr. McKenney and not the rest of the band. They played well, if unspectacularly. I think guitarist (and songwriter) Brian Izzi added a few flourishes on the pre-Blissfucker material.

You’ve read enough of these know how this one comes together. Life landed one real good punch on Mr. McKenney, and he was stubborn enough to cancel zero shows. I began to despair and Trap Them reminded me I didn’t have to. And I needed to see Trap Them and Trap Them specifically. I needed the music (a combination of Entombed and Hot Snakes) played much too loud. I needed to see Ryan McKenney’s wild eyes and him performing through what I presume is meaningful pain.

(Above image from Flickr user Morten F.) I somehow got the idea my queerness is incompatible with my love for guitar music. I believed (at the cost of impugning one of my home cultures) that I really ought to listen to more, well, queer or allegedly queer friendly artists. During that seven day period, what I saw from queer friendly artists was variations on the phrase “my idols are dead and my enemies are in power”. I understand the fear. I understand the despair. But I came to fight, not resist. McKenney came to fight too, even when no one would blame him for a less evocative performance.

It was at most 45 minutes. I don’t recall an encore. Before I left the venue, I talked to Mr. Izzi, who said that we all needed this show. He was more right than he knew.

Youtube won't load properly, so instead, have Chris Maggio recording drums for Darker Handcraft. He's incredible.

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