Friday, May 30, 2014

Apathy and Exhaustion

I’d like to think that it all went wrong on one dramatic day late last summer.  It would be nice to blame all of my troubles on that dreaded day, but the reality is that things began to slip long before that and it’s become a free-fall ever since.  What happened last summer?  Nothing special really.  I spent a nice morning with a woman who I had grown very fond of over a couple of months and after taking her to lunch as a thank you for helping me with some work; I made my big move and asked her out on a date.  The general response to the few times I have built up the nerve to ask such an outward and potentially life changing question of someone has always been some kind of awkward silence followed by a polite dismissal.  I am used to this and pretty much expect it.  This day was no different, and even though I should be used to being turned down, it is still disappointing and discouraging.  So, I found myself back in my office at work a few minutes later trying to figure out what I did wrong, when I received a phone call from my doctor.  She was contacting me to inform that my latest labs (blood tests) showed that my transplanted kidney was being rejected.  It was a ten minute stretch that I didn’t need.  It’s strange to think that day had held such promise.

The funny thing is that those two rejections no longer particularly bother me.  The kidney issue was resolved through a few changes in medication and a lot of labs and expense.  This process wasn’t easy, but things are back in control and have been for some time.  The other rejection?  Well, that one stings, as most of them do, but that pain mostly fades with time, despite the acute loneliness that such rejection leads to.

So I keep asking myself why I still feel so damn terrible all of the time.  I didn’t realize it then, but I think something turned inside of me a few months before the double rejection day.  The hope of winning the heart of a lovely, intelligent and driven woman was only a distraction that gave me temporary motivation.  Maybe it started when I decided I wanted to move from my apartment in the ‘burbs back into the city where I feel I belong - nearer my dwindling social life.  So, as my lease drew closer to expiring, I started to shop around.  In the meantime, I began the process of getting rid of things.  I discarded, recycled, or donated boxes and boxes worth of stuff that I had unwittingly collected over the years.  I made those tough decisions about several items that I’ve generally held onto over the years for sentimental reasons.  This time, most of those things were discarded.  It was time to change and simplify my life – to move forward.  This felt positive.  Along the way though, I seemed to have discarded many of my things and a big part of myself.  Many of my interests and hobbies – the things that have kept me distracted, entertained and inspired all of these years seem to have gone missing.  It’s like I’ve lost interest with everything I’ve always enjoyed.  Some of my extended family and co-workers call me “the golf guy,” yet I have only played one work-related round of golf in nearly two years, and I do not have any inclination or desire to play anytime in the future.  At the end of the 2013 season, I gave up my Portland Timbers tickets after 12 years of rabid fandom and have barely paid any attention to the team since.  I use to mainly write short stories and fiction when the urge struck, and enjoyed the feeling of creating and always felt a sense of accomplishment upon completion – well done or not.  Nowadays, my writing has been almost solely focused on promoting the music I love, which feels increasingly hollow and pointless (it’s not as though I command any kind of audience to spread the word anyhow).  This process lacks the creative spirit of the artists that I admire and that I so used to crave to emulate.  I’ve even found my lifelong passion for music on the wane.  It’s as though I’ve heard too much.  I’ve begun to question whether or not I am stuck in a rut as I listen to long-time favorites, or newer bands who remind me of music of days past, but very little seems truly new anymore.  Am I really seeking out new directions and branching out, or am I rehashing my teens and twenties over and over again?  Am I simply stuck on repeat?

I feel silly providing these examples of my current listlessness.  They are all unimportant, mundane and simple individually.  However, I’ve begun to notice that they are emblematic of a problem that I do not fully understand.  None of these things have progressed consciously.  It’s as if a trap door has opened beneath me.  It’s as though during my effort to simplify and improve my life by tossing away extraneous bits and pieces, I’ve thrown myself away.  I’ve blown out my pilot light.  I’ve lost my fire.  I’ve lost my ability to live.  I’ve become what I’ve always fought against.  I’ve become an automaton.  For example, I’m allowing my job – something I’ve always tried to keep from defining my person – to frustrate and confound me.  Every day feels like an impossible, frustrating and endlessly stressful trudge uphill with no hope of ever accomplishing anything.  It’s become a trap - a steeper hill to climb each day.  I’m stuck in a perpetual cycle of living paycheck to paycheck with a carrot dangling in my face promising something better on the horizon.  Only that something never materializes, no matter how hard I try to reach it.  Yet, I keep trying until my batteries run out.

I’ve been through a lot of difficult times in my life.  Everyone has, and as with anyone, I’ve faced life’s challenges and muddled my way through one way or another, but for some reason, this time, I do not know what to do.  I am at a loss.  Maybe, I’m simply exhausted.  For much of my life I’ve focused my energy to do battle against an ugly genetic disorder (VHL) and the multiple surgeries that I’ve endured.  Now that I’ve been fairly stable for the better part of ten years, the tiniest little thing these days can come along and knock me out – blown over like a feather.  The lingering effects of those battle scars have taken their toll.  I struggle with the concept that I’ll never feel truly physically well again.  And I don’t mean in the ‘I’m getting older’ kind of way, though that is very real.  I am in real physical pain all of the time, which leads to sleepless nights and way too much time to dwell on my shortcomings and the people that I miss and who I’ve lost.  I don’t want to lose anyone anymore.  I don’t know if I can deal with it again.

It’s time to find a direction to re-ignite that pilot light, but I do not have a clue what it would be, or what it could entail.  I’m not struggling to decide which fork in the road to take, because I’m no longer on a road of any kind.  This must be my so-called mid-life crisis.  I don’t really know what that means.  Maybe it’s the side effect of spending years and a lot of effort trying to achieve those dreams of youth and never quite doing so.  Maybe it’s the realization that those dreams were doomed to fail from the get go and there is no plan B lying in wait.  I’m tired of facing these challenges on my own.

As of now, I am trying to schedule small short-term activities each week that I can look forward to.  These are proverbial baby steps.  The hope is that one day I will once again find my stride and start moving towards positive goals that fuel and instill me with a reason to live and breathe and to feel like I’m worth something.  This feels an insurmountable task.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

God's Dream

Ringo Deathstarr
God’s Dream 12” EP
(Neon Sigh / Noyes)

God’s Dream is quite a bold title for a record, yet somehow it all makes sense.  Ringo Deathstarr, from Texas, has a way of encapsulating all kinds of various things and cramming them all into compact little moments of organized chaos.  Over their first two albums and multiple EPs, they have mined familiar musical territory (but really, honestly, who doesn’t?) and have been accused of copying their musical idols (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc.).  What sets this trio apart is that they are clearly having fun.  They infuse their noisy songs with a lot of energy and a touch of randomness that always keeps fresh and a little bit surprising.

This EP, or mini-LP (it’s seven songs, but is nearly as long as each of their first two albums), was originally released in Japan at the end of 2013 with more songs, but I missed that one, so luckily, a shorter version on fancy coke bottle vinyl was finally released this spring domestically.  Why is it that Japanese releases often provided with bonus tracks?  I’ve never understood this. 

Anyway, “Bong Load” opens side one with a sudden burst and a lot of lyrics where lead guitarist Elliott Frazier seems to be describing some sort of psychedelic meltdown.  In many ways this is the perfect Ringo Deathstarr song, because it is somehow both loud and full of disorientation, but there is calm inside the storm.  The rock steady, be it off-kilter, beat, along with a constant drone that runs throughout the song provides the song its guiding light, as the rest of the instruments meander their way down the path – eventually finding the other side.  It’s an intriguing balance that I first remember Sonic Youth achieving with their landmark late 80s work, but very nicely done here. 

The highlight of the collection is the title track, “God’s Dream.”  Bassist Alex Gehring steps in with lead vocals, as she has done a couple of songs a collection, and spellbinds us with a stunner.  Actually, there are a lot of Alex’s singing this song and her angelic voices culminate in a beautiful chorus over the top of a descending guitar line.  Again, this song is not quiet, but like “Bong Load,” it has a majestic beauty that this band seems to have found on this newest material.

“Flower Power” begins as a harsh march, turns into a speedy buzzing force, and then about halfway through changes into a drifting ambient dreamscape, before slowly building up the noise and momentum and finishing with the rock.  It was about this point, the second of third listen through the record, that I began to realize that Ringo Deathstarr is starting to record more fully realized songs.  Their fantastic short and varied collections have hinted at this, but here they seem to be stretching out and giving more ideas to each song. 

The first side closes with the dreamy David Lynch-ian “Shut Your Eyes,” which, in all honesty, has often made me do.  There have been long gaps between my listens of side one and two as “Shut Your Eyes” has allowed me to drift off into my own little dream world.

The three song second side begins with the pretty straightforward rock song “Chainsaw Morning.”  There is a back to basics to feel to this loud song, right down to the verse/oft-repeated chorus/verse and the big drum fill - sort of solo - that is the climax of the song. 

Up next is “See You,” another big sounding track.  This song musically alternates between a jaunty bounce with Gehring’s dreamy vocals and a dragging darkness with Frazier’s deep voice.  It’s an interesting juxtaposition, but lacks a certain hook.

The collection ends with the epic and upbeat “Nowhere,” which brings back their earliest mildly industrial influence aside the all out noise assault that makes up this beast.  This song evokes more modern contemporaries of similar sounds like Ceremony and A Place to Bury Strangers.

Overall, this is an excellent collection, though side one far outshines the second.  It is great to hear the band continue to spread their wings.  It’s a fun ride worth taking.  Stay tuned and come along.

Ringo Deathstarr "God's Dream"