And the beat goes on…

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Between the ages of 19 and 23, I played in a punk band. You may have heard of us, but odds are, you haven’t. We only put out one full length album, a handful of EP’s that we burned onto CD-R’s to hand out free at shows, and did some short-ish tours, mostly around the Midwest. Locally, we achieved some level of notoriety as “the band with the singer who falls down and cries a lot at the end of their set,” but there was never really a place for us in our hometown scene. Our performances were too chaotic. Our music was only “punk” insofar as it was loud and generally fast. And lyrics-wise, we eschewed the more typical punk themes of social unrest and scene brother-and-sisterhood in favor of songs about walking home alone on New Year’s and my Peter Pan complex.

The lack of recognition and appreciation was a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, if you were in a punk band, you didn’t play for recognition (Or at the very least, you didn’t admit to it). Punk was about expressing your honest and authentic Truth to the world, whether or not the world was listening. On the other hand, it was a bit dispiriting constantly playing shows to crowds of uninterested people who only came to see their friends’ bands. Wasn’t being able to support yourself doing something you’re passionate about also, paradoxically, a part of the punk dream?

So, in 2010, after a winter tour through the Midwestern states, one which involved our van breaking down not once, but three times in subzero temperatures and driving through a blizzard which stretched from Cleveland to Pittsburgh without functioning windshield wipers, I decided that my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Not just the band, but, as I would later realize, music altogether. I told my band mates unceremoniously via text that it was time to call it a night.

Naturally I was a bit sour after that. For four solid years, that band had been my life. Writing and performing songs was the highest joy that I’d ever known, and suddenly, the joy had ceased. While our peers had managed to grow their audiences and make waves in the independent music press, our legacy consisted of a few positive reviews from various blogs and about 225 unsold copies of our first LP (We only pressed 250). I’d screamed my honest and authentic Truth until I vomited, and the world didn’t seem to care.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I’d realize we had been worth just a little bit more as a band. I was hanging out with our former bass player, discussing the old days, naturally, when he informed me that he’d been in the habit of googling our name to see what he’d come up with. He told me that he’d stumbled across a forum thread devoted to our first LP, and that a young man from Russia had posted about how he’d just received his copy in the mail, and how it had saved him from committing suicide.

Now, he may have been speaking in hyperbole. But if he wasn’t… I was unable to process how I felt upon hearing this. Sure, our record sales may have only added up to a tank of gasoline, and our shows may have been sparsely attended, but, assuming this young man’s statement to be accurate, our music had saved somebody from making a very tragic decision. We had mattered to somebody so much that they kept on living.

There’s an old saying in the indie music community that goes something like this: Only fifteen people were at the first Velvet Underground show, but all fifteen of them bought guitars and started writing music. I highly doubt the veracity of this claim, as I’ve heard it in numerous variations. The number of audience members differs, as does the band, but the point of this little cliche is that ultimately, fame and mass appeal come second to inspiring others. The Velvet Underground (Or Sonic Youth. Or Dinosaur Jr. Or My Bloody Valentine) inspired fifteen people to express themselves through music. We inspired one person to stay alive. That’s a legacy I’m content to have.

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25 and lost

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I’m going to be perfectly honest here: 25 was a rough age for me. My quarter-life crisis began at least two years before and didn’t let up until I turned 26. At the center of this hurricane of self-doubt, introspection, and anxiety, were two nagging feelings: that I needed to do something with my life and that my friends and I were drifting apart.

So, in the grand effort to figure out how to become who I am, I took to experimenting with psychedelic drugs. LSD is my favorite, but between January and April of 2012, I was a regular user of psilocybin. Shrooms, to the uninitiated. And for my 25th birthday, I planned a weekend excursion to a rented cabin outside of Oakland, Maryland with my then-girlfriend and four of our other friends. To mark the occasion, I brought with me an eighth of an ounce each of grass and magic mushrooms. I was going to do 25 right.

The first night was a drunken montage of loud conversation and Talking Heads. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that a formidable distance had formed between myself and my friends. I’d been feeling it for many months now, but it was especially apparent on that first night. Even though it was my birthday, and I had organized the entire trip, I couldn’t help but feel like an interloper, a stranger on the periphery. As my friends reveled and connected, I sat quietly alone on the cabin’s porch, smoking joints and cigarettes, wondering why I felt the way that I did. The weight of it was so great that I felt like crying, but instead, I simply went to bed and left the rest of my group to continue with their partying.

The following day, we did a bit of hiking in the morning, and then returned to the cabin around 11:30 for lunch. We made BLT’s, and I piled mine high with the entire eighth of shrooms. I was still feeling isolated and depressed, but nevertheless excited about tripping my ass off and doing some more hiking in the lush hemlock forests of western Maryland. I sat at the table, guzzling orange juice straight from the carton (I’d read somewhere that niacin relaxes the cells in your body, which makes for a more enjoyable drug experience), waiting for the mushrooms to take effect.

And then, to my dismay, my friends began to retire to their beds, one by one, to sleep off their hangovers. This was definitely not good. I’d been counting on at least one of them to accompany me on another hike and make sure I didn’t do anything excessively weird or stupid. Now what? I was much too afraid of going out into the woods alone after a heavy dose of mind-altering chemicals. I resigned myself to sitting on the floor of the cabin, drinking my orange juice, and riding the trip out. Disappointment coursed through my veins.

As I sat, the mushrooms began to kick in. I stared at my hands, having visions all the while of my skin gradually decaying. I rolled a joint and moved to the porch, where I’d at least have nicer scenery to admire while I tripped. At some point, however, a restlessness overtook me and I said to myself “Fuck it,” and set off down one of the nearby trails.

The first leg of my hike, I must say, was more enjoyable than I’d thought it would be. The shrooms were providing me with some gorgeous, intense visuals. The thick hemlock trees seemed to be dancing to the strains of a distant Viking battle chant, their branches swirling and congealing with one another in a glorious arboreal kaleidescope. Now, the fierce warrior pride of my Norse ancestors flowed through my veins rather than disappointment. I felt at ease and free, solitary but not lonely. I strode mightily along the dirt footpath, finally okay with the fact that I was now a quarter century old.

At some point during my hike, at the peak of my euphoria, I noticed that I’d passed the same trail map twice. I was vaguely aware of having travelled in a giant circle, which was worrisome. Not too worrisome, however. After all, the parks department had been kind enough to place this handy map on the trail for just such occasions. But as I approached the trail map, it occurred to me that I could not understand anything that was written on it. The words seemed to be in some indecipherable alien language I’d never encountered before, and the map itself was just a jumble of meaningless lines and colors. The thought that I was lost gnawed its way into my brain and took up residence. Soon it was the only thought left.

What happened next was what I can only describe as a complete epistemological breakdown. Imagine for a minute that the entirety of your knowledge of the world and yourself is a precarious tower of Jenga blocks. Now, imagine that tower collapsing, and you’re pretty close to understanding just what I was going through. I was no longer a rational, thinking organism. All that I had to go on were my immediate sensory perceptions and the piercing fear of being lost in an unfamiliar place.

I don’t know how I found my way back to the cabin. I simply kept walking until I did. By the time I came stumbling to the front door, it was night and a light spring drizzle was falling coolly over the forest. I burst through the door like a lunatic. My friends were all awake now, chatting amongst themselves over PBR and Rilo Kiley. Their conversation sounded like utter gibberish to my ears, like when an adult speaks in a “Peanuts” cartoon. They each briefly acknowledged my presence, and went back to whatever they were talking about. I simply balled up on the sofa and didn’t say anything. I was back to feeling totally alone.

-r. miller

Aimless Splendor, or a Night With Fondue and a Journey to A-Town

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When I look back on the many December’s I’ve lived through, I must admit that the December of 2010 holds a particularly special significance in my memory. I was 23 then, and the maelstrom of my quarter-life crisis was stealthily gaining strength in the periphery.

But it would be another seven months or so before I’d experience the ravages of that storm. For the moment, I was relatively young, and had no obligations to speak of, save for my dead-end job as a counter jockey at a local convenience store. Beyond that, life consisted of open mics, where I’d strum half-competent songs of my own composition on a weathered acoustic guitar, binging “Dawson’s Creek” with my then-girlfriend at my parents’ home, and excessive alcohol consumption whenever the opportunity arose.

I think it was the first Saturday of the month when my ex had decided to host a fondue party at the apartment of one of our friends. It was a small place, the bottom floor of a two story house near downtown. Three rooms. You entered through the back of the house, where you’d find yourself in the living room. The kitchen was in the middle, and just after that was the bedroom. Like I said, it was a small place. But that didn’t stop my ex from inviting, quite literally, everyone we hung out with on the reg to attend this event. There must have been at least 25 people packed into this cramped apartment at the party’s peak. All of us drunk, boisterous, bellies full of carbs and melted cheese. Don’t ask how we managed that. The neighbors surely hated us. Especially because people would regularly venture out into the cold to smoke cigarettes in raucous groups of 5 to 10.

Anyway, in the midst of the revelry, maybe around 11 o’clock, we ran out of booze. Plenty of fondue to go ’round, but not a drop of alcohol. Our favorite bar was about a two block walk away, but they only offered 12-packs of beer for carryout, and at $10 a pop, nobody considered this a viable option. And we live in the great state of Pennsylvania, where all the liquor stores are run by the state government, and close at 9. We had a bit of a problem on our hands.

So it was decided that the most sober of us would drive to A-Town. A-Town was a bar/restaurant located about a half hour away in Hampstead, MD, that also sold liquor and wine in a little annex next to the main restaurant area until 1:00 in the morning. The place had achieved an almost legendary status among our group of friends over the years, in that, before any of us had reached the legal drinking age, we did not know exactly where it was. You’d be at a party, in a situation much like the one we found ourselves in now, and somebody who was old enough to buy booze would collect everyone’s money, leave, and return roughly an hour later with a full stock of liquor.

Our friend Kris had arrived to the party at around 10:30 and had consumed one beer, so he offered to drive. Only, he had never been to A-Town. In fact, the only one who knew how to get there was yours truly, and I’d only discovered its location a week prior when, after an awkward open mic night in Westminster, MD, I’d decided I wanted to buy a case of Pabst to forget the entire affair. I’d only had a vague idea of where it was, and following a long, unsettling drive through the Maryland boondocks, managed to find this proverbial Shangri La.

Of course, I was a slurring, stumbling mess by now, and since this was before everyone and their grandmother had a smart phone with easy access to Google Maps, I’d have to ride along with Kris and try my damnedest to remember how exactly I got there. So, at 11:15, after collecting money from anyone who wasn’t already broke, we set out on our mission.

Now, the rural parts of northern Maryland are frightening, especially at night. I recall driving home one night after spending an evening with a female companion who lived in the area, and subsequently turning onto the wrong road, getting lost for about twenty minutes on a winding, unpaved road that took me through a dense forest, complete with houses that looked like they belonged in a Wes Craven film. Not exactly the kind of place you’d want to be lost in. God help you if something were to go wrong with your car. But my friends were counting on me. I wasn’t about to let them down.

I tell you, I don’t know how I managed it in my inebriated condition, but I successfully navigated Kris to A-Town without one wrong turn. We even got in an epic Taking Back Sunday sing-along to make the drive enjoyable, rather than a chore. It seems almost miraculous, looking back. Even today, I couldn’t tell you from memory alone how exactly to get to A-Town.

We returned to the party at around half past midnight like conquering heroes, with a box of Franzia, and a bottle each of Captain Morgan, Vladimir vodka, and Tanqueray as the spoils of our victory. The festivities continued until well past dawn, when the majority of people in attendance went home or passed out in various spots around the apartment. Those of us who remained awake capped the evening off with breakfast at a local diner.

I guess the point of all this is that there doesn’t have to be a point to an experience for it to be meaningful. In the months following this party, I’d drift apart from my friends as work and my aforementioned quarter life crisis slowly consumed the better part of my waking moments. But still, I remember this night fondly, in all of its aimless splendor. That’s part of what makes being young so great, isn’t it?

9/6/17

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Waste disorder lyrically in omission.
But a practical revision articulates
that which bombards with stillness.
No frills deconstruction,
you underscore with patience.
Up against dictation
break a dissonant chord.
Here and there a word
wracked by entitlement.
The garden of gross misfortune.
So wait, I have to importune
the power grubbers
with my questioning demands.
Comprehensive fear of nearness,
our habitation.
Mind the bones, not the spasms.
On the cusp in cuffs of fire.
Might this emphasize retreat?

-r. miller

3/4/17

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The patsy raid went better than expected.

Every principle rejected was replaced
with a pillar of colored sand.
You know exactly where I stand:
this land is mine, so sayeth the fine print.
In the end, it adds up to pocket lint.
A mandate straight from the mouths of moths.
So what if I’m soft?
held aloft by simple kite strings
and rings from archaic telephones?
The cronies have their bones to pick,
and the sickening texture of their moral “codes.”
In their frenzy, they’ve overloaded the wagons
with flagons of gut-rupturing wine.
Circumstances never align
the way they’re supposed to,
but with a closed fist and determination,
what compunction you’ll inspire!
It’s astonishing, really,
how easy it is to survive
the dive bomb logic of an apology.
One minute, you’re in it.
The next, you’re flexing.

-r. miller

2/25/17

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Deviation dictates all.
I take this thunderclap for mine own.
So speaks… The coven, salacious.
The tone-deaf monarch breathing heavily.
Around the turn of a screw,
in lieu of hotboxing, these laborer’s fingers
twisting spliffs to engage thoughtfully.
Condescension with a smile.
The way these feminine eyes distress me
and even with a hangover.
I’d downed the wine, flipped the sacrament,
rendered praise unto husky mouths
rife with alphabetic tumors.
The way these feminine hands undress me…
Amid churning stars and specters.
Trees piling on trees. Limitless shadow.
Mine own hands steeped in the boiling nectar.
I only considered the proposal,
the desolate prospect of her windblown song.
We ate of the valley’s festering fruit
and fucked in the grass.
She said these lies were a burden.
More than… The future,
an approaching train, white light
intensifying until only heat.
A remainder, or a reminder.
We carry lethargically on
and summer shoots through every window.
Another lost weekend for the pyre.

-r. miller

2/21/17

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Sleep well or forever hold your peace.
This will cost at least a pinch of sanity,
on a good day. To say nothing of the blips…
One could waste a fortnight slipping

into multi-colored comas
and not even know the difference.
That’s where the fun hides, precisely.
The clock doesn’t just strike, it blitzes.

-r. miller