I'm still not dead. Don't bury me yet.

When I first heard the Riverboat Gamblers, months and months ago, I had expected something a lot faster, a lot noisier. As a result, I listened to their newest album once, maybe twice, and then filed it deep in the bowels of my external hard drive. It wasn't until months later that I went searching for it, after reading stories about what an insane live act they were, and discovered that it was a pretty amazing record if I was prepared to accept it for what it actually was. It's upbeat, it's punk-influenced, and it's got plenty of heavy guitars. But it's not in the tradition of The Dwarves or anything like that; you're going to understand it a lot better if you walk in expecting something more like The Buzzcocks. Melody plays a big role in The Riverboat Gamblers' sound, and vocalist Mike Wiebe sings rather than screaming. This can be surprising if you expect brutality, but there is still real power here, and it's definitely the sort of record that, if listened to while driving, will lead to going faster than is really advisable. So in the end, I liked it quite a bit.

Even that was a couple months ago, though. The reason I have come to write about it now has a lot to do with the depressing circumstances of my life recently, which I alluded to in my most recent post (did that thing sound insane? I was insane when I wrote it). I've used the phrase "raw nerve" to describe my emotional state so many times in this blog and in other music-oriented writing that it's well on its way to becoming my own personal cliche, but that doesn't make it any less true. The problem for me is that I'm way too easily hurt, and nothing is surer to hurt me than a brief appearance of friendship and/or romantic interest that's followed by an unexplained and total withdrawal. This sort of thing happens to me a lot, too, and maybe if my mental state was less fragile, I could attribute it all to random chance and move on with a less bitter mindstate. Instead, every time it happens, I feel like yet another person has seized the opportunity to create amusement at my expense. When I tell people stuff like this, they use the word "paranoid" a lot. And maybe I am paranoid; maybe all of the things that happen to me that feel like the universe and all of its inhabitants ganging up on me like some universal redheaded stepchild are completely random. The problem is that when it happens too many times over the course of one's life, when bad things become the most likely outcome no matter how good the circumstances appear to an outside observer, it starts to seem more farfetched to believe that this constant bad luck is in any way random than to believe that something about you, the sufferer, attracts suffering like a lightning rod. I've been thinking about this stuff a lot over the last day or two because, at a time when I was already feeling crappy, I saw "The Devil and Daniel Johnston", a documentary about the life and career of a celebrated mentally ill musician. I've known plenty about Daniel Johnston for a long time, but I never really knew what was wrong with him. Lo and behold, he and I suffer from the same mental disorder--manic depression, aka bipolar disorder. That's a strange and frightening thought, to realize that a man who has attacked friends and strangers while in the throes of delusional fits, and has spent years committed to mental institutions, is struggling with the same problems as you yourself, his illness differing only in degree. Furthermore, watching the movie and learning about things he's gone through, behaviors and thought processes he's had, and so on, I kept recognizing problems I myself have. Thankfully, I've always been able to keep it together for long enough to work a job (though in my younger days I would often randomly quit anything I worked at for more than a couple months) and keep my bills paid, but sometimes it disturbs me to know just how close to the edge I am--closer than even my closest friends realize.

Enter the Riverboat Gamblers. Yesterday morning, I showed up at Tower Records, only hours before they'd close their doors for a final time. Everything in the store was 90% off, but nothing was in order anymore; if you wanted to find good stuff, you had to dig. Earlier in the course of their going out of business sale, I'd noticed that they'd had quite a few copies of "To The Confusion Of Our Enemies" by the Gamblers, and I'd always had to pass it up in favor of other albums I wanted that looked like they'd sell out faster. I feared I'd missed my opportunity to get anything really worthwhile, but while digging through the disorganized dregs, I actually found 20 CDs I wanted, including what appeared to be the final remaining copy of "To The Confusion Of Our Enemies".

I didn't figure this CD had any surprises left for me. Like several others that I bought that day, I had downloaded it and enjoyed it in the past, and was buying it now because the opportunity had presented itself rather than because I wanted to hear something new. The Riverboat Gamblers still had something up their sleeve, though; a lyric sheet, illuminating words that I'd only half understood on my downloaded copy. I started reading over them earlier tonight, when I was in a pretty horrible frame of mind. Disappointment often leads to depression for me, and depression can often lead to rather apocalyptic thoughts [Note: I've also had an epiphany due to recent circumstances, as well as the viewing of the Daniel Johnston documentary, that I'm almost sure explains my fascination with flagrantly Christian music, despite my not being a believer myself. This will probably make up another post in the near future.]--thoughts of suicide, to be completely frank. At times of dark depression, I most often find myself drawn to depressing music, music that will get down in the dark trenches of my mood and wallow around with me, usually providing some measure of comfort in its doing so. But sometimes I'm too far gone even for that, and records by bands like Joy Division and The Smiths only further encourage my desires to reach for a razor or a bottle of pills. I'm not sure which mood I was in tonight, but the truth is that I wasn't really looking for any sort of comfort from music when I put on "To The Confusion Of Our Enemies." I was hoping for distraction, for the enjoyment of one of my many new CDs to take my mind off things, if only for a short while.

It did so much more than that, starting with the words to "Don't Bury Me... I'm Still Not Dead", the song that provides the album's title. The lyrics to the album are given out of order, and this song appears first, on the page of the cover mostly devoted to credits rather than further along, with the rest of the album's words. Here's a good chunk of the lyrics to this song: "To all the given ups, the special needs crew. To all those who were told "we didn't need you." To all the people who are eating all alone--you know something fucked that kid up good. To all those who wake up at dawn, underpayed and then shit upon. To all my friends who never had a chance. To those who closed their eyes, thinking they'd be better off...for now." That's most of the first verse. Here's the second: "To the ugly ones with the bad teeth, staring at the pretty people that they can't meet. Staring at the magazines on the endcaps, that fuck your head up good. To all those buried in the ground, God knows I wish you were around, to laugh and cuss about what's going down. To those who stand watching the last bus as it drives away...again." Both verses end with the chorus, an exhortation to "Just keep screaming out: I'm still not dead! Don't bury me yet."

At times when things are going badly for me, there are sometimes moments where I feel like the entire world is against me, and is looking for an opportunity to fuck my shit up. I'd be so bold as to say that the only reason I have survived all of those times so far is the solace I've been able to receive from art, mostly from music. I think this must be true of a lot of people who feel like me, and struggle with the same alienating and depressing feelings where society and finding a place to fit in is concerned. And this is probably why there are always records there to save my ass at my worst moments. In doing that for me right now, The Riverboat Gamblers are taking their place in a long line, but every record in that line is incredibly important.

I mentioned earlier what I've read about the Gamblers' live show, and I think this is pretty good evidence that my gathering resonance from what this album presents is no mere coincidence. I've never seen the Gamblers myself, but I really want to; from what I've read, Mike Wiebe is basically the Sabu of rock n' roll, performing poorly planned and incredibly dangerous feats and throwing himself from second-floor balconies nightly just to give the fans a show. That kind of thing comes from a deeper place than a mere desire to entertain--self-sacrifice is always an indicator of demons that need to be exorcised. I'm sure Mike Wiebe knows all about that, too; in "The Gamblers Try Their Hand At International Diplomacy", he declares "I don't get you people, just leave me alone!" and in this one line, sums up much of what the lyrics to this album have to say. This is a guy who understands the plight of all the fucked-up, alienated kids in the world, who end up punks because they can't conceive of anything else. And he knows, just as I do, that there's little hope of redemption anytime soon. This is spelled out in the album's finale, "Black Nothing Of A Cat", a song with just as much manifesto potential as "Don't Bury Me... I'm Still Not Dead". The chorus follows the kiss-off lines "I said "fuck you", I'm not mistaking your downtalk for sympathy. And it's not true, your happy ending won't come about like this," with this declaration: "You're not gonna like at the end the protagonist ends up alone. Just like a cat wanders off to go die by itself in the snow." That's something I've been thinking a lot about lately too. I'm currently writing a novel that will include as one of its subplots the attempts of a character with near-crippling social anxiety disorder to navigate romantic relationships in a society where the concept of insecurity barely exists. One decision I've made already, even though I haven't figured out how it will end, is that my main character will end up alone. A lot of times, I will read a book or watch a movie in which the main character's loneliness will mirror my own. I can relate to these characters in the beginning, but it's almost inevitable that by the end, said character will have found love and happiness. I'm tired of seeing this shit because all it does is make me feel bitter. "Where's my love?" I want to scream at the creators of all of these stories. "What about the people who die alone? Has it ever occurred to you that not all or even most of them wanted such a fate?" Mike Wiebe acknowledges in his lyrics that plenty of us face prospects that are uncertain at best where these things are concerned, and in his acknowledgement of this fact, he draws a line between himself and all of the other dirty punks proud to have no social graces and the dilettantes who are only slumming it until they get their college degrees. People like that do tend to find love in the end, but you have to wonder how much of it is fueled by their own abilities to get a haircut and get a real job. Some of us are just too insane to face that sort of drudgery, by which I mean that life is hard enough to hack without forcing ourselves to do things we don't want to do just because they pay better than what we want to do. "I'll be sleeping at the neighbours with six dollars and a skateboard," Weibe sings. "I'll be working on the same trick, can I pull it this time?" He knows that some of the best things in life have no value to mainstream society. Mainstream society doesn't want to let him, or any of us, free from it's clutches, though, and he acknowledges this as well: "And I get such guilt to chew; I'll chew it over. All the things we didn't do, I'll do it over. And 'if you let me I won't screw it up again,' but I probably will. I probably will." He can only be who he is, he says. And that's true for me too--it's true for a lot of us. The ugly ones with the bad teeth, staring at the pretty people we can't meet. Being one of those people can be a burden, sometimes such a heavy one that it's hard to bear. But fuck it, I guess I'm still not dead. And if that's still true tomorrow, it's at least somewhat due to the Riverboat Gamblers. Thanks, guys, wherever you are.

The Riverboat Gamblers - Don't Bury Me... I'm Still Not Dead

The Riverboat Gamblers - Black Nothing Of A Cat


This is where it gets scary.

I had a bad date last night. Or, well, no, the truth is that I don't know how it went. The girl I hung out with is really awesome, and I think I'm pretty into her, but I have no idea how she feels about me. I just have never been very good at reading signals from people, and while a lot of the ones I got from her seemed good, the thing that stuck with me was that every time I'd move a little closer to her, she'd move a little bit away. So OK, it's hard enough for me to make moves, and this little tiny dissuasive measure was enough to keep me from doing anything more. On the other hand, we hung out at her apartment for hours, got along really well, and she's supposed to hit me up in a few days so we can hang out again (I guess we'll see if that actually happens--man, I'm such a pessimist). It wasn't until I was at home in my bed, trying vainly to go to sleep, that I realized how bad I fucked up; that, considering how much I dug this girl, it would have been better to make a move and get rejected than to end up in the situation I'm in now, where I just do not know.

When I woke up this morning (if you can even call it that... I may have dozed off at points, but for the most part I tossed and turned all night), I was feeling terrible. I was tired, but also sad, in that way where you feel like you want to cry but it's just not going to happen because you don't have the energy for it. And I was kind of angry, too--angry at myself, for blowing it. I needed to hear something that fit my mood. I found myself reaching for Drowningman's side of their split single with Dillinger Escape Plan, a song called "My First Restraining Order". The song was also included on their album "Rock N' Roll Killing Machine", but I really only wanted to hear this one song. It's always had a lot of resonance for me. It starts out like a typical Drowningman metalcore song--heavy, riff-laden, angry and energetic but not too fast. Then, halfway through, it does what so many of my favorite Drowningman songs do and turns into a melodic, emotional rock song. Maybe even emocore, I don't know. Whatever you want to call it, it has a tremendous effect coming after half a song of angry freakout metal. Suddenly, this portrait of a stalker becomes sympathetic.

"Tell me what I said, tell me what to say" is the first line of this section. The jilted ex is appealing to reason here, and as scarily nuts as he must appear to the object of his affections, in the context of the song it's understandable. Later on, he repeats the line "I've called seven times, they say you're not at home" a couple of times, before saying "I can see your light's on. They said... they lied." Maybe I'm just crazy too, but I can relate to where he's coming from in this part of the song. A lot of times people would rather not deal with the issue than tell you one way or another what's going on. This is the kind of trouble you can get yourself into when the need to know becomes so strong that you violate societal norms. Because we've all called too many times, realizing too late that we've blown it. We've all gotten scary a time or two in our lives. Right?

By the last few lines of the song, the music has built to a crescendo, and vocalist Simon Brody is singing "I can't take it back" over and over. He knows he's blown any opportunity at redemption by this point, and if anything, it makes his pain sharper and more intense. The situation I'm in right now, the confusing thing that just makes me want to hide under the bed, is nowhere near the intensity of the situation described in this song, but the anguish I hear in its last lines hits home deep inside of me. Everything involved with dating and relationships feels like such a fucking struggle; as soon as things get a little weird, I get upset and feel like bailing out. I haven't pushed anything anywhere near far enough to get scary in a long time--since I was in my early 20s, at the latest. But I still know quite well the feelings that can drive one to that point, and at times when I'm feeling like the most maladjusted idiot in the world, I feel lucky that other people have gone there before me, and written songs that tell all the monsters of the world that we're not alone.

My situation: hey, we'll see where it goes. I don't have much invested in it right now, so if this girl and I are just going to be friends, that won't even really hurt that much after a few days. But I'm not looking forward to the process of trying to figure out what's going on. I just have to try and make sure I don't chicken out again. I don't need any more nights like last night.