Unfollow - (Smallville Hotel, Beirut 3.18.17 2:15)
Have you ever tried to explain Berghain to your dry cleaner, or your aunt from North Carolina at a family reunion in the mountains of Virginia? It's surprisingly difficult.
I've only been to Berghain a handful of time. Surprisingly, they let me in, despite being dressed like i just finished my shift as low tier rodeo clown (maybe that's why they let me in?). Having friends in the biz is a definite plus if considering a visit, they don't tell you that in the brochure.
My relationship with TECHNO (that word should always be written in all caps) has been one of toxic love/hate for more years than i care to mention. Despite it's many (Rick Owens clad) faces over the years, there is an amazing beauty to it's simple, often well sound designed intensity.
I realized recently that what bothers me about it from a theoretical standpoint is it's brutal quantization and lack of arrangement (feel free to hate comment away on that statement). Thus the love/hate, as this is also what makes it what it is.
On the flip side, and i cannot emphasize this enough, it has had a MASSIVE influence on me. The first time i saw Marcel Dettmann in a Brooklyn basement a million years ago changed my life. The unbelievable beauty of a pulsing strobe and the cerated cut of the tunes he played made my soul ring. Standing in the middle of the dance floor at Berghain is an incomparable feeling, and Talatone by Blawan is my go to song when applying makeup pre-rodeo.... Love.
The humor in it, for me anyway, comes from how people move to it. I call it the "techno march". Here's it's recipe, and mind you, i'm only judging, for as many times as i have tried, i truly don't have the coordination for it: clench your fists as hard as you can, left foot forward, right fist down, step back with left foot, bring right fist up, step out with right foot, left fist down, step back, raise, and repeat until the next day.... if you know the funky chicken, you're already half way there.
This song was a sad attempt at creating something to practice this dance routine to. I quickly realized that rodeo clowns should stick to bike horns and ukuleles.
Turn Up The Moon - Live Version (Thank you Mr. Bourdain)
Part I: Dish Pits & Cigarettes
I'm void today, broken & void. I was void yesterday, i'll probably be void tomorrow and for a while longer.
My grandmother passed away the night before last, and as i drove my mother to the airport to attend the funeral of her own mother at 3:00 this morning we discussed how she lived her life.
I won't discuss that, as it's a personal matter that doesn't need sharing, but it led back to my own choices in life. I suppose these are the things you selfishly think of when you lose a person who is the whole reason you exist. We discussed my travels, my accomplishment, my failings. We discussed if the choices i had made up to this point made her & my father proud while trying to focus on a dark road holding back inevitable tears.
My parents sacrificed everything in their lives for me to do what i do... be a whiney musician. Over the years a lot of things have stuck with me that they have said, but nothing more so than both of my parents stating that the sole purpose of any parent is "to make sure you, as a parent, do your best to make your child's life better than your own was". It's a challenge i don't know if i'll live up to if i ever get the opportunity, and a challenge i fear more than any other.
Now, let's be clear, I'm not telling this tale for sympathy, i've never been one to social media about personal problems, nor share them with strangers on any level. I'm certainly not going to start now. I'm telling this story because of where the conversation led. It led to Anthony Bourdain... if you knew me, you'd know that's not surprising. My mother turned to me in the car and said, "write Ryan, it's always helped you move into the next phases of your life. It's time to be like Bourdain and write".
Something else I must clarify is this, my brain does not connect with my mouth. I’m not sure which works faster, and which works slower, but they’ve never had a syncopated relationship. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll notice that i am either very quiet, or i won’t shut up… it’s quite literally the definitiion of not being cool.
I so envy people that, like Bourdain, calmly communicate with others in a manor as though James Dean and Bob Marley had a love child that only functions in slow motion. And when you factor any amount of nervousness in, it multiplies, which is the absolute bane of my existence. A friend’s parent recently knighted me with the nickname “RyMan”, a clever play on Rain Man …. it’s that bad.
Very often i finish speaking with someone, and like a stoner immediately think, “did i just say that out loud?”. The person i’m speaking with most often stands before me with one eybrow cocked in confussion looking like a blood hound riding in a convertable with the top down as the wind of my words calms and their face droops back to it’s natural shape.
Music and a pen are the only two things that have ever tamed this frantic aspect of my personality. Most likely because they stop my mouth . . . on with the story…
When i arrived back home at 6 am, i laid down to nap before going out to the studio, and when i woke i had 40 text messages on my phone from friends.... this is never a good thing, and it wasn't. Anthony Bourdain was dead by suicide, his body was found in his hotel on the outskirts of Strasbourg, France by Eric Ripert.
Just typing that makes me choke up, and stare blankly at the words in front of me.
I moved to NYC from Philadelphia after dropping out of music school. I probably should have listened to my father and gone to school to be a writer, i might be wealthier, may have cured my thought/mouth problem, and would certainly be making far less punctuation and spelling errors while etching this out. I moved with a futon, a VCR, a copy of Say Anything on VHS and a beaten up over read copy of Kitchen Confidential.
The first thing i did when i got the keys was throw all of those things into my new Upper West Side studio apartment, jump on the C train, and go to the financial district to stand outside Les Halles foolishly thinking i might see him. I wanted to go in, but i wasn't even old enough to drink at the time, and was pretty certain they weren't going to take kindly to an unsupervised child wandering around their restaurant star eyed.
This story isn't original, the impact Bourdain had on most anyone that eats food or breaths air and tells of his influence is always similar. But Bourdain made it okay for me to be a dishwasher, a bus boy, a waiter, a bar back and a bartender. Of which i was all of until i started doing music full time. In fact, he didn't just make it okay, he made it cool. He gave anyone that was in the service industry the hope that they too could achieve their dreams, even if it meant standing behind a bar or a ludicrously hot kitchen line until they were 40. And he did it with an unachievable level of class and honesty.
That was the first impact Bourdain had on me. He validated the years of my life from 13 to 26 that i spent trying to become a full time musician while standing on both sides of a bar or in a dish pit. Years that i met some of my closest life long friends, from Manchester, VT to Philadelphia, to NYC. Years that i learned how to not hold my liquor, smoke like Nat King Cole, and enjoy food for the necessary art that it is.
Part II: Netflix & Cap'n Crunch
My first international solo show was at Fabric in London. As much as this frightened the living hell out of me, London was a place i was familiar with. I'd been several times as a child and teen to get my ass handed to me playing soccer (football), and they sort of speak American, so it was cool. The challenge was that i was to spend the rest of that tour month residing in Berlin on the off weeks. A city, country, language and people i was entirely unfamiliar with.
My apartment was in Friedrichshain, on Corinthstrasse, just around the corner from where Zur Wilden Renate is now. I arrived at Shonefeld very late, and it was cold! Fortunately i was with my brothers, No Regular Play, but there was still a nervous feeling in my gut. Just talking to a cab driver made me stammer. I was in an unfamiliar place, pretty much by myself. A place of which we, as Americans, had only been taught the negative side of. The DJ mecca that it had become had little impact on me at the time, as i didn't really pay much attention to that then. It was just fucking scary.
We were all starving, and had no phone service. This was before iPhones i believe, at the very least i certainly didn't have one... Netflix was definitely still just a DVD delivery service. Friedrichshain was (as is a lot of Berlin in the winter) a cold dark ghost town. After we finally got the internet to work we had to decide where we were going to get food ... everything was in German, what a surprise! At long last Nick, or Greg or I (maybe in mass) thought, "Bourdain!! Where did Bourdain go?!". That was the first of what would become many nights spent at Burgermeister through the years. It's unbelievably ironic that tomorrow night's Part's Unknown will happen in Berlin, and at the Michelberger from what i gather on Instagram. A place i so identify with that i have it tattooed on my body.
Needless to say, Bourdain made everything okay once again!
In the years of travel that followed i lived by Bourdain. I went to countless bars, restaurants, galleries, red light districts, and rodeos because it's where he went. I learned not to fear the unknown, but to embrace it. I saw countries go through revolutions, tsunamis, dictatorships, terrorist attacks, win two Nobel peace prizes. I ate steak during a black out in Cairo under Morsi, watched friends vote in Tunisia, FARC go into and out of and then back into peace discussions, drank snake moonshine and played More Than Words on the ukulele with Tanner and the Denpasar police force. I fell asleep on a bench only to be rudely woken up by a bouncer in Berghain (i couldn't find my way out, i'll leave it to your imagination as to why). I wandered the streets of Guanajuato high on mescal, and drank too many caipirinhas in the favelas of Rio
I, again, made new life long friends, i saw extreme poverty, and extreme wealth. I got more tattoos, and got lost more times than i can count.
There are quite a few things that i came away with that stand out as important from these ongoing experiences, and perhaps offer a small amount of insight into the number of sad possibilities that led to Bourdain ending a life enviable by just about any outsider. That said, i must disclaim that i have no idea nor place to pretend like i understand the things going on in Mr. Bourdain's mind. But, continuous travel for work often leads to very little sleep, and takes a serious toll on your mind, body and soul. Travel is only one part of living a fulfilling life, it won't fix your problems. And, home is where those problems generally lie when you're constantly on the road. Most importantly, home is the most vital part of any human's soul, and that home may not always be a place, it may be a person, or people.
When you travel alone this last realization hits harder than any of the others. The world, as beautiful as it may be, is something that should be shared, and Bourdain was kind enough to share his experiences with all of us. But walking the streets of Tokyo by yourself can be the loneliest place imaginable when you have no one to share it with. Worse, there is that famous quote regarding spouses, that they should "never go to bed angry". If a personal relationship is on the rocks for whatever reason, being away from that person abroad and by yourself multiplies the intention of that statement by a million times. If you don't think Bali is ugly, try sitting on a beach there by yourself wishing you were with the person you left at home that you are pretty sure hates your sunburnt guts at that very moment.
The only thing that's carried me through those moments was, again, Bourdain. His inspirational ability to see the beauty in ugliness made me appreciate sitting next to funny paper-esque drunk & singing old men in Okinawa, or watching American marines obnoxiously hit on women at a mostly empty English Pub in Dubai. Life moves on with or without your consent. But even when you feel your most isolated, alone, and bored, there is something funny and beautiful happening around you. So you crack a beer, puff on a vape pen that's mint flavored (yet still somehow tastes like Cap'n Crunch) and laugh.
What's it all boil down to? Aside from me just listing off places that i've been? We spend our lives trying to be positive, faking how great our lives are on Instagram, storying the most trivial and meaningless actions, because someone that's trying to sleep on the floor of the Bucharest Airport waiting for a flight that's 9 hours away has enough time to waste to watch you wash your dog. We elatedly audition for The Voice, or snapchat paint drying to prove to ourselves that there is some meaning to our lives. Bourdain didn't do that, if something sucked, he said it... watch any of his documented fishing expeditions if you don't believe me. But he found a beauty in that shadowed darkness, because it's those moments of beauty when the sun pixelates those shadows and dries up that darkness that we live for.
So i dedicate this song to Anthony Bourdain, to all that he has given to me and this world through his writing, his television, his class, and his realism. Turn Up The Moon was written after my last closest and oldest friend was married. I wrote it hungover as hell next to a lake somewhere in the Berkshires on my drive home from the wedding (i'm complaining about traveling alone being bad, try going through wedding season single). It's about feeling left behind, like perhaps my career had taken over so much of my life that i'd completely lost any chance of ever finding someone to share my experiences with, and here my friends were fucking all married and shit! I made up the judgment they passed on me in my head for the chorus, "find a home with fertile ground and settle down they say, still they levee, mill the soil, wait for it to grow. You're missing something and it's more than you'll ever know, there's more to life than going everywhere the wind blows".
I don't think any of them feel that way, it's really how i feel about myself. Perhaps i need to turn to Bourdain to find the inspiration for Part III.