Or maybe you’ve given up on writing things, or you have very, very murderously given up on writing things, because you figured out too long ago that you’re always going to have a day job as well, so you might as well just play video games or read or go to the bar after you get home. The statistics alone hate you: even if you were living in a dream world where only one in a million people wanted to write a book—if only!—that would still mean you’d have 7,000 people to compete with for roughly a hundred slots in the public consciousness, if we’re being really generous to the public consciousness. And 90 of those slots are already reserved for rich and famous people’s children, and 5 of the remaining slots are predestined for token “gritty” people who still grew up in NYC. And how many writers from our time will be remembered on an immortal scale? Can you name ten playwright contemporaries of William Shakespeare?
Only a mutated mongrel breed of idiot masochist refuses to give up on this stupid venture. And even if you haven’t given up, you’re probably still bitter about your day job.
Well, not that this is supposed to make you feel better, but indeed there is some perspective and perhaps camaraderie to be found in this fact: We’re not alone. Musicians, also, are pretty fucked.
Take Marc Ruvolo, currently of the ridiculous and beautiful Chicago band The Fur Coats. Not that any punk rocker who isn’t on antipsychotics seriously thinks he’s going to get famous, but Marc Ruvolo has been in punk bands since the beginning of time, and he’s still looking for a day job as we speak. And I am anti-that. I don’t care if not suffering through the sludge will detract from his “material”; Ruvolo’s even older than I am and I’ve got more than enough shitty material, thanks. I think I’d like some classy material now.
His last day job was owning the Bucket ‘o’ Blood books horror fiction store, which, incidentally, was the ONLY VENUE IN CHICAGO that had the balls to give me a reading when my novel NVSQVAM came out in 2011. (Quimby’s quit being “edgy” in about 2003, and now will only admit weirdos if they’re grandfathered in.) When I asked for the reading and then met him, I about self-defecated when I realized who I was talking to: the lead singer from No Empathy.
It was all I could do not to gurgle in his face: “DUDE, SHOULDN’T YOU BE DEAD?”
No Empathy began in freaking 1983. I was ordering records from Johann’s Face Records, Ruvolo’s other hopeless business, before I was old enough to buy beer. I’ve been drinking beer long enough to be bored of it! (And he’s been drinking beer long enough to be dead of it ten times over.)
Can’t say I’m bored by Ruvolo’s continuing to rock his ass off, however. I know, punk rock is used up and over and three chords and, and, you know what? You’re kind of an unimaginative shit. There’s something about that bashing, trashy beat that never gets old, as long as you keep not giving a good goddamn about what people think of you, and you keep writing amusing fuckitall lyrics like:
“Please accept my apology for barfing in your car / I probably didn’t need those last shots …. I went into the bathroom / Looked in the mirror / and saw myself for what I really am: / Goddamn! Goddamn! Goddamn I’m a handsome man!”
That’s from the Fur Coats’s new album, The League of Extraordinary Octopuses. If you’re not amused maybe you have to hear the chords: When the narrator “Looked in the mirror” and saw himself for what he really was, the guitar goes for a serious, emo progression … and then when he kinda says “bah!” to the idea of introspection, the music bounces back into goofy pop punk. Ruvolo has been doing this forever, as I said, and he’s really, really good at using and abusing the subtleties of every single trope. Yes, I said punk rock had subtleties. Or rather, it can. Think of Mickey Rourke’s acting. There are little winks and blinks inside his thrashing around, little extra plates he’s juggling that a kid trying to just thrash around in imitation of him would never give you.
Last year Marc quit running the bookstore. It was great being able to buy sic-fi from his well curated stock, but I understand; I can’t imagine all the bullshit that must go on when you stand there trying to sell stuff in Logan Square all day (I love you, punk rock, but you pick up righteous freeloaders like a Swiffer for dirtbags). He sold the store last summer, took off on tour, and came back to… I dunno, maybe he’ll finally make enough money selling records to NOT go back in the cube this time. It would destroy the thesis of this post, but believe me, “it” is more than welcome to prove me wrong.
“Raise your tiny fist and take a poke at the world,” as Ruvolo says in the song I remember pogoing my ass off to last year before the album came out. If you’re a kid wondering what Gen X ever saw in that punk rock stuff, try starting with the Fur Coats. I’m not saying I don’t like rawk with synthesizers—lots of good punk rock has synths, come to think of it—I’m just saying, if you’re good enough, you can sometimes get away without a lot of frills. Oh, and kindly stuff that auto tune thing up your fundament.
(Note: Marc also does art, like the nonplussed octopus on the T-shirt he made to support The League of Extraordinary Octopuses. I got one, because I’m a better person than you are, and also I am good at spending money wisely: it’s 15 bucks BUT the fine print sez you get a download of the album thrown in! I guess that’s the way of the world now: to get people to buy your actual album you have to throw it in as a side perk of buying the fashion merch.)