One day in August 1994, my wife and I took our son to meet his new teachers and classmates. It was the first day of prekindergarten. He was not quite four years old.
In my memory of that morning, our brown-haired child almost immediately picked out a blonde-haired boy to play with. Or maybe the latter picked out the former. Anyway, I can see the two of them standing together in a corner of the room.
They became close friends and have remained friends ever since.
Today, Ryan is a musician. Dot.s is his band. Here he is onstage at a recent performance:
And here’s a link to a great track called “So Reticent” from the album Jellyfiss (DBW Records 2015).
The video at the top of this post, “Driving in Cars with Boners,” is a play on the film title, Driving in Cars with Boys, a 2001 movie by Penny Marshall starring Drew Barrymore. Here’s how the Internet Movie Database describes the film: A single mother, with dreams of becoming a writer, has a son at the age of 15 in 1965, and goes through a failed marriage with the drug-addicted father.
Now here’s what my son’s friend Ryan said to a Creative Loafing reporter about the song title: “The song title is without a doubt the dumbest thought I’ve ever had. I needed people other than me to know the stupidest thing that’s ever come out of my head.”
Ryan is just incredibly talented. (Pretty sure he did the artwork for the record, too, which you can see at the end of this post.) And he has his own compelling way of looking at the world.
I’m intrigued by it. To be honest, partly because it feels so foreign to me. Earnest, straightforward person that I am.
When they were still just four or five years old, I would sometimes take the two boys to the park. My son would run, climb, swing. Ryan would invariably climb to the highest spot that he could reach and jump off.
What I’m suggesting is that there’s a deep-seated playfulness in Ryan’s art and music, which you can hear in the trippy-zippy electronic beat and melody of his songs. You can also detect it in his comment on “Driving in Cars with Boners”: he manages to own and disown the title it at the same time. It’s serious, but it’s also not at all serious. I’m proud of this, but it’s also genuinely dumb.
As was recently pointed out to me, it’s not a new thing that artists want to have their cake and eat it, too. That they provoke and entertain us by playing around with “the real” and “the fake.” What today we call “meta” or self-referential goes way back.
I suspect that all this has something to do with a rejection of boundaries that is partly the temperament of the individual artist, partly a sign of the times. Here’s more of what Ryan said to Creative Loafing:
I like writing about people who seem chemically different from everyone else. This and most of the songs on the record are about a percentage of people I’ve met that have this kind of spark deep inside their blood, more so than simply being a big personality, or a weirdo, or a crazy. I’m talking more about the kind of [person] who goes to AA meetings for the people watching, and don’t tell anyone about it, because it’s an experience that belongs to them and no one else. When I meet people that fit into this margin, it feels like they’re breathing a different air than everyone else. Like, all the blood in their body was sucked out, and replaced with something better.
“Breathing a different air,” “replaced with something better”: these are expressions of an impatience with anything conventional. With clear boundaries and time-tested rules.
And the absolutely surest way for an artist to escape convention is through ironic detachment. À la filmmaker Quentin Tarantino or artist Cindy Sherman:
This is a stance that is not without its own challenge, of course. I’ve titled this post “Infinite Regress” for a reason. If behind the façade there is another level of pretense and behind that yet another, the danger for the artist is that form becomes the only thing. Content, treated as infinitely variable, is there simply to fill the form. In other words, the artist may forfeit the chance to “tell it straight.” Even if he or she tried to do so, who would believe it?
Time will show where Ryan takes his music next. I’ll be watching and listening. And I’m being dead serious about that.