Lyn’s Essays: On Winter Holidays

It’s that time of year again.

Every time I see a car bumper sticker about Jesus being the reason for the season, I want to invoke the presence of Huey from Boondocks, who says exactly what goes through my mind, with the exact attitude with which I want to say it:

Unfortunately, Huey also gets the exact reaction that I am pretty sure I would get from most of my friends and family, and getting that reaction would hurt me a lot. I’m sensitive like that. So when the topic of Christmas comes up, I very rarely speak my mind. Instead, I focus on the psychological value of the holiday.

I have spent every winter of my life in the Midwest of the United States of America, specifically in either the states of Illinois or Iowa (with occasional brief excursions into Wisconsin). The winters around here are vicious. It’s good to have a reason not to focus on the long dark nights and drab, dreary days. I look out my window right now, and it’s not a white Christmas – the sky is flat grey and the ground is flat brown and the trees are stark naked and the houses all look like they would rather be somewhere else. Most Decembers, it looks like this, most of the time. The magic of snow shows up later, in January, in February – and now that I’m old enough to be driving a car around, snow is just as much a cause for teeth-gritting anxiety as it is for frolicking. It’s good to have something else to think about, something beautiful, like the generosity of my fellow humans, or the knowledge that the Solstice is the nadir of the light and even while the winter is dragging its heels into March, the light is getting stronger.

Yes, I celebrate the Solstice. I have a very good friend who practices Asatru, a particular form of Norse/Germanic Neopaganism. He probably wouldn’t want me to use that anthropological term for it, but this is my blog, not his, and if our friendship weren’t built on openly acknowledging our differences and respecting them, it would quickly crumble, so here I call it what I call it in my head: Neopaganism. Let’s briefly review what Neopaganism has to say about Yule, the winter Solstice celebration…

Basically, the story of the God’s incarnation begins at the year’s first Quarter, the Winter’s Solstice, when, after the year’s longest night, the darkness begins to give way to the returning light. The Light is reborn as the Sun — the Son of the Great Mother Goddess. The Yule celebration honors the annual Birth of the Holy Child as a time of joyful innocence, possibility and hope.

(For more information about the Neopagan holiday cycle, check out the entry I wrote about my poem “Blossoms for Corpses.”)

The morning after the Solstice this year, my Asatru friend and I quietly exchanged our gifts, acknowledging both the value of our chosen spiritual paths, and that psychological value behind the Christmas traditions celebrated by our families.

My chosen spiritual path is Buddhism. There is no quintessential winter holiday to celebrate on this path. My private suspicion is this has much to do with the religion’s origin in India, where winter looks very different than what I have always known.
Of course the reasoning behind this different holiday emphasis is not solely climate based. After all, Buddhism has roots in Hinduism, also native to India, and Hinduism has Diwali, slightly earlier in the year than the Neopagan Yule but containing similar themes – light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair. I think the reason that Buddhism leaves Diwali behind can be found in the Buddha’s challenge to Hindu priests to sacrifice their desires, rather than making material offerings to the gods.

Yes, my chosen spiritual path is Buddhism, yet I still celebrate the Solstice to give myself that psychological boost of faith in good’s ability to triumph over evil, and I still attend Christmas gatherings and share Christmas gifts with my Protestant Christian family, and with my husband’s Catholic Christian family. My husband and I love our families very much and would not wish to hurt them by refusing to participate in their celebration of love. I suspect it may be easier for me, the Buddhist, to participate in these celebrations than it is for my husband, the existentialist.

If Joel had more control over the way his life was structured, I have come to the conclusion that every day would look pretty much the same for him. He would spend his time pretty much the same way every day. He would eat pretty much the same food every day. He would see pretty much the same people, for pretty much the same amount of time, and do pretty much the same things with them when he saw them. To use a term from the Old World of Darkness, Joel has a Pattern Essence. In this respect, he and I are very different. I have more of a Questing Essence. Drawing upon a different game, Joel is more like a Ranger, exhibiting the virtue of Spirituality, and I am more like a Bard, exhibiting the virtue of Compassion. A Ranger in Ultima IV has uniform stat values across all characteristics – it is slightly better than average at everything the character is expected to do. A Bard in Ultima IV has variegated stat values across those characteristics – some things it is quite good at, others it is below average. If you total the points that a Ranger has to work with, and total the points that a Bard has to work with, the numbers you arrive at are the same. The points are just distributed differently. In other words, there is a Relative difference between the characters, but in an Absolute sense, they are the same. That’s how Joel and I work. It’s a dynamic that plays out every day in our relationship, and at this point, it plays out pretty predictably most of the time.

Joel’s Pattern Essence, his desire for every day to look pretty much the same, makes holidays difficult for him. They throw him out of his routine. They’re inherently stressful for both of us, but they’re more stressful for him than they are for me, because I use different holidays at different times of the year to provide balance – to even out my variegated stats, and Joel doesn’t need to do that because his routine is already quite balanced. The different holidays that I celebrate perform a mood-balancing function similar to nicotine for a smoker. They bring me up when I am down, and down when I am up.

(Or at least, that’s how they are supposed to work.)

So when I say “It’s that time of year again,” I don’t mean the same thing as a lot of my family and friends. When they say it, they’re thinking of celebrating love and light, or possibly of some reaction to consumerism (either gleefully engaging in it, or trying to bulwark against it). When I say it, I’m usually thinking of the delicate dance I must perform to interface between my own beliefs about reality and the beliefs of other people I know.

I hope you have enjoyed this sojourn into my world, reader. Thank you for reading this blog entry, and I wish you peace and love in this, as in all seasons. Namaste.

Film Review: Serenity

(Warning: This review may contain a spoiler at any time. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, reader, the film came out in 2005, I think I’m entitled.)

According to my favorite online etymological resource, the word “serene” (from which the title of this excellent film derives) has its origins in the Latin word serenus, translating as “peaceful, calm, or clear”. The term was used originally for weather, and in English has only been used to describe people since the 1630s.

I call this to attention because if there is one thing I have observed about Joss Whedon’s material, besides the fact that it is pretty uniformly awesome!, it is that names found in it are never chosen randomly. Sometimes the significance is extremely obvious, such as the choice to name a believer of religious texts “Book”, and sometimes the significance gets teased out when the name gets shortened, such as the choice to name a conventionally beautiful vampire “Harmony” and then refer to her by the nickname “Harm”. But the significance is always there, and I am sure the principle holds true for other proper names in the series for locations and objects, including Malcolm Reynolds’ Firefly ship, Serenity.

The diegetic reason for Serenity’s name is obvious: the final, decisive battle of the official war against the Alliance took place in Serenity Valley, and because Reynolds continues to wage a private, guerrilla war against the oppressive entity, it makes sense that he would proclaim that battle as if it were ongoing. But look past that skin. Why did Whedon choose to name Serenity Valley as he did?

The answer to this question is key to understanding the thematic heart of this sci-fi opus. Whedon’s central point is the juxtaposition of two opposing principles in a paradoxical unity: peace is only found through struggle. This is certainly true for Malcolm Reynolds as an individual character, but the stark horror of the fate of the population of Miranda relies on its awful truth for humanity as a whole.

According to Whedon’s painstakingly realistic future, when Miranda’s population was unwittingly subjected to an unavoidable (it comes to them through the process of respiration, the most basic process of life – according to ancient Jewish tradition, life begins with the first breath) chemical designed to get rid of aggression, they lost their will to live. Whedon’s underlying assertion is that life is inherently aggressive, and I believe him. On a basic molecular level, life is a process of constant transformation of energy. Making things different than they were before. Asserting that things must change to fit a new proposed pattern. No exertion of will… no life.

So what place do the Reavers have in this theme? To an extent, the Reavers are present for purposes of plot, and it could be argued that it is not realistic that they would be present more than briefly in the Firefly universe (I can’t see any reason why they would not eat each other rather than hovering in space waiting to prey, and they certainly don’t seem motivated to breed to replace numbers lost this way – and even if they got so far as breeding, do you really think a pregnant Reaver would live for a full gestation period without clawing herself and the fetus to bits?). But on a symbolic level, the Reavers are completely necessary as a dire warning about the theme’s implications. Life, as a process, is ferocious. When pushed, it pushes back. And the process of civilization has no equipment to handle the ferocity of its push. The Reavers came into being as a natural response to the Alliance attempting to meddle with the equation of life. Their percentage of the total population of Miranda was small – but the Alliance does not dare try to wipe them out because the depths of their ferocity cannot be measured.

Captain Reynolds and his crew, the story posits, are diverse points of dynamic tension to be found in an equilibrium between the absolute ferocity of life as a process (struggle) and the absolute smothering stagnation of civilization as a process (peace). They are peace inside struggle, united and integrated with it. They are S/serenity, to the extent that it exists. And the death of lovable Wash proves with heartaching conclusiveness just how fragile that beauty truly is.

My husband, who reminds me very much of Wash (as I noted in my review of the Firefly series), called Wash’s death “unnecessary”. I considered this point before responding to him, to the extent that anyone can consider anything when bawling their eyes out, and then said that I agreed – but only to the extent that death is unnecessary, period.

Death comes for us all, babe, even you; and it can be senseless as easily as it can be noble. - Lyn Wilder-Dean, 12/14/14 CE
“Death comes for us all, babe, even you; and it can be senseless as easily as it can be noble.” Lyn Wilder-Dean, 12/14/14 CE

I wish Wash hadn’t died, just like I wish no one would have to die, because I love life. But we do die, and I can’t fault Whedon for including this element in this story, which from the beginning with its genre-bending has always been an exploration of what is truly timeless.

You may have noticed that this review is not structured like my other film reviews. Usually I use a five-paragraph essay format, intro, conclusion, three body points highlighting the elements of the film that struck me as most significant. I have chosen not to do that with this masterpiece, and I do not use that word lightly. The way the elements of Serenity reinforce each other does not lend to that convenient breakdown and structure of analysis. Nothing is excessive, nothing is wasted here; and even the elements that I found personally distasteful, such as what felt like extreme exaggeration of the Western speech patterns that I knew from Firefly, or the assassin villain who feels stilted, absolute, and too much of a scenery-chewer, even these elements I can recognize as “necessary evils” (ho, ho, ho, now I have a machine gun too!) critical to the success of the piece of art in its entirety. All I can say is what I have said before, In Joss We Trust. Whedon will never steer you wrong.

Overall Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0.

Album Review: The Near Future (I Fight Dragons)

My expectations for The Near Future were sky-high. I have considered I Fight Dragons to be my favorite band since 2010. For awhile, I was an active participant in the Advance Guard (their dedicated fan base). I still use a pixilated avatar that Carlos Sarthou, an Advance Guard member from the Phillippines who knows his way around video game art, created based on my self-description as the “Singing Geek” for my profile picture on a prominent social media site, and I think I always will. I read The War of Art based on Brian Mazzaferri’s recommendation of it to me as a creative writer, and I doubt this blog would exist if I hadn’t read that excellent book.

IFD is a force to be reckoned with in my life.

So perhaps it was inevitable that I would be a little disappointed by their latest offering. How could it have possibly lived up to my sky-high expectations, founded in my experience of a band that still had Bill Prokopow and was still working double time to find its footing? No matter how good the album is, there is no way it could have lived up to the mythic proportions I had assigned it in my mind.

This is a review of not only the aural experience of The Near Future and the narrative conveyed in its lyrics; this is a review of The Near Future as an experience, bearing in mind that I experienced it as an outsider looking into a frame that I had desperately wanted to be inside (I wanted to back the Kickstarter, but I was flat broke; I wanted to contribute a vocal track for the closing chorus, but I hadn’t backed the Kickstarter… etc.), someone who made the practical decision to buy the digital edition rather than vinyl (I don’t have a record player, and in case you didn’t catch this the first time, I’m pretty broke).

For anyone who doesn’t have the attention span to read all the way to the end of this review, the rating is 4 out of 5.

Now let me tell you why.

Side A: The Story Cycle

If you zoom out far enough that you don't have to scroll from side to side for the visual, the text gets hard to read.
If you zoom out far enough that you don’t have to scroll from side to side for the visual, the text gets hard to read.

Brian has created, in song, a rendition of the first two-thirds of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth: “Separation” and “Initiation”, but no “Return”. Note that our hero’s choice to join his Linked otherworldly counterpart in the exploration of Somewhere Else in Time and Space also has mythic precedent. There is actually a note about this as the first Stage of the “Return”:

“When the hero-quest has been accomplished, through penetration to the source, or through the grace of some male or female, human or animal, personification, the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess, back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet or the ten thousand worlds. But the responsibility has been frequently refused. Even Gautama Buddha, after his triumph, doubted whether the message of realization could be communicated, and saints are reported to have died while in the supernal ecstasy. Numerous indeed are the heroes fabled to have taken up residence forever in the blessed isle of the unaging Goddess of Immortal Being.”

As I listened to these songs on Side 1, I couldn’t help but remember what Brian said to me in his email interview, when I asked him about the extent to which life should be considered a quest. The monomyth holds primal appeal, but its fierce expressions of justice and hushed reliance on supernatural benevolence oversimplify reality. I would like to think that I have reached a point in my life in which I value lived experience and the world. When I come across a musical artifact like The Near Future that records such incredible technical proficiency, replete with complex instrumentation and shimmering, vibrant harmonies, yet matches it with the black-and-white abstraction of the monomyth, I am left whimpering, “Yes, but… there’s more! Tell me about the rest of it! I WANT TO HEAR YOU TALK ABOUT THE REST OF IT TOO!”

Here is a prime example of what I am talking about: there are three individuated characters in the story cycle: a nameless eighteen-year-old human, a girl from another world, and her grandfather. But all of the actual lyrics are from the perspective of the human. When it’s the girl or her grandfather’s turn to speak, the listener must rely on the content of the album’s accompanying graphic novel, their voices are not actually reflected in the songs by more than the abstraction of the chiptune. This really frustrated me, because from my perspective, they were the people in the story who had the most interesting stuff to say! I understood that the story wasn’t really supposed to be about them, it was the human and his quest, but even though he was the character the reader was primed to identify with, I couldn’t really relate. Maybe because I’m not a male eighteen-year-old, trapped between the binary pair of innocence and experience (expressed more broadly in Song II, “Eighteen”, as “all” and “nothing”). I’m a woman, and I have made the transition into the experienced phase of life. I would really have liked to have heard more from the girl that the human rescues. She clearly has a story to tell. What is her native world like? Why did she and her grandfather come to this world in the first place? How does she feel about having to depend on this youth for help? We know she’s beautiful, but is she young, like he is? Unfathomably old? Truly eternal? This is the sort of stuff I care about and the graphic novel, as gorgeous as it is, supplies few details, sketching the girl’s story in very general terms.

Side B: Where the Magic Happens

Brian at his best, telling it like it is.
Brian at his best, telling it like it is.

I never would have imagined I’d be typing this a couple of days ago, when The Near Future was still an anticipated bliss, but is in The Near Future‘s second set of songs that my love of the band gets vindicated. The only real criticism I have of these tracks is that there are only 5 of them:

  1. “No Strings” I was of course familiar with from the preorder download, and would get a thumb’s up from me even if it only had the line “I can be anyone I want when I’m alone,” which always makes me pause.
  2. “Pretend” was hands down the best song on the album. It perfectly captures my feelings about cultural hegemony and is much more political than Brian is likely to admit on-record.
  3. “Chicago” amazed me because it perfectly captured the way I used to feel about the city when I was a teenager, the excitement and love that faded over the course of the years when I lived there (2008-2011), yet I know Brian actually grew up there as opposed to jaunting in from the suburbs like I did as a kid. I would have thought he’d come to take it for granted long before me. Well done, sir. My hat’s off to you.
  4. “Always” is a better love song than “With You” off of Cool Is Just a Number, and that’s saying a lot. Its artwork in the accompanying booklet is especially sweet.
  5. “Jimmy and Sally”, the most lyric-intensive song of the album, is essentially a Mahayana Buddhist song, whether Brian realized it while he penned it or not. Jimmy and Sally are trapped in Samsara, the song’s anonymous narrator is a Bodhisattva who recognizes his ego is an illusion, and the narrator is determined to remain in Samsara until Jimmy and Sally attain enlightenment and can come with him. No one gets out until everyone gets out: Mahayana 101.

I’m glad I have a copy of The Near Future. I recommend it as a musical investment to anyone who enjoys chiptune, rock, chiptune rock, or power pop. I’m going to listen the hell out of it for years to come. But I wish I hadn’t hyped it up so much in my own head. There was really no way Brian, Packy, Hari, and Chad could have delivered the album I thought I would hear, and I really have myself to blame. Well done, gentlemen.

Overall Rating: 4.0 out of 5. (Told you!)

Amateur Journalism: #4, Brian Mazzaferri of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post is the fourth and final in a series of posts containing original interviews with the members of chiptune rock band I Fight Dragons as they geared up for the release of their new album, “The Near Future”, due out December 9 of 2014. Interviews were conducted primarily through email, with supplemental information provided via telephone. This final post focuses on Brian Mazzaferri, chiptune composer, lyricist, rhythm guitar player, and leader of the Dragon Fighters – whether he likes it or not…)

Brian’s thought process involves a lot of tension between binary opposites, and effort to integrate those opposites into something greater. Here are some examples of these tensions and moves toward integration:

  • Are Dragons Friends or Foes?
    “I LOVE dragons, always have. My favorite fiction as a kid was young adult stuff by writers like Jane Yolen and Anne McCaffrey where humans got to have dragons as their best friends. That said, as I grew up and began to gravitate towards writerly / creative pursuits, I’ve always naturally envisioned the endeavor as an epic-fantasy style quest, which often involves the more traditional view of the dragon as the arch villain. Actually in the new poster that comes with “The Near Future” we’re all pictured in a giant battle where we’re both riding dragons AND fighting dragons.”
  • Is Rock Music Better Than Folk Music?
    “I’ll always have a love and appreciation for folk, and likely I’ll go back to singer/songwriter style stuff at some point in the future. Honestly, in college I didn’t have a band together, so I wrote and performed songs by myself with an acoustic guitar. In hindsight many of those songs really wanted to be full-band songs anyway (I first started playing with Hari and Packy when I recruited them to be my backing band and for a brief period we performed as “Brian Mazzaferri and the Tenured Professors” among other such ill-conceived names. That said, while I absolutely love writing small songs like “Not I,” “With You,” and the new one from The Near Future called “Always,” I have a hard time listening to entire albums of small songs. My favorite singer/songwriter albums like Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” expand and explore different directions musically and instrumentally.”
  • Is Information Technology a Good Thing?
    “I grew up in a very tech-forward house. My mother was a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune in my youth and would send in her articles in the late 80’s over a 1200 baud modem. My dad is an IT consultant, so we had a LAN network at home well before it was widespread tech, and my friends would come over so that we could play networked games of Warcraft 2. I’ve always had a love of tech, and I don’t think that will ever change. There is a twist to this story though: my attitude towards information has had to change as I’ve grown up. I’m an information junkie, I devour books and articles and basically any kind of informational input in a constant and compulsive effort to understand EVERYTHING. This was very useful when I was younger, since it was generally very easy to devour every piece of information that came across my path and still have time to chew on it all and digest it. Of course, over time as connectivity increased that became impossible. Social media, torrents (now Spotify thank you very much), ebooks, and the internet in general all put WAY more information in my path than I could safely digest without my brain exploding, so these days I actually have to put pretty steep filters in my own way to keep me from becoming informationally obese and non-functional.
  • Is Life a Quest?
    “I think humans naturally gravitate toward the ‘quest’ story, it’s primal stuff, Joseph Campbell’s Hero With 1000 Faces, Robert McKee’s Archplot, and I have to think that has something to do with the way our brains are wired. The quest archetype carries so much causality in it, everyone gets what they deserve in the end, and most importantly everything that happens makes some kind of logical sense. I know it holds a deep resonance for me personally (clearly), but I also think it has real pitfalls when we try to apply it to RL. Real life is chaotic, random, assholes and wonderful people can both prosper, hardworking people die unsung every day, good people do bad things, bad people do good things, and good and bad themselves tend to be heavily dependent upon your individual perspective and context. When it comes to real life I think my own personal philosophy tends to be a bit closer to Zen ideas of practice and non-achievement than to quest-based thinking, since life just has too many factors to fit comfortably into the ‘quest’ storyline, as appealing as it is.”
I’m
“I’m probably not all THAT great, but I probably don’t suck THAT bad either. And in the end, does it really matter if I’m great or if I suck? I want to make music with my friends, so I make the music with my friends that we want to make.” – Brian Mazzaferri, via email
    And last but certainly not least (at least when it comes to The Near Future and Project Atma, the Kickstarter that backed it):

  • Is Fame Important?
    “I think before I was ever signed I had a little voice in my head that constantly whispered “Kid, your songs are the BEST. This shit is GOLD. People will eventually discover it and you’ll take your rightful place of glory.”. Of course, this voice was on one shoulder while I had another voice on my other shoulder whispering “Kid, your songs SUCK. What the fuck makes you think you have any right to call yourself a songwriter? You know in your heart that you’re destined to fail.” At any given point one of the two voices was winning, and enough of the time I really genuinely thought I was doing good work that it kept me moving forward and always trying to improve and grow. When we first got signed, that first voice was likely at its strongest. “See?? What did I tell you, I knew you were awesome, and a major label agrees, they believe in you!” Of course, the next step was 2 years of a grueling process in which every new song I wrote was immediately subjected to the dichotomy of “it’s a no-brainer smash hit single” or “it’s worthless.”

    “Over the course of those two years the “Brian Rocks” voice was basically beaten to death and by the time we left the label it seemed like there was nothing but the “Brian Sucks” voice left echoing in my head. Before we even decided to do Project Atma, I tried an experiment, and for a month I told the “Brian Sucks” voice to fuck off, that I was going to try and write something just for me, that I really genuinely wasn’t going to care whether or not it was ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or a ‘hit’ or ‘commercially useless’, which invalidated all of the “Brian Sucks” voices best arguments and short circuited him for a time. It was during that month that I wrote The Near Future song cycle (the first side of the album), which led to me recovering enough mojo to want to give the dream of Project Atma a real shot and make the album into a real thing. Currently, I think I’m back to a pretty healthy balance of the two voices, but there’s also a sense in which neither voice has as much power as it used to.”

If you come right out and ask Brian about the way his thought process seems to move through tension to integration and back again, he will laugh and quote Shunryu Suzuki at you. From Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

“This is the most important teaching: not two, and not one. Our body and mind are not two and not one. If you think your body and mind are two, that is wrong; if you think that they are one, that is also wrong. Our body and mind are both two and one.” (Suzuki 25)

He will also state, simply and eloquently, “It helps to contextualize things,” and that this is his overall quest and goal.


    Previous Posts in This Series:

  1. Chad Van Dahm’s Near Future Interview
  2. Hari Rao’s Near Future Interview
  3. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview

Amateur Journalism: #2, Hari Rao of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post is the second in a series of 4 posts containing original interviews with the members of chiptune rock band I Fight Dragons as they geared up for the release of their new album, “The Near Future”, due out December 9 of 2014. Interviews were conducted primarily through email, with supplemental information provided via telephone. This second post focuses on Hari Rao, bassist and puzzling prankster.)

Hari knew at a very young age that rock and roll would be fun. He recalls, “I’d bang on pots and pans pretending to be Tommy Lee, lip synch some Bruce Dickinson lyrics, and mimic Eddie Van Halen on air guitar. Come to think of it, pretending to play the bass guitar is probably not very common. And that’s actually how I came to choose the bass when I bought my first instrument – no one else I knew wanted to play it, which made me a bit of a commodity in the basement music scene of my youth.” The ability to enjoy a less glorious and somewhat workhorse role within a band has served Hari well in I Fight Dragons; other band members, including the front man, Brian, appreciate Hari’s sturdy support, and Hari knows how to keep himself amused…

I
“I like making music and performing, but I’m also pretty laid back and mild-mannered, not really one for the spotlight.” – Hari Rao, via email

In the band’s blog material, Hari comes across as a bit of a trickster. The post on February 21 of this year, for example, showcases Hari stealing chocolate from Packy, lead guitarist. Hari explains that pranks were especially important to him over the Vans Warped tour this past summer: “As much as we love performing, in some ways tour life can get a bit monotonous at times. Little things like inside jokes/schemes/pranks help keep everyday life on tour interesting.” But Brian warns that some of Hari’s material can end up puzzling other members of the band. (Apparently during the Vans Warped tour Hari did a running gag of stashing musical instruments in band members’ bunks that was hilarious more because Hari really enjoyed it than for its own sake.) Hari does manage to crack himself up consistently, and some of his jokes can be pretty good. When asked whether it was a good idea to buy The Near Future on vinyl as opposed to a digital copy, he quipped, “I’m not much of a salesman but I can build a pretty mean Excel spreadsheet. You need only enter in a few variables in rows 2 through 6 in column B and I’m sure the results of the built-in algorithm will suggest that buying a copy of the vinyl is in your best interest.”

Hari claims that his life outside of the band isn’t all that interesting. He enjoys craft beers, good food, and movies. He likes to play pool and watch football with Chad. Brian confirms that unlike Chad, who steps behind the scene professionally but is more of a social butterfly personally, Hari “actually is shy and quiet,” and lives up to the stereotype of the bassist not wanting to speak for the band. Brian explains that Hari’s nickname in the band is “Sniper”, because in conversation he’ll be super-quiet until he can deliver the perfect line completely out of left field. He also notes that Hari originally wanted the nickname “Machine Gun” but got shouted down: “You can’t pick your own nickname!”

Brian is happy that Hari has been getting bolder on stage. Hari sang third part harmony during the Vans Warped tour, which was a big deal for him. He also has been enjoying the warm connections between the band and their fan base. “Our fans are creative, talented, and show so much enthusiasm to get involved with the band that they are constantly pulling on our heart strings. From the amazing artwork they share with us on the Advance Guard site to the crafts they so thoughtfully make and bring to the shows… it’s a community spirit.” When asked about the delays in the production of The Near Future, Hari was realistic: “the kinds of things that cause delays aren’t things you can really plan for. When these circumstances arise, you just have to decide what is best for the music, the fans, and the band. Unfortunately, sometimes it means going back to the drawing board. The end result is worth it.” Speaking of the end result, you can still order The Near Future online if you aren’t waiting for your copy to be shipped as a Kickstarter backer!

    Other Posts in This Series:

  1. Chad Van Dahm’s Near Future Interview
  2. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview
  3. Brian Mazzaferri’s Near Future Interview

Amateur Journalism: #1, Chad Van Dahm of I Fight Dragons (The Near Future album release)

(Today’s post kicks off a series of 4 posts containing original interviews with the members of chiptune rock band I Fight Dragons as they geared up for the release of their new album, “The Near Future”, public release date December 9 of 2014. Interviews were conducted primarily through email, with supplemental information provided via telephone. This first post focuses on Chad Van Dahm, drummer and all-around great guy.)

On stage, Chad Van Dahm shies away from the spotlight. He prefers it that way. “I like being behind the scenes. I’m also the only 25 year old that doesn’t own a computer,” he asserts, acknowledging that of all the members of I Fight Dragons, Chicago’s homegrown chiptune rock act, he has the least presence on the band’s website.

However, his bandmates see him in a different light. When asked whether Chad is a reticent person on the whole, Brian Mazzaferri (IFD’s vocalist and lyricist, among other prominent roles) countered, “In a personal sense, that’s not true at all,” and described Chad as a “social butterfly.” When it’s time to compose and rehearse, Chad definitely makes his presence known! He uses a “call and respond” method to play counterpoint to IFD’s chiptune instrumentation: “I can play off the chip sounds to create a unique sound.”

Beer, whiskey and drums are my favorite things.  Oh, and hot dogs too.
“Beer, whiskey and drums are my favorite things. Oh, and hot dogs too.” – Chad Van Dahm, via email

Chad’s inspiration to pick up drumsticks came from the rock legend Keith Moon. Of all the bandmates, Chad is the least geeky; Brian, with a laugh, will tell you that playing NFL Blitz on the Nintendo 64 is as geek as Chad gets. He likes crime, mob, and thriller movies, gaining special enjoyment from them due to his law enforcement education. The fraternity, brotherhood, and loyalty of Chicago cops is a big part of Chad’s identity. But Brian states that this difference in interests does not cause tension between Chad and the other members of IFD. “Chad is the most get-along guy in the world!” And above all else, Chad’s love of drumming motivates him to be involved. “If you love to play and wanna get better there is nothing better in the world than hitting that first note in a big room and making it shake.”

Chad believes that the band’s diehard following comes directly from the band members’ accessibility and enthusiasm for personal connection. “We interact with fans on a personal level and we like to get to know them just as much as they want to get to know us,” he says matter-of-factly. He also believes that the vinyl release of The Near Future was a good move for the band, boasting happily that “this vinyl is a piece of art. It’s gorgeous.” If you haven’t placed your order yet, a copy can be purchased online through the band’s digital store. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s scoop on IFD’s bassist, Hari Rao!

    Subsequent Posts in This Series:

  1. Hari Rao’s Near Future Interview
  2. Packy Lundholm’s Near Future Interview
  3. Brian Mazzaferri’s Near Future Interview