Hello Reply Alters, Reply Altees, Replyers of the Alt—
I have some more substantial editions of this newsletter forthcoming—interviews and short features n’ such—so just a quick one today.
I’ll be heading to Chicago for Riot Fest this week. This will be my third time there. Generally I find music festivals to be the closest thing to hell that exists on this mortal plane. I don’t know, just seems like standing 200 yards away from a stage in the middle of the day among a million other heatstroke victims is not the most preferable way to see live music? But as far as large gatherings of humans go, Riot Fest is pretty tolerable and the people who run it are very genuine and nice.
This year’s lineup is pretty stacked with bands I like though I don’t imagine I’ll have a whole lot of time to actually enjoy live music as I will be running around doing work, trying to collect precious material FOR MY BOOK. I’m actually extremely stressed out about all the coordinating and scheduling and preparation behind it and really wish I had an intern to do this shit for me but then I’d have to “pay them” and “not throw Gatorade bottles at them when I’m angry” and blah blah blah. So my schedule in The Windy Apple will be tight, but if any publications want to pay me to cover it while I’m there, I am completely willing to sacrifice my mental health for your clicks!
I recently remembered that I had a learning experience about having a public persona at my first Riot Fest. It had rained the first day of the festival, so the second day was spent navigating huge mudfields. The mud was so thick and heavy that every time you put your foot down, you had to be careful that your shoe came with it when you lifted it back up. So I was minding my own business, trudging across the barren slog, when I heard someone a few feet away say “Dan Ozzi!” I looked up to see a man I’d never seen before looking at me and sort of smiling. “Yes?” I said. He searched his brain, came up with nothing, and just gave me a thumbs up.
I didn’t realize what had happened until later: The guy recognized me from… I dunno, the internet, I guess. In that moment, he had no other thought than that he knew my name and wanted to say so out loud. Twenty years ago, a guy like me could go undetected at a festival and be happy about it, but the internet has made micro-celebrities of us all, even nobodies like me. It was all very good and friendly but I was not, and am still not, used to this. It doesn’t happen to me all that often. In fact, if I steer clear of live music I can avoid it happening altogether. No one at Rite Aid has ever read my ramblings about Miley Cyrus or whatever.
But the guy who yelled out my name while I was stuck in mud got me paranoid in that moment. “Wait,” I thought, “there are 60,000 people here. Do the other 59,999 know who I am but hate my guts too much to thumbs up me??” The answer, obviously, is no. A very, very small percentage of people have ever heard of me and let’s keep it that way. But for a neurotic person like myself, it extrapolated the paranoia. Then I started thinking about Rivers Cuomo, since Weezer was playing that night.
The Weezer frontman is, apparently, very socially awkward. Maybe you’ve heard the stories about him. Most famously, it’s been rumored that he has been wheeled into venues hiding in giant road cases to avoid detection. A friend who has opened for Weezer once told me a story about someone giving him a hug backstage, prompting him to clench up and retreat to his greenroom without saying anything like the gif of Homer Simpson disappearing into the bushes.
So Mr. Thumbs Up gave me a new appreciation for the position Rivers must be in as a socially awkward famous person. Because all 60,000 people at Riot Fest do know who Rivers is. Imagine what that must feel like, to be the most famous nerd in Chicago. And on top of that, every person you meet has an opinion about you or a deeply personal connection with something you created. Riot Fest is pretty cool about letting press pass posers like me hang around the stages, but Weezer had a hard No Unauthorized People rule for their set and I guess that’s why. (As did Danzig and The Cure, if I remember correctly.)
This is all to say: If you see me scraping mud out of my shoes at Riot Fest, feel free to say hi. I promise to do my best to act like a normal person and not shudder and hide in a road case until you leave. And if you see Rivers, don’t make direct eye contact but don’t make it weird by deliberately avoiding eye contact either just make the exact right amount of eye contact and everything will be fine it’s fine not weird at all very normal in fact.
Also, a bunch of you readers—my favorite ones—have very generously opted to pay for this newsletter and I’ve been toying with the idea of dumping a bunch of Riot Fest photos into a subscriber-only email. If I take anything decent and don’t lose my camera in the mud, that is.
Speaking of Riot Fest, the last time I went was in 2017 with my friend David Anthony. You may know David as my co-host on our on-again, off-again podcast No Plus Ones. Or from the shortlived Pauly Shore-related podcast we did together called Shore Thing. Or maybe you know him from his work as the former music editor of The AV Club or just as a man about Chicago.
Anyway, David recently broke some unfortunate news to me about a heart-related health scare he’s been working through which is putting him through the ringer, mentally, physically, and financially. It’s a true sign of a failed healthcare system when people fear the cost and inconvenience of treatment over the disease. But! I’m sure whatever is wrong with his body (I mean aside from the obvious aesthetic shortcomings), he will kick it quickly and be back to his usual regrettable Alkaline Trio tattoo-getting self in no time. He’s also recently launched a newsletter (wow David real original) and you can track his progress there. Please do.
And since we’re on a rare serious note, this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, which is actually a weak name because there are 51 other weeks in the year and 194 other countries in the world in which suicide needs to be prevented. But I digress.
I’m hesitant to get too personal here about it, but I lost an old friend to suicide last month. He was a former boss, a man who gave me a job and was nothing but supportive of me. He left behind a team and a husband and a dog. Sadly, he’s not even the first boss I’ve had go out this way.
After the initial grief shock washed over me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it selfishly. I fear suicide. I fear it in the same way I fear the randomness of a fatal car crash. How can you know it won’t come for you one day? My highs are very high, but my lows can be just as extreme. So I always worry the pendulum will eventually swing too hard and knock me out.
Someone I think about a lot is Anthony Bourdain. When he took his life, I thought: Here was a guy who saw all the beautiful things the world has to offer. He watched the sun set on the most serene horizons. He ate the most exotic foods prepared by locals in their native lands. He experienced it all and said, “Not for me.” I know that’s an unproductive and oversimplified way to view his larger emotional struggles, but it’s hard not to see it that way.
I don’t much enjoy opening up publicly like this, but this is all to say that if you share my fear, it is normal. It is a natural byproduct of existing in this shithole world. If you’re scared to reach out to someone, don’t be. Take the first step of talking to a friend or family member if you can, or a therapist. Or, failing that, call the hotline number. It doesn’t have to be weird or invasive. Sometimes just by saying the words out loud, you are naming the problem and it lifts a weight.
In a society that benefits from people feeling like shit about themselves, it is an act of rebellion to thrive, or even just to endure. I feel truly empowered by waking up every morning and simply stating, “I don’t want to die. I want to live.”
It is mind-boggling to me that a teenager had the depth to write these lyrics, but 30 years later and they still hit me: “To resist despair in this world is what it is to be free."