WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? GAY PROTAGONISTS BAD FOR BUSINESS?

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 Have you ever found yourself pondering the sexuality of Nathan Drake in Uncharted or Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassins Creed?

No? This isn’t surprising.

For so long now the orientation of protagonists in AAA Games has been on auto-select.

It came as a surprise to most when Metroid star Samus Aran revealed herself as a fully-fledged woman underneath her suit of power armor.  Nintendo went outside the box with this ‘bait-and-switch’ type reveal but AAA game developers don’t appear to be following suit just yet and it begs the question, why?

Recently you may have seen the furor surrounding the comments of Ubisoft lead writer, Lucien Soulban (an openly gay man himself) who voiced his opinions on the matter saying “So when are we going to see that gay protagonist in a AAA game? Not for a while, I suspect, because of fears that it’ll impact sales.”

“Either we’ll see a bait-and-switch like the original Metroid with Samus Aran where we’ll find out damn near after the fact, or it’ll come out of left field with Rockstar, Valve, Naughty Dog or Telltale, perhaps.”

Now not to be completely ignorant – AAA games have experimented with gay protagonists in the past (e.g. Mass Effect series) but it’s pretty clear that this is still something of a rarity.

Selling games with gay protagonists may be a cause for concern in the games industry and perhaps this why the few gay characters we are seeing being slowly introduced still remain on the outskirts of the narrative.

“We’ll definitely see more gay characters on the periphery, continued Soulban. It just won’t be obvious.

“I think it’s happening quietly. Look at the choices offered in Mass Effect 2 & 3, or Fable 3, or Dragon Age 2 or Skyrim, the gay characters in Borderlands 2 who mention it without much fanfare, etc. Videogames have stopped ‘announcing’ gay characters. They’re introducing them without much fanfare in an effort to say, Yeah, it’s there and pretty normal. Call it: We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re busy working.”

So if marketing is the issue here you have to stand back and think are capitalism and gay liberation really mortal enemies?

If big AAA games companies like Ubisoft decide upon their characters orientations and whatnot based on cold hard market research that doesn’t really disqualify bringing homosexual characters to the fore.

Facebook famously expanded its gender identification options and some cynics saw this as a ploy by the $100 billion dollar empire to revel in even more advertising revenue.

In a recent interview Matt Conn, CEO of Midboss and the creative director of the LGBT-focused games convention GaymerX , said the commercial defense against LGBT protagonists is “an awful copout thing to say.”

He bases this logic on the “…fear that the first company that makes a AAA title featuring a gay character will not only fail, but that they will be branded as the ‘gay’ company who makes  ‘gay games’ and that they’ll lose their 18-35 male demographic.”

“And to that I say: that is bullshit”

“You see Fox Searchlight putting out queer movies, you see Modern Family on ABC. And people still go and watch those action movies.”

So…many games companies may “continue to let fear reign over their business decisions” it seems inevitable that pretty soon somebody is going to take the ‘risk’ and possibly reap the rewards for doing so.

After all who dispelled Harry Potter when they found out Dumbledore was gay?

Maybe a few… but with a franchise worth approximately $24,751,000,000 (1.1.14) I think J.K Rowling had the right idea.

On your marks…

(Original post over on http://cakengames.wordpress.com)

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My path in life has definitely shaped the way I write – Nathaniel Rateliff speaks

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By Amanda Connolly

 
Suicide and depressing sex – two of the ingredients that Nathaniel Rateliff jokingly suggests were thrown into the mix for his new record Falling Faster Than You Can Run.

Walking down the staircase into The Academy 2, I am greeted by that beguiling, bruised voice flooding the basement venue – the band is half-way through sound check.

Following a friendly hello, I sit back and enjoy my private preview of the show.

Nathaniel is joined on the modest stage by long term band member Patrick Meese on drums. For now they are accompanied by newcomers Jenna Conrad (strings) and Mark Shusterman (keys). Joseph Pope III and Julie Davis, who normally play with Nathaniel, are newlywed (to each other) and expecting their first child next month. And so, for this reason, they were unable to make it out on tour.

Battling with feedback and a lot of gain from the amps, the sound check lasts a little longer than anticipated. I didn’t mind. Watching the guys rehearse and interact only added to the charm and down to earth nature synonymous of his shows.

You get the sense of a perfectionist at work here, someone who is a little self-depreciating and perhaps his own worst enemy. He goes over certain pieces meticulously, expressing concerns about being in the right key and the loudness of the music seeking confirmation and reassurance from the tour manager and his band mates.

His voice wouldn’t easily get lost. In the snug basement venue, Rateliffs piercingly melodic sounds echo off the cold stone walls and steel pillars to produce an ethereal introspective atmosphere.

When we sit down to talk, I can’t help but notice his genuinely unpretentious, rustic charm. However, from listening to his songs and becoming encapsulated by lyrics not far removed from the genius arrangements of Elvis Costello, it is clear that there is something darker lurking beneath the surface that I am determined to unearth.

Nathaniel Rateliff is skilled at combining unusual melodies within the traditional rhythms of folk music with jazz influenced, sombre phrasing. Strumming a nylon string guitar, coupled with the heartbeat bass line and addressing his personal struggles on stage, the singer lays himself bare.

Vivid imagery comes into play alongside the illustrative words to evoke emotional responsesfrom the audience.

The multi-faceted layers to his songs are only symbolic of the path that led him to where he isnow.

Nathaniel Rateliff was born in a small town of only 60 people called Bay in Missouri, America. His family later moved to nearby Hermann, a larger town with a population of approximately 2,500 people and this is where he spent the majority of his childhood.

“I was a pretty rural, poor kid,” he says, “hunting and that kinda sh*t. I started working when I was really young. I’ve had a lot of shitty jobs, gardening was the best but the worst was when I was a janitor for a high school when I should’ve been in high school. I was 17. I didn’t go to high school.”

Nathaniel dropped out of school when he was 13 after his father had passed away to work and had an array of menial jobs.

Music is something that has been in the Rateliff family from when Nathaniel was a child but in a different sense.

“My parents sang and so did my sister, and they all played instruments. My parents would like force me to sing four part harmonies with them, for like church or whatever. I didn’t really start singing until I was fifteen or sixteen when I got my first guitar. I would write songs and sing then pretty much every day.”

He had a particularly Christian, almost Pentecostal, upbringing – something that seems to a recurring theme with many singer songwriters today.

“It scars everybody so much that they have to move on,” jokes Nathaniel.  “Ireland is rich with the religious history and conflict – which it seems like religion causes a lot of right?”

At the age of18, following his string of jobs in grocery stores, mowing lawns, a plastic factory and as a school janitor Nathaniel moved to Denver where he worked with a trucking company for nine years. Then one day he quit. And became a gardener. Again.

It wasn’t until 2007 when the then named Nathaniel and the Wheel released their record Desire and Dissolving Men on Public Service Records that writing and performing became a viable career path. Out of the garden and into the studio.

Having certainly taken the scenic route along the yellow brick road Nathaniel explains how his hard knock life may have shaped the way he writes to the point that he doesn’t actually enjoy performing the more upbeat songs. Melancholy is his favourite emotion.

“I’m fine with playing personal stuff,” he says. “I don’t really like the upbeat songs though. I hate playing ‘Nothing To Show For’ – it’s predictable. I like the melody and the arrangement was fine when we did it, I was into doing it then.”

Is it possible to be happy and sad at the same time though?

“My path in life has definitely shaped the way I write things,” he says. “I don’t really consider it because I don’t know anything else. I mean I feel like I’ve probably always had that darker side in me, because even without any of the circumstances surrounding my life growing up I would still be someone who would battle depression and things – an addiction problem.

“I don’t think alcohol is conducive to making good art. It’s more of a hindrance. Look at other writers, not necessarily songwriters, just writers – famous drunks. That wasn’t the thing that made them great writers. The alcohol. Even like Hunter S Thompson, after he did all the crazy sh*t, he’d sit down and write about all of it. He was recording and keeping track ofeverything. He wasn’t coming up with great stuff when he was f**ked up, he was sorting through it all later.”

Relocating ourselves to the more comfortable, and cosy dressing room side stage the discussion about alcohol and its effect on productivity continues despite the now apparently glaring bottle of Jameson now visible on the dresser.

“I don’t know how much of that contributes to art or not. Like I said, I don’t think it’s helpful.”

Getting inside his head about where the obscure lyrics of his songs come from Nathaniel jokes that it takes a lot of “suicide and depressing sex” to produce such emotive music.

“I usually have a melody and then start to write to that,” he says. “Sometimes it’s just a line, and sometimes it just happens all at once.  A lot of the stuff on this record I wrote while I was touring then waded through all of the recordings and my snippets of things I’d written down.

I spent a little more time writing this stuff than I have in the past. It feels more like I’ve cultivated these songs versus them just ‘showing up’.  Things still do show up.”

He adds: “I feel like inspiration is something that kind of just happens, and you have to be present for that to happen… which is why alcohol is a hindrance to that, because you’re not present.”

It is clear that song writing is something this man relishes in. Comparing it to the seductive enticement of a lover’s first encounter, it only highlights the sensual intimacy that interlaces the lyrics on his records.

“It’s like that feeling of the first time you dance with somebody, or kiss someone, like the first time you’re with someone, you’re just so curious, so writing is the same way for me, once you discover what you’re trying to do, it’s exciting.”

Listening to great artists like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake and Django Reindhart has cultivated a love for gypsy jazz, soul and salsa in Rateliff. It could be debated that he draws inspiration and affiliates his soulful, somewhat introverted writing to the more disturbed, yet tragically talented musicians of our time.

“I feel like it’s less of a distraction,” he says. “I’m just in love with the melodies they create and it’s not so much about what they are trying to say or do, it’s just great music.”

Citing Nick Drake’s ‘Pink Moon’ as a personal favourite is somewhat ironic. Pink Moon was an album that Drakes record company didn’t want to put out and certainly did not see making sales. Drake albeit in a very dark, deep depression went ahead and made the album which is arguably some of his best work.

“Goes to show how little record companies know,” he quips. “This record [Falling Faster Than You Can Run] I did on my own, without any industry influence. Then I have a record from before In Memory of Loss called Desire and Dissolving Men– all recorded at home on a little eight-track.

“In Memory of LossI had recorded at home at first too. And then when I got with the label they wanted me to work with a producer so I did.

“But for me there’s just something to, what I guess people would call, the demos, for that record that I think was an album in itself.

It’s such a different thing – a lot of those songs were recorded right from when I wrote them. So you like arrange them and record them in one sitting. You go from like not having a song to having a melody and you run upstairs and start playing and write the whole thing then 2hrs later it’s completely finished.”

His peppered eyes light up whenever he speaks of the song writing process. This is someone who is doing what they love, finally.

“I have a whole bunch of stuff that I haven’t released that I would love to put out on a record but I think it’s a little presumptuous of me because I don’t think anybody would want it right now so… I just keep stockpiling!”

The self-critic returns – you get the sense there is an almost constant internal battle of self-criticism that comes across as an endearing quality in person.

This album was a LONG process for Nathaniel and the band. They all retreated to a cabin high up in the mountains outside Denver to record…eventually.

“We recorded it toward the end of 2012 but I had had most, if not all the songs done in 2011,” he says. “I came over to do End of the Road Festival in the UK and presented all the songs to Rounder at the time. They were like ‘there’s not really any hits’, essentially – no radio songs. So then I wrote ‘Nothing To Show For’ as a sort of ‘up yours’ to the record company. The original title was actually ‘Another Radio Song’.”

Cue another hearty, robust laugh. Something there was a lot of throughout our conversation.

“They dragged me along for quite a long time until the end of 2011 and then decided they didn’t want to put out the record.

So then I had some personal shit from the beginning of 2012, it was pretty intense.  I tried to record some stuff in London, I recorded a version of ‘I Am’ and ‘Don’t Get Too Close’ and something else, but I was like physically in a lot of pain at the time of trying to record… I had tried to quit drinking and had a lot of DT’s [delirium tremens] really bad so then I quit drinking for like six months that year.”

Delirium tremens is a severe form of withdrawals from alcohol. They can cause damaging mental or nervous system changes.

“I drink now,” he says, “I just try to keep it under wraps, sometimes I drink too much and sometimes I don’t drink at all. But trying to be more moderate is pretty tough in this world, in this lifestyle in particular.”

He adds: “Later in 2012 we did some touring as a band. I had booked time in the studio in September so we recorded for 10 days and did a bunch of stuff live together, then Jamie (the engineer) and I mixed and f***ked with the songs until March of 2013 and then it was done! It was just sitting there and I didn’t know what to do with it really.

“Once I was done with that I started writing a bunch of songs, R&B and Soul songs for Nathaniel Rateliff – The Night Sweats, another project.

“We finally got the record mastered by TW Walsh and then my manager’s boss said he’d start a label to get it out so yeah…and that’s how it got out. Long process but I’m glad it’s out. There are definitely some things on it that I wish were different but I am glad it’s done. There are a lot of songs that I wanted on the record that aren’t there just because I didn’t get good versions of them.”

Unlike Springsteen’s narrative type album arrangements, Falling Faster Than You Can Run is a record symbolic of feelings and suggestions rather than outright poetry. Each song creates an atmosphere and allows the listener to interpret their own personal meaning. Trying to define would be a foolish move on anyone’s part. A lasting connection to the music itself is the embracing feature of this record.

The album opens with ‘Still Trying’, Nathaniel’s favourite single. A whisper of an introduction, the gentle strumming of Rateliff’s acoustic guitar coupled with the bare bass line builds throughout the second verse with a drumbeat suddenly giving way to Nathaniel’s  fervid howl of  ‘I don’t know’ culminating with the declarative punch line ‘I Don’t Know a God Damn Thing’. The effect of that line is almost devastating with each delivery. The anguish felt is not explained but he does explain why this song is his favourite on the record.

“I had a few verses and I couldn’t get it done,” he says. “Then one day at the studio it was just me and the engineer and I wrote it at breakfast. Then we went and recorded it. I like a lot of the songs on this record actually; it’s funny to have so much material now that I like to play. I like to play longer shows now than I would’ve liked to in the past.”

We move onto the relative marketing of music, winding down the conversation. Rateliffs ability to disarm his criticisms and analysis with a smile or hearty laugh makes light of the topics deeply discussed.

The Dublin show went off with some wit and accidental lyrical re-organisations to a mesmerised crowd. Upbeat melodies contrast the lyrics as Nathaniel tells the tale of the hardships and darkness that shaped the man today.

There’s a twinkle in his eye as he leaves suggesting that Nathaniel Rateliff gets it. Whatever it is. He will have the last laugh.

Staying Put

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Photo courtesy of the “We’re Not Leaving” campaign.

 

SINCE 2008, Ireland has watched more than 200,000 people emigrate, of which a massive proportion has been those under 25. Last year, 1,000 people emigrated every week – around half of these were under 25. These figures are not pointing to a new lifestyle choice, but the obliteration of an entire generation.

A study conducted by UCC and the Department of Geography earlier this year showed that around 80 per cent of the people who left recently were under 35 years of age, that 62 per cent had a tertiary qualification of three years or more, and almost half left full time jobs.

Up until now it seems as though this generation has been relatively silent. But now – whether because of the recent changes in state support or the assumed label of the ‘lost generation’ – something has woken up the youth of Ireland.

An organised voice has come together in the shape of the ‘We’re Not Leaving’ campaign, whose motto boasts:

‘We’re students, precarious workers, the young unemployed and combinations of all three. We’re angry and we’re not leaving.’

The first ‘We’re Not Leaving – Young People’s Assembly’ took place in Dublin on the 9th of November, at which a charter was decided upon that outlines the issues on which the group are building their campaign against forced emigration. This provides us with the proof that the young people of Ireland aren’t all awaiting a golden ticket out of here…

I stand here in my soul destroying part-time job and wonder what it’s all about? Why struggle and work tirelessly toward something you quite frankly may never achieve? Why do some people have so much ambition while so many others seem to settle? Or are they forced to settle?

I fall into the first category – I have big ambitions and hope for my life. I have to. I’m not sure I could go through daily life without that. I have a fear of the mundane, repetitive lifestyle that so many people seem satisfied with. I find myself asking why, though? Why do I strive to succeed? Even in the smallest aspects of my life.

What is it that has me genuinely believing ‘you can do this’? As a child my parents always held me in high regard – on my pedestal. An only daughter after four sons I was immediately deemed special in their eyes. I was my mother’s doll and my father’s sidekick. I was a dancer – a champion. Success was my only option from a young age; I was a silent sore loser. I never had a hissy fit when I lost but inside I was devastated. Some losses would knock me more than others but I always came back fighting. And to this day I still apply the same attitude to life.

Now I haven’t done anything truly noteworthy in my life (yet). I haven’t won a Nobel Prize or saved a life. I don’t really even give a substantial amount to charity. In that regard my ambitions seem selfish. I have always had the utmost admiration and respect for those who dedicate their lives to helping others. I would hope that someday something I write will touch someone on the same level it came from within me. I would deem that a success – at this point in my career I would deem anyone even reading this a success, to be honest!

Why am I even bothering to write this? Is it to pass time in work? Or maybe to waste some receipt paper so I will have to go and get more, which would pass a bit more time? While on the scale of my work day I would view that as a little victory – no.

I write because this is what I want to do every day for the rest of my life. Despite all the obstacles I face now, and I know I will undoubtedly face in the future; this is still all I want to do. That being said I do know dreams aren’t always the viable option. Sometimes life intervenes and you have to take the job just to pay bills and rent. I’ve had to do it. We all may have to at some point. That’s life today.

I find it unsettling the amount of talented, skilled people wasting away in ‘essentialist’ jobs just so they can get by, because society no longer allows for their talents to be an option. It’s almost as if society has killed ambition.

What happens when the most gifted and talented people aren’t the wealthiest? Or when the only voices that can be heard are of those who could afford the microphone?

It scares me to think that following my dreams has pretty much robbed my family, as well as bleeding myself dry of every cent possible to pay for college fees, rent, bills and even food (if you have ever wondered how to do a fortnight’s food shop on a budget of €9.87, get on to me!).

It terrifies me that the money I am spending to educate myself will be a long time coming back after I graduate. I know I will more than likely struggle. I also know that if I had stayed working in the shop I worked in while I was in school I could have worked my way up and been very comfortable financially by now, like some of my former colleagues. But I wouldn’t be happy.

Budget and funding cuts, lower wages, higher rent, extra bills and fewer jobs are making things difficult, or next to impossible, at the minute but I am still here and I know I am not alone in that. I am still struggling on, one word at a time.

I have sincere faith in the belief that in the past five years we have lost too much talent to shores abroad and it’s our own fault to an extent.

I thought about it – emigration – but no. Why should I leave? Ireland is my home; everything and everyone I love is here. I will continue to struggle on and do whatever it takes to get one mile further down my career path. I’m not leaving.

Amanda Connolly

Portraits by an artist, for all young men

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Art with a clear message. 

Amanda Connolly meets street artist Joe Caslin, whose work embodies a generation lost and ignored

Joe Caslin's 'Our Nation's Sons', at Achill-Henge. Credit: courtesy of Joe Caslin and Gavin Leane

It is estimated that there are over six thousand spoken languages in the world today. As well as spoken languages, we now have a new generation of artificially constructed codes and communication systems. Within these enigmas, art is one of the most universally understood forms of communication, connecting people with the past, the present and the future. 

There is a particular element of truthfulness to a piece of art that no printed word can convey. There is also the fascinating component of getting to see through the eyes of the artist, their view on the subject and the vulnerability and versatility this entails.

Viewing the world through a work of art is like stepping through the looking glass and into the wonderland of our past, our present and our future. This idea of retrospection allows the work to make the cultures of our past timeless and temporal.

Graffiti, or street art as it’s now more commonly known, is something we all recognise and regard differently. As with all forms of art, it is subjective. The movement of this form of art from being conducted cloak-and-dagger-style in the dark of night to being exhibited in galleries marks a pivotal moment in its history.

It is a somewhat autobiographical form of expression, allowing the artist to create pieces representative of themselves.

While the history of such art can be traced back to the cavemen, using whatever materials they could find to mark the walls of caves and rocks, graffiti really became an art form during the 1970s underground art movement in New York.

The past decade has seen graffiti emerge from the tunnels and enter society as an acceptable form of artistic expression for the most part. Artists like Banksy, Blec Le Rat, c215 and Shepard Fairey, among others, have brought this art form into the media spotlight. Irish street art is moving out of its infancy with huge talents such as Maser, Joe Caslin, Canvaz and Solus working on commissioned pieces both at home and abroad, shedding light on personal and public opinion.

I spoke to Irish street artist and illustrator Joe Caslin about his project ‘Our Nation’s Sons’. In a statement on his website it says:

“As a nation we have pushed a significant number of our young men to the very edges of society and created within them feelings of neglect and apathy. It is now time to empower these young lads and give them a sense of belonging.

“I cannot fix the complex problems of apathy and disillusionment by simply sticking a drawing to a wall. However, I can create something more meaningful than any bureaucratic promise and generate a more positive social impact than many published articles, political broadcasts or speeches.”

I asked Joe about his path to becoming involved in street art and how the project came about.

“I have taken quite a strange path in getting to where I am today. I started out as a glassblower and designer, trained as an art teacher, then as a counsellor, taught for six years in secondary schools throughout Ireland, went back to college for a fourth time to study for a MFA in illustration, and along the way became a street artist.

“My inspirations are deep-rooted and go across the board, from close family members to modern day poets, educational heroes and social entrepreneurs. ‘Our Nation’s Sons’ came about via two main catalysts: through my work as a teacher and as a young Irish man from a socially challenging background.

 

The project acts a voice or to draw attention to those who may seem like the lost boys of today’s hardened societies.

“Sadness and trauma are daily human experiences. I am lucky enough to be able to harness the emotional responses triggered by these experiences and focus them directly into my work.

“Darker times have not specifically led to better art. The societal and financial circumstances we currently live in have made us a more mindful nation in my opinion. We no longer live at the high pace of greed and fiscal haste, we are re-evaluating our position and battling; a position we are historically very adept at.”

‘Our Nation’s Sons’ began in Edinburgh where Joe was studying, and is now being rolled out in Ireland.

“The project began in Scotland simply because I was studying there. It was always an Irish based project but through my studies in Edinburgh I found both cultures inextricably linked and our situations echo one another.

“I hope the project has the same impact here in Ireland as it did in Scotland. The range of positive social impacts are very broad, from the experiences the young lads who are involved in installing the artwork will have, to the lad whose image is selected to be pasted to the side of a building.

“the local community and the families of those involved, to the very passer-by who stumbles upon the work and brings their discovery to the attention of others via social media or word of mouth. Any discussion around young men and their value to society is greatly encouraged.”

The Irish leg of the project will take place over the next twelve months and will involve one or more large paste-ups being installed in each of the four provinces with Caslin’s native Connacht being first.

Achill Henge stands 15ft high and 100 metres in circumference on the remote west coast island and now boasts the first Irish site, of the ‘Our Nation’s Sons’ project.

Many of the young men seen in the striking images are involved in the process from start to finish assisting each step of the way and talking to the public.

The scale of this project plays a part in getting the message across without using a spoken word or language.

Projects such as Joes are essential today where Ireland holds the fifth highest suicide rate in Europe. In 2010 (the most recent year recorded by the CSO) there were 486 registered deaths by suicide in Ireland – 386 of which were males with the age group 35-44 being the most susceptible. A study of young Irish men aged 18-34 years revealed that 78 percent knew someone who had died by suicide, 42 percent knew more than one person, and 17 percent had a close friend who completed suicide.

For each person who dies by suicide it has been estimated that at least six other people are affected. Caslin’s work can be viewed online at http://www.joecaslin.com.

Images – Credit: courtesy of Joe Caslin and Gavin Leane

http://www.edition.ie/features/portraits-by-an-artist-for-all-young-men-4685

#TheSmartestJournalistsAskTheDumbestQuestions

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Amanda Connolly meets a modern icon of journalism, who has survived drug and alcohol addiction, a battle with cancer, and single parenthood – David Carr, of the New York Times

David Carr is a New York Times columnist and writer with more life experience than most. Throughout a life of survival, he’s been hired and fired, sober and relapsed. But today, he stands among some of the most highly-regarded journalists of our time.

He famously used the tools of journalism to chronicle his own life throughout his addiction by interviewing sixty people and obtaining his arrests and rehab records for his memoir ‘The Night of the Gun’.

David Carr self

This week he spoke on the main stage at the Web Summit in the RDS where he analytically interviewed Shane Smith, the CEO of Vice.

The two infamously had a spat on stage indulging in depths of knowledge laced with wit – one of the more exciting interactions on the main stage and my own personal favourite of the weekend.

I took my chance when the two intellects conversed over the next generation of journalists’ tweeting Carr ‘how about an interview with a next gen journalist?’ hashtagging one of his many quotable lines from the day ‘#thesmartestjournalistsaskthedumbestquestions.’

Ten minutes later my phone rings with a NY number…heart in mouth I dash through the crowd of iPad wielding spectators in the main arena, out a fire exit and into the rain… I missed the call.

I call back very sceptical that it is of any real substance yet to my surprise the unmistakable voice on the other end is David Carr himself. He invited me to the private speakers lounge for a chat and off I went.

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The room was much more luxurious than you’d expect. Low lighting, plush carpet and Parisian style armoires; fitting for the level of intellectual wealth packing out the arena for The Summit. It provided a more relaxed mental space from the hectic hustling of the networking going on less than 50ft below.

Carr greeted me on the mezzanine and showed me to the lounge, patting the space next to him on the chair to sit down. Instantly feeling at ease I knew this would be a conversation I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. Having watched the 2011 documentary ‘Page One: Inside the New York Times’, which features Carr heavily, I was already aware of his captivating personality and almost unquestionable opinions.

“What can I do for you?”

In complete awe and possibly a little star struck our conversation began.

I thanked him for his time and for actually taking heed of my initiative.

“It’s a numbers game. There are about 20 requests here today that I didn’t respond to. I just picked one. It’s nice to be nice.

“I remember years ago I was working and they used to do incentives for movies. So they said I could go to a couple different sets but not Oliver Stone’s one in Louisiana because that was a closed set. I thought to myself – well that’s where I’m going and I ended up in a trailer with him. He asked me ‘What are we talking about?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know I just wanted to get here.’ Sort of like when your phone rang today and you’re like ‘Wooah’.

“Here’s the thing, I’m web famous, I’m not like famous famous, so there is all this inbound interest and you want to accommodate.”

We are briefly interrupted by the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and his entourage, including four members of An Garda Siochana who are scurrying to the main stage for the closure of the The Summit 2013.

I ask David if he is going downstairs to watch.

“Fuck no! I’ve only slept about three and a half hours and we’re doing a pub crawl tonight so I gotta get my little disco nap in. I don’t drink though so I’ll be okay, if I did I’d be here forever in handcuffs, trust me.”

This inclination is in reference to his past which he himself has described as either ‘charming or horrifying’ depending what way you look at it. On one level we can fall in love with the story of the man who was an addict, who got clean, sobered up, got custody of his kids ensuring they were no longer on welfare, then survived cancer and went on to become a columnist for the New York Times.

On the other hand, we would probably grimace at the reality that this man was actually once a thug who sold drugs, physically harmed women and terrorised children. In his memoir, ‘The Night of the Gun’, Carr used his journalistic skills and tools to investigate his own life. The life he really only partially lived as a result of heavy drug use.

He chronicled his addiction through a series of sixty interviews which contradicted some of his own recollections. One such incident was a memory Carr had of his best friend pulling a gun on him while he was high on cocaine and alcohol after being fired from a reporting job in Minneapolis. However, whilst researching the book Carr unearthed the truth of the situation which was that he himself had mindlessly pulled the gun on his friend, and not vice versa.

His stories thrive on these contradictions. In his book and in conversation, Carr’s prolix approach to telling a story is charming and charismatic. It gives an added concrete element of truthfulness to his words.

Carr went into rehab seven months after his twin daughters were born having previously left them alone in a car while he bought crack. From rehab he emerged a clean, sober man. He regained full custody of his children who had been taken into foster care. They lived a stable, suburban life for fourteen more years until in 2005 when what seems like a regular twist in the ‘rehab genre’ occurred and Carr relapsed with alcohol becoming what he describes as a failed ‘suburban alcoholic’. Ending up back in cuffs, back in detox and on a path of discovery which led him to sobriety, notoriety and the success he experiences today in his personal and professional life.

I asked Carr if he felt his colourful background had given him an advantage in his career path.

“Of course, I mean I’ve been a single parent, I’ve been poor, I waited tables, I was an addict and in recovery. It makes things that would or should seem scary seem not so scary at all. There’s nothing that could happen to me at work that would seem scarier than other things that have happened throughout my life. I don’t bring a lot of fear to the job.

“I mean, I still get nervous. I still get nervous about making that call, I’d circle the phone, but I always make the call. You have to. That’s journalism.”

Carr is no stranger to breaking stories and making an impact with his content. The story that he says sticks with him the most is his 2010 New York Times piece on the take-over of the tribune company in America ‘At Flagging Tribune, Tales of a Bankrupt Culture’. His investigation looks into the misogynist, financially and socially damaging cultures that bred in Tribune newspapers while they were under the ‘management’ of Sam Zell and Co.

“Initially nobody was really interested in the story so I used someone about your age who I knew was good and together we cracked open the story and a couple of weeks later all the bad guys got fired so that’s what you want right? You want to write something that’s going to land with some impact.”

Impact is something that Carr is a master of, and so for any aspiring journalists like myself I asked what advice he could offer.

“How old are you?”I

“Your time will come. What’s important is that you have those stories, you own those stories. I used to run weeklies and hire a lot of young people. If I was hiring now I wouldn’t really care that you went to DIT or that you got your Masters or that you’re an editor with a college paper, I would like to see what you made with your own hands. The fact that you’ve got stories that landed that were real, even though they didn’t end up where you wanted, those are yours, those are yours to keep and if you get enough of them pretty soon someone will hand you a megaphone and you’ll be able to shout out from a very high perch indeed; stay at it. I mean, my advice is remain patient but be impatient with your patience.”

“I work with and mentor a lot of young people and I always have to kind of mix it up… you want to be kind of ‘woahwoahwoah’ but at the same time you want them to be fucking banging on the door and freaking out so, you know, I try not to be discouraging about that…

“You know what, it’s a fine time to be looking, and it’s a fine time to be putting stuff out there. Sometimes you get a story and you might not work at some place that’s that important in the national narrative but if it’s important enough people will reach down and grab it and it will end up happening for you.”

It happened for David Carr. He is happily remarried and living in New Jersey with his family. The ending of his story seems somewhat problematic for someone who so famously chronicles hubbub. Our conversation ended with an exchange of details, a quick photograph, and a pleasant encouraging farewell.

http://www.edition.ie/features/feature-interview-david-carr-4697

CURIOUS?

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Have you ever met a drug dealer?

Amanda Connolly speaks to one student whose seemingly nonchalant drug use led to addiction, dealing, and death threats in the blink of an eye

Photos: JLM Photography (above), Amanda Connolly (below)

Photos: JLM Photography (above), Amanda Connolly (below)

[*A false name is used throughout, in the interests of protecting the individual’s identity]

The vast majority of people are enthralled by AMC’s hit show Breaking Bad at the moment. It tells the story of a high school chemistry teacher, Walter White, who diagnosed with cancer resorts to cooking and selling crystal meth in order to pay for his treatment and ensure the welfare of his wife and children. He enlists former pupil Jesse Pinkman, a drug user himself, and their journey begins. The show chronicles the highs and lows of substance abuse from every angle and exposes the disturbing despotic power of drugs.
While shows like Breaking Bad bring the topic to the fore, the reality is we shouldn’t need a television programme to notice what is happening around us every day. It may also be argued that these shows glamorise the lifestyle of drugs and their grip on society. Slipping into a drug habit can happen to anybody, even you.
As a student, and above all if it is your first year in third-level, you are embarking on a new adventure mapping the rest of your life. You will be faced with lots of decisions both socially and academically.
Some will be miniscule and bear little significane on your overall path, but you may encounter decisions that will tempt you against your better judgement and throw you off course.
That’s exactly what happened to one Dublin student.  Now a reformed drug addict and dealer, Sean* was one of the lucky ones.

curious image key

“Curiosity;

It was always curiosity for me in the beginning. I’d see other people and think: ‘well they’re having a laugh and seem alright, not foaming at the mouth or anything –  so why not?’ Some of the most intelligent and sharpest people I know have gotten mad out of it for periods in their lives. Drugs were accessible, they were readily available, and things like pills and hash or weed were affordable for someone my age.
Between leaving school and first year I got really into drugs, this is where it all began but I didn’t lose control at this point. College acted as a stepping stone for me, it opened the door and gave me an insight into Dublin’s drug scene.
After college I was working as a promoter and drugs became a normality. It was just that industry; drug use was rampant, and to a point still very much is. A lot of promoters would take and sell drugs but it was clear the more successful ones didn’t. A few of the companies I worked for here were staffed with people heavily involved in the drug scene. This is still a factor when it comes to larger events such as festivals.”

[At this point in his life Sean had graduated, was working in a relatively lucrative industry, and got a taste for money and the high life. He told me candidly about the attraction and how his own involvement with drugs progressed.]
I saw what could be made from it and what could be done smartly. I recognised the potential to make a lot of money and took advantage. I suppose you could say it was greed. It was. I just wanted easy money and I didn’t want to work too much for it.
I knew if I got a hundred pills, I could sell them in one night and make myself a tidy profit. Quick, easy money was the name of the game. So I would get a hundred pills off a fella I knew and go to the bar on a Thursday. I had no problems getting rid of them, every single one of them. Rockers and ‘metallers’ inhaled drugs. I used to go down there and clean house.
I was still doing pills every now and again but I wasn’t into taking them as much once I started selling. I would go to parties and maybe take one then be mad out of it doing business until there were none left. Having a laugh and making money.
As time progressed, I sold more drugs, made more money and spent a bit more. I ate well. I travelled. I went to London every weekend at one stage when I was making thousands a week, mostly selling ecstasy. That was back in 2007-2009, when pills were deadly. I was still working in the nightlife industry and especially on the techno scene, so ecstasy and that went part and parcel.
I started with hundreds, then I’d get more and more and always sell them. My supplier left the country and put me in direct contact with his ‘boss’ so I had moved up a few links in the chain. I still wasn’t sure where exactly they were coming from but he did swear to me he wasn’t involved with the IRA or gangs. I didn’t know for certain though. They seemed to be the ones with all the drugs. From then on I was getting in thousands of pills and making thousands of euros each week.
The suppliers constantly and persistently offered me various other drugs because I was buying in large quantities off them, I was moving faster than most other people at the time. At one stage I didn’t even touch the ‘stock’. I had people working for me, it was a business. I would just pay. It got collected and brought to a house. Everything would be sold off almost immediately then the money was dropped to me.

curios image pills

When cocaine came on the scene in Dublin there was a LOT of money to be made. Nearly everyone who was regularly buying pills off me had asked about cocaine. You’d be surprised by the people who bought it off me.

I had always thought I wouldn’t get involved with cocaine but the money was too tempting. It was an expensive drug on every level though – to buy – to sell – wholesale – purchase – moving it from one part of the city to the other. An ounce (28grams) was costing me €1200 from my supplier. I charged €100 for one gram, so I was making €1600 profit from cocaine alone on top of selling pills and eventually ketamine. Ketamine was harder to get back then because it was still relatively rare, but the market was there.
I never got caught, I was clever about business.
There was a music festival coming up, which as a drug dealer is a huge opportunity to make a small fortune. People gag for anything they can get. I got an ounce of cocaine, three thousand pills, and I couldn’t get my hands on any K (ketamine) so I got two ounces of weed instead. I didn’t even have to sell the stuff, I paid a guy €500 to keep it all in his house, then over the next few days people came, bought it all up and my money was delivered.
Down at the festival I did have my one and only close call with the law. I was caught with two ecstasy tablets in my pocket which were confiscated by the Gardai. They then proceeded to question me on whether I had any more drugs with me for the weekend to which I obviously responded ‘NO’ despite having nearly 500 pills behind me in my tent. Luckily they left it at that and I was able to carry on doing business. I did stop selling for a few weeks when I got back.

[I asked Sean about his personal drug use at this stage.]

I had a love/hate relationship with cocaine. I had stopped doing ecstasy myself early in the game. I didn’t like how it made me feel. I had always sort of battled with bouts of depression and I think drugs like ecstasy intensified that low feeling. I took quite a lot of cocaine but then again I soon developed a disliking for how it made me feel. It was K that broke me in the end.
In 2011 it all got very rare. Drugs became a pacifier. Ketamine numbed my personal issues.  Everything had gotten on top of me. I was weak. I succumbed to it all. I’d get up in the morning, do drugs, eat breakfast, do more drugs, go to work – ketamine. It’s horrible. I don’t really know what it even felt like anymore because frankly I don’t want to remember. In the end I wasn’t even getting much off it anyway.

The downfall of the market and the debt lead me deeper into my own addiction. My debt built up to extreme levels and the pressure got worse from above. The boss wanted money more frequently. He didn’t understand how it was at my level. He was into coke himself in a big way and not the most stable person. My life was put on the line and I knew I had to get out of this but I genuinely didn’t think I could. My mental health was at shattering point and I was using heavily to block that out.
Everyone was selling by then; people got better quality drugs than I had. I got rubbish pills, my guy went downhill and I never really found out why. Orange Sonics [a type of ecstasy pill] came out and I couldn’t get them, people were getting them for fuck all and selling for a tenner each making a €9.50 profit on each pill. I had stock for weeks that I couldn’t shift so I started getting in more, be it cocaine, weed, hash, ketamine – anything I could sell to clear off my debts.
I couldn’t go to other suppliers because my guy gave me stuff on tick, like having a tab. My supplier was a typical drug pusher – nice while you were selling, making him money then when things slowed, he was down on you like a tonne of bricks. He was Irish, in his mid-thirties. I do know his real name now but at the time I didn’t. He had a nickname which I can’t really divulge for obvious reasons. When I was starting out doing business with him he was known merely as the bill man, he didn’t even tell us his nickname. He was one to be feared. There were guys above him I didn’t even want to know.
This was a very low point for me personally and ‘professionally’. My own addiction had reached its climax. I was drinking heavily, every day, doing large quantities of K and was extremely run down. I was lucky to be alive, and I know that now. I collapsed and ended up in hospital following one binge when it had all just become too much for my body or mind to take.

I was living back at home when I hit my all-time low – the beginning of the end. My mother confronted me about my lifestyle and told me straight up she knew I was selling drugs. Her obvious disappointment was the wakeup call I needed and her empathetic, supportive approach to the whole situation was far more than I deserved. I can’t even begin to comprehend the level of pain and anxiety I caused not just my family but indirectly the families of the people I sold to. They were someone’s sons and daughters at the end of the day, and I often thought of that when I was selling. It did bother me but I was greedy and the money overtook all other concerns. It was too much of a pull factor for me to walk away… until I had no other choice.

‘How can WE get out of this?’ asked my mother.

I knew my debts needed to be paid to ensure my own safety and selling wasn’t an option, I needed out of that lifestyle and scene fast. I got a substantial bank loan along with a loan from my Mum in order to clear my debts and I practically gave the left over stock away selling it in bulk for a lot less than it was worth but I just wanted rid of it.
From the moment my mother confronted me I was determined to make something of myself and turn my life around. I am an intelligent person but I was lazy and greedy and wasted my talents. I had dealt with depression in the past which was a contributory factor to my demise I think. I sought some counselling but for the most part I just worked to channel that energy into something positive and within a year I was completely clean and working as a Marketing Director. Now I had a purpose and was earning my money honestly, so life had gone full circle. It’s true what they say, when you hit rock bottom there is only one way you can go.
I was lucky with my recovery in the sense I didn’t replace one addiction with another. Once I was clean and healthy, physically and mentally, my mind flooded with ideas and opportunities just seemed to arise. It isn’t always that easy but it is worth every second of the withdrawals once you get there. You’ll never look back if you value your life at all. I couldn’t resort to that way of life again, I have too much to lose and I know my mother would never forgive me. That alone is reason enough to steer clear.
If I could offer any advice to students now I would say don’t make the same choices I did, I learned a lot of tough lessons. Don’t sell. The greed takes over, it really does.

http://www.edition.ie/features/curious-4053

http://campus.ie/health/drugs/curious-part-one

http://campus.ie/health/drugs/curious-part-two