Tech hated bars. So for him to come out, he had to decide the location. That night he suggested Rust, which didn't fit his style.

Strangely, I didn't care where we met. Normally I would, but this time I just wanted to talk, anywhere. It felt nice to crave human contact and not to worry about the setting.

There was something about a place that could get people to open up. I knew Tech would already be open. He was a good listener. It was me who was always reserved. Guarded. But something about hearing that story made me feel open.

I wondered if it was supposed to be like this all the time. If we, the general pop, were more brave. Had we been brave enough to cut straight to where our intentions and values lay. Bypass all the veneer of IPAs and themed bars and major events blaring out from televisions. To ignore everything else and just look into the other person and say what we really wanted to get across.

What would we say? Would we even have anything to say? Or would we simply be ignoring all the distractions with nothing to take its place.

Everyone liked to bash the 140 characters Twitter limited us to. But I was starting to think that maybe 140 characters, or something not much greater was enough for the most of us. Most of us didn't have much to say.

They hadn't taught us language so that we could express ourselves. Ever since the dawn of each of our individual existence we've been taught to speak in the context of labeling things and demanding things. Self expression was exclusive to people like poets and writers. I thought this was one of the saddest attributes of our society given how much we spend on a dozen years of mandatory education.

I used to think, back in the Zeitgeist days, when I had just become atheist, that the system was purposefully conspiring against us. That there was a group of bad evil men. But more and more, especially after graduating college and ending up here, I'm beggining to think that there is nobody at the helm. There is no helm. We are just a sad bunch on a sinking ship where nobody knows what to do.

This was posted on 7.16.2018
txt by abe
Apparently, according people who had been at Lane's party that night, Mike had not thought it through, which everyone finds ironic since like you don't just off your self out of the blue. You ponder on it. Let it simmer for a long time. And so when he finally did it, it had to be a method you had been thinking about. So people thought he had been stupid to set himself on fire. Because of course it would take forever and be painful as fuck. That was one camp's argument. But then these other group of people came in arguing 'well what do you know? You don't know anything. If you're really in that situation you might lunge at any opportunity.' Looking back it's strange how people reacted. It was like they were trying to figure out who knew more about a suicidal mindset. It reminds me of Americans who've never been to England arguing over who had the British accent. Like both parties are ignorant but think only the other is. Well anyways. I guess seeing how the world around Mike reacted to his death kind of put me off to everything. I no longer had the desire to do it myself and also I no longer felt connected to the people I was around. “Wow. Quite the day you've had.” “Yeah.” “How was yours?” “Fine. Just same as any other.”

After Dean left, I sat staring out into the street. It was just after 5. A lot of people were walking about and the cars were beginning to fill the streets. Normands would soon be swamped, in less than half an hour so I only had a sliver of time to sit and think.

After feeling the first urge to start packing up to leave I instinctively reached for my empty cup. I wished there was more coffee, even though I didn't need the caffeine. I just craved the action of taking a drink. I thought about what Tech might be doing. So I texted him. And when he didn't respond right away, I called.

What's up?

Hi

Still at work?

Yeah. I might stay awhile finishing this article. How'd your interview go?

Well.

Nice.

Do you have to finish that article tonight.

This was posted on 7.16.2018
txt by abe

We shouldn't have fucking signed. But, shit. Who around us knew right? Nobody we grew up with could imagine.

The only path in their head was the beaten one, and not only were they unaware of alternative routes. They glorified, literally drooled at the idea of a record deal.

People kept patting our backs. Telling us how great we were doing. But walking in our own shoes, we actually knew how it felt. And even though it felt like shit, when everyone's telling you how great you are, cheering you on, it's near impossible to correct them. To not play along.

It wasn't purely narcissistic either; though I get how easy it might be to see it that way.

The more our community grew vested into us. The more it felt our duty to put on this act. To front like we were the stars they saw in us.

But the position of success... potential success weighs heavy. And it follows a regular, relentless schedule, knowing no concept of work life balance. Just a constant beating of guilt and anxiety-- and the worst FOMO imaginable.

Everyone around us talked about how they wanted their shot. How if they had the chance we'd been given they'd be in the studio 24/7 and all. But they never knew what it felt like to have this pressure. And they'd never understand. It was almost as if they stopped listening to me. Assumed they knew everything about me now that I had landed a deal.

Honestly. After the second single flopped and the label withheld our album release, I just wanted to be back pulling beer behind the sticky bar at Rust. Wanted to return to the days when I took three hour coffee breaks right here. It's fucking ironic that I say 'the days' cause that makes it sound like the days of me working at Rust and being a regretful 'professional' musician were so far apart. But it wasn't even a full year between.

Time is brutal. Eventually I got tired of hearing how grateful we should be. Got sick of seeing the expectations in their faces.

These were the same faces that had made my previous 'shitty' life feel good. They were the faces I'd look forward to while scrubbing sludge off the bartop. No matter how fucked politics or my money situation or whatever else got, these were the faces that made it alright.

But these were the faces I grew to hate the most



I closed myself off. Didn't want to deal with anything real.
Began ghosting people on text.
Responded to Mike only when he sought me first.
But he was going through the same shit. So he eventually stopped reaching out. And obviously no music was being made.

I hadn't lost grip with reality. I knew that the label would eventually discover our lack of productivity. And I figured that was a good a time as any to do it. Not any earlier. And I would've gone through with it had it not been for that single favor I still owed.

Lucy. She had moved to California straight out of high school. Dropped out of film school her second year. Said it was a waste of time. I only knew this because I had a crush on her and kept tabs on her over Facebook.

Anyways, I owed her a big favor for a thing in high school. That's a long story on its own I won't get into now. She emailed asking if I'd have time to deliver a car to her.

I figured I could wait until I made me and Lucy whole. You know. Do one final positive thing. Maybe it'd make the final journey a pleasant one.

So I took the VW her parents bought her out west. And it took awhile--it's a long fucking drive. And of course you know. This was when Mike beat me to it.

This was posted on 6.9.2018
foto by joel
txt by abe

So like I said, by this point Mike had something to prove to the world.

  • And the only reason I knew this for sure was because that's how I felt.
  • We had actually been given a realistic opportunity to do just that. We were on the cusp of
    making it.
  • But when the second single didn't take, the label switched their tone quick.

We were just two dudes from the midwest dying to show the world something that'd matter.
It hadn't always been that way. Mike and I started out in my garage...
just for the sake of playing music.
For fun. you know?

The story of Crtical Ma$$ had the setup of a tale painting the music industry's cut-throat capitalist slazery, but with a holywood climax.

  • Upload a song onto Soundcloud while sitting on the toilet
  • No schemes of quitting your job and signing a deal.
  • Watch it go viral.
  • Suddenly be swimming in promises of fortune and fame.

Mike and Dean were simple midwestern kids. Weird using that word -- kids -- but back then, that's all they were. Not too long ago either. Just kids. No exposure to how this business worked.

They saw the 3-act structure of professional musicians as:

  1. Make music
  2. Be discovered
  3. Sign deal
  4. Live happily ever after

They never saw the strings attached.

Didn't know what the promises of fortune and fame were predicated on.

It's a shame Critical Ma$$ had to go through this. I get that countless acts have been screwed in the past. So what made these two guys special?

I guess it's simply the fact that I can see so many of my high school friends in them.

I guess it's simply the fact that I can see so many of my high school friends in them.

This was posted on 6.7.2018
img purveyed by joel - source unknown
art by joel
txt by abe

I was about to break into an uncontrollable sweat, when I thought of the future me and the kind of woman I'd have to become to be her. Someone who doesn't lose her shit in front of a primary source.

. . .

No. The kind of person to sweat like this was not me. That was some rookie bull shit.

I pictured the future. How clear & simple the path was.

All I had to do was my job

, which right now was to listen to Dean and get the story out of him. Just listen and catch the story. Don't concentrate so much on action, on doing. You don't need to do anything. Focus on stillness.

my heart steadied ~ my palms started to dry.

I stared into Dean's eyes.

They were surprisingly easy to look into. Not beadey or lifeless. Just pleasantly inviting.

This was posted on 5.25.2018
img from Casey Neistat
txt by abe

I went to meet Dean at Normand's around 3 so I could go home straight from the interview. He had cleaned himself up, and looked more disturbing for it.

In my memory, he had resembled your typical hobo from Victoria Park. Whoever showed up this time failed to fit any tropes and instead stuck out like a sore thumb, especially inside a cafe filled with people reading Proust. Luckily there was a patio so we sat outside.

His face hadn't looked odd before. I hadn't even noticed the cuts. But now with the dirt washed off, the wounds against his cleanly washed skin imparted this weird aire--like he had the badges of a junkie but underneath seemed anything but.

The most bizarre part of his appearance was the hair. He must've not known what he was doing, or decided to buzz it right before our interview and ran out of time. The majority of his head was cropped close, but parts still had hair up to an inch long and he looked like he had just escaped prison just as the guards were issuing the entrance haircut.

I tried focusing on what he was saying, but my gaze couldn't overlook his appearances. My palms sweated thinking about botching the interview. I kept busy by, frantically scribbling into my notebook and took sips from my latte. But the milk froth made me sweat more.

I thought of what Lucien had mentioned. How Carter's been impressed with my work. And I remembered what Lucien said after that. About how big this story about Mike Ma$$ could be. I had brushed it all off at the time. Probably reflexively cause I didn't want to admit it. But Lucien was right. If this Dean guy did really have as deep an insight into Mike Ma$$ as everyone claims, then I do really have the chance to start making some moves.

So far I've been doing a fine job in the ranks. Writing stories in the right style. With the right angles. Something safe that Carter could throw into the nonstop cycle of content without angering readers or making it look like we jumped the shark. So far I've been an anonymous--someone you could replace with a bot and have none of the readers notice.

With the Mike Ma$$ story I could really make a name for myself as somebody West City looked to when they wanted an opinion on art or music. Jeannie Hammond could be string of text that attracted clicks rather than just another name they glossed over at the beginning of an article. And once I had West City's attention and respect, I'd finally have enough of a reputation to get the hell out of here. Go back to New York. Hell, even Philly would do. Anyplace other than West City.

This was posted on 5.24.2018
txt by abe

Hello.


I'm just calling

because

you've stated before that you know

why

Mike Ma$$ killed himself


Yea ~ tat's right





Well

Then I'm wondering if I could have a moment of your time.
That is if you have one to spare.
I'm still on the phone aren't I
Yesss. Okay. So.
Who told you I knew?
Jamie Martinez. He said that you would be aware.
Yea, 'kay cool. Couple people know I know.
Just wanted to see who your contact was.

So then what??

He said that it'd be better to meet in person. We're grabbing coffee tomorrow @ Normands.

This is that same guy who looks like a homeless dude?

Yep.

Gee, errone's got expensive taste in coffee now.

Tell me about it. My fucking dad refuses to drink Starbucks now. HE grew up on Folger's

fucking folger's, Lucien.

Now that same middle-aged asshole is driving around a Volvo, drinking four dollar drip.

Isn't that considered a measure of progress?

ha

Just kidding. Anyways speaking of progress. Carter's been really impressed by yours.

...

and if this new lead proves half as true as he's made out to be-- Guy prob just wants somebody to talk to. But it's a good chunk of time away from the office and coffee on the company dime. Can't complain
This was posted on 5.22.2018 (Updated 5.23.2018)
foto by joel
txt by abe

Before...

you could run away

and nobody would have a clue what you were up to. I think they'd then make up their own stories and tell these to each other. The stories changing each time.

Now you can fly out of your old life's reach and paint them a portrait through social media.

But that's not how people use social media at all. People mostly talk to local friends on there.

Sigh

I know. I'm talking about the kind of social media I imagined in high school. The way I thought it would turn out in the future.

Boy was I wrong. Guess that's why I write about culture and you write about tech.

Hm. Tech is cultural, too. It's like the culture right now.

Yea ?

Tech is the hip hop of culture at large.

This was posted on 5.22.2018
fotos by joel
txt by abe