Twice a day, Monday through Friday, I wind my way through rush-hour traffic from East Nashville to my office on West End and back again. Little changes on these voyages — bar the weather and the sounds that accompany my drive. I even see the same drivers some days, often stone-faced for the very reasons I myself am stone-faced, which change depending on the day.
The best part of this drive is by far the moment I pass through the ever-changing corridor of shops and bars between 17th and 18th avenues on Church Street. I feel no attachment to the current tenants, but I once did. One in particular, the DIY venue Indienet, played host to more music-related memories than I can count. I moved to Nashville in 2000 and instantly found my tribe within its dark, dingy walls — punk rock and hardcore obsessives who wore their hearts on their sleeves and, for the most part, genuinely cared about each other despite wide disparities in belief system, fashion sense and so forth. For a time it felt like our own little Dischord-esque utopia, the friendships refined through debate and harmless antics, the music not yet tainted by starry-eyed hair rockers and powerful corporate interests.
Indienet is also where I met Ryan Rado, the 34-year-old singer and activist who now fronts the hardcore band Worker. My ears were being bludgeoned by Walls of Jericho (playing on the floor = scene points) when my arm, and then various other points of my body, were pinched by a brash yet apologetic man with tattoos. Disoriented, I stepped back and prepared to pounce, but was quickly calmed by Rado’s contrition in the face of what I assumed was an embarrassing moment for both of us. Through Candace Kucsulian’s blood-curdling screams, he explained to me that he had Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and that one of his tics was to touch specific points on other people — something he had no control over. The idea was completely foreign to me, and yet I knew he was telling the truth.
Twelve years later, Rado is still haunted by these wearisome physical conditions, the effects of which spider out viciously into his mind and social life as well. But in recent years the gregarious frontman has decided not to cede anymore ground. He’s documented his struggle on a widely read blog and even local TV, and, judging by the results of a cursory Google search, his resolve has also begun to inspire many others to talk about the baggage we all carry in one form or another. It’s music, however, that continues to give Rado his most honest and commanding voice.
Neurology, Worker’s latest EP, is in word and sound entirely focused on Rado’s battle with Tourette’s and OCD. In fact, when you visit the literature page of the band’s website (and I highly recommend you do), lyrics share the space with long yet poignant descriptions of the album and each song’s origins, as well as a “self-help” section comprised of information on various entities centered on finding balance and defeating anxiety, among other things. The lyrics themselves viscerally depict a man in the midst of a series of horrific and crippling episodes, a stark contrast to the “stay positive” message embedded in the URLs. And yet the message is clear: The malady (or the power of it) must be purged before one can step into light anew.
Then there’s the music, which lends a worthy and punishing backdrop to Rado’s trials. Hints of Quicksand, Refused and Frodus, as well as Thrice and Boy Sets Fire, merge with a sound built on angry, circle-'em-up youth-crew hardcore. It’s life as art, the sound a literal proxy for the wars that Rado has waged since he was a boy. But it’s more than that too: Anyone who knows anything about hardcore knows that it’s a tricky genre to tweak (Scream! Throw your guitar! Mosh!) and yet Worker has somehow given the tired sound new life.
Like many of the people who often frequented Indienet in the years leading up to and just after the turn of the century, I’ve “moved on” from hardcore for all practical purposes. But it’s records like Neurology, and people like Ryan Rado, that remind me of why those days were so special. Sure there were gimmicks then as there are now, but there was more often a palpable sense of purpose imbued in nearly every show and every interaction. In its purest form, hardcore was and still is a powerful vehicle for vocalizing dissent or just sheer dissolution — not unlike folk music. The glory days may be over but to sideline the genre, to put it out of sight as if it never carried any weight in our lives, would be a disservice to the friendships it nurtured and the ethos it continues to convey through bands like Worker.
In fact, forget for a moment that you know anything about music, about trends, about fashion, about Pitchfork and its attendant universe. Better yet, forget that the last decade happened. Then press play and let Neurology remind you what it’s like to be unencumbered by cynicism. The prescription worked for me.
Stream and purchase Worker's Neurology from Bandcamp.