Pat & IPosted: October 18, 2011
How an obscure musician changed my life.
By Bruce Hamilton
For a long time, I was an anarchist. Well, actually only two months. But I WAS an anarchist. Okay, no I wasn’t really. But my political views came from the heart. Well, no they didn’t. I stole them from a guy named Pat. Pat and I were best friends. Okay, no we weren’t. Pat and I had never met. But I’d like to think we had.
Born Patrick Schneeweis, Pat “the Bunny” was a musician from Brattleboro, Vermont. He has been known in underground music circles for his singing, guitar playing, and songwriting in numerous punk bands for the past five years. I stumbled across his music during February break of 2011, probably while I should have been doing homework/chores/anything productive.
It was unlike anything I had ever heard before.
Now let’s not assume it was love at first listen. It was brash and ugly, for sure. It certainly didn’t click right away. Imagine a homeless nineteen-year-old in an alleyway with an out-of-tune acoustic guitar and a voice stained with cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Now imagine this particular homeless man singing (read: shrieking) about anarchism, nihilism, and drugs. I can assure you this image in your head is 89% accurate, at least. On paper, Pat the Bunny sounds like a talentless hack who belongs in a sanitarium. But as I listened for a little longer, I felt like I actually knew this guy. More importantly, I felt like I believed what he believed. I tricked myself into thinking Pat the Bunny and I were good friends, or better yet, we were the same person. We weren’t though. We weren’t at all. Or were we?
When I listened to Johnny Hobo & the Freight Trains (Pat the Bunny’s first band) more and more, I was drawn to the lyrics, and how they were being sung. Pat the Bunny made it very clear through his lyrics that he a) absolutely detested all forms of authority, b) had no hope for humanity, and c) enjoyed cigarettes, alcohol, acid, cocaine, and heroin. And he sang it all with passion. It’s important to note that there is clearly a difference between the persona created by an entertainer and the actual entertainer. But this is different. When you have a guy that has no job, no money, and no name, he’s not sacrificing anything. Popularity was clearly not an issue for this guy, which means that he had no reason to compromise his views on anything. It’s not like his record label was going to drop him because of controversy over lyrics. I’m not really sure what record label he was signed to at the time (I think he was releasing music through the DIY Bandits music collective) but I’m almost certain that the label was operated by close friends of his, not a sixty-year-old CEO. When you have nothing to lose, there’s no need to change how you feel.
…and that’s why I liked him. Pat the Bunny was everything I wasn’t. And to be honest, Pat probably would have hated my guts if he had looked at my life in a nutshell. At age sixteen and a quarter, I wasn’t doing so great in private school. My grades weren’t as high as they should have been, but the point is that I was attending a private school. A Catholic one, too. My parents were able to pay for my education through years of hard work at respectable jobs. I don’t even think Pat the Bunny has ever had a job, although I suppose that depends on your definition of “job”. My definition does not allow for singing about your hatred of jobs to be considered a job. Anyways, my life has essentially been molded by the capitalist process that my parents embraced ever since I was in diapers. I don’t use drugs; I respect the police; I like the status quo. Everything’s just been dandy in my sphere of bliss (ignorance, happiness, etc.) for most of my life. I had no reason to get drunk by the train tracks and write songs about not voting, throwing bricks through cop car windows, and hating God. These ideas were foreign to me. It’s not like Pat was more enlightened than me, it’s just that he lived a much different life than me. We both lived in different worlds entirely.
But upon further inspection, maybe Pat and I are more similar than you (or I) might think. One might assume the obvious similarities: “Yeah, yeah, you’re both white, you both play guitar, you both live in the Northeast. Big whoop*.” All three of those similarities are indeed true, but at one point in my life, I felt really close to Pat the Bunny just because I was feeling really down on myself, probably because of grades or grade-obsessed parents or some stupid cliché like that. You see, I wasn’t 100% honest when I said that everything was “dandy” throughout my life. At the time I discovered his music, I hated school and I was getting awful sick of the system I was living in. Yeah, pretty normal stuff for age sixteen and a quarter. I thought I could relate to Pat at this time in my life, because when he sang about standing up against racist policemen (and other prominent authorities), it was like the racist policemen were my parents. Both parties abused their authority (or so I thought). Pat and I hated different forms of authority, and I knew this, but to me, they were one and the same. Was it juvenile for me to think this way? Very much so. It’s quite embarrassing to think that my train of thought was once headed towards Woe-Is-Me-town and making a quick stop in Angryville.
Does this essay have a point? No. But if it did, it would be that I feel as humans, we are attracted to entertainment that depicts qualities that we do not have. At the same time, we tend to gravitate towards things we can relate to, at least a little a bit. In ways, Pat and I were/are like a photograph and its negative: completely different, but exactly the same**. This explains why sheltered suburban kids from stable households enjoy the musical stylings of rap groups that glorify violence & crime: they had never experienced it themselves, so the ideas are exciting.
Maybe I’m entirely wrong. Although I’d like to think that if Pat and I met, we’d have enough in common to talk for a while, and enough differences that we could learn from each other.
Caught In The Act Of Not Being Awesome and Love Songs for the Apocalypse, both released in 2005, are the Pat the Bunny albums I refer to towards the beginning of this essay. They are still brilliant to this day.
Pat the Bunny completed rehab in early 2011, and now plays in a band called Ramshackle Glory.
* I am fully aware that no one says “big whoop” anymore.
** I stole this metaphor from the book Fargo Rock City, by Chuck Klosterman. Buy his books.