Ryan Bartek – The Big Shiny Prison [Free online novel]
Imagine yourself one day packing a bag and hopping around the world, travelling from town to town and observing the tribal subcultures and different characters within. That's what journalist Ryan Bartek did, only he chose just one country to travel across, and arguably the biggest collection of contradictions and extremities in one place. Just who are these people that Bartek is mixing with? Subterranean cult members? Clans that live on the edge of society? Or just normal people trying to find their place in the world? All three, as it happens. The book is an exposé on all the extreme subcultures that make up what we refer to as 'the US underground music scene.
Bartek spent a year infiltrating this collection of sideshow freaks and characters and spending time with them, throwing questions at them and letting them talk themselves into a caricatured frenzy. Helpfully, he provides the reader with pretty accurate descriptions of the sorts of people who add contributions to the narrative – crust punks, metalheads, greasers, straight-edgers, skinheads, death-metallers, black-metallers, thrashers, neo-Nazi black-metallers, etc.
Of course, a lot of these people should be united in the face of authority but seldom are, and as Bartek chats to a lot of them it's very clear that, although he may not agree with their ideology, the same spirit of non-conformism runs through all of them. Bartek offers himself as somebody who can comfortably drift in amongst them all, summing himself up with "I'm too abrasive for the politically correct crowd, yet I have no qualms against playing bongos with a bunch of hippies in the park". And true, he is equally at home shooting the breeze with characters such as Edwin Borscheim (a black metal version of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, frontman with Kettle Cadaver and someone who makes GG Allin seem like a mischievous scallywag) as he is talking hardcore and politics with Danny Lilker from Brutal Truth. Bartek seems to instinctively know how to light his subject's touch papers and let them speak, being careful not to judge but simply to listen. Like Bartek, you may not agree with what they say, but there's no doubting their sincerity.
Insightful, funny and entertaining, The Big Shiny Prison is more than your usual rock journal written by some overpaid hack travelling from hotel room to hotel room, gig to gig and trying to get across the pain of 'living on the edge'. Bartek does live on the edge with all of these characters – characters who have given up the concept of the American dream and refuse to play by the rules – and his Gonzo style of writing makes him as integral to his story as much as his interviewees. The book is available as a free download, so there's no excuse to join Bartek on his journey to get inside the true American counterculture. An entertaining and addictive read.