â€œThe Life of Rileyâ€.
It’s a term that has many different origins attributed to it (including the Irish Riley clan and the poetry of James Whitcomb Riley), and most likely is one you’ve heard somewhere before. Maybe you know the term from its original Irish roots. Perhaps you recall the 1940’s radio drama, or its 1950’s televised counterpart (right, Eric?). You could know it from one of the multiple musical acts which have taken on the name, or from one of the two webcomics that have held the title, or maybe even from the various articles about the Scarlet Spider/Clone Saga mess in the Spider-Man comics.
Or maybe I’m a giant dork. Whatever.
The term itself is meant to convey the idea of living the good life, through whatever means that entails. It’s meant to be a positive observation, make no mistake of that: the image conveyed is that the person in question is privileged, given everything they could ever want, and living a life of contentment where they want for nothing. In short, â€œThe Life of Rileyâ€ is a life of happiness and prosperity.
So you can perhaps understand why the term is used ironically by so many people.
The radio drama/television show was the story of a man whose life was, to put it mildly, the pits (to give you an idea, this show birthed the phrase, â€œWhat a revolting development this isâ€). Both webcomics dealt with hardships associated by the characters to differing degrees (and both were retired without any sort of conclusion, go figure). And Ben Riley, the Scarlet Spider, spent his entire life under hardship and duress before being killed.
But none of those really compare to the life of David Reilly.
David Reilly, for those who are unaware, was the lead singer of semi-popular musical act God Lives Underwater. The band was mostly underground, though their third album Life In the So-Called Space Age and a cover of David Bowie’s â€œFameâ€ for the film 15 Minutes brought them small measures of success above their mostly cult status. GLU was never at a point where they were going to become huge breakout stars, but they made many fans along the way, among them Gloomchen and myself.
Part of that was due to a solid understanding of musical composition in general; you might be able to disparage many elements of GLU, but the music isn’t a part of that. Each song sounded distinct and unique to GLU, and the passion in that music came through along with it. Part of the love also, I imagine, has a lot to do with the time the band came together; â€œindustrialâ€ music was really starting to catch fire, and GLU certainly had enough of that sound to build a fanbase from during that period. But I think most of the love for the band comes from the fact that Reilly, as a songwriter and a vocalist, was genuine and sincere in his music and message.
Now, I know a lot of people look at someone like Trent Reznor and say that he’s a man who can truly convey misery through his music, but all things considered, Trent’s not exactly a truly miserable guy. I mean, I like him and all, but most of his problems come down to the fact that A.) he’s lonely, B.) he wasn’t ready for fame and all of its downsides, C.) he’s not big on the music scene in general, and D.) he’s a giant dork who likes to sit around in his boxers playing Doom (or so the local radio stations claim). I mean, he’s rich, has a fairly large fanbase, and can sell albums based on his band name alone. If Trent started dating Morgan Webb, bought himself a copy of Half-Life 2 and went to a therapist, he’d probably be writing happy tunes for the rest of his natural life, so it’s difficult for me to buy into his misery. I like his music, don’t get me wrong, but it’s hard to believe that he’s really as depressed and miserable as he’d like everyone to believe.
Reilly, on the other hand, was the litmus test by which all other misery should be judged. God Lives Underwater published four albums; of those, one was published by a company that went bankrupt (which also killed the chances of publishing a follow-up), and one didn’t see publication until after the band itself had broken up (and in some cases, was published flawed and unlistenable due to manufacturing issues). Around 2000, Reilly’s fiancÃ©, Seven, died in a train accident. In May of 2005, his then girlfriend Amy also died of unspecified causes. He spent over a decade addicted to heroin and alcohol, only to finally overcome that addiction in 2003, with the intention of turning his entire life around. Sadly, those good intentions went unfulfilled; he died in October of 2005, drowned in his own blood due to an abscessed tooth. Aside from a brief mention on MTV and various notations on GLU-based fansites and appropriate Wikipedia entries, his death went virtually unrecognized and undocumented.
In other words, death notwithstanding, you could pretty much believe the emotion behind his more miserable works, because Reilly WAS a pretty miserable guy. And to someone like me, that was easy to identify with.
To put it in simple terms, â€œ23â€ was the first song that ever made me cry.
The circumstances, while relevant, aren’t terribly interesting to anyone but me and maybe one or two people who know me personally. But that one song was cathartic to me at that instance, and through that, I found a sort of common ground with a man I had never met. Music is, in many cases, about expression of emotions, and when you can connect with a song on that emotional level, it’s a wonderful thing.
And through that one simple sincere piece of music, I became a fan. I bought Empty and Life In the So-Called Space Age immediately after that, and when Up Off the Floor became available through retail channels, I snapped that up in a heartbeat. GLU’s breakup was, for me, a terrible thing, but the knowledge that Reilly was going to keep making music made it better, and I was looking forward to his first full-length album, How Humans R(x). Sadly he never completed it, and it’s been in tentative release hell for over a year, where it may never see the light of day.
It seems kind of fitting that Reilly’s death should match his life in its general obscurity, but by no means does it seem right. Reilly deserved better than to be a five second foot-note in history, but he was never given the chance to be anything else. His life was giant splashes of pain and suffering surrounded by small pieces of success that never ultimately panned out into anything substantial. If any one person has seen rock bottom, it was David Reilly, and the fact that he died trying to claw his way out of that proves the statement â€œlife isn’t fairâ€. I mean, I didn’t write the first five or six paragraphs because I enjoy explaining things; I wrote them because I suspect a large amount of you out there HAVE NO IDEA WHO HE IS.
Is this justice?
Possibly. Reilly got to do something many people don’t or can’t do: he got to make music that touched people. He toured the country and played in front of fans, as well as people who had come to see the main act of whatever tour GLU was on that ended up buying a CD or two afterward. He managed to attain a small amount of success by doing what he loved, and instead of so many musicians who end up retiring and working at jobs they’re not happy with because their time has passed, he left us while he still had some great music in him. Maybe I’m just being over thinking it, but it seems to me that Reilly would have preferred to be remembered as someone who loved what he was doing and gave whatever he could to his fans in his music than to be remembered as a depressed failure who died trying to claw his way out of his misery.
I know I’d rather remember him that way.