pat-the-bunny-retrospective-apocalypse

Patrick Schneeweis (screen capture from video, Pat the Bunny at The Empire 3/14/15)

Young and Miserable and Right: Pat the Bunny, a Retrospective for the Apocalypse

Anarcho-punk Patrick Schneeweis (aka Pat the Bunny) wanted to make it abundantly clear that he had no answers for anyone, least of all himself.

It was 2013. Pat the Bunny, sometimes known as Johnny Hobo and sometimes as Patrick Schneeweis, was standing in the back corner of a Brooklyn punk venue, getting ready to perform. He was thin to the point of being gaunt, dressed unassumingly in torn jeans and a t-shirt. The tattoo on his left bicep, which inexplicably reads breakfast, was his only concession to stereotypically alternative or punk style. He looked like many other 25-year-old men, though perhaps a little more ragged around the edges, as he smiled earnestly and handed me a pamphlet outlining his plans for setting up anarcho-syndicalist communes after the overthrow of the United States government.

Ramshackle Glory was billed as “A punk rock band with all the wrong instruments,” and that’s what they were. It comprised 12 members, an accordion, a banjo, and several other components more appropriate to a gypsy jazz band than a traditional punk outfit. This tour had been announced via the band’s fledgling website: “This is the Plan. The Plan will surely change according to the whims of Chaos, but this is our proposal to the forces of disorder that reign over us all,” they wrote by way of introducing a list of concert dates. The show in New York had no location, reading only “To Be Announced (ask a punk).” Somehow, everyone in the room had managed to find it.

I was 16, wearing a boy’s athletic t-shirt from Modell‘s that I had liberated of its sleeves with a kitchen knife, dipped in laundry bleach, and emblazoned with RAMSHACKLE GLORY painted with correction fluid. My best friend J and I had made the executive decision not to buy malt beer from the corner bodega beforehand; Pat was newly sober, and it seemed appropriate that we ought to experience his music that way, too.

As the band set up and started to play, a boy looked over at me. His shoes were taped together with silver duct tape. “Where’d you get that shirt? I didn’t know Pat sold them.”

“I made it.”

“Yeah, you did, didn’t you?” he asked rhetorically, admiring the terrible bleach job. Then he was gone, absorbed into the small but energetic tornado of a mosh pit to our right.

Ramshackle Glory performed for 14-minutes and then, citing technical difficulties with the borrowed equipment, abruptly ended their set.

“I think you were amazing,” I shyly told Pat after the show. He was busy shoving boxes and instruments into the back of a beat-up van, so full it was hard to believe all the gear had ever fit inside in the first place. He was visibly uncomfortable with praise, but he accepted it with the grace of someone who, if not interested in fame, has reconciled himself to what little he had of it. Then the van drove away, one of its back doors still swinging wildly open as it swerved down Flatbush Avenue.

Perhaps fittingly, the venue where Ramshackle Glory played that night no longer exists. It became an Italian restaurant, serving up plates of pasta from a counter where the makeshift stage used to be.

Pat retired from music and disappeared two years later.

My friend J moved to Los Angeles by herself that year, where she got addicted to cocaine and stopped listening to folk punk.

I’m still here, though I’m not sure what I became. If I learned anything from Pat’s music, it’s that we can reinvent ourselves as many times as we need to.

I don’t believe in cops, bosses or politicians
Some call that anarchism
I call it having a fucking heart that beats.
Wingnut Dishwashers Union, from the 2010 album Burn the Earth Leave It Behind!

Patrick Schneeweis’ story begins in 1987 in Brattleboro, Vermont, where he was born and grew up and listened to Fugazi and learned to play guitar. We don’t know a lot about Pat’s childhood, or his upbringing, or his life outside of music and activism and self-destruction. He has one younger brother, Michael, who occasionally joined his brother’s musical endeavors during his short career from 2005 to 2015. He was born into a middle-class family, or so he confesses in his lyrics, somewhat embarrassed that he was not born as down-and-out as he quickly became. “[We] grew up in a rural setting near a magical lake,” Michael told me via email from the Buddhist monastery where he now lives, though he remained hesitant to share too much about their family lest he begin to speak for Pat. The problem, of course, is that Pat himself has disappeared. I’ll get to that later.

* * *

By the time I met Pat at that show in Brooklyn, he had written hundreds of songs and released them under at least 20 names. He has been in so many bands, solo projects, and collectives that it’s remarkably difficult to pinpoint a ‘first’ album, but for the vast majority of listeners their introduction to Pat’s music came through Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. Love Songs for the Apocalypse came out in 2005 (DIY Bandits); a rough, honest record made by an artist laying his soul bare for the world, or whoever happened to stumble upon it, since he made little effort to distribute it. At this time, Pat was still living in Vermont, chronically homeless and spending most of his time drinking malt liquor and dropping acid by the local train tracks.

A sense of utter hopelessness pervades the music and its lyrics, and Pat makes no effort to polish it away. His voice is hoarse, cracking wildly, and his acoustic guitar is often out of tune. As Johnny Hobo, Pat wanted to make it abundantly clear that he had no answers for anyone, least of all himself. Music for him was about chronicling his own collapse, line by line. “[Johnny Hobo] was a phase that was, I believe, marked by some serious self-doubt, confusion, and anger in my brother’s life,” says Michael. “Maybe it was before the discovery that excitement turns back to pain, shame, confusion, and doubt when it’s only based on drinking a 40.”

The Johnny Hobo project may have been more about self-destruction and nihilism than any constructive effort to change himself or the world around him, but glimpses of hope in the form of philosophy and politics are visible beneath the rubble. He references Nietzsche—”God isn’t dead, but I’ll get that bastard someday!” he screams tunelessly on “Church Hymn for the Condemned”—and talks about revolution—”I’ve got my forty-ounce, and a system to overthrow,” he tells us matter-of-factly on “DIY Orgasms”. The revolution may have been limited to a vague idea at this point, eclipsed by the more pressing need for more beer or more drugs, but the lyrics were already marked by Pat’s characteristic honesty, conveying the unglamorous reality of his bleak existence. It was enough to get Johnny Hobo a name as an anarcho-punk outfit, a band that stood for something, even if their something was only a more honest nothing.

If freedom means doing what we want, well don’t we gotta want somethin’
More than just more beer?
– Wingnut Dishwashers Union, from the 2008 album, Never Trust a Man Who Plays Guitar

The year 2009 saw the end of Johnny Hobo and the creation of a new band, Wingnut Dishwashers Union, which toured almost nonstop. At least 19 people are known to have been members of Wingnut Dishwashers Union at one time or another, including a thereminist and a washtub player, but I can find only first names or aliases for most of them. As with Johnny Hobo, many of Wingnut’s concerts featured only Pat by himself, without the support of other musicians at all.

Wingnut Dishwashers Union, like Johnny Hobo, was an anarcho-folk-punk band with the same unrestrained anger and raw emotion of its predecessor, but listening to the records instantly reveals a change in Pat from his prior persona. In 2009, Wingnut Dishwashers Union released its best-known album, Burn the Earth! Leave It Behind! (Wingnut Dishwashers Union, DIY Bandits, 2010) where Pat began more stridently to reference the political philosophers who had influenced him. In the song “Proudhon in Manhattan”, whose title refers to French philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon who’s widely regarded as the first anarchist, Pat imagines Proudhon’s theory of mutualism applied to the modern day. Pat’s anarchist values are stronger than ever, but the lyrics during the Wingnut period reveal a more positive outlook, a belief that change is possible.

“Tonight when I dream it will be / that the junkies spent all the drug money on / community gardens and collective housing”, he fantasizes in “Proudhon”, “And the anarchists have started / filling potholes, collecting garbage / to prove we don’t need governments to do these things / and I’ll wake up/Burning Times Square”. No longer secondary to getting drunk and high, the violent overthrow of the capitalist system was a real possibility for Pat, and something worth advocating even after he ‘wakes up’ from his dream.

The rage is still there, however. On the album’s third track, Pat declares defiantly: “Fuck every cop that ever did his job, and fuck every bank that never got robbed, and fuck all the other banks, especially mine!” It was during the Wingnut Dishwashers Union period that he also began to use heroin regularly, bringing a darker tone to the somewhat more cheerful whiskey-and-acid-tabs indulgence that had characterized the Johnny Hobo years.

The only published interview with Pat dates from this period, recorded by Punk Globe magazine (Tyler Vite, date unknown). When asked to introduce himself, he said simply, “There’s not much to say. I try to maintain sanity in a society that is both criminally insane and accuses anyone transgressing its norms of being utterly mad. And honestly, that pursuit takes up most of my time in one way or another.” At the end of 2009, Pat entered rehab for both heroin and alcohol addiction, forcing him to quit the band.

No one’s gonna stop you from dying young and miserable and right / but if you want something better you gotta put it aside. — “From Here to Utopia” by Ramshackle Glory, from the 2011 album Live the Dream

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