Music Feature: Jay Reatard (NY Press)



Jay Reatard attempts to curb his wunderkind workaholism

By Chris Ruen

Memphis garage-rocker Jay Reatard is a living, breathing misnomer.

When Jay Lindsey was 15 years old he decided to name his first his band The Reatards, then he changed his last name to make the playfully spelled “Reatard” his own. It must have felt all too appropriate. Most feel retarded, at least in the colloquial sense of maladjustment, during those early teenage years. On top of the age’s commonplace insecurities, young Jay had an unstable home life to contend with and few friends to share his adolescent angst with. So instead of going to classes, he stayed home to play music in his bedroom. Jay Reatard didn’t fit in—he was abnormal. He was a “retard.”

But it’s easy to forget the definition of “retard” in its verb form. It means to hinder, slow or delay. And in this real sense, Jay Reatard has been wringing his self-imposed surname with action ever since. By the age of 18, when many of his peers hoped to tour Europe with a backpack, he had already traveled the continent with his own band. In the years since changing his name, Reatard (now 27) has released dozens of records, and he’s been in at least eight bands, most notably The Reatards and the synth-based Lost Sounds. This workaholic even has his own record label, Shattered. Following one’s passions is vital for any artist, but Reatard grew tired of continually recording and touring for so many different projects that involved so many other musicians.

“I was feeling creatively repressed,” says Reatard. “I hadn’t had a chance to make an album that completely represented my ideas.”

He began focusing on solo work, simply labeling it with his own name. In 2006, In The Red Records released Reatard’s solo LP, Blood Visions, a hyperkinetic romp of punk guitar and Joey Ramone–style vocals. For music played with such speed and volume, the album displayed Reatard’s surprising ear for melody.

The tuneful nature of the music is that much more unexpected after looking at the album’s cover, which bears an image of the nearly naked songwriter covered in blood.

“The idea was that I would be this fat, bloody baby being reborn into the world,” says the renascent Reatard.
Though he’d already built a decent fan base from touring with his many Memphis-based projects over the years, Blood Visions gradually gained a new audience of fans and journalists. All the new exposure and momentum paid off when Reatard was touring in New York City one day and a friend in The Ponys, a garage rock band from Chicago, told him NYC’s Matador Records was interested in signing him. Reatard began speaking with Matador, the gold standard of indie labels.

“Then there were eight months of negotiations to settle everything…which were really exhausting. It was like, ‘Hey man, let’s stop talking about this shit and start making a record!’ I’d never gone more than six months without making a full-length.”

Reatard is set to release six, 7-inch singles with Matador this year, which will be compiled on an EP in the fall. Much to his frustration, his next full-length disc won’t be out until spring of 2009.

Though Reatard’s career looks to be ascendant, he doesn’t plan on any major life changes. For one, he has no intention to leave his hometown of Memphis.

“Memphis is pretty vital to the creative process for me. Some bands decide to move to L.A. and then they immediately begin to suck. I feel like if a big city didn’t create a band, a band shouldn’t expect to move to a big city and continue to be nurtured creatively.”

If there is a perceivable alteration in Reatard’s lifestyle, it’s a shift away from his historically scattered musical endeavors.

“Six months ago I decided to try something I’ve never done before—and that’s focus. I figured, I have eight releases this year. Then there’s press and touring. I don’t have enough time to sleep much less to play drums in some crappy punk band.”

Music Feature: Man Man (NY Press)


Philly’s Man Man resists the mental ward with its circus-punk pop

By Chris Ruen

“This is not just false modesty,” Ryan Kattner (aka Honus Honus) assures me. “I’m such a pessimist about people actually showing up. I’m always really surprised when people come out to our shows.”

Kattner, Man Man’s lead singer and main songwriter, is pleasantly shocked twice over this week: The band’s two headlining concerts in the city, in support of their new Rabbit Habits, have quickly sold out. If quantifiable success is a sign of things to come for this genre-spiting rock band from Philadelphia, it will be well earned after years of scarcity. As Kattner states flatly in the band’s latest press release: “I would say being broke is one of my biggest influences.”

The last time I encountered Kattner, Man Man had played a frenetic set in front of a nearly empty Knitting Factory main room in 2006. After the show, while I conducted a punchy interview with him in the back of their tour van, I sensed his frustration. The path ahead for the band didn’t appear easy.

In the weeks preceding our night at the Knitting Factory, Man Man’s second LP, Six Demon Bag, had garnered critical acclaim from Pitchfork, but the hype didn’t immediately translate to either album or concert sales. Perhaps because simply trying to describe their music invites awkwardness, their name and gimmick of wearing war paint and assuming strange monikers didn’t catch on as some expected.

Undeterred, Man Man began working on material for a new album. There was just one problem: They had no record label. Their two-album contract with NYC’s Ace Fu Records had expired.

“It was an amicable split,” says Kattner. But it left the Philadelphians homeless and lacking resources. This complex indie-circus-soul-jazz-punk band was—to put it simply—penniless.

“We recorded Rabbit Habits on our own time, with our own money. While we were recording we kept running out of money and had to go back on tour. So what should have been about a two-month recording process went on over a 10-month period.”
Though all the touring wasn’t by choice, gradually the name Man Man became better known. After all, five guys in war paint flipping out in manic delight for an hour and a half onstage tends to make an impression. Along the way, Man Man attracted the attention of the ANTI- record label.

“I honestly don’t know what we would have done if we hadn’t found ANTI-,” says Kattner. “All I have to say is—in capital letters—PHEW.”

Comparing the band’s situation now to what I observed that night in the Knitting Factory, some transformation seems to have occurred.

“When we’re in the middle of everthing, I have no idea of what’s changed. I’m just dealing with, ‘Fuck, I have to pay rent. Fuck, my girfriend’s mad ‘cause I’m not around ever. Fuck, my girlfriend’s breaking up with me ‘cause I’m not around ever.’”

But on a recent tour of smaller cities, Kattner says he noticed something. “The kids just seemed to be coming out more than ever before. It was freezing in Ann Arbor and there was this line to get into the show stretching all the way down the block.”

Still, life isn’t suddenly perfect for Man Man. Kattner, for one, is still lacking in funds. “That hasn’t changed,” he laughs.

But he seems to enjoy a bit of clarity on why he got himself into this mess of a band—the mess of laboring to make exactly the kind of music he wishes to create.

“You don’t get into music because you want to make money,” he says. “I’m doing this to stay out of the nut house, basically.”

Interview: Director Andrew Bujalski (Cool 'Eh Magazine)


Back in the early days of 2006, 28-year-old director Andrew Bujalski made two New Year’s Resolutions. One was simple enough: visit Maine. Andrew, a Bostonian, accomplished this without significant trouble. The second resolution, however, posed a more serious challenge: stop reading press for his films. According to Andrew, he went on to violate this resolution “hundreds of times over.”

He could be forgiven for this. One would be hard-pressed to find another director, contemporary or not, to inspire such enthusiastic praise and curiosity from the highest echelons of criticism for their first two feature films. His debut, “Funny Ha Ha”, garnered a place on ten top ten lists, including The New York Times and Film Comment. Bujalski’s latest film, “Mutual Appreciation”, earned him a feature in the New York Times, where they may or may not have forever slapped Bujalski with “Voice of a Generation” status. More praise has followed from Variety, Slate, and Chicago Reader. Scott Foundas of Cinemascope wrote, “Bujalski is making what may prove to be the defining movies about a generation, which is to say my own, marked by its very lack of definition.”

Bujalski has chosen to cast non-professional actors, including friends and himself, in his 16mm-shot features. Both films were written for former roommates (Kate Dollenmayer and Justin Rice, respectively), and focus on the muddied twenty- something lives of post-collegiates. The characters’ dialogue and actions are disarmingly authentic and, mixed with Bujalski’s visual realism, alternately hilarious and awkward to a degree of brutality.

Bujalski and I met on a cold, rainy evening in the dim, mostly-vacant confines of Williamsburg bar Larry Lawrence.

Photo by: Alexander Richter

As a kid, were there any filmmakers or films that particularly struck a chord with you?
I think that grows and changes over time. I was movie crazy as long as I can remember. Going back to childhood I remember Rocky III was a big one for me, before I understood there was such a thing as Rocky I and II. But by the time I was an early adolescent, I don’t know, David Lynch and the Coen Brothers and all that kind of stuff.

The ’90s indie movies…
Yeah, late ’80s early ’90s: that starter stuff that blows your mind when you’re that age. And a lot of it is still mind-blowing. But those kinds of beginner steps into, “I like stuff that’s different and weird!” And you seek out that stuff.

And then when did it occur to you, “I could possibly do this.”
Well, it was the only thing I ever wanted to do. Doesn’t mean I knew what that meant. And I still don’t necessarily know what that means. I think I’ve been extremely lucky. And “Funny Ha Ha” was made, as I think a lot of first features are, on hubris alone. There was no reason to think we could pull that off.

Any filmmakers or films in the past couple years that have genuinely excited you?
Yeah, but I always blank on this question. I mean, maybe fewer and fewer in a way. Maybe it’s diminishing returns. I think it just has to do with getting older. The older you get, the fewer things are really going to shock you and open your eyes. And I don’t know if that’s because I’ve seen enough that it’s harder to get surprised or if it’s—what is it that Ally Sheedy says in "The Breakfast Club"? “When you get old your heart dies.” And that might be it—I don’t know.

It’s not a pleasant thought.
No, it’s not at all. Every year there are a handful of movies I really fall in love with, but it’s fewer and fewer. Or at least fewer than it was ten years ago.

I have memories of taking my dog-walking money and going to the local independent movie house and seeing weird new movies and feeling so completely absorbed and excited by them—and I feel completely divorced from that now.
It’s depressing. But it’s hard for me to gauge. I mean is the 14-year-old kid today who’s going to the movies alone and seeking stuff out for the first time—is the stuff that’s out there today as thrilling to that kid as whatever was to you or me? I don’t know.

At what point did you decide you were going to shoot with film and not going to use digital?
Well, I think it makes a big difference in how the film feels. To me video is the difference between a piano and the latest, most awesome synthesizer that almost sounds like a piano. Video is at its worst when it’s trying to fake the feel of film. But there are more and more people out there figuring out how to use it for what it is.

Do you fear changing your filmmaking method at this point? Do you plan on changing anything for the next one?
I’d like to retain the methodology as much as I can. I really want to do one more in this vein. It was never intended to be a sustainable methodology. And I think if I don’t squeeze one out now—it’s not going to get any easier. It’s just going to get harder and harder to make films like that.

Do you find it interesting that critics have focused so much on the conversational tics in your movies?
I mean, that’s why I was trying to get myself to stop reading reviews. You can’t help but end up feeling a little bit alienated. Even when someone’s being really good to you. Even when the person seems to get it, there’s still something weird about—

Someone else saying, “This is who you are…”
Yeah, and when you’re marketing a film you’re asked to say, describe your film in two sentences. Part of me always feels like, well I made a big, sprawling, weird thing and if I knew how to do it in two sentences I wouldn’t have had to make a movie. I could have made two sentences. So anything someone writes about it automatically feels reductive. It’s not bad, I just shouldn’t read it, that’s all.

And then this Voice of a Generation thing has started coming up.
That’s the kind of thing—I mean as far as I know the only person who’s said that is Dennis Lim at the New York Times, and I think he did it with a question mark or something. My response to that is always, go and poll my generation. Go and ask everybody in a ten year range of me if they’ve ever even heard of my films, and then whether or not that percentage wants to elect me or not. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

I think the generation tag is interesting, though. I mean, it’s not a generation. It’s a very specific group of people of a certain socioeconomic status, certain educational status. It’s a very specific group that these two movies have been about.
The harshest reviews my films have ever gotten have been from the demographic they supposedly speak to.

Like you got too close, maybe.
Yeah, you know, “This guy thinks he knows our generation. He’s wrong. My friends are much cooler than these people.” A lot of that kind of stuff.

Alan in “Mutual Appreciation” fits a certain archetype of a young person pursuing their artistic ambitions. What many would refer to as a Hipster. Here in New York, there’s a fair amount of disdain of that culture, as prevalent as it is. Do you have any particular reactions to that archetype?
I don’t know…it’s exciting to be young and care about things. It’s interesting, a lot of the press for “Mutual Appreciation” pegs it as a Williamsburg movie or a movie about the Williamsburg scene or whatever. But Williamsburg is never mentioned in the film. The only specific tie to Williamsburg is that he plays at Northsix, which is a real Williamsburg club. But that was also the only scene we shot in Williamsburg. Not to say I don’t know where people are coming from when they say that, but it’s funny to me that that reads to people.

Well, you may not like this, but in a way it oozes Williamsburg. Not saying it was intentional.
Right, but I think you’d find the harshest—whoever leads the life that the film seems to be about is going to be the person who least identifies with the film. The person who says, “No that’s wrong. You got it wrong.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
I don’t know. It depends.

It does depend. I mean, no one lives that exact life. But, it’s very familiar. When I saw it everything was very familiar to me.
This is a bit of a fantasy maybe, but my dream, your fondest hope as any kind of artist I think is that hopefully something will seem familiar about it to some dude in Omaha. I mean, there are a lot of specific New York cues where you go, “Okay, I know where Northsix is.” But you hope that something’s universal about it.

Do you have any particular views on the youth culture you supposedly speak to?
I don’t know. It depends on the youth culture. I enjoy a lot of it. I guess youth culture by definition is impermanent, sure. Although it’s weird…we’re in an odd—but again I feel kind of stupid holding forth on this ‘cause I feel like I’m not a sociologist, ultimately.

Sociologists…I mean, who cares?

You don’t have to answer the question if you don’t want to, but no one’s an expert as far as I’m concerned.
Well, it’s hard to imagine someone from my parents generation—I mean, I was a huge Beatles fan in high school and I think that’s probably typical for a lot of people who grew up when I did, and its hard to imagine someone of my parents’ generation being so into something from their parents’ generation. They did a great job of cutting themselves off and starting anew, and we didn’t do such a good job of that. That’s not bad on us, it just didn’t happen and the world wasn’t at that place.

At least one segment of our youth culture is one where people revel in making fun of things. There’s high value attached to that ability for mockery. But there doesn’t seem to be much weight tied to meaning or deeper values necessarily. They seem old world.
Well, I think there are a lot of people out there who want that. I think there are a lot—and you could say Wes Anderson—I think he, in many ways, and I don’t want to read his work any more than I want people to read mine, but certainly somewhere in there, there seems to be some kind of cry for, longing for sincerity. And what does that mean? I don’t know. It’s a topsy-turvy world! So it’s hard to know…

I’m trying to get at—
Well, our parents, hippies or whoever, could convince themselves, “Okay, we’ve totally overturned everything. We’ve got our own music and our own stuff that we like. So we’ve finally gotten to the core of it—the truth.” And then to grow up…See, I just feel like I’m a talking head on VH-1 or something.

I think its interesting that in the face of the utter confusion of your film’s subjects, you’re willing to use realism to simply look at the situation as it is, rather than deconstruct it or try to compare it to something else. And I think that’s significant.
Sure. And I always hope to learn something. Not to go in with a statement and try to take that statement from two dimensions to three dimensions. Rather, to go in not knowing exactly what we’re doing and kind of learn as we go. I mean, the film should hold mysteries for me, and hopefully hold mysteries for anyone who watches it.

It’s got to be incredibly frustrating to make a movie and intimately understand what you made, then have to listen to a bunch of people like me try to tell you what it is.
It’s just weird. But it’s fine. It’s part of the deal. And you’re thrilled that anybody cares.

Both of the films end on relatively squirm-inducing moments and right when the audience is at its most uncomfortable or awkward, you make quick cuts to black and silent credits. Why do you think you like to finish with such abrupt endings?
Endings are tough and it’s always a challenge. I think neither of these stories support conventional resolution. And I’ve seen films where I was on board until a resolution is thrown on—and then I get mad. And I go, “Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. I bought your story, but now you’re telling me those two got married and now everything is fine?” It drives me crazy. So the question is, how do you make an ending without a resolution? I don’t know, it’s tough to get out of a fictional world, and sometimes I’m just trying to make a clean break. The story ends here and, I’m sorry, but you people are on your own now.

Film Reviews: Iraq In Fragments, Old Joy (Cool 'Eh Magazine)


DIRECTED by James Longley

Contrary to what I suspect assorted art school students, Evangelicals, and left-wing activists may believe, there is no moral high ground, no significant level of superior understanding to be claimed on the issue of the Iraqi disaster, not by any American. Despite its dark days of late, America remains a democracy nonetheless. Therefore we are all fundamentally responsible for the new reality we have created for Iraqis, ugly as this fact is. And never has this reality seemed quite so ugly, paradoxically, as in the beautifully rendered documentary “Iraq In Fragments”, masterfully presented by American director James Longley.

Longley takes turns focusing on stories of all three “fragments” of Iraq: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. The first act centers on an 11-year-old Sunni boy named Mohammed, who struggles to balance the importance of school with that of keeping his job working for a physically and verbally abusive cafĂ© owner. For the second act we move on to Shiite Sheik Aws, a young religious leader and follower of Muqtada al-Sadr, who struggles to politically organize his fellow Shia in Nasiriyah. The film ends in the Kurdish north, following a father and son, each with their own hopes for the future of Iraq.

“Iraq In Fragments” documents a time, from the fall of Baghdad through the relatively successful elections, now viewed as one of the rosier periods of the occupation, charging the images on screen with the dire knowledge of how much worse the situation will become. In fact, the realities on the ground may be so troubling to American eyes that, by the end, you’ll regret watching the film at all.

And while the documentary ends in the Kurdish north with a measured degree of optimism, even strains of joy, the American viewer’s closer relationship with Iraq overwhelmingly brings on an emotional state in communion with that of the fragmented nation itself: devastation.


From the passenger side of a Volvo station wagon, a dirty, hippie-looking Kurt, played by musician Will Oldham, explains the special quality of a secluded Cascade Mountain hot spring to his old friend Mark (Daniel London).

“It has this otherworldly peacefulness about it. You can really think,” Kurt says, just before taking a particularly ironic drag from his joint.

“Sounds awesome,” Mark replies from the driver’s seat.

Two thirty-something friends from Portland, who presumably met in college, are on their way to the hot spring. This spontaneous 36-hour camping trip, suggested the same day by Kurt, gives Mark a chance to escape the fast-approaching fatherhood staring him in the face at home, while the journey is just more of the same for free-spirited Kurt.

A sad, mostly unspoken tension grows between the two friends, who evidently haven’t spent significant amounts of time together since their glory days. Mark has absorbed a standard kind of Bourgeois-Bohemian mindset, while Kurt still revels in theories of a teardrop-shaped universe and his aging-hippie lifestyle. Most divisive for the friendship is Kurt’s getting them hopelessly lost in the mountain roads, and not seeming particularly concerned about it.
On the way to the hot springs, the friends attempt to reclaim the old, easy nature of their relationship, but to little avail. For a few moments they seem kindred spirits once more, but these are sadly fleeting. The youthful lives they once shared now seem dead—something to be mourned.

But the striking, patient film does provide a way out of the despair, albeit a slight one. As Kurt recounts a dream to Mark at the hot springs, in what seems like just another one of his burnout non sequiturs, a kernel of wisdom emerges. Consoled by a dream character, he is told, “Sorrow is nothing but worn out joy.”

Critical Essay: UFO (Cool 'Eh Magazine)




U.F.O. (powerHouse Books) begins simply enough: three white letters stenciled on the book’s pitch-black cover. It’s a black & white beginning, followed by 196 pages of gray matter.

For sake of clarity, let’s start with the black & white.

“I think anytime we get involved in a project it’s about us trying to create a reality of something that’s maybe just more intense than it needs to be, or is,” says Caleb Scott, writer and member of the Combustive Motor Corporation (CMC) artist collective.

“More intense than it needs to be is very well put,” agrees fellow member and photographer Alex Wright, with a touch of collective self-effacement. Caleb and Alex make up one half of Brooklyn-based CMC, the creators of U.F.O. On its most basic level, U.F.O. is a graffiti book exploring the alien-focused work of one New York City graf artist, known as UFO. In dozens of nighttime photographs taken by Alex Wright, the reader is exposed to UFO’s use of spaceships and other extraterrestrial imagery, most commonly an inflated alien head attached to a flying saucer, with propulsive flares at the bottom. Just as potentially interesting as the imagery, though, are the varied locations, sizes and versions of the images. They range from a pencil-drawn tag on an ATM machine to a larger two-color image on a cruddy bathroom mirror, to full-scale, multi-color wall murals.

In addition to the book’s photography, the ideas and history behind U.F.O. images are engaged by the members of CMC via essays, narrative flourishes and in letters written to famous figures in art, science and politics, asking for their response to the graffiti—inquiring as to what it might mean. The letters were sent with photographs of UFO’s work in a painted black box with the addressee’s name stenciled on top in white. For example, the box they sent to Bill Clinton read, in rather creepy stenciled typography, W. Clinton.

“If Art Bell had a blind cousin who never talked to a girl for forty years, this [the boxes] is what he would make,” laughs Alex.

CMC (which also includes producer Chris Noble and visual artist Jack Warren) were initially tied to a gallery and performance space—first in Bushwick, then in Williamsburg. But an eviction from their second location forced the collective to re-think their creative endeavors, moving away from projects requiring physical exhibition space. They produced a few short films, but no major projects. Until, that is, they sat down one evening for an exploratory meeting.

“Chris Noble at the time wasn’t completely in collaboration with us and had the notion of exploring the correlation between graffiti and U.F.O. worlds via this UFO glyph,” says Alex.

“Which is a great idea,” Caleb interjects, “and we kinda jumped on it right away. We thought we were going to make a film. And Alex immediately started photographing them.”

But the film idea, imagined in a documentary form, soon fell by the wayside. “We imagined it as a quasi-documentary of the world that we created,” Alex says. “If you can imagine us running around and hacking out these letters on old typewriters and chasing people around and asking them ridiculous questions. And as things progressed we did some treatments and showed it around.… People were into it—but it’s really hard to get that kind of thing off the ground, and before we knew it became a book. At that point it seemed to suit it pretty well. We were enjoying putting it together and laying it out and it just seemed a natural progression. So we just went from one to the other.”

All four members had been exposed to the UFO glyph during their years living in New York, but maintained zero contact with the artist before or during the book’s creation. Rather, their publisher, powerHouse Books, apparently cleared the book with UFO himself.

“We didn’t want any contact with him (UFO) while we were in the midst of working on this,” Alex says. “We made that clear to the publisher, and they agreed to act as a link where we wouldn’t have to communicate directly. They said they were going to clear it and we said, ‘Do whatever you want, but we’re not doing it.’”

The way Alex and Caleb tell it, they were wary of creating anything that might resemble a conventional graffiti book. Just as important as the graffiti, for the project’s purposes, would be plunging into the world of U.F.O. interpretation—a subculture convinced that flying object sightings, ancient indigenous folklore involving beings descending from the sky and the existence of alien images dating back thousands of years, taken together, add up to irrefutable signs that alien beings have visited before and are giving us clear notice of a grand alien-to-human engagement on the horizon. From the very perspective of this subculture, laughable as it may seem to the modern eye, CMC identifies the contemporary graffiti of UFO as a new, significant sign of past and future visitation, and go about fleshing out this theory in words, images, scanned notebook pages, classified government documents, and in presumptuous letters to the aforementioned intelligentsia (including the likes of Stephen Hawking and David Bowie). An excerpt from Caleb Scott’s letter to Norman Mailer, one of many which went unanswered, ought to provide some sense of the ends to which CMC forced themselves: “The UFO story, timelessly told through the dissemination of a unique set of symbols, offers the possibility, if not the inevitability, of extraterrestrial contact, the ultimate manifestation of numinous forms.”

You may ask, “All this from a few graffiti tags?” Sitting with Caleb and Alex in Caleb’s East Williamsburg apartment, however, it becomes evident that CMC didn’t entirely leave their experimental theatre musings back in Bushwick. Alex: We definitely took on characters to some degree.

Caleb: In that there was this idea of creating these versions of ourselves, in that they would be people who would take this stuff that seriously…The idea that there’s kind of a web of understanding or an idea that has crossed over through time and through different cultures that all talks about this same idea – and this symbol is part of that history.

A: But those are the sort of levels of interaction that we’d like to have in the book, and it sort of takes on a performative element.

C: It’s important for us to keep whatever reality we created – to keep that as present as we can, to keep it a document relating to that as opposed to a satire or whatever – which it isn’t.

A: It’s not ironic, and it shouldn’t be. Because irony is boring.

But despite all of CMC’s efforts to portray their 1950s sci-fi crackpot theories as sincerely as possible, they’ve realized that, post-production, most of their UFO graffiti “context” is fundamentally hard to swallow.

“I showed this book to a writer that I’ve worked with before,” Caleb explains. “A comedy writer. He writes for Saturday Night Live and he was laughing, like really laughing at stuff. And you realize that it’s ridiculous.… There are things in the book that can be viewed as satirical or tongue-in-cheek because we’re making pretty big leaps from here to there. I mean, I guess there really is no truth about it.”

And here any supposed intentions for sincerity break down, as further consideration reveals this book as essentially post-modern, if not pure irony. The book, or project, is at once written by people who do and do not exist. Caleb and Alex are real people, but on the other hand, the deeply held convictions they attribute as “theirs,” admittedly aren’t. Caleb Scott and Alex Wright as they appear in U.F.O. factually don’t exist. And yet they do.

This is what I meant before by gray matter. U.F.O. and everything within its pages surely exists, yet none of it is necessarily real.

So. Where does this leave you the reader, or me the pseudo-journalist / critic? Well, I imagine the same place everyone involved in this project, or anyone genuinely excited by post-modernity, begins: with interpretation.

I can’t say whether or not U.F.O. is a “good book” in the classic sense, but I can say what meaning it might hold. I figured it out after pouring over the book at a coffee shop in Bushwick, in preparation for interviewing Caleb and Alex for this very article. While reading and studying the photographs, I felt entirely absorbed. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t think anything was stupid or tongue-in-cheek. I didn’t know for sure how serious these CMC guys were, and I also didn’t particularly care. If anything, seeing these images of UFOs and reading CMC’s humorless attempts, or rather those of their characters, to figure out what the pieces meant, propelled me into a similarly exploratory mindset. And with each photograph I looked a little harder for the UFO it contained, and also paid more attention to everything around it. Many of the graffiti pieces were in locations I’d passed regularly in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Suddenly my connection to the UFO glyphs, and now my searching for them, felt disarmingly close.

I walked out of the coffee shop, along McKibbin Street, with its graffiti-covered artist’s lofts on both sides, and suddenly I was studying the graffiti outside more closely than ever before. I put my nose up close to the walls, examining each little symbol I could find. I was searching for a UFO. And perhaps that is a piece of what U.F.O. illustrates, intentionally or not. That just as a person can search for meaning, communication, and signs between themselves and the heavens, the same quest can be at play when you’re staring at a faded piece of graffiti, painted over a crumbling brick wall or drawn in some lonely bar’s bathroom. Maybe something about this stuff really is extraterrestrial. But what? Could the assembled glyphs be a profound metaphor for the essence of communication? Man’s search for meaning wherever he or she can find it? The human soul’s desperate need for communion with others?

Or it’s nothing at all.

Regardless, as I continued home down the street, I glanced across at a red brick warehouse. And there was a UFO, peering right back at me, hovering just above a fire escape.

“We’re assuming the pieces mean something more than what most people have ever been willing to accept or acknowledge,” Caleb says. “It’s not just graffiti.”