Riot Band Blues was a fiction series that ran on ultimate-guitar.com in ninety-one chapters, from February 27, 2009 to January 21, 2011. It followed the adventures of the university band Riot Band through the eyes of Eric, as he, Ryan and Jed try to get their act, and their lives together.
In April and May this year, two high school classes in Kansas City, under the direction of teacher Dan Duncan, studied the story. Duncan had his students write questions about the story, and they were forwarded to me. I answered them and returned them to be discussed in class.
For the interest of those who read the story here on U-G, I am sharing the questions and answers. For those who are unfamiliar with the story but are interested, you can find the first chapter here.
This is the second group of questions. You can find the first group here.
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Of all the female characters, Lise stands out. Why did you choose her to be Eric's "perfect match"? (Vanessa DeMoss)I think all of the characters in Riot Band Blues are deeply flawed, so it's striking to see them described as a perfect match.
All the younger characters are very incomplete people. In a lot of ways Eric is adrift. He doesn't know what he wants to do. He's a few years older than Lise, but Lise, with her difficult past, is in a lot of ways much more experienced than he is. So in that way, they are on a similar level with each other. They are at a similar crossroad of not knowing what direction they want to push their lives.
Lise sees in Eric both a big tough rocker, but she also sees kind of a lost puppy. She's seen some dark, freaky stuff, and in a way, Eric appears naive and innocent to her. On one level, I think her attitude toward him is mothering.
As for Eric, his is more passive when it comes to women. Lise is attractive and edgy, and when she latches onto him, he quickly falls for her.
Why is it significant that Emily becomes the antagonist of the text when she has seemingly little interaction with Eric? (Ashley Hang)Emily was a minor character that gradually took on more importance. She's not very developed as a person, and she's mainly used a device in the later chapters to cause problems for the band.
This is symbolic of the narrative difficulty I was having toward the end of the series. I had Emily there as a character, but I didn't quite know what to do with her. She was becoming more involved in the story (messing with his relationships with both Lise and Taylor, becoming the band's videographer, as well as Ryan's girlfriend), but I didn't know where the entanglements were going to be resolved. Things just kept getting more... tangled. Eventually, the story ends with nothing really resolved.
What does Eric fighting Conrad reveal to us about his character? (Jinx McWilliams)It reveals quite a lot, both in the fact that he punches Conrad out, and how he does it.
First, it reveals Eric to be both egocentric and insecure. Sure, Conrad is a weirdo, and he's bombarding Eric with negative vibes, but Eric really disapproves of Conrad because of Conrad's unclear relationship with Jasmine, Eric's ex-girlfriend. There's an element of jealousy to the whole thing, even though Eric wants no part of Jasmine any more.
Next, Eric does not give Conrad a fair fight. He sucker-punches him. If he really wanted to call Conrad out, they could have fought, or not. But Eric makes a false peace offering. At that point he could have decided to leave well enough alone, and just let everything go. But he gets the idea that he's the cool guy, and he decks Conrad when he's unsuspecting. So it's a cowardly act, and the shame of the incident is a powerful motivator for Eric to start growing up.
The realization of what he's done is a main "pull your head out of your ass" moment for Eric.
Nick, the manager, is a prominent character but also a very one-dimensional, flat character. Why did you focus on the one aspect of his character? (Jessica Paxton)
Nick is a hanger-on, but he's necessary because both Eric and Ryan are such social dimwits, and so plainly ignorant of how to promote themselves. I felt they needed a kind of "player" character, who could make things happen more. I don't get too deep into what makes Nick tick in the story, except that he's the type of guy who wants to be where the action is. From a certain point of view he's a poser, because he doesn't really have any specific skills, but he is critical in the formation and development of the band.
There are characters like Nick everywhere in music history. They're often forgotten, but you could say that in a lot of ways Nick is the unsung hero of the band and the story, and he never really gets his due, simply because he and Eric never really bond on a personal level, so Eric, as the narrator, never spends much time talking about him or interacting with him.
What is the significance of the competition between bands? (Samantha Leonard)Simply put, having a villain around can be useful for building tension. You don't often see situations where bands are so openly confrontational, but I found having an obvious rival was a useful obstacle for the guys to try and overcome. How would they deal with a challenge from a band that simply won't allow them to play?
I didn't want to maintain that as a constant theme, because it can get a bit repetitive and cartoony. Riot Band has its early run-in with Seriosity. Later there's a more commonplace competition with another local band called Blowing Up Springfield, but that rivalry is a more normal type of scene rivalry where the leading bands try to set themselves apart from the crowd. Everybody wants to be on top of the heap.
I think for Eric, it's not enough to just be a member of the crowd; he wants to dominate. I think that stems from his sports background. He's used to playing on a team, and he wants to beat the other team. And then you have to beat all the other teams so you can be league champion. I think that's a common thing for athletes when they try to enter an more artistic setting, which can be more collaborative and doesn't depend on "beating" someone. It's normal to want to be the best, but it doesn't always have to be in some kind of face-off.
How would you say Ryan's willingness to include Eric in the band reveals him to be a dynamic character? (Mick Saarna)I'm not sure I would describe Ryan as a dynamic character. He and Eric catch each other on the rebound: Eric from Sash and her social circle, and Ryan from his other band. They latch onto each other, but Ryan frequently shows himself to be shallow, flaky, and pig-headed. He is often the most resistant to change. Eric is more outwardly stubborn, but he also has a much more obvious personal growth trajectory. Ryan's gift is his humor, but not his sensitivity or his willingness to evolve.
I see the theme as being "no matter how famous you get you have to appreciate the people who supported you." How does this theme apply to your life? (Darionn Bilberry)
It doesn't really apply to my life at all, because I'm not famous. I've achieved no significant financial success from writing, or recognition except in a limited internet circle. I've achieved the same level of fame as literally thousands and thousands of other web writers. I'm basically a glorified blogger (and not very glorified at that).
As for the people around me, I certainly appreciate that they are so tolerant of my hobby. It's a struggle for me to justify all the time I spend doing this. I have a full time job and a family. Time I spend writing is time I'm not spending with my loved ones, so I am keenly aware of the patience they show, and I appreciate it a great deal.
I can see how that theme applies to Eric and his journey, especially his interactions with Lise. You can only hope he gets his act together and treats her like gold, forever, no matter what happens with the band. Your wording is a little different from my own, but definitely one of the main themes of this story is Eric learning how to treat people with respect.
Jed is the best musician in the band, but appears to have the least opportunity to show his talents. How is this significant in the plot? (Simeon Perkins)
When Eric tries to reform the band after their split, Jed refuses to come back because he isn't given the opportunity to show his talents. That forces Eric and Ryan to start compromising and become more of a democratic band. This is a really common thing that bands go through. Every band has its power-struggles, and they often involve things like creative control. "Dude, just play the drums. Leave the song-writing to me." Well, who wants to just sit back and do what he's told?
The central figure in the story is Eric, and what most of the story is about is his development as a person. The breakup of the band is a major humbling for him, and it shows that he needs to learn how to negotiate. Offering Jed more creative input in the band's sound is the bargaining chip Eric uses to lure Jed back, and in that sense, it is critical to the plot. It shows Eric's developing ability to compromise.
What element of a dramatic structure would you see the band breaking up as: climax, rising action or resolution? (Vanessa DeMoss)Actually, the break-up of the band acts as all three of those things.
You have to remember that Riot Band Blues was not written as a traditional novel, with the usual triangular story arc. It was written as a serial, like a daytime soap opera, or a comic book series, or professional wrestling on TV. There always has to be some measure of resolution, but there also has to be something building for the following week. There always needs to be a "cliffhanger" element.
So every ending is also a beginning. Every time something is solved, you also need to plant a seed for where the story is going next. That happens right from the first chapter. Eric has just experienced a big breakup, which could be the end of something, but it leads into the beginning of something else. The band breakup is the resolution of the character-arc where Eric is being more and more of an ego-tripping dick, but it provides more rising action as we watch to see what he does to eventually bring the band back together. Then that is both resolution of the band breakup conflict, and further rising action as the band struggles to reach the top of the local scene. And so on...
How would the theme of "life doesn't always turn out the way we want" be relevant to Riot Band Blues? (Elizabeth Rasnic)
It would be entirely relevant. But the thing about Riot Band Blues, and most of our lives, is that the characters don't really know what they want. They want to be happy, they're trying new things, they're reacting to situations, but for the most part, they don't really know what they're doing.
I don't really believe that things "turn out" one way or another, because we always live within a moment. Things are always in flux, and even if it seems like something has "ended up" one way or another, they will continue to change. We always have the ability to change things. If you don't like the way things are, you have to change things. It's about responsibility and taking control of yourself and your situation.
It would be easy for Eric to keep getting drunk all the time and keep living in his girlfriend's place and having no career. Just drinking beer, smoking pot, and playing in a band, but I don't think that's the way he will "end up," because Eric is always learning. He's always moving on.
Like all the rest of us, it's up to him where his story will eventually go.