As an active paramedic, firefighter, and veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Vision Video leader Dusty Gannon has seen more horror in real life than in the classic movies he draws inspiration from. When not saving lives on the front line, Dusty dons torn fishnets, combat boots and makeup to play post-punk that recalls the genre’s heyday when the lines between goth and pop blurred to create some of the underground’s most beloved acts such as The Cure, The
Smiths, and Joy Division. But hidden within Vision Video’s catchy hooks and danceable beats is a nostalgic yet desperate message exploring the darker undertones of our existence. At its core, Vision Video’s debut album, Inked In Red, looks inward to understand the effects of war and the global pandemic. Dusty’s experiences in service have imparted an authentic gravitas to the music, revealing a cautionary tale of unhinged mental illness born of trauma.
(Photo Credit: Olivia Mead)
A rifle pointed at two teenagers coming down an alley-way in Kandahar. A rocket screamed down from the sky, exploding into the earth with sirens blaring in the cold midnight air. A 19-year-old kid with 90 percent body surface area third-degree burns pleaded with me in the back of an ambulance to keep him alive. A woman lay dead in her bathroom from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, as I passed by pictures of her smiling with her kids in the hall outside. A daughter sobs in a driveway as we take her elderly mother with Covid into an ambulance and tell her that she must stay home due to hospital quarantine, saying a sudden, possibly final good-bye, as the realization spreads across her face.
These are all moments that come to me in quiet hours, alone and without reason or resolution. Sometimes they are slight swells that make me shudder. Sometimes they are tidal waves that crush me completely. And I’m finding my way through these often tumultuous waters, afloat on a stable vessel that music is providing.
I’ve been a huge fan of the film Blade Runner since I was a teenager: The dystopian near-future film noir, the existential questioning of consciousness and sentience, the alien but soothing synth soundtrack, all exquisitely crafted to a seemingly perfect film. Upon a recent rewatch, I was struck so deeply by Rutger Hauer’s monologue at the end of the film. (Spoilers ahead.) Hauer portrays a doomed, sentient android named Roy Batty that knows he is going to die due to a purposefully short lifespan that was engineered to keep him under control. He evokes his memories to Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard, thus proving his ultimate humanity:
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
I look back on my memories much like Batty did in his final moments. My life often feels like a chaotic amalgam of absurdity, violence, tragedy, and beauty. Nothing along my path has been by plan or design. As a 17-year-old goth kid, I dropped out of high school to work in a car parts warehouse, smoke pot, and listen to classic post-punk records. The purposeless machinations of heavy labor to make someone else rich, combined with too much Albert Camus, led me to join the Army. Specifically I joined the infantry, the ones who fight.
I wanted reality, and there were two wars raging, ready to provide just that. It was an almost automatic and passive decision, as I was too ignorant and naïve to understand the complexity of the American hegemonic lie that was being put into deadly action. I was a good soldier. I found purpose in the physicality of it. The single-minded dedication to survival, to “victory,” was so simple that it distracted me entirely from my own self-doubts or concerns about my future. So I progressed in rank, eventually heading to college in order to become an officer. I headed back to my hometown of Athens to attend the University of Georgia.
I ended up studying religion because it fascinated me. Therein, as I studied Taoism, I began to question the very nature of all things. I became completely disenchanted with the Army philosophically, but I was contractually obligated to continue serving.
I graduated college, ended up being stationed in my birth country of Germany, and shortly thereafter in Afghanistan as a rifle platoon leader responsible for 30 infantry soldiers. The experience was a nine-month fever dream of patrolling the streets of Kandahar. Almost all of it was complete boredom, interspersed with several moments of absolute terror and awe. I also saw the reality of warfare, insofar that it is a self-perpetuating business that profits off organized murder and ecosystem destruction. Ultimately, the only thing that mattered was that all 31 of us came home together. I came back knowing my time with the military needed to end as soon as possible.
While in Germany, I got heavily back into the music I loved as a teenager. Goth-rock and post-punk masters like the Cure, Joy Division, the Chameleons, and Siouxsie and the Banshees became anthemic to my disillusionment with the military and life in general. I began attending goth-night dance parties in Germany and I felt firmly like myself again in those short moments in the dark. I decided to get back into music headlong. I began fervently practicing guitar, writing songs, and playing a couple shows as a solo songwriter opening for some local acts in Bavaria. It felt right, so I submitted my resignation and made plans to head back to Athens, Georgia.
Athens is one of those towns that is always changing, yet somehow paradoxically stays exactly the same. A dive bar closes and another one opens in the same spot. A venue changes hands, but the same kind of bands play. No matter the flux, music and art provide the cultural lifeblood in the town. I moved home to play music and figure out my next step. While bartending at a small cocktail bar, I got into a conversation with a regular about his job as a metro Atlanta firefighter. He insisted that I join up, as they were hiring. I applied and 16 months later, I found myself as a fully trained paramedic and firefighter, which I continue to do to this day.
Traumatic experiences once again became commonplace in my life, albeit under dramatically different conditions. My job is now to save lives, not take them, and that sits well with my heart today. It is not so simple though. You see that life and death hang in a marginally thin balance. Sometimes you save lives. Many times you arrive moments too late. You see people in their most vulnerable and final moments. You see real, deep suffering. People plead with you to be saved, and then die in front of you. It is often completely out of your hands.
When we formed Vision Video, I didn’t realize that it was literally going to save my life. Finding such a tight group of friends that all brought a unique strength to this group felt like it was a meaningful synchronicity in the universe. Dan Geller, the bassist whose dance-punk shows I used to sneak into as a teenager because I was too young for admission. Jason Fusco, the intense and hard hitting drummer with outrageous discipline. Emily Fredock, the classically trained pianist who had never played a synthesizer, let alone in a band. It all came together organically and quickly. The amount of creative brilliance behind this band is really special.
As we were writing our debut record, my mental health bottomed out. I had a couple months where I had some very rough calls and saw a lot of death. It felt like the rug was utterly pulled out from under me. I found myself drunk one night, walking home from a night out where nothing sat right. I found no enjoyment in conversation or in the company I was keeping that evening. As I walked through my front door, I knew I wanted to die because I was finding it impossible to find any purpose in continuation. Fortunately, before I could take action on those thoughts, a friend who was concerned about me called me at the last minute, and I delayed that decision of finality.
I hate to tell you, but my story isn’t a happy one. There is no moral at the end of this. Watching spouses sob over loved one’s bodies makes me feel like that is the destination we all eventually come to. I’ve never seen anything that shows me that we don’t die alone. I still sometimes find myself in those lonely, quiet hours thinking how easy it could be to opt out of the raw deal of existence. However, I force myself regularly now to find meaning in commiseration. Everyone I know has experienced some trauma, loss, or grief. Especially now, a year into a global pandemic that has killed millions worldwide, we have all become accustomed to mortality, and have had to face our own in quite prescient ways. I once again find myself on the front lines of another battle where the government has done its due diligence in the distribution of outright lies to maintain the status-quo, furthering the insanity of it all.
But music has become the vehicle of my ability to commune with others about this shared experience of suffering. I think that is worth staying around for. If our music transmutes from a song into actual reprieve and comfort for someone, then it makes it all worthwhile. I find myself in this vessel that music provides, moving across a vast sea of a formless void. I don’t know where this leads us, but at the very least I can have hope that it is a better place. Time to live.
(Photo Credit: Olivia Mead)