When I was doing interviews for “Losering,” I caught a break when Thomas Cushman surfaced as one of Ryan’s early confidantes who was willing to talk — and he had some great memories of the old days. Tom and Ryan were roommates and Rathskeller co-workers in the early 1990s, and they played together in a series of short-lived groups. Then Ryan went on to Patty Duke Syndrome and Whiskeytown, while Tom went on to play in the punk band The Chickens. Two decades on, he still remembers Ryan with great fondness.
“I think Ryan stepped on a few toes around here, but I’m proud of him,” Tom said in a 2011 interview. “I have a lot of respect for what he’s done. He was a young kid who knew what he wanted, and he did it. He’s done well for himself. I can’t believe the goofy space-boy I used to hang out with is where he is now. We never did anything seriously bad, though. Drank like fish, of course. Smoked gallons of pot, did a lot of speed.”
They also recorded incessantly. God be praised, Tom still had a lot of those old tapes, and he was willing to share. It was great fun to sit in Tom’s apartment and listen as he provided commentary about long-ago bands like American Rock Highway, Ass and Knife. But my favorite memory was Tom reacting to a spoken exchange he and Ryan had while recording as Lazy Stars. During a pause between songs, Ryan asked Tom if his lyrics were understandable. “Not really,” Tom said. Unfazed, Ryan pushed on and asked his next question with charming eagerness:
“Do I sound like I mean it?”
Hearing this again nearly 20 years later, Tom burst out laughing. “Man,” he said, “is that Ryan or what?”
No doubt. You’ll find more about this period in chapter three of the book. Meanwhile, Tom no longer lives in Raleigh, having moved away this past September to Portland, Ore. But I am honored to report that his final act as a Raleigh resident was to stop by my Quail Ridge reading on his way out of town. The copy I gave him was the first one I signed that night.