By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
And that, he says, is when "everything started to change."
At the charter schools, Avery became happier by focusing less on his personal drama and more on art and music.
He moved beyond pen-and-ink drawings of his childhood (many featuring comic book heroes like Spider-Man and The Punisher) and started experimenting with charcoal sketches, collage, painting, and sculpture.
Valley music venues like the now-defunct Nile Theatre in Mesa also became a "home away from home" as he'd catch ska and rock shows, sometimes "two or three a month," and hang with misfits like himself, including Emily Spetrino-Murtagh, a cutie-pie punk artist who's become his best friend and collaborator.
"It was like this whole new world that blew my mind," he says. "Staying home was a bummer."
He particularly dug on gonzo groups like The Aquabats, a zany Orange County geek-rock outfit dressed in superhero costumes, and was inspired to start bands "with more to 'em than just the music or energy."
Over the next few years, Avery organized shows around the Valley and formed madcap groups with Spetrino-Murtagh. There was a silly ska septet called The Putties; the punk foursome The Hip Identity; and Locking Your Car Doors (which transformed from an "avant-garde futuristic noise group" into a gigantic mob of ruffians trashing electronics to party music).
Talent hasn't necessarily been a requirement for any of Avery's bands. He's way more into "concepts," showmanship, and fun than musical skill.
"With almost everything we've ever done it [was] just because like no one else is supplying the kind of entertainment we liked. So we had to go out there and create ourselves," Spetrino-Murtagh says. "But to call us musicians would be a joke."
Avery's new hobbies were in overdrive, but his academic efforts stagnated. He excelled at art, but wasn't as stellar in other subjects. Although he'd coasted by in previous years, by ninth grade he'd gotten so used to slacking that he wasn't prepared for the effort high school required. Ultimately, he repeated his freshman year three times.
After dropping out at 17, Avery moved out of his mom's house to lessen his familial drama and decided to concentrate more on creativity versus formalized education or getting his GED.
It's a decision, he says, that's helped make him happier.
"When I realized things could be awesome in my life, then I realized I could make anything awesome if I wanted to. I could find the positive in anything," Avery says. "Life gets better for me as I get older."
Ryan Avery has been described by his fans as a "showstopper."
It's a well-earned title, considering he's grabbed people's attention ever since he debuted in downtown Phoenix with a raucous Locking Your Car Doors show at the old Aux space in 2004.
Brodie Hubbard, an acoustic indie rocker and art scene regular himself, says he always "expects the unexpected" with Avery.
"Ryan wants to steal the whole show, like Jerry Lee Lewis when he opened up for Elvis, where no one can follow him," Hubbard says. "When he walks into a room, he owns it, or at least performs with that assumption."
One of Avery's more infamous performance pieces involved his taking the Trunk Space stage in January wearing black bicycle shorts and a motorcycle helmet, scrawling "art fag" on his bare chest, ripping up copies of local gay publication Red Magazine, ranting about his body issues and telepathy, eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs to Tiny Tim's "Ever Since You Told Me That You Loved Me," faking an epileptic seizure, and then crying on the ground in a fetal position.
Try following that, Elvis.
Certainly, Avery isn't the first maniacal misfit to get freaky in the downtown art scene, nor will he be the last. And like other equally eccentric entertainers as I Hate You When You're Pregnant (a now-defunct one-man synth-rock performer who wore women's underwear), many are left wondering why he does such strange stunts.
Avery ponders the question over sushi at Cherryblossom Noodle Cafe in central Phoenix, explaining how his antics aren't simply boneheaded buffoonery meant for shock value or to make himself look cool. Almost everything in his acts has meaning, even the motorcycle helmets and sunglasses he frequently wears. (Both provide security and "special performance powers.")
"A lot of this stuff I'm consciously doing to change and improve myself and maybe even reach out and touch the audience," says Avery, his voice hoarse from scream-singing at a Night Wolf show the previous evening.
His half-nude high jinks at the Trunk Space, for example, were meant to conquer his low self-esteem about his body.
It's an issue he's dealt with for most of his life. From the age of 6 on, his growth began to falter, and he was diagnosed with hypopituitarism at 12. The condition stalled puberty and left him looking and sounding like an adolescent. Over the next five years, he gave himself daily injections of the hormone Humatrope to help his bones and body grow. Avery's "sorta three years behind," but says he'll slowly continue developing.