Player Alone - Cover art backstory
Alex 'Shiru' Semenov

Looking at the cover art, one wouldn't guess that there is something serious behind it. Just a kind of video game screen shot that matches to overall theme of the album. However, there is a backstory, and despite it is very personal, I feel and believe that it should be shared, as there is a bit of hope that it could prevent a thing like this in someone's else life.

The place pictured on the cover does not exist in reality, but it does exist in a video game and in my mind. This is my vision of a place from an obscure Famicom game Choujin Sentai Jetman.

Many years ago, sometime between 1992 and 1994, somewhere in the Moscow suburbs, three kids were sitting in front of a large color TV, playing the game. My best schoolmate - it was at his home, his best next door friend, and I. I was oldest of three, my mate a bit younger, and the third kid a few years younger than us. Young and naive friends at these great carefree times when the world seemed to be absolutely wonderful place with bright future. I remembered the moment and the place in the game. It impressed me, because unlike Mario, or other games, it looked realistic, with these skyscrappers, trees, and even a phone that made me imagine that there is actually some living world behind the screen, and you could use the phone to make a call to someone. Music from this game impressed me a lot as well, and later affected to my own style.

We lived in the same block and never moved, I can see their house every time I look at window. I can't see light in their windows from here, but even if I could, it is cold and alienated now.

The younger of us, VK, wasn't my close friend, but, being a friend of my best friend, was a nice pal. At the time I couldn't afford to buy a game console, but I was into amateur electronics. VK had many consoles, some got broken. He asked me to fix at least one, and when I managed to do that, he left remaining parts to me, and I was able to make another working one for myself. My first personal window into the virtual reality, so to say. There were other things like that related to him.

My best friend, IM, was from a large family with a relatively good income. He had a lot of stuff that many didn't have, and we three or two spent a lot of time at his home and were very welcomed by the family, kind of his two extra brothers. Together with IM we shared extreme amount of time, events, and things, sometimes very questionable ones. He became a very major part of my life, introducing me to newer and newer video games and consoles, to VHS movies, to new cool electronic music, he was lending or giving away me stuff he didn't need, and so on. I would never became myself without him, and probably never started to make games and music by myself. Even my very early programming experience was at his house, because I didn't have a computer and even a TV, but he had everything, and allowed me to experiment for many hours, despite it was quite boring to him.

Few years has passed, we grown up a bit. While we were in the middle school, drugs has entered our life. Being cool guys, IM and VK started to experiment, while I always was a nerdy one and was more interested in programming or reading books, or maybe I simply was a coward, either way I didn't share their new interest. They started from inhaling glue fumes, and the ball has rolled. From hash to meth, every possible and imaginable stop included.

VK was going lightspeed. When 2000s came, he never was himself anymore. Always stranging around in semi-consciousness, barely able to speak, no one wanted to talk with him. He went crimes to get money. He once stole my money while I was in the same room. I acted like everyone, and started to avoid him as much as possible. One day, sometime in 2001, he had another meth overdose and died before his 20s. There was no funeral to attend. No one wanted to mention him after this, not even IM. There are very few people who still remember and miss him.

IM was a really tough guy. He continued to use drugs of all kinds a lot, but it took a long time to start making distance between us. Despite anything that followed, he remained my best friend forever. We shared many good moments in late 90s at his garage, fixing up an old car. Then we got our first jobs and personal lives. He got married, got a boy. He lost sight on one eye because of drugs, some infection, but despite all this continued to use drugs. Our interests diversed, but he always was trying to get into my life to learn the nerdy things I'm doing, he always was telling me straight about this, or how he missed me if we weren't see each other for a long period, and didn't hestitate to give a manly hug. I somehow thought that my interests could be boring or not manly enough for him, so I was rarely telling what is up on my mind, or let him in into my new life. I also got my personal troubles that took most of my attention.

Breaks in our communication started to get longer and longer. Things started to getting worse for him, he started to doing terrible things, get divorced, then married for second time. He went to the line. We talked about this, he said he lived enough and don't want to stop anymore. In his last visit he was in shocking state, and for first time attempted to trick me in a horrifying way to get money. Then he got second boy, the wife left him, leaving the baby. Through rare phone calls it made impression that now he going to get better, as he was in clear consience and was trying to dealt with the baby alone.

Struggling with my personal long standing issues, somehow I didn't realize that I had no calls from IM in like two years. Late 2011 I got a call from a best friend of ours who moved far away years ago. He wanted to talk about business, and mentioned briefly that IM lost his leg from drug related sepsis and died more than a year ago, before his 30s. Then I recalled another call, few months before, from another, distanced friend of ours, who asked what's up with IM, is it true that he died. I didn't believed him and said he must be horribly mistaken, then completely, totally forgot about that call. Nobody else said me anything, not even his family where I was once welcomed so much, where I knew everyone, and who were very glad to see me again in my last visit circa 2008. Almost no one wants to mention him now. I still don't know where is he buried.

Trying to remember our last talk, I vaguely recall a dream or an event in reality, can't tell for sure. A call from hospital that awakened me while I was sleeping, he said he got a problem with leg, and will call again some time later. It somehow seems to me that it happened during the 2010 wildfires, when the whole city was covered up by the thick, ghostly looking smoke.

I didn't plan the cover art to be like that. I had and tried many different ideas, but ended up with just letting it be whatever it comes. When it was done, I saw it myself: the virtual place that three friends shared one day, the ghostly fog, and a lonely figure looking back. The last one who keeps the memory.

There are many terrible things in the world that should be somehow stopped from taking lives away. Lethal diseases, war and violence, hunger and poverty, car or plane accidents, drugs. Sometimes it is nearly impossible, or takes a lot of work and dedication, but sometimes just a few words, a bit more attention to the nearest and dearest, and simply being close, not leaving them out when they need your presence the most, may became a chance to change something.