Tag Archives: culture

Kill all rock stars?

This is going to make a little bit more sense if you read my post about the Amanda Palmer gig last night first (summary: it was awesome, but she made a comment about groping people that I was really uncomfortable with). But it’s still not going to make much sense because it’s one of my rambling what’s-happening-in-my-head-right-now posts.

I’ve realised that I really like idolising people and putting them on a ridiculous pedestal. Don’t get me wrong – it goes against all of my cultural ethics. I’m into DIY, I’ve helped out at and organised gigs, and I’m used to hanging out with the bands before and after the shows, having them sleep on my sofa etc. But I’ve realised in my mind there’s a complete separation between the DIY music scene that I’m involved in and accounts for 80% of the music I listen to, and the ‘professional’ music scene.

It’s not anything to do with how much I like the band – anyone who knows me (or is friends with me on last.fm) can verify that I fucking love Ryan Harvey’s music. As in, I’ve apparently listened to him over 5000 times since 2008 (lulz). I met him earlier this month because I organised his gig in London and we hung out, chatted and got drunk until about 5 in the morning afterwards, and then hung out again the day after. The thing is, I wasn’t starstruck at all. Not even slightly. The fact that he’s made lots of amazing music that’s helped me a lot didn’t make him intimidating. He seemed just like me and my friends because he IS just like me and my friends – a class-struggle anarchist organiser. I admire him loads, but it’s in the same way that I admire my friends who do really good work. He’s said some things in the past that I haven’t agreed with 100% – but I don’t agree with anyone 100%, and it just felt like the disagreements I have with my friends in the pub/social centre/whatever every weekend.

[I LOVE IT WHEN I START RAMBLING WITH NO AIM AND IT CLARIFIES MY THOUGHT PROCESS, OH SHIT THIS IS ACTUALLY GOING TO HAVE A POINT TO MAKE YOU GUYS.]

Despite being involved in DIY music on some level for the past 4 years, my attitude to (relatively) commercially successful artists is still as ridiculous as it was when I was 11. I kind of thought I’d got over it when I stopped idolising Morrissey on account of the fact that it was ridiculously hypocritical of me to defend him all the time. For anyone who doesn’t know, I was really, really, really obsessed with Morrissey for a couple of years, so that was kind of a big deal for me. And then I found a way to relate to him which can only be described as seeing him as an embarrassing uncle at a wedding. He’s a human, who says things that I dislike a lot of the time. Honestly, when I realised that I fell out of love with him for a while. I think this is a bit hard to explain to someone who’s not/never has been a Morrissey fan. But it’s a whole world, and there’s a very, very well maintained image and backstory and context to it all, and the more you buy into it, the better it all becomes. It’s very self-perpetuating. So as soon as that was shattered I hardly listened to Morrissey for ages and pretty much exclusively listened to relatively DIY/underground music. I then realised that his music is still hugely important to me and I don’t need the other shit. But, I’m not going to lie, I really, really miss being that into something, and his whole enigma and performance (I mean that in the broadest sense possible) was amazing and important to me. There’s still a Morrissey section on my bookshelves with all the books about him and The Smiths I read at that time, just to give you an idea of how big that world is if you choose to participate.

But I thought I was over all that. I kind of missed it, but I felt like my newfound DIYlightenment meant I was immune to it, even if I wanted to get obsessed with something/someone new. Until I got soul-crushingly obsessed with Amanda Palmer last year. The weird thing is, I actually first started listening to the Dresden Dolls in about 2007. I was kind of into it, but it wasn’t really the right time in my life and I didn’t really relate. But then I rediscovered them last year and was like FUCK. And watched some Dresden Dolls/AFP videos and pretty much fell in love.

Then I decided that the fact that I was involved in the DIY scene, but still felt like this, meant that it was okay! It wasn’t because I was a lonely outsider with no friends, as I had been for most of the time I was into Morrissey (although I was equally, if not more so, emotionally vulnerable in other ways last year). It was a legit thing, and I could totally reconcile these different parts of my relation to music/musicians. And sometimes she plays for free and sleeps at fan’s houses, this is just like DIY!

Last night, when she made the totally offhand and obviously not at all thought out comment about groping people was the moment when the illusion shattered for me, in the same way it did about Morrissey. It was very different, because whereas with Morrissey it was a slow process over months, this was in an instant. I realised that with large artists I really love, I always end up making excuses for the fucked up shit that they say, because I want to maintain the illusion of them in my mind as superhumans. For ages I denied that anything Morrissey said was racist, and told people they just didn’t understand the context, because I felt threatened by it. With Amanda Palmer, it was more subtle, as honestly most of the things she’s done that I’ve had a problem with (the NWA covers, her response to being criticised for Evelyn Evelyn) I think were more out of political naivety than anything else. But even admitting that she might not have known that those things weren’t cool was uncomfortable for me – when I do fandom, I do it 100%. Even though to my friends I actually did criticise the NWA stuff, internally I was still justifying it to myself as being subversive and part of her art. Because it’s not about individual examples, it’s about the overall picture of seeing them as perfection.

Interestingly (I think), Morrissey and Amanda Palmer couldn’t be more different in terms of how they relate to fans. Morrissey has always been incredibly aloof and cagey about his personal life, whereas Amanda pretty much keeps the world updated via Twitter and her blog 24/7. The thing is, it doesn’t make any difference because both of those things were just aspects of the persona to me. Someone making themselves as human and as down-to-earth as possible doesn’t do anything when there isn’t an actual human connection. And I don’t mean queueing up to hug them after a show. I mean actually spending time together as equals.

A few months ago, in the midst of Amanda Palmer fandom, I wrote the first half of a blog post. It wasn’t condemning DIY as such, but it was defending ‘non-DIY’ (whatever that means) to a greater extend than I ever have before, or will ever again. The thing is, I never wrote the last half. Only I know where I was going with it, and I never finished it, because I just lost interest. And now it can’t exist because I don’t agree with what it would have been. So consider this the second half.

Because the thing is, I’ve realised how much I actually do value the DIY music scene. Even though for the most part I fucking hate the punk scene and think it’s a boring, uncreative, self-indulgent mess, I also know that the boundaries of DIY now extend far, far beyond that, and what we can make is genuinely better than what they can give us. Because as soon as an artist gets up on a high stage in a massive venue, the power dynamic is fucked up, and not conducive to equal discourse. I realised that a large part of the reason I’ve defended some artists is because I didn’t know what else to do. There’s no real way of reaching them, there’s no real way of moving the discussion forward. Their voice is always, inevitably, going to be much, much louder than yours. It doesn’t matter how much they don’t want that, it’s an inevitable consequence. I’ve enjoyed my times as a fan, I’m not even going to get cocky like I did after the Morrissey obsession and say it won’t happen again. But I will say that I’m not going to defend it again because honestly, I don’t think I can do it healthily. I strive for equal relationships with everyone in my life, and in society generally, and making exceptions is fucking bullshit. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have heroes, or people you admire. I have loads of them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But once there’s any division between them and you, things become problematic.

I realise there’s one really obvious flaw in this, and it’s still something I’m trying to figure out, any input is more than welcome. How do artists who find themselves with large fanbases stop this happening? If hundreds of people had decided to go to that Ryan Harvey show 1) They wouldn’t have all fitted in the venue, and even if they had nobody would have been able to see him if there wasn’t a stage and 2) We definitely wouldn’t have been able to hang out with him afterwards, or if we had it would have really disappointed a whole load of other people who would have liked to have done the same. As it goes, I think Amanda Palmer does a better job of trying to relate to her fans on an equal basis than pretty much any other semi-mainstream musician I can think of. But it’s physically impossible to have a personal relationship with hundreds of people, write a full response to every email, etc. An elitist system of only playing small gigs which only a few people could go to wouldn’t be any better, or anymore egalitarian. For the obvious reason that you’d be excluding loads of people, but also for the fact that there’d be a huge clamour for tickets and the end result would be that the artist was effectively gracing you with their presence, which doesn’t solve anything. Part of me is worried that I’ve just been spoilt by the DIY music scene and the fact that I take for granted the fact that I can get drunk and debate with lots of my favourite bands. Part of me is worried that I’m just projecting my somewhat obsessive nature on to the whole thing and that other people have the ability to see all musicians as equal to themselves (although as someone who’s seen Morrissey and Amanda Palmer in the past month, it doesn’t feel like it’s just me…).

Any thoughts on any of this, especially the last problem would be more than appreciated.

Somewhat anxious about posting this because yeah, for anyone who didn’t know before reading this, I am totally fucking ridiculous. Now you know.

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The Possibility Of Counterculture

I feel like so far my posts on here have been slagging stuff off, without any positive suggestions. So now I’m going to be positive (going to have to slag some stuff off first, though..)!

To avoid confusion, it should be stated that I don’t use counterculture and subculture interchangeably. An example that I’ve heard (I think it might be on an A//Political record, but I’m not sure) is ‘Punk is a subculture, anarcho-punk is a counterculture’. I don’t really agree, if only because different definitions of both mean it’s nowhere near as black and white as that. Broadly speaking, a subculture is different to the dominant culture, but has no ambition beyond coexisting with it, whereas a counterculture is at least partly defined by its opposition to the dominant culture.

Often in radical circles an emphasis is put on trying to distance ourselves from subcultures as they’re alienating to ‘normal’ working class people. However, often this ends up being based on slightly archaic ideas of what the working class are like, and creates an equally irrelevant and subcultural identity. I can understand that this is in reaction to the idea that to be an ‘anarchist’ one has to adopt a series of lifestyle choices (veganism/freeganism, squatting, punk) that, realistically, are never going to appeal to the majority of the population (and in the case of freeganism, wouldn’t work if they did), and also that those choices are activism, in and of themselves.

However, this doesn’t mean that we should reject the idea of creating an inclusive radical counterculture. The best way of describing what I have in mind is actually ‘folk culture’, but without the geographical confines implied by that. There are numerous struggles that have made use of culture as a means for not only spreading the message, but passing on knowledge and memories to a new generation. One notable example here (no matter what your opinion of the politics) is clearly the use of music by the Irish Republican movement, especially when relating to historical events. The existence of shared culture brings movements closer and keeps significant historical events relevant. The only criticism in the case of Irish republicanism is the fact that, although the music when it was first being created was representative of the wider culture at the time, it has stylistically not changed much for over 100 years. Traditional folk music, and the identity that goes along with that, definitely has a place in the culture and should be preserved, but for music to continue to be a relevant tool, it also has to evolve with the times. On a positive note – Irish republican folk-hiphop anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltaine%27s_Fire

Now, to bring this back to where we are now. Personally, I think that in a limited capacity, the anti-globalisation movement has been relatively successful at chronicling itself culturally. The only time when this really struck me was when I realised how much I knew about the anti-FTAA protests in Miami in 2003. I’m not talking about the issues here, I’m talking about purely the events that took place. I’d never read any reports of the protests, or seen anything on the news. I don’t know anyone who was there. Everything I know about those protests comes from songs. From them, I know a bit about the tactics used on the day (by protestors and police), who the chief of police was at the time (John Timoney), which are important in terms of knowledge. But, in some ways more importantly, they convey the emotion of the days. Listened to as a whole, the songs* come across as an expression of collective grief and trauma, but also hope. For US activists, I’d assume that there’s enough people who remember those days, or know people who do, that the incentive to learn from them is significant. But in terms of an international radical movement, one of the best ways to spread the message is through music (as well as action reports, poetry, art, etc). I’m not arguing that these things are revolutionary in and of themselves, but the space they provide for us to express ourselves and learn I strongly believe can bring us closer together. This doesn’t mean we have to alienate ourselves from mainstream culture, you can listen to Lady Gaga if you want to. Rather, it’s a recognition of the fact that, although we’re ‘normal’ people, we’re also part of a wider resistance movement, and sometimes alternative culture can facilitate that. It only becomes an issue when there’s an exclusive culture created where you have to like punk, and can’t listen to anything on the radio. The message is what’s important, how it’s expressed has infinite possibilities, so let’s embrace that, have fun, and hopefully learn something too!

“Here we are a movement, suffering from the stains

of Genoa and Miami, and the question that remains is

When will we be ready, to surge once more,

Armed with visions of tomorrow, and the knowledge from before?”

Global Justice – Ryan Harvey

*I realise this list is probably not exhaustive, I’m pretty sure I’ve even missed out some out that I like, but for a general picture :

  • A Day In Miami, Talkin’ FTAA Preparations, South Florida and Global Justice by Ryan Harvey
  • Butcher For Hire and Miami by David Rovics
  • The Fence by Evan Greer

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