Monday, August 11, 2008

IN the scene, not OF the scene.

I have an issue with people who stereotype someone by the music they enjoy.

I spent two full years in Italy shaking stereotypes when I was there as a missionary. There was a film made in the 80s starring Harrison Ford called “Witness.” The witness protection program was protecting Ford’s character, and to keep him safe they hid him in an Amish community. It’s actually a pretty decent film. However, when translating the movie into the Italian language the decision was made to substitute the word “Amish” for “Mormon” since the population had no idea what the Amish were but had some exposure to Mormons. Besides…Mormons were peaceful bearded farmers too, right? Unfortunately the film was a gigantic success and now every Italian that saw it had a sure knowledge of what Mormons were. I spent the first 3 minutes of every conversation explaining that we do not sport beards, ride in horse-drawn carriages, and churn our own butter.

I dig hippie music. My first love and obsession to sonic beauty came through Simon and Garfunkel. I was given their box set for Christmas my 8th grade year and spent the entire year listening to nothing but SaG with a little Neil Diamond interspersed. I was sucked into their imagery and developed a true respect for and knowledge of poetic writing and harmony. From there I started to look at some SaG contemporaries. Crosby Stills Nash and Young, The Byrds, Dylan, Led Zeppelin. I was a 13-year-old kid in 1989 that had clearly been born in the wrong era.

At 15 I was introduced to The Grateful Dead (Workingman’s Dead) by a friend named Jeremy Erkkila. At first I had a tough time with it. As the musically challenged Austrian king said in “Amadeus” when critiquing Mozart, there were “too many notes.” So much was going on ear just couldn’t process it all. But I knew The Dead were important so I listened over and over again and began picking the music apart and analyzing small pieces. The bass line, the drummer(s), Jerry’s insane guitar work. And once I understood the individual pieces the composition as a whole made sense. And I loved it. From then on I’ve been a “deadhead.” This naturally transitioned into other hippieish jam bands such as Phish, String Cheese Incident, Moe, Disco Biscuits, and Strangefolk.

It is no secret that bands like The Dead ushered in the psychedelic era. And with the era came a number of bad things. Potent drugs, freaky hippie sex, and a total disregard for human hygiene. Combine those three things and you have a pretty funky scene. Somewhere along the way the scene was DIRECTLY tied with the band and anyone that dug The Dead was labeled a hippie.

I have a problem with this, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Look around you. In 90% of cases you can instantly tell what kind of music someone listens to by the way they dress, especially with young folks. I’ll admit that I got sucked into it in high school as well. I regularly wore Tevas, corduroy shorts, t-shirts, and longer hair. And I always had a Dead necklace on. Fashion and appearance are directly influenced by music. Black trench coat, black lipstick, painted white face and a dog collar? Goth. Skin tight jeans, feathered long hair, comb in the back pocket, Converse shoes? Metalhead. Sagged oversized jeans, NY Yankees hat sideways, bling? Hip-hop. Wranglers, cowboy hat, boots? Garbage country music.

Memo to the world. Just because I rock The Dead and collect hundreds of Phish shows does not make me a hippie by your definition. I am a well-mannered, educated, clean-cut Mormon kid that has no interest in dreads, weed, or ‘shrooms. I don’t sell grilled cheese sandwiches out the back of my VW bus to pay for show tickets and I don’t sew my own patchwork clothes. And I’d pit myself against 85% of those that DO in a contest of knowledge, appreciation, and exposure. Do not assume that my choice in music dictates my conscience and values. Believe it or not you CAN listen to country in a cardigan, rap in a kilt, or emo without crying and cutting.

Which leads me to another point…while music influences fashion it ALSO dangerously influences values and decisions. And it DOES NOT HAVE TO! Kids have this terrible notion that Goth music means they need to be depressed and isolated. Hippie music implies a drug culture. Metal includes aggression and anger. I refuse to believe that the music propagates this in and of itself in most cases. The perfect example comes with the band Minor Threat. Formed in the early 80s by Ian McAye, Minor Threat started the straight-edge scene. When we hear straight-edge we immediately think of angst-filled teenagers that don’t drink/smoke and are determined to beat the hell out of those that do. This is NOT what straight-edge started as. Is the music aggressive? Very. It elicits intense emotion. It certainly does spread a message of abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but its earliest forms did NOT condone violence. The scene evolved that way.

My first and only Phish show to date was here in Salt Lake City on July 15th 2003. It was epic. The first song of the second set was well over 30 minutes long with only 90 seconds of lyrics, and it bled into a 45 minute composition that FELT like one song. It was an experience I’ll never forget. I was staring Page McConnell straight in his left eye from the 6th row. I was sporting a Phish t-shirt, sandals, and shorts, but that was how I chose to dress. I had no interest in fitting in. And neither did the two middle-aged gentlemen behind me in shirts and ties. They were likely stock brokers that got off work early to appreciate some Phish. You’d assume they rocked Brahms or Michael Bolton based off of their looks. Instead they beautifully illustrated that just as the converted can be IN the world and not OF the world, the musically converted can be IN the scene but not OF it.

Music is beauty. It is the tie that binds. It is the language of my soul. I believe that God is surrounded by it. And I can honor and appreciate it regardless of how I look, what I believe, or the way I act.

1 comment:

Talbot Family said...

The thing you didn't realize is that the two men in dress shirts were "really" enjoying each others company and were there on a hot hippie free lovin' date. You are such a hippie at heart, but you are right, our music does define us and yet it isn't the only thing. I love hearing you rant.