I hear the snickering in the back of the room. This is all totally anecdotal but maybe there are some ideas here that we could chew on. Just for fun.
We watch a lot of the violence happening on the other side of the planet from a very safe distance here. Isis hits us about as hard as the antagonist on a reality show. I even find myself feeling that way and I have a closer frame of reference than most. I was born here in the United States but lived in Iran for about three or four years as a child. Somehow memories of Iran are much more clear in my head than my earliest years after returning to the U.S.
Iran and Iraq fought a bloody eight year war. All wars are bloody but when historians describe Iran/Iraq they often throw in that descriptive. The death toll on Iran's side is estimated at over one million. Try to wrap your head around that. You can't; trust me. I saw it from much closer and I can't.
There are stories of things I've seen that I'd like to tell you but I don't wan't to start a debate. I think it's fair to ask that you simply trust me when I tell you that I have memories of a kind of darkness most of us have little frame of reference for.
Here's the part that people have the weirdest time consolidating: Life moves on. This was, of course, because we lived in the capital city of Tehran, further away from the western battlefront, but the entire country didn't just lay down and wait till the shooting stopped.
People go to work. Public transportation is active. The government tries their best to keep the country and public institutions together. There are house parties. People go to the movies. Sometimes, sirens go off and we run into the basement. We hear jets in the distant skies and then nothing happens. Then we hear stories of a bombing somewhere.
Human beings are resilient. The war was happening and it became the new normal. It turns out that when you look into the darkness long enough, your eyes adjust.
A thing that came out of this era was a deep desire for really happy pop music. The world around us was dark enough. We didn't need to give the darkness more crevasses to sonically seep into as well. Listening to fun, happy tunes wasn't something I remember being debated over endlessly as I see here.
I could write a book about all the ways in which we are privileged here. Only one silly little example is that we get to be snooty about our art. We can look down our noses at the low-brow pop music that the masses consume. We can point a finger at them, smirk at each other with a raised eyebrow and judge them for their shitty taste in top-40. We can be so proud of ourselves because our partying is just so much better than their partying. Ew.
But flashback to Iran, in the late 80s, during a war... A place where western music was made illegal and where we couldn't get our hands on the majority of what we take for granted now... The streets populated by so many scowling faces, many looking for a fight and all filled with uncertainty about the future... Now imagine inside of a house, people gathered around the television set, utilizing an illegally obtained satellite dish catching airwaves from Turkey... And on the screen is the music video for "Open Your Heart."
It was escape.
Flash forward to middle school. I'm listening to 90's Madonna and various other dance and pop music. But the escape now is not from the darkness of a war affected Middle-eastern country but the pressures of being a war affected Middle-eastern kid in suburbia. I was still pretty F.O.B. now that I think about it. I sat (and still do) sit with my legs crossed one over the other. Men in the east sit this way because it's rude to show the sole of your foot to others. And Rhythm is a Dancer was like my favorite song of all time. All this lead to a near constant barrage of other kids questioning my sexuality.
There is no shortage of us who've been bullied; I'm not claiming to be a more noteworthy victim than anyone else. Trust me when I tell you that I'm well aware of my privilege in so many ways. But I had a couple of bullies through the years who were quite successful in adding thunder to the storm of anxiety already brewing inside of me. Multiple times I had the experience of my headphones being snatched off my head while I walked through the halls. The bully of the month would hear Vogue and then throw the headphones back at me while yelling, "what are you a fucking faggot?" Dammit - I just really wanted to be left alone.
So what I started doing was recording my Hip-hop stuff on one side of the cassette and my dance music on the other side, so when this would happen, I could really easily flip the side the music was playing on. I've always loved all different kinds of music anyway so that actually saved me a lot of time switching cassette tapes.
Two years ago, in Black Rock City, I was with my friend, Kim Eisenberg, on a mission to get ice (I think?). While she was running her errand, I hear Rain (the song, not actual rain). I'd stumbled upon the Madonna Power Hour near Center Camp.
All they'd done was press play on a Madonna playlist. For the 15 minutes it took for Kim to obtain ice (seriously that's what we were there for, right?) I completely lost myself in an ocean of emotions, singing along with Madonna while surrounded by a group of beautiful dusty weirdos. Women, men, gay, straight, young and old... It's God damn Burning Man and none of those binary human avatar titles mean shit anyway. It's just a bunch of humans singing Madonna at the top of their lungs. We were all looking into each other's eyes with giant grins. No bullies here; everyone was the coolest kid in school and we were all, everyone one of us, in the IN crowd.
Kim finished her errand (getting ice??) and called to me. I almost stayed but I hadn't seen her all week and chose Kim over Madonna. As we left, I vowed to return next year (that didn't happen, btw). On the drive out to Saguaro Man (the Arizona regional Burn) with Rich and Rick, we listened to a couple of hours of Madonna and I decided I needed to experience that again at YOUtopia 2017. Then Cassa Frass and I chatted about it and now it's happening on Saturday at 6pm at the XSLounge.
It's not a big deal. It's just listening to Madonna for an hour and serving some drinks. But it's a new memory. It's writing over the old tapes which were songs infused with pain and sadness with a new memory of songs filled with playful laughter. This is what this community has been to me. Taking the experiences of yesteryear and making them fresh again. And it's a 1000 little tiny things like that that have brought me to where I am today, from a depressed kid who simply wanted to be left alone to a man who just fucking can not wait for all the awesome shit that tomorrow is going to bring. While listening to Power of Goodbye for the 98th time.