How is it that Dery is able to produce this uncanny feeling of identification? You get the sense that, while the rest of us were living the zeitgeist, Dery was holding a stethoscope to its heart. His essays are EKGs showing that our pulse goes haywire in the presence of extremes — perversion, violence, satanism. In an introduction, Dery declares that it is “the writer’s job” to “think bad thoughts”: “to wander footloose through the mind’s labyrinth, following the thread of any idea that reels you in, no matter how arcane or depraved, obscene or blasphemous, untouchably controversial, irreducibly complex, or preposterous on its face.” All of us take in these abominations as they play across our flatscreens and iPhones, but Dery’s distinction is to really think about them — reflect on them, contextualize them, pursue their logic to sometimes unpalatable consequences. “The writer’s job,” he means to say, “is to transform ‘bad thoughts’ into good ones — insights and observations — through a process of examination.”
This is about underground hip hop, but much of it could apply to almost any scene:
Bars are, for the most part, terrible places to be. Obnoxiously crowded and stupid expensive. The sound system has never been set up right and it’s always too loud. So why do artists keep presenting their blood and guts in these fast food environments? I’ve played shows in beauty salons, backyards and basements and had a great time doing it—there’s not a “tour circuit” for this yet, but there will be soon.
How many shows can you play for a room full of dudes before it’s time to kill yourself in a hotel room? Why don’t more women come to rap shows? That one is easy: because they don’t want to be there. They don’t enjoy themselves, they don’t feel safe and they don’t have fun.
We need more than “Alternative Hip Hop,” and definitely more than another coffee shop for spoken word navel-gazing. We need an alternate Universe, a great & secret show, a Truth & Beauty circuit full of fresh fruit, fine foods and exotic tea from fictional continents. We need daytime shows, midnight gigs on anonymous rooftops, costume concerts and a nationwide revival of Acid Tests from coast to burning coast. We need all four alleged “Elements of Hip Hop” in the same building again—most of all, we need parties worth going to, parties worth putting down your fucking phones for and actually living.
The Twelfth Enchantment author David Liss on the portrayal of magic in popular story telling:
In the past, people generally believed they could acquire magic in two ways: through learning the craft, either from another practitioner or from books; or through obtaining magic from a powerful being-think Faust or the classic, demonized witch, both of whom get their mojo from Satan. Anyone could learn magic as long as he or she had access to the knowledge or could make a connection with the right supernatural entity. The important point is that in theory, the gates of magic were open to everyone, and what I find most interesting is how that has changed in popular culture. […]
Magic has gone from being an open system to a closed one. Their massive popularity make the Harry Potter novels and films the most glaring example, but it’s everywhere, and has been for decades now: TV shows like Charmed and Wizards of Waverly Place, books like those of Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris. More often than not, magical practitioners are born, not made. Magic is an exclusive club. You can watch and be envious, but you can’t join.
Also, Alyssa Rosenberg writes: “I wonder if a sense of biological magic also correlates to a sense of unease about how much power we have to impact our lives and to change the world. Believing that you can put the evil eye on someone, or that you can summon the devil, means believing in your own capacity to learn, hold, and wield power. Biological conceptions of magic are a way of explaining your own powerlessness. We can’t change our lives — but we’re also not responsible for changing the world — because we’re not Harry Potter, or the Slayer, or the Halliwell sisters.”
Not unrelated are Michael Moorcock’s essay on the fascist, conservative and/or reactionary strains running through sci-fi and fantasy fiction, and this essay by Stokes on the aesthetics of fascism and the TV series Game of Thrones.
I was born during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, a one-term administration remembered mostly for the Iran hostage crisis, the New York City blackout, and stagflation. The Carter babies—anyone born between his inauguration in January 1977 and Reagan’s in January 1981—are now 30 to 34, and, like Carter himself, the weirdly brilliant yet deeply weird born-again Christian peanut farmer, this micro-generation is hard to pin down. We identify with some of Gen X’s cynicism and suspicion of authority—watching Pee-Wee Herman proclaim, “I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel,” will do that to a kid—but we were too young to claim Singles and Reality Bites and Slacker as our own (though that didn’t stop me from buying the soundtracks). And, while the proud alienation of the Gen X worldview doesn’t totally sit right, we certainly don’t yearn for the Organization Man-like conformity that the Millennials seem to crave. […]
But maybe we’re not the only ones who feel unmoored. After explaining the gist of the piece to a 29-year-old friend over email, she responded: “I feel like I’m especially without generation because I’m not quite a Carter baby but not really a Millennial either. … I feel like Noreen, who is only two years younger than me, is of a slightly different generation, which seems crazy! But it feels true.” Her email was a classic Generation Catalano move: dancing near the spotlight, and then dancing with herself.
I hate the name, but I can identify with this, although I missed the Carter administration by about 10 months. Some measures of when Generation X place its end as late as 1981, while the Millennial generation starts as early as the late 70s. There’s a lot of overlap.
I recommend reading it, but I have a couple notes to make:
1) It wasn’t just the lack of Stormer culture that made Spence abandon the Sekhmet Hypothesis. It was the lack of correlating solar data.
2) I think what Ikipr is exhibiting here is… not apophenia – because the patterns more certainly are there. But there are other patterns as well. As Ikipr notes towards the end, Alex Grey’s work was tremendously popular during the 00s. There were whole psychedelic and magickal subcultures at play, from the psyhipsters seen in Arthur to the digital occultnik underground on sites like Disinfo, Irreality, Frequency 23 and Key 23/64 which eventually culminated in the meatspace EsoZone events.
Each of the movements Spence originally identified had aspects other than the ones that Spence highlighted (as Spence admitted in the comments here, and says he never said that movements like hippie and punk were mutually exclusive). The 60s counterculture wasn’t entirely peaceful. There were the Weathermen, the Black Panthers, the Hell’s Angels. The punk movement wasn’t just rage and destruction – there were animal rights and anti-war sentiments throughout. By night, ravers were about PLUR – but they experienced some nasty morning afters. And James St. James pointed out some of the darker corners of the party scene (and that’s to say nothing of the other subcultures of the 90s).
3) I’m surprised Ikipr didn’t mention Woodstock 99, though I guess the testosterone fueled violence there doesn’t quite fit with his Stormers, who are more cyber than physical.
I’m not sure what, if anything, my two notes above matter.
here and here.) They’ve gone missing after narco traffickers wiped out the guard post protecting the tribe. Observers fear the worst.
The Brazilian guard post protecting the uncontacted Indians who were filmed from the air earlier this year has been over-run by heavily-armed men, suspected to be drug-traffickers. It has been ransacked and vital equipment destroyed.
Fears are now mounting for the welfare of the Indians after workers from FUNAI (the government’s Indian Affairs Department) found one of the traffickers’ rucksacks with a broken arrow inside. A rapid survey by government officials has shown no trace of the Indians, who made worldwide headlines in February.
Our story begins almost 12 years ago, in a little town in Oregon, by the name of Ashland, where a group of kids came together to start a circus performance troupe called, El Circo. The group would gain recognition within the Burning Man culture for the extravagant parties they threw at the festival, featuring lavish fire performances, a large, geodesic dome venue, and a top-notch sound system that attracted world-renowned music acts to perform there. In a 2005 San Francisco Bay Guardian article on the effect that the various groups within the Burning Man community have had on San Francisco nightlife — an impact which now extends to the entire west coast’s, and arguably global, dance culture — the writer paid particular attention to the influence of El Circo […]
That same year, just two years out of college, I stumbled into the role of production manager for a newly-formed, L.A.-based vaudeville cirque troupe called, Lucent Dossier. Through that initial involvement with Lucent I would meet many other circus groups, including El Circo, who were by then based in San Francisco along with The Yard Dogs Road Show and Vau De Vire Society. There was also March Fourth Marching Band in Portland, Clan Destino in Santa Barbara, and Cirque Berzerk, and Mutaytor in L.A. As these acts grew, the I-5 Freeway became a central artery of culture, pumping a distinct combination of art, music, fashion, and performance up and down the west coast. A social scene evolved around these circus troupes the same way the punk subculture sprang up around the bands that defined it. For lack of another term, I’ve referred to this subculture over the years simply as “circus.”
I’m reading Grant Morrison’s Supergods right now, and I’ll probably have more to say on it in the future. But I’ve just passed a part in the book where he talks about the Sekhmet Hypothesis, and wanted to get some thoughts down right now.
The gist of the Sekhmet Hypothesis, as explained by Morrison, is that every 11 years culture shifts as sunspot activity waxes and wains. At one pole is “hippie” culture characterized by longer pop songs, longer hair baggy clothes, psychedelics and an emphasis on peace and love. At the other pole is punk culture, which is characterized by shorter pop songs, short hair, tight clothes, stimulants and an emphasis on anger and rebellion.
Update:Iain Spence, the originator of the Sekhmet Hypothesis and author of a book on the subject left a long comment that’s worth reading. It appears, first of all, that Morrison’s punk/hippie description of the hypothesis is much oversimplified (or perhaps I misunderstood his interpretation of it, this is like a game of telephone – if you want the real scoop on the hypothesis, go to the source). Second, Spence has updated the hypothesis having admitted that he was wrong about the solar cycle aspect of it, among other things.
So it would go:
1966: LSD, psychedelic rock, hippies, happenings, peace and love.
1977: Punk, new wave, shaved heads, cocaine, rock shows, nihilism.
1988: Rave, long electronic dance tracks, shoegaze, Brit pop, MDMA, “Peace, Love, Unity, Respect.”
1999: The Matrix, nu-metal, emo, screamo, cutting going mainstream, Red Bull, Starbucks, cocaine and meth making a come back, 9/11, Law & Order.
2010: Avatar, Alice in Wonderland and the “dandyishness” of the vampires of Twilight and True Blood (not sure I swallow that last part).
I could add the surge of mind fuck movies in the 90s, and their come back in the 10s, but as some readers pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, those types of movies didn’t entirely die out in the 00s. Also:
The 60s were also marked by outrage and protest, some of quite violent. A lot of hippies and mods wore tight clothes.
The late 70s and early 80s also had disco (and later house), psychedelic post-punk, butt rock, epic metal etc.
The 90s had the Rodney King riots, gangsta rap, Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, plenty of metal, the militia movement, hyperviolent video games and movies.
Rave didn’t completely die out in the 90s, instead it turned into teknival with a strong emphasis on the hippie-ish psytrance wing. Burning Man grew larger than ever. Not to mention Massively multiplayer online role playing games and Second Life. Tool put Alex Grey’s art on their album cover and his career exploded. Daniel Pinchbeck sold a bazillion books. And what about the popularity of bands like Radiohead, Coldplay and Muse? A bit more underground, but what to make of doom metal, dubstep and BPitchControl, or the hipster cred of Arthur Magazine?
It’s really hard for me to accept that “punk” is the opposite of “hippie.” The 60s counterculture wasn’t always peaceful and non-violent, and the punks, with their love of Jamaican music, antiwar songs and their vegan and vegetarianism were a lot more hippie-ish than many gave them credit for.
It’s hard, given the number of exceptions to the formula, to swallow the idea that there’s a real, society-wide pull between punk and hippie every 11 years. Others have critiqued historicity before, and I don’t need to go there.
But there may be pattern of rising and falling tides of psychedelia, perhaps accompanied by a sense of optimism and energy that eventually dissipates. The 60s had acid, the 90s had ecstasy. And I’m hearing that DMT is becoming a common strong street drugs these days, and the new cool thing to listen to is apparently the sound of a modem slowed way down. We could be in for some weird times indeed.
Mark of Cain, a documentary by Alix Lambert about the culture of Russian criminal tattoos, is now available for free online under a creative commons license. This documentary served as a reference for the David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises.