I was recently teaching a class. I was trying to explain to students how, even ten years ago, what kind of music you listened to WAS EVERYTHING. Like you would NOT TALK to someone if they did not like the bands that you loved, or if they were wearing a T-shirt of a band that you thought were horrible. The music was not just THE MUSIC. It was EVERYTHING. It was your values, your future, your community, your fashion, your politics. Music was a lifestyle. I remember in the early 2000s (I hate the word ‘noughties’- it creeps me out for some reason) I could go around a classroom where I taught in San Francisco, and almost 100% accurately, guess what bands a person liked, how they voted, what bars they liked- just by the way they dressed. It was not that long ago- was it?
Ok, truth? This has not just happened once. It is happening all the time. I recently re-read one of my favorite books, Gone With The Wind. There is this one part that I literally had to highlight, read once, then again and then one final time. The Confederates have lost the Civil War, and their plantations have been burned down. One of the characters is looking across his once beautiful fields, now just charred cotton stalks, his huge mansion now blackened foundation. And this is it- his way of life, its all been turned back to the very dust from which it came; dust, gone with the wind. Its this stunning parallel, dust to dust- what we all are- and then its gone.
I wondered why it stopped me, why it hit me so hard. Then I flashed back to when I was at university. I had been in a sorority, believe it or not. I had been in the ‘cute girl’ one – all of the different houses had a reputation, whether that be the ‘easy’ house, the nerds, etc- I had gotten into the cute girl one, somehow. But then I changed. My obsession with music grew once I was away from home. I died my naturally blonde hair black, I started smoking clove cigarettes, I saved and scrimped to buy a pair of knee high Doc Marten boots. I wasn’t trying to be ‘cute’ anymore; or at least in the blonde, all-American sort of way that I had been. When I listened to certain bands- The Smiths, New Order, The Stone Roses- I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. That music, it WAS me. It described feelings I had, ways that I felt, that I could not put into words; and I did not have to, because these songs, these bands, they articulated ME. And the clothes, the values, even the silly things, like the gross clove ciggies- that smell still immediately takes me back to being 19- it was all a part of figuring out why I was, with expressing my identity, as part of this larger community. Of part of a group who shared the same ideas. I finally got kicked out of the sorority, after a party where I blew cigarette smoke in some poor boys face, and told him he was an idiot for not liking Morrissey. I guess I was not meant to be in a group where you bought your friends. But do values, ethos, signs and symbols of bands , of artists, still matter? Or is that idea old fashioned, out dated, and gone with the wind, just like the burned out plantation in my favorite book?