See Michael. See how sweaty and happy Michael is next to band.
As the kind of unknown ukulele/mandolin/fiddle hipster nonsense I enjoy tends not to venture to China, a large part of my trip home was to include music. I feverishly scoured concert listings and venue websites looking for shows, gleefully snapping up tickets and planning my attack. If I am going to bother attending a concert, I generally want to attend it as hard as I can. I show up early, I grab whatever beers I need, and then I plant myself in the front row. My feet root to the spot, I set up a tent and a beach chair, and I settle in for joy directly in front of my eyeballs.
Here are a few amalgamated thoughts from the last week, in which I spent 4 of seven nights pressed sweatily against a speaker in a rock club.
– I am technically in the splash zone. The singer of this alt-bluegrass outfit sweats more than any human being I have ever seen. It has gone from endearingly human to actually disconcerting, and I wonder if I should get him a glass of water. He maybe has a condition. Should we be calling somebody? Getting him on an IV? On another night, Cary Ann Hearst also notes that she and her husband are getting pretty gross and that the front row can probably feel it. “But y’all look like the kinky types so I bet you don’t mind.”
It was strange to be the 194,563,906th person to see Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” on YouTube. Stranger still was that I had never heard of the song before.
A friend linked me to a remix which I found infinitely charming, and it struck me that I had not heard the original. I sought it out and gawped blankly at my screen. This was obviously a popular song, a hallowed member of the current cultural zeitgeist of the homeland. This was something that had already become an assumed fragment of cultural heritage, a shared globule of media experience to which all North Americans, and many other global citizens, had already absorbed. In fact, Happy was beyond the saturation point when I came across it. It had already surpassed osmotic spread, whereby every human in that hemisphere had long since realigned their neural networks to simply include the song’s existence. It was something everyone already knew, had talked about, and gotten over.
And I had never heard of it.
Posted in Culture, Culture Shock, Life in China
- Tagged china, expat, expat life, happy, life in china, media, movies, music, pharrell, pop culture, television
The band takes the stage. Chatter moves to a hush, anticipation swells in the room like a physical presence, like dozens of extra people filtering into the crowd. Smoke billows, and a hazy purple light bursts through the din, silhouetting the lead singer. Fingers wrap around a microphone, tremble readily over strings, hover above keys. A note is hit, a chord is struck, the show begins. The crowd moves. It is alive.
And you can’t see a damned thing, because the moron directly in front of you is holding their iPad up, over the crowd, a great matte-grey blockade of idiocy.
There is a disturbing trend in concert-going that is widespread in its prevalence, an epidemic of douchery virulent in infectiousness, and vicious in how it desolates enjoyment. A striking number of individuals at concerts these days feel compelled to document every second of the show in photo and video, in tweet and update, on every shimmering electric rectangle they have on their person. Every second must be captured. Every note must be recorded. Every line of sight must be blocked, because if anyone needs to see this show, it is the unwashed masses of youtube rather than the paying customers currently present.
“Well,” Andrea* told me, “me and Mae were planning on doing a dance for the talent show. Probably to that mix by DJ Earworm.”
These were my grade sixes, informing me and my mentor teacher of their entry for the upcoming talent show, which, as a slaving, bootlicking student-teacher, I would almost certainly be involved in to some degree. I discussed the song with them for a few minutes, to establish my cred, to fully exhibit my subversiveness and deeply rooted connections with modern happenings and the youth of today. For whatever reason, having an encyclopaedic command of popular culture has always been important to me. Maintaining my with-it-ness has always been somewhat crucial to my sense of self, the core of my personality just barely held together by a sticky web of Simpsons’ quotations, nerdy movie references, and unnecessarily bescarfed indie music superiority.
Moving to the other side of the planet can really throw a wrench into such a system.
버닝 헵번 (Burning Hepburn) – Life Goes On
For the first month or so of living in Korea, it was hard not to feel as though I was on a long, increasingly surreal vacation. Sure, I worked, occasionally, but everything was fresh and new and weird and just waiting to be experienced. It was a personal playground generated by the universe for me and my narcissism. I wasn’t living in Korea, I was having a year-long visit where also I developed my career path. As that feeling faltered and I adjusted to the concept of actually living in this country, I realized: I hadn’t been anywhere outside of Incheon or the main core of Seoul. Thus I leapt upon every chance to leave the city, to prove to myself that there is actually more Korea out there than the areas serviced by the central loop of the Seoul metro.
Back in Canada, I generated a number of evasive techniques to avoid certain pop music that I hated. Not all of it, as I’m not going to try to claim that all pop music is worthless, but some songs and artists aggravated me, and thus I tried to keep them at bay. I never listened to radio. I’d always keep my iPod on my person to block out ear-offending beats with my own. I knew what to ignore on the internet. As an educator, especially of elementary students, you often come in close contact with children’s pop culture, and you have to fortify your pop defences. I half-jokingly banned students from singing certain songs around me in class, and would threaten them with my own horrible taste in music should they assault me with theirs. In Korea, all of these techniques are useless or moot.