Barry Smith: Irrelativity
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
FRESNO, Calif. – Here’s a question I seem to be asking myself more and more – “Am I old, or does this suck?”
See, when you reach a certain age the possibility increases that you will not be able to enjoy what “the kids” are into. Even if it’s great, even if you’re a lover of cool things, even if you have incredibly good taste. None of this matters. Your age will just shut you out. Your age will inform you – even provide detailed facts, arguments and convincing statistics – that what you are witnessing sucks, when in fact it may actually be very, very good.
You hear people talk of biological clocks. This is like a biological clock radio. With a broken snooze button. The alarm goes off at a certain age and your ability to discern is now compromised by a loud metaphorical beeping in your ear.
I’m in Fresno at the moment, pondering this condition. It’s my fifth consecutive year visiting “The NO,” performing at their annual theater festival. I really like Fresno. That’s not sarcasm. But there’s something happening here, and what it is isn’t exactly clear.
A little background:
Just moments after attending my very first punk concert (Suicidal Tendencies, Olympic Auditorium, 1985 – having only heard real punk music less than a month before) I lost all interest in pop music. In a flash I was convinced that “good” music needs to be loud, jarring, abrasive, cacophonous, hearing-damaging and parent-upsetting. Any music that isn’t these things … sucks. And I know what’s good, because I’m in my 20s.
This is what I called being open-minded.
But now I’m looking down the barrel of my 45th year, so things are a bit different. My musical tastes have broadened over time, though I still have a soft spot for that ole’ time cacophony. But these days when I hear new music and think it sucks, I realize that I may be marching to a different drum machine. Pop music still sucks, sure, but maybe for purely geriatric reasons.
This is the internal battle I’m waging at the moment. Am I old, or does this suck?
Admittedly I do live in a small town, and when I’m there I’m a bit of a hermit. I don’t go out much at home, but at these theater festivals, like the one currently happening in Fresno, there’s nowhere to go BUT out. So I’ll admit that I’m not totally in touch with what’s happening, you know, “out.” So maybe this thing is happening everywhere and I don’t know about it. Or maybe it’s just a Fresno thing.
The “thing” is this: The main bar where the performers hang out has a special treat every Friday night – drumming karaoke.
Not a typo – I really did mean to write “drumming karaoke.”
I don’t think it’s billed as such, but that’s the best way I can describe it.
It’s one thing to sound good in theory but not translate into actuality. I have constant firsthand experience with this. But I can’t even imagine this “thing” looking good on paper. Like these two guys were sitting around one night and thought, hey, let’s set up our percussion equipment in a bar, play some pop music from the ’80s and ’90s over the sound system and … wait for it … drum along with it! In public! Oh, and let’s do this drumming really, really loud, making any sort of conversation, or even drink ordering, impossible. And, whenever possible, let’s explore the entertainment potential of not drumming to the actual beat of the song.
And they do this. Every Friday night, I’m told. I’ve seen it twice now, so I know the first time wasn’t a hallucination.
Now maybe this is an artistic statement that’s bold and progressive – a new genre being born before my very eyes. Maybe it’s the cutting edge of a new wave of post-post-pop-pop, and 20 years from now people will talk about this Fresno happening as if they’d seen the Velvet Underground at Andy Warhol’s factory. Maybe this will eventually be as big as The Beatles. Think about it – the people who hated The Beatles when they first appeared did so for the simple fact that they were the same age that I am now.
But as I stared, open-mouthed and plugged-eared at what was before me, all I could think was, “Am I old, or does this suck?”
Too bad I’m no longer authorized to make such decisions.
(Next time – More tales from the road …)