I just finished reading Kieron Gillen's and Jamie McKelvie's first Phonogram collection, Rue Britannia and my head is still buzzing a little bit so please bear with me. It's not quite the best book-as-drug I've read because Casanova is just too amazing to lose that title, but it's a damn fine book that knocked me off my stride tonight.
Which is good. I needed to be knocked around a little bit.
I'll sum it up as plainly as I can: It's a book about music literally being magic, but it's really about scenes and how our identities can be influenced by them. It's about britpop, it's about Blur and Oasis and Elastica and Echobelly. It's about the consequences of staying connected to a scene that is no longer a scene. It's about how the now simplifies the past, paring it down to a parody of itself. It's about how revivals are mostly crap.
That's heavy for a comic book about music and magic, ain't it? We aren't born with complete personalities. We may have some intrinsic traits, and we're influenced by our families and the communities we grew up in, but eventually, we start making choices. We get to choose who we are, whether we're aware that we're doing it or not?
I remember in high school, I was desperate to figure out "who I was." I tried on all sorts of costumes, but none of them really stuck. I was a Beatles fanatic until I discovered prog, grew my hair out, started wearing silly clothes, and bought my first synthesizer*. Fortunately, almost no photographs exist of me from that time.
I bounced from scene to scene for the next thirty-odd years. In college, there was an honest-to-God college radio scene. Instead of Van Halen and Led Zep, the radio was chock full o' R.E.M., the Smiths, and especially, the dB's**. I spent a lot of time in coffee shops, wearing rap-around sunglasses and Chuck Taylors. Fortunately, I avoided the cigarette thing.
After that, I did goth, industrial, punk, and finally back into the infectiously poppy mid-2000s indy thing. Archaeologists could take core samples of my discarded wardrobe and probably be able to guess the date of each layer with previously unheard of accuracy.
But what about now? There's no musical scene I feel at all connected to. Most of what I'm listening to is either ten years old or sounds exactly like what I was listening to ten years ago. What's going on now? Indie radio is a cruel joke these days unless you think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana as "cutting edge." The hipper-than-thou web sites feel like they're more interested in navel-gazing than getting me interested in new music. My radar's just not picking up anything that gives me chills.
There are, of course, non-musical scenes. After reading Neuromancer for the first (of many) times, I was about as "cyberpunk" as a waiter at a suburban chain restaurant could possibly be***. But, I just read a Neal Stephenson novel and I'm in the middle of a new William Gibson book, so I haven't strayed too far from that territory. I'm not really a movies person, at least, not the same way I am about music and books. I did have a Trainspotting phase, but don't even pretend like that movie wasn't at least fifty percent music.
I'm not in high school anymore. I don't need a scene to crib my identity from anymore. But, I'm not going to lie: I kind of miss it. I dig that rush you get from discovering something new that speaks to you in a way that makes you feel like some artist out there is speaking a language that only you and the others in on the scene "get." I don't need a scene to be me, but I do want to swim in them sometimes to expose myself to new things that I might wind up loving and wanting to integrate into this little house called "me."
* A Sequential Circuits Prelude, which I know is really just a rebranded Siel, but if you ran it through a guitar amp, it roared. The folks in the dorm above me probably learned to hate Yes' "Parallels."
** No, really. The dB's had just released Like This and the campus station was playing every track with regularity. It was an amazing record that will some day be recognized as the masterpiece it was.
*** Books usually mess with my head in an entirely different way. My internal monologue speaks to me in the voice of the author or, sometimes, the main character. This can be horrible. I tried to go on a date after reading three of Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan collections. It did not go well.