Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Rabbit Hole

I met two random men on a two different buses last night. One was middle-aged, bearded and carrying a guitar case; the other was "probably the same age" as me. (When I pressed, it turned out he was four years older.) Both of them may or may not have just smoked a joint or something more, and seemed eager to tell me how much they had just enjoyed a Chris Cornell concert. Both conversations were incredibly vapid, as chance meetings with strangers tend to be, and  the first one culminated with the older guy pulling the unstrung guitar out of his case and holding up a signature of the man/myth/legend for all the bus to ignore. I felt a twinge of pity. Then I got off the bus, because neither of those clowns matter in the long run. But their random desire to bring me into their experience did leave me thinking a bit about my identity as pseudo-grunge kid, and the tools I use to define myself.

It seems lately my Facebook feed is being blown up by questions of identity. Gender identity, sexual identity, political identity, familial identity, job identity - all that adult shit. And despite the fact that I see no need to parade my station before the world in specific "life events," I have begun to see my own identity crystallize around me. There's a sense of community about Vancouver Island, a sense of community I wilfully ignored as a university student, but one that, having hashed out a life here since, has become more readily apparent. It's a small-town mentality: banter with your churchgoing sandwich-maker, discuss your life decisions with the dude you see on the bus every day, get to know your bartender on a first-name basis. These pockets exist the world over, of course, and like anywhere, there's a pool of strangers-cum-friends-cum-acquaintances who form degrees of separation. Beyond that, the municipalities blend into one another because we're isolated from the rest of the country by a moderately imposing stretch of Pacific Ocean. And within that ever-shrinking world, I've started to arrive at a crystallized stage. Now, looking back at my love for Badmotorfinger, I no longer need to be a grunge kid, or wannabe grunge kid, or any other subset of a various number of scenes. I don't have to play guitar to hold down a conversation with someone who has a passing interest in 90s rock; I'm no pool pro, but having a tab at my regular bar game is the next-best thing; I don't make enough money, but I have a job I like that I chose for unique reasons, and an apartment which provides the technological necessities for the life that I lead. When I walk around in jeans and a t-shirt and a neighbourhood regular calls me "sir," I no longer take it ironically.
But then I wonder if who I have become is more than just the sum of its parts, because in a world of my own making there's no room for new perspectives or experiences. I don't listen to Katy Perry because I don't particularly like Katy Perry, but today I stumbled across an article that documents her new record as a failed coming-of-age experience, and I enjoyed that. From there, I thought that maybe I should listen to Katy Perry - and then I did, and wished I hadn't. But Katy Perry isn't really the point. The point is the limiting of potential experiences, the idea of settling down without really living. The more comfortable I become, the more resistant to that which doesn't fall under my little sports/niche culture umbrella, and that worries me.

Pop culture is an enormous, amorphous, mostly unnecessary entity, but it's also kind of fascinating. And if Katy Perry is the queen of modern teen idols and I don't understand why people like her, how am I supposed to understand Miley Cyrus' bizarre (and maybe kinda meta/kinda cool) coming of age? (Why I should care is perhaps a more legitimate question, but looked at under that prism, sports are just artificial competitions with predetermined potential outcomes.) I may not give a shit about gossip-magazine shame culture, but I am interested in the dissection of art, and pop art is important in what its popularity says about the world.

But what are the damn kids saying these days? Last week, again on the bus, I ran into a pretty blond on her way to see an electronic duo who happen to hail from my hometown of Toronto. I asked her who Zeds Dead were. She stopped at my seat and stared down with her jaw slack, giving me the exact look I give people who tell me they've never owned a computer. I Googled them later and found out it's a pair of kids who started producing three years after I left, so maybe I would have heard of them had I stayed in Toronto. But then again, maybe I wouldn't have. It's the miracle of the digital age that one person's lifeblood is another's greek, but what else are we missing out on?

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