David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: Burning Man, attitude, entitlement, hippies, human nature, @musings info

Hippie Music

(I wrote this at Burning Man 2006.) You hear a lot of different music out here on the playa. Techno is certainly the most prevalent, but possibly not the most annoying. Once you recognize techno for what it is: machine music designed solely for a consistent tempo allowing segues that give the impression that the music never stops, you can ignore the fact that it has nothing to say except perhaps in a social sense. And in that sense, it's dance music, pure and simple. Techno neither demands nor encourages any kind of higher brain functions.

I've always been annoyed with techno at Burning Man because you just can't get away from it, especially at night. This year, though, we've been lucky: I've actually been able to sleep through the night using earplugs. (Not that I haven't used earplugs before, but even 40 dB "industrial" earplugs fail to dampen the sounds of music if it's loud enough.) This year, though, a new musical form has taken techno's place as the most despicable musical form on the playa, and not because of the volume. That form is: hippie music. Or rather neo-hippie music because all of the actual hippies declared the movement stillborn in 1969.

It's over, kids. The rest of the world doesn't give a rat's ass about your dreads and tofu and alternative this-and-that and never will. Wanna know why? Because you're hypocrites and everyone else can see that. You don't practice what you preach, and boy are we tired of your preaching. Half of you are living off your trust funds, and the other half are mooching off those of you who have the trust funds. You have a huge disdain for the "straight" world because you don't need to fit in.

You don't understand that the rest of us live in what is, approximately at least, a meritocracy. We don't get everything we need (or want) handed to us; we have to set aside time to produce something that the economy values in order to eat and have a roof over out heads. Those of us who also create art are intensely aware that our art is a hobby funded by our primary occupation. Real artists, by which I mean those whose art puts food on their table and a roof over their heads, also function in what is approximately a meritocracy. Real artists wrestle every day with maintaining a workable balance between commercial appeal and artistic integrity. That's not an easy line to walk; artists really do suffer for their art.

So what's hippie music? It's music that comes from the entitlement-oriented mindset of the neo-hippie. Music that comes from the conviction that anyone who owns a means of expression (don't forget those trust funds) should express themselves as often and as publically as possible. Burning Man is the ideal venue for this kind of "expression". No talent necessary. Don't worry about practice. It's all good.

Everyone has rhythm -- gather enough drums and you'll blend in, the rhythm will emerge from your collective (semi)consciousness. Make sure that you pick a public meeting place for your drum circle so hundreds of other people can bask in the glory that is you. Six square miles of playa where you might ply your "craft", and you show up unbidden and unwelcome in the most congested meeting places. No, you're not narcissistic. Not at all...

Or how about this: Pick up a guitar, learn to strum a few chords, and you're good to go. Sing your songs about organic tomatoes, or warble off-key stream-of-consciousness potty jokes and sexual inuendo (oh, you're so clever) or about how you don't need "the man" (just so long as your trust fund is earning interest thanks to the productive contributions of the "straight" world) or about how pretty the sky is today. Hell, if you can think about it, you should sing about it. Because you're special and what you have to say is important. How can we not care deeply?

That kind of hippie bullshit was lame in the `60s, and it's still lame today. That was never part of the hippie ethos; the mass media created the fantasy (the same one you're self-righteously living out today) and the sheep of America bought into it, turning Haight and Ashbury into Bread and Circus and forcing the real hippies to declare the "death of the hippie" in 1969. A declaration that, sadly, the mass media didn't glom onto. The message never got through. Somewhere in a huge dead-letter office is a postcard addressed personally to each of you neo-hippies with the short message: "It's not what you think it is." The problem is, you're never going to receive that message because your pot-addled brain hasn't left a forwarding address.

Go back and study the history of the hippie movement. The stories are out there, many of them told by the people who were there at the beginning of this long-dead "culture" that you've twisted to your own narcissistic needs. The original hippies, who are now in their sixties, did a lot of different things in reaction to the fading influence of a nearly-totalitarian hierarchical culture of the 1950s. They sought to create change. They made stuff up as they went along -- a small portion of that has survived for fourty years as the pre-packaged commercial neo-hippie culture that kids today literally buy into.

Today you have your politically-correct causes and your righteous indignation, but you're ineffective. All you're willing to do is to point and shout "This is wrong! You don't understand the way, the light and the truth and you're fools for not seeing the world the way we do." But take heart: if the lot of you can ever get yourselves organized (I'm not holding my breath, few such "organizations" last past the end of the drum circle.) you can start a new religion and finally get that tax-free status you so rightly deserve thanks to your superior knowledge of the way the rest of us should live our lives.

Think I'm being harsh? Folks a lot closer to the original hippie movement have published similar thoughts decades previously. Stewart Brand is no slouch when it comes to rational discourse -- pick up an old copy of The Whole Earth Catalog and see whether you can find the fable of "Divine Right" running through the margins.

But back to the original hippies: they saw a need for change, a reason to change, and they worked to get what they wanted. They've created entire industries around their belief systems, starting at the grass-roots small-business levels. Yes, the original hippies were (and still are) of the capitalist persuasion. They worked for change. Some of them got what they were working towards. Others didn't. That's the way a meritocracy works. No one in this world has a divine right to anything.

So go ahead and crawl back to your rich mommy and daddy with your hippie music; they'll tell you that you're wonderful and talented and creative. They have to.

I don't.

September 05 2006 02:15:34 GMT