Saturday, May 17, 2008

Moments of Excess

"Don’t ask me why I obsessively look to rock ’n’ roll bands for some kind of model for a better society. I guess it’s just that I glimpsed something beautiful in a flashbulb moment once, and perhaps mistaking it for prophecy have been seeking its fulfillment ever since"

I came across this Lester Bangs quote at the music blog The Swill Merchant. Apparently it comes from an article he wrote for NME after touring with The Clash in 1977. In some ways it mirrors my own sensibility - the sense of music as offering something more than the daily grind. But there is a key difference - for me, apart from a brief period as a 14 year old enthralled by The Clash, it's never been 'rock ’n’ roll bands' themselves that have offered 'some kind of model for a better society' but the fact of people coming together to enjoy music. It's always the scene, the crowd, the dancefloor, that has interested me - with the bands as one element but sometimes entirely absent.

The model offered by rock bands themselves is usually the masculine fraternity, the gang of self-importantly cocky blokes, what Bob (after a recent encounter with such rockism) described as 'earnest hoarse-voiced troubadours, swaggering long-haired types, lots of sweat and leather and testosterone'. Of course there's nothing wrong with long hair, sweat, leather or testosterone. It's just that I don't see these elements in themselves constituting some kind of alternative to the 'straight' world - instead this kind of rock endlessly recycles the pseudo-outlaw pose all the way to the bank.

Still I like the image of the 'flashbulb moment', which parallels the notion of 'moments of excess' developed by The Free Association:

"Every now and then, in all sorts of different social arenas, we can see moments of obvious collective creation, where our ‘excess of life’ explodes. In these ‘moments of excess’, everything appears to be up for grabs and time and creativity accelerates. From our own lives, we’re thinking of punk in the mid to late 1970s, and the struggle against the poll tax in the late 1980s/early ’90s, and the recent moments within the anti-globalisation movement. At these times, which may have spanned several years or literally a few moments, we have glimpsed whole new worlds. But we could also mention the 1960s underground, the free software community, the popular uprising in Argentina.

All of these examples are specific to a certain time and place, but we can see a common thread: a collective, liberating creativity that delights in mixing things up and smashing through all barriers. And they constantly lead back to the fundamental questions: ‘What sort of lives do we want to lead? What sort of world do we want to live in?’ We don’t mean this in a utopian sense. Moments of excess aren’t concerned with developing ideal types or blueprints of how life should be lived. Instead they deal with the possible, and represent practical experiments in new forms of life. In these spaces, there is a real sense of subversive energy, freedom and possibility".

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