Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tribe-related poll

OK, since I’ve been mulling this over myself recently…
How does everyone else classify themselves? What’s your tribe? Do you have more than one? Is your sense of tribe/in-group based on gender? Race? Class? Educational level? Field of employment? Subcultural affiliations? Political orientation? Sexual orientation? Something I’ve completely missed? A combination of all the above?
Sorry it this seems kind of nosy, I’m just curious to see how this works for other people. I’m also really curious to see how one’s upbringing plays into it.
Anyone else ever feel that their membership in one tribe is very much not appreciated by another tribe that they feel equally connected to?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some thoughts about tribes, set off by BelleDame’s post

I find the whole idea of tribes, and of the way people categorize others into tribes, fascinating. Part of the reason for that is that I’m very much aware of my own tendency to divide people that way. It isn’t in the way most people do, though, and that’s what keeps me interested in the whole subject.
Take the thing I posted a few weeks ago about sexuality and orientation. I think the main reason I posted that, and that I continue to muse over the whole issue, is that I feel like I belong to multiple tribes, not just one, and sometimes I feel like a couple of those tribes resent my not identifying only with them. There seems to be an all or nothing vein that runs through both feminism and socialism, and I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s healthy for either movement, not only because sole identification with one political tribe leads to groupthink and all of it’s unpleasant mutant offspring, but also because it’s a terrible recruiting tool. What sane person wants to join a movement that demands 100 percent allegiance? Who is such a blank slate that, if they did, it wouldn’t immediately create conflict with all the other parts of themselves that they value?
Part of the reason I’ve been thinking about this so much recently is that my favorite band were here, and I went to two shows. Yes, I know that some of my online buddies who I met via the feminist and socialist forums are rolling their eyes at this point – feel free to bypass the music stuff if you like. Anyway…this band that I’ve loved for a very long time has a fan-base that is distinctly tribal in nature. Sometimes this is a good thing – when I flew to Arizona I was picked up at the airport, driven around, and generally taken care of by a woman whose only real connection to me was an ad I put on craigslist looking for concert buddies in Arizona. It all worked out, as we got along well and generally found plenty to talk about, but it got me thinking. Why would either of us assume that we would get along just because we love the same band? Why would either of us be willing to risk meeting a stranger that way, putting our safety in their hands?
The answer is tribes. Tribal loyalty, tribal allegiance, whatever you want to call it. I was willing to put myself in this woman’s hands, and she was willing to take time out of her schedule to drive me around, on the basis of tribal allegiance alone. That’s interesting. Normally I’m pretty friendly, but not necessarily the most trusting of people – there were other people who answered the same craigslist posting offering to drive me around, even offering a place to crash, and I said no, because none of them felt like part of the tribe. She did. On that alone, we were willing to trust each other.
On some level that’s a very illogical response. Why should either of us assume that our belonging to the same tribe means that we’ll both be decent people who might be able to get along with each other? And yet people make those kinds of assumptions all the time.
Another thing to ponder is the issue of tribes in relation to subcultures. I suspect that when the person who Belle was quoting talked about tribes he/she was referring to something on a more macro level – race, or political party, or class. In other words, I suspect that he/she was talking about those tribes that we belong to by birth, not by choice. What’s interesting to me is that I have no particular sense of loyalty to or personal affiliation with those tribes that I belong to by birth, but the ones that I chose of my own free will? You bet I feel a sense of affiliation.
I wonder how this works for other people. The vast majority of the population probably has no ties to any particular subculture, but everyone belongs to the macro tribes whether they like it or not. Even if one has no interest in classifying oneself that way others will be more than happy to do it for you. How does the tribe thing work for people who aren’t connected to any subculture? Do they then identify primarily as “male” or “female”, or as “white” or “black” or “Irish”? Is that the source of all those knee-jerk reactions based on things like race and gender that never seem to make any sense to me? Did my early immersion in all kinds of subcultures break those bonds, or did my parents just somehow manage to raise me without them? Or is the way people relate to the macro classifications simply a matter of individual personality?
Back to why my concert-going experience prompted this little moment of introspection. At the second show I ended up in the middle of a crowd of Asian-American teenagers, most of whom were either Korean or Japanese. There was one girl who was maybe fifteen or sixteen who for whatever reason I ended up talking to, and then somehow temporarily bonding with. The crowd was getting a little rough, and she ended up clinging to me, head buried in my shoulder and one hand clutching mine. She also kept talking to me in Japanese, which was kind of funny since she was Korean and I’m very clearly not Japanese. I speak enough Japanese that I could understand what she was saying and answer, but it was odd nonetheless. It got me thinking about why this girl who was half my age and from a completely different culture would for some reason cling to me as a source of safety in the crowd.
I think the answer, once again, is tribes. And I don’t really know how to explain that, probably because on an intellectual level it makes no sense. Why does subculture trump race, culture (I’m British not American, remember), and age? Why is it that those people involved in subcultures see others involved in the same subculture as their tribe? And what does it mean for my identification as a feminist and a socialist when I see so many members of both groups who I don’t identify with at all? When the visible face of both movements looks nothing like me?

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dir en grey live report, The Fillmore, 2/25.07

This was originally written for my LiveJournal, which is where all the JRock people hang out, but I thought I might as well repost it here since I post so little nowadays. And yeah, anyone who knows me knows how much I love this band. So, enjoy.
PS Zan - Icon pretty boy? I was happily groping his chest last night, and it is spectacular.

First off, this isn’t going to be one of those reports that’s all about what I was wearing and how everyone else sucked except my cool friends and me and OMG the Lolitas! Because really, it’s a concert, not a prom, so why should anyone really care about any of the superficial stuff?
Dir en grey were amazing last night. I’m probably one of the older fans who went to this tour both in terms of how long I’ve been a fan (since Jealous) and age (I’m 33), and I’ve been waiting a long time to see them. Concert DVDs are great, but it’s just not the same as actually being in the thick of things, with the bass and the drums reverberating through your entire body and the crowd screaming along like one giant organism.
Family Values was actually kind of disappointing for me. The set was too short, and honestly the band just didn’t seem into it. I also went to the show in Tempe, and that was a great show too from a musical point of view, but the vibe in the crowd was just…bad. Bitchy and negative and full of people who seemed to have never been to a concert before and didn’t understand how the pit works (yes, people will push and shove, everyone will steal your spot the moment they get the chance, your feet will get trod on and your ribs will get crushed if you’re against the barrier and it can be hard to breathe – DEAL WITH IT. That’s the way metal, punk and industrial shows always are, and DEG is a bit of all three, so what were people expecting? And no, yelling to people to move back doesn’t help, it just makes you look silly). I spent a good part of that show rolling my eyes at the constant stream of complaints, and the line was full of unnecessary drama. I’m just glad that no-one else seemed to notice Missy Suicide standing at the side of the stage, because that would have just kicked the bitchiness into overdrive.
San Francisco was different. The line was drama-free as far as I could tell, there was some quiet snarking at a few girls who looked as if they must be very cold on a wet and windy day, but nothing big or too blatant. The rain wasn’t fun, but everyone just huddled together and dealt with it, because this is San Francisco and it rains all the time (also, thanks to the tall Japanese guy whose name I’ve forgotten who let us all shelter under his umbrella, that definitely helped!). Everyone seemed to be of the same mind – yep, the line’s a pain, always has been, but it’ll all be worth it once you get inside.
The opening bands were actually a lot of fun at this show. They were doing a bunch of silly end-of-tour shit with TP and little bouncy balls and baby powder (the stage had to be vacuumed before DEG came on), and someone had messed with the projection system so it played random statements like “Everyone point at the bassist and laugh!”. I had heard a lot of unpleasant rumors about the audience booing the opening bands earlier in the tour, and I talked to Fair To Midland’s tour manager and he confirmed that it was pretty hostile at the beginning of the tour. At the San Francisco show, though, the crowd was actually giving the opening bands plenty of love, especially Bleed The Dream, whose singer did a great job of getting the crowd hyped up and defrosted. These are the moments when I love this town.
Those of us in the front also had a lot of fun watching Kaoru, Die and assorted companions sitting up in the balcony laughing at the opening bands throwing shit at each other. There was a kind of “big brother laughing at the crazy kids” vibe – it’s odd for those of who remember them as a wacky little indie band to realize how much older and more established they are now.
The actual show was amazing. This was the show that I was hoping for. The band were all on fire, energetic and engaged with the crowd and looking like they were enjoying themselves up there more than they seem to have been in a long time. It helps that The Fillmore is a great venue with a wide stage – lots of rail – and good acoustics. The crowding was pretty insane at front center, but it was a good crowd and people were looking out for each other and at least trying not to hurt each other more than necessary. I came away with a massive bruise on my hipbone, but hey, it was worth it.
Since I had the first show to just soak up the music, and since San Francisco was a far better crowd, this time I had a chance to really observe the way the band interact with the audience, and it was fascinating. It was hard to see Die from where I was without twisting at an odd angle so I didn’t see as much of him, hopefully someone who was on his side will fill in the gaps, but the other four…
I have to admit that, unlike most other fans, Kyo has always been the one I’ve been least interested in watching. There’s a certain darkness in him that I just don’t empathize with, as much as I admire his talents as a singer and a lyricist. I used to have a boyfriend who cut himself when he was frustrated, and that’s part of it – having been close to that for a while it’s too painful to watch it any more. I understand how cathartic that part of the show is for some people, but there’s a place he goes during shows that I’ve just never wanted to follow him to. I had a moment last night though, when he was staring into the crowd and caught my eye, and for a while I actually went there with him. Concert footage really doesn’t capture how mesmerizing he is in real life, the intensity of his stare when it’s directed right at you, the almost trancelike state he works himself into. He deliberately challenges people, pushes them to places that they would never go by themselves, and it’s an amazing experience. I finally understand why so many fans are so obsessed with him.
Shinya is…Shinya. It’s always amazed me how such a quiet, physically frail-looking man can be such a monster behind the drums, but he really is. He doesn’t interact that much with the crowd, just keeps his head down and focuses on the music, other than the drumstick throwing moment at the end. He’s wonderful to watch though – he was probably the weakest of all of them musically in the beginning, but he’s grown into a hell of a drummer. The look on his face when Kyo threw his box directly at the drum set was priceless, too.
Kaoru live is a thing of beauty, and I don’t mean that in a superficial way at all. He’s the other one who seems to slip into a trance when he’s really into the music – he spends a lot of time with his head down, eyes closed, lost in the music. There’s always been something oddly still about Kaoru, and that quality seems to become more pronounced the older he gets. I’ve always wondered if that’s why so few of the American fans seem to focus on him – in many ways he’s the most overtly Japanese of all of them, and I wonder if people here find that sense of quiet reserve off-putting. He certainly doesn’t get the credit he deserves as being the genius behind the whole thing as often as he should.
He’s been interacting with the crowd a lot more recently, too. Last night he was a fist-pumping, pick-tossing, head-banging bundle of energy. He even came out to slap hands with some of the crowd, and he kept coming right up to the edge of the stage and jamming directly in front of where I was. I haven’t seen him look like he’s enjoying himself so much in years – he looked bored at Family Values. At the end of the night he didn’t seem to want to leave the stage, and after they did finally leave he hung around in the wings just watching the crowd with a smile on his face.
The real dynamo on stage was definitely Toshiya, though. Watching him, Kaoru and Kyo together made something finally click in my head that’s been at the edge of consciousness for a long time. Part of the explanation for the success of DEG, and especially for the sheer fanaticism of the fandom, is that all the members are not only strong personalities, but very different from each other. For every fan there’s at least one band member who they respond to on a personal level, who they feel some kind of empathy towards.
If Kaoru is the pure love of music and quiet contemplation and Kyo is the conduit through which people access the darker side of their own natures, Toshiya onstage is pure love. It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen it the way he interacts with the crowd, but it’s amazing to watch. There’s something distant about the way people relate to most of the rest of the band, but not with Toshiya. It’s hard to say if it’s just his natural personality or if it was a deliberate choice about how to handle live performances, but on stage Toshiya is the one who connects most with the crowd on a warm, human level. It’s not a distant admiration the way it is with Kaoru or a dark kind of empathy the way it is with Kyo. Toshiya’s relationship with the crowd is a love-in. The way that he points at his heart, then at the audience, the intense stare he gives people – it’s not an intimidating, challenging stare-down like Kyo’s, it’s warm and alive and somehow very intimate. There’s always been something oddly loveable about Toshiya, which is hard to explain – normally people that physically beautiful can be rather intimidating, but somehow he never has been. As easy as I normally find it to put things into words I’m struggling with this, because it’s not an intellectual thing, it’s physical somehow – Toshiya on stage looks like he wants to reach out to the entire crowd and give them all a hug, and I think that on some level everyone loves him for it. Of all of them he and Kyo are the ones who’ve been most able to bridge the language barrier, so that the fact that they can’t really talk to the crowd here doesn’t matter. The feelings they’re trying to express are perfectly clear, and everyone in the audience who’s paying attention can feel it. It’s amazing that after all these years they still have the desire to reach out and connect with the crowd, to communicate something on a direct and personal level, and in the end, isn’t that what we all love them for?

We had a couple of interesting little close encounters yesterday. Walking right past Kaoru as we were going to the car to dump bags and jackets and he was getting out of the bus (and yes, we were nice, civilized fans and didn’t bother him), my strange little eye-lock with Kyo, Toshiya coming down into the gap between the stage and the barrier and throwing himself into the crowd’s arms – I felt kind of bad (not bad enough to stop, though) that I ended up basically groping his chest, because I was trying to grab his hand but so was everyone else, so eventually I just gave up. I loved that all three guitar and bass boys changed sides at the end, so that everyone in the crowd got to see the whole band even if only for a little while. I really loved the fact that at the end nobody seemed to want to leave – even Kyo left and then came back rather than scuttling away as soon as he got the chance like he usually does, Kaoru made multiple circuits around the front of the stage, and Toshiya seemed like someone was going to have to drag him off he was out there for so long. Even after the lights went on you could still see them all if you were close enough, huddled on the side of the stage watching us, smiling.
It’s a funny thing, really – people who don’t know much about Dir en grey tend to assume that the concerts must be a dark, disturbing experience, and at moments they are, but there’s something else there, and that something else is what gets people hooked, keeps them coming back, makes them willing the sit in line for hours in the pouring rain just to get closer, and it’s not a dark thing at all, it’s beautiful. If I had to try to explain I think it would say that it’s the sheer joy of knowing that there are other people like yourself in the world, that you’re not alone. That’s what keeps us all coming back, in my opinion, and after all these years I’m incredibly happy that I finally got the chance to see and feel it up close. It was more than worth everything it took to get there.

A few small side notes – I ended up in the middle of a bunch of Korean and Japanese kids who all seemed to know each other – sorry if I squished any of you guys or trod on your toes! I was actually kind of worried about the cute little girl in the striped sweater – she was looking a bit overwhelmed during Fair To Midland, and I was trying to keep an eye on her but I lost track of her once the crowd started surging. Does anyone know if she made it OK? I was the woman in her thirties with the curly hair and the black CBGBs hoodie who kept putting my water bottle on her forehead to try to cool her down a bit.
I was also concerned about the girl with the strappy tank top at the front who had to be pulled out. It took longer than it should have to get security to help her since there was no-one on our side at that point and she really wasn’t looking so good, so I hope she’s OK. The guy in the white shirt was looking a bit out of it towards the end, too.
Most beautiful non-band-related moment of the night – when the girl who came over from Japan to see the band, who was right in front of me by the end, and who was screaming for Toshiya the whole show, actually got to touch him…at the end she just burst into tears, and some people seemed to think she was hurt, but it was obvious that wasn’t it. She was happy. And when white shirt guy, who I don’t think she even knew before that day, gave her a hug and she was just breaking down because she got exactly what she wanted from the show…truly beautiful.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Should all of society really be made safe for children?

So, next week I’m going to see my favorite band. One the one hand this is a wonderful thing. I love live shows, I love Dir en grey. So what am I complaining about?
There are children going to these shows. I don’t mean 17-year-olds, I mean actual children. Whose brilliant idea was it to make this tour all-ages? Because my foot has a date with their ass.
Someone is planning to take a 10 year old to the Fillmore. The fucking Fillmore. To see a metal/industrial band. Are these people out of their minds?
First there’s the issue of physical safety. There are moshpits at metal shows. There is pushing, shoving, random crowd surging…hair gets pulled, feet get trodden on, ribs get crushed against barriers, elbows meet heads. Even for adults it’s a little dangerous. And people have been waiting to see this band in the USA for ten years. According to all reports so far, these shows are fucking nuts. Most of them are sold out. Does anyone sane really think this is a safe environment for a child? Some of these kids plan to camp out that night before, too. In the middle of major metropolitan areas. Yeah, that’s really smart. I’m sure the junkies and the dealers will be delighted to make their acquaintances.
Then there’s the obscenity issue. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m actually rather a fan of obscenity in general. I have no major issues with porn other than worrying about whether some of them people involved in it did not end up there willingly. I watch horror movies. I swear like a sailor. But…
Obscene material is intended for adults. It is not family friendly. It is not meant to be seen or heard by children. Not only that, but its continuing availability for those of us who are old enough to understand and appreciate it is dependent on its being kept far, far away from kids.
Right now we have a government that would just love to make our entire society safe for 5 year olds. Do any of us really want that, other than the religious wackos? OK then, we all have a shared interest in keeping the questionable stuff away from the kiddies if we want it to continue to be available at all.
Which brings me back to Dir en grey. This band is not suitable for kids. In face, I have a hard time thinking of any band less suitable for kids. Typical songs deal with child abuse, suicide, murder, war, corruption in government and the media, BSDM…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You don’t get much less family friendly than DEG, folks. Last year’s big single contained the immortal line “Some day I will fuck your parents”. During their opener the crowd chants “Kill! Kill! Kill!” along with the intro. And people want to take 10-year-olds to this show?
And then there are the videos. They’re playing the uncensored version of one during the show, apparently (for the song Obscure). Freaky-looking geisha in g-strings, bizarre mecha dildos, naked drummer in a bathtub full of blood, one guitarist pulling his bloody, still-beating heart out of his chest, the other guitarist stabbing himself through the throat with a samurai sword…fun for all the family, huh? Not to mention that the singer carves his chest up until he’s covered in blood and shimmies like a stripper. At the last show I kind of felt like I should tip him, given that he was essentially giving us a lap dance. His live performances make Iggy Pop look like The Telletubies.
So, I repeat...does anyone with any brains really think that kids should be allowed to attend that kind of show? Apparently Ticketmaster didn’t quite realize what they were getting into given that “this show is for mature audiences” warnings went up on the website after the first few shows. No shit, genius. A quick look at the band’s website could have made that pretty clear.
I still don’t understand why these shows weren’t made at least 16+ right from the beginning. I suspect that the motive was money, though – no age restrictions increases the number of people who can buy tickets, and the band have a lot of very young fans who came to them through seeing pictures of their early days on the internet, back when they were pretty boys in eyeliner and miniskirts. That was a long time ago, though, and they get darker and more disturbing with each album. I’m willing to bet that if most of the parents of those kids had any idea what they were in for they wouldn’t let their little precious anywhere near these shows.
And that’s another problem. Kids are turning up at these shows with their parents. Parents who then get all pissy because oh my god, there’s blood and violence and sexual content and bad language. If they had decent parenting skills they would have known that already.
Of course the fact that having scowling, disapproving parents getting in everyone’s way is a huge pain in the ass for any attendee old enough not to have a curfew is worth noting, but there’s a bigger problem. What happens when one of these parents gets upset that little precious wasn’t protected from all this nasty obscene behavior? What if they decide to sue? What will that mean for future tours? What if one of those kids actually gets hurt? The girl taking the ten year old was planning to take her into the pit. Which is nuts. Hell, I could very easily get hurt in the pit and I’m 33. What happens if that kid gets hurt? Who do you think the parents are going to blame?

Now, as I’ve already said, I’m very much fond of a lot of material that could very easily be described as dark, disturbing, and unsuitable for minors. That doesn’t mean that I think said material should be accessible to minors. It shouldn’t be. Every society maintains a barrier between children and adults, and a certain part of its culture that is forbidden to anyone under a certain age. That’s the only way to do it, really. That barrier is there for a reason, and it needs to be well guarded, because the alternative is a society scrubbed clean of all deviant art, of all deviant behavior, of anything that might upset a toddler. I don’t want to live in that kind of society, and I’m willing to bet that anyone who I have more than a passing acquaintance with doesn’t either.

So, as much as it vexes the kiddies to hear it, they don’t belong at concerts. Or at horror movies, or in clubs, or watching porn, or in any other space designed for adults. It’s not only for their own safety; it’s for the safety of everyone who doesn’t want to live in Moral Majority-land.