(Ask Sami) Blanking on Bowie Blues

Am I the only one who has no interest in David Bowie’s passing away?

Normal Heights

Short answer: I don’t know.

In the rows and piles of my father’s records, sometime in high school, I found Bowie. Maybe because of the many space references (and I was an alien princess), I instantly and always loved his music. I loved him among other rockstars, some dead. some living. I had no context, knew the music only by the words on the cover and its image. To this day, I prefer to listen to albums (and hand-picked playlists: the modern mixtape) over “discover new” or “radio” algorithms.

I did not share my peers’ fluency in the lives of their music favorites — the factoids of band member names, origins, relationships, birthdays. I have no mind for trivia, and cared to memorize only the lyrics by playing albums on repeat. I imagined I could discover traces of the artists in the order they arranged their songs, and listened for an arc of plot, a climax, a theme. To this day, I barely grasp the names of all the members of my favorite band — such a feat is not in my programming. It’s not how I enjoy music.

So, within this context (and being an alien with a poor grasp on reality), I assumed David Bowie was already dead. I mean, Kurt Cobain was dead and his band was my first rock favorite (circa 7th-9th grade). I think I discovered Bowie was still alive not sooner than three years ago. He has already been a Lazarus. Losing him again feels not piercing, but familiar.

There’s also my disinterest in celebrity culture. I enjoy the artwork, the content, the entertainment created by these cultural paragons — but they are not my friends. I’ve never spoken to them. I don’t want to simulate familiarity by learning about their breakups, their pet interests, their lineage. I’m interested in their stories insofar as they relate to their art, and no more.

So, while I understand a desire to be part of a greater narrative — to follow closely specific exalted beings and share emotional paths with strangers, acquaintances, the whole fucking world — my participation is hesitant. I can (and do) cry over tragedies, but he died of a terminal illness surrounded by loved ones at age 69. I don’t begrudge those that held him closer to their hearts a right to their own grief, but sometimes I feel like I don’t get it. I think that’s okay.

I see Bowie’s passing as a time for his significance to resurface in the common conversation. (I love this.) I re-listened to all of Station to Station and Ziggy Stardust and the tracks Space Oddity, Heroes, and Rebel Rebel (which my friend John sang to me on my birthday last month on a karaoke night at Redwing). I’ve enjoyed this occasion to revisit Bowie. I can celebrate, reflect, but I haven’t shed a tear. And I think that’s okay.

You appear to be even further removed than I am.

That’s probably okay.


 

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Trivia: n. unimportant details or information

I’m losing my patience for trivia worship. I don’t have a mind for holding facts — at least not facts about popular culture. I’m a goddamn encyclopedia for pet behavior and grammar laws, but I haven’t found my flock of fellow bird & word nerds, yet. If geeks are excited about counterculture, then why do I only ever hear them exchanging social affirmations? Do you know about this? Do you know about that? Do we fall on our knees for the same gods?

I love birds. All of my snapchats are of birds.

I am a bird nerd. I love birds. All of my snapchats are of birds.

Real eggheads study an obscure or challenging subject and revel in the love of knowledge. Media culture geeks are just like any insecure high-schooler who wants to be part of a clique that’s big enough for safety in numbers but exclusive enough to be “cool.”

Yes, we’ve decided that a certain amount of geekitude is cool. But, no poindexter is standing on a table, reciting arcane theorems and getting all the ladies at the parties. People are doing what they’ve always done, and that’s dish news and check that everyone knows the what-what of the happening, socially shaming people who can’t get with the program. What’s changed is that the never-ending internet has given us more what-what to sputter over our red cups. Almost anything goes as long as you have a little tribe of other geeks who are into your geek kink. And you do have a little tribe. You’ve seen them somewhere on Tumblr.

I understand, I really do, that having a common lexicon is a short cut to establishing shared experiences. But if you go on and on about Naruto, and I don’t know jack about Naruto, what am I supposed to do? Pretend I know what you’re talking about so I can skip on the noob history lesson? Change the subject? Point out that you’re a fucking nerd?

In a perfect world, I’d tell you I don’t know jack about whatever-his-face guy-with-a-rune on his headband (at first I thought it was blue-arrow-forehead child. Don’t act shocked, they’re both animated kids shows and I’m not a kid). Don’t give me a history lesson, I’d say. Instead, share an experience or an insight you gained from watching the show.

Do you really need to figure out which episodes we’ve both seen? Why can’t you just tell me what it all means to you? How it compares to your daily life? How it’s improved your relationship with your daughter? Why do I have to partake in this pissing contest that is proving I know enough about your geek fantasy to belong in your geek fantasy?

umbrella cockatoo on the porch

You just did a lot of reading. I will reward you with another bird picture.

This trivia spouting infects everything with a fandom, music appreciation included. Particularly, I don’t know how to react when a person knows more about my favorite band (Queens of the Stone Age)* than I do. I don’t know all the names of all the band members, though I’m certainly familiar with their discography. I can sketch out a list of songs for most albums with decent accuracy. Not that I care — I’ve just listened to R, Songs for the Deaf, Lullabies & Clockwork enough friggin’ times to know.

So, when this guy knows some obscure trivia (historical dates, formation of this or that) about my QOTSA and I yawn and pretend I know Josh Homme held this or that concert for his dead friend because I’m a bit embarrassed at my lack of expertise for my self-proclaimed “favorite”… when this guy goes off on some story I frankly don’t care about (don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed he’s retained so much information on his not-favorite-band), I’m realizing I need to just say: “Hey, thanks for teaching me something new, but what does it all really mean to you?”

When he gives me his baffled response, a “what” or a blank stare, I elaborate, “I don’t really care about the trivia. I care about the music. And I care about the music because of the band’s particular influence on my family, the way the shows I’ve attended shaped my understanding of rock and live performance and human appreciation for both. Tell me about an event you went to, how you felt, which beer you drank, how much sweat stained your t-shirt.”

I’ll tell you I first saw them when I was 17, with my dad in Austin, Texas. People there thought maybe he was robbing the cradle, because I dressed a bit too stylish and they didn’t know I was his daughter. I stood on my tiptoes to watch the longest drum solo I’ve ever seen, in a tiny venue called the Rose (it’s a lot like the Casbah, if you’re familiar with that), for “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” I saw people smoking weed and carefully looked to my dad for an appropriate reaction, as I’d never seen the stuff before.

Don’t recite some band drama you picked up in your readings — some trivia that has nothing to do with you. Make it personal. Make it you. Bands are bands and some are better, but I’m not sitting in a spa with Josh Homme so what do I care if he wrote this or that song in this or that city? Unless, of course, *you* lived in that city.

Look he's so cute he's squinting. Don't you enjoy all these bird pictures? They are like my children. Look at all these pictures of my children? I'm not boring you am I?

Look he’s so cute he’s squinting. Don’t you enjoy all these bird pictures? They are like my children. Look at all these pictures of my children? I’m not boring you am I?

What I’m trying to say is, I coasted through my history classes because they weren’t *my* story. I’m much more interested in humans right in front of me than humans that are “popular” enough to make it to the books or the silver screen. I’m more interested in you. Tell me a tale, and make it one I can’t watch on TV. Tell me something I don’t know.

As media expands, these little clusters of allegiance to external narratives (Did you watch the new Game of Thrones? Are you into Attack on Titan?) might just fall apart. Lifespans of trends are shortening as the fire hose of popular media keeps pouring. We can’t keep up with everything. Certainly, established common ground makes us feel less alone. But I hope that the growth of communication technologies connects us such that we don’t need these superficial obsessions to lope along in a conversation. We could download in instants what someone else has already digested (here’s an emotion/dream/experience I had — let me transmit it to you in a microsecond so you know what I mean) and instead of validating that we’re on the same island of thought, examine and compare our reactions in the same moment. Make meaning, not just chase meaning laid out before us for us to follow like helpless human eyes scan a constantly flashing, changing TV screen. Quit worshiping trivia. Create your own legends.

*P.S. I’m going to the show in SF on the 17th! Will I see any other San Diegans there?

Know-it-all Syndrome

Know-it-all Syndrome. You know what I’m talking about. Well, generally, it’s a bit more extreme than what I’ll discuss. “Sufferers” of this disease are known to annoy everyone around them by pretending knowledge on every topic of conversation. What I’m aiming at, however, is more the general adaptation of this habit, where you nod away things that are going over your head. What’s the harm in pretending to know about something you know nothing about? You’ll just Google it later.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug.

Look at this sheep. It is so smug. ‘Cuz it has cooler tastes in music than you.

Recently I promised myself to stop pretending. The idea for this vow grew out of the little brown notebook I carry in my purse. I’d started writing the things people told me, as they spoke to me. I named it my memory augmentation device. (My memory is unreliable enough without the drinking.)

Something started happening. I noticed a twinkle, an edge of excitement in their voices as I wrote. They’d add more, “oh, and look up The Ben Heck Show.”  I’d latched on to the idea a long time ago, from some reading, that “observation is sexy” and I realized I could show a little appreciation for someone just by writing these things down in front of them. Look, I’m listening.

This didn’t cure my know-it-all ‘syndrome’ right away. First, I must add that my case is a little unusual. Due to my delusional escapades as an alien princess, a Christian, a heterosexual… my connection to reality is a bit flimsy. I can never be sure just how far off I am when I’m confused about the order of things. Which century was pointillism? Where is the Bay of Pigs? I know the answers, I really do, but pretty much anyone can make me question myself. Hey, they didn’t spend 7 years of their childhood sharing brain-time with an extraterrestrial dignitary. They might be a little more in tune with the real world.

And look, I will never catch up with people who have been paying such close attention to 90s pop-punk that they actually know the name of the lead singer of Blink-182. (Seriously I don’t know and I don’t care.) So, I nod and pretend to know a few things about ‘culture’ and hope the subject changes soon. If a subject is truly boring to me, why slow down the trivia slinging? This I’ll allow, despite the vow. Let the nerds exchange their factoids quickly before they realize they need to educate me.

But, what I’m going to quit doing is going along with something I don’t know just to seem cool… and smart… and stuff. I kind of realized that no, just no, it doesn’t do you any good. People like being experts, they like knowing some esoteric thing about history, or science, or just some band you didn’t know existed. I’m going to let them show off that knowledge to me.

And, really, is there any shame in not knowing everything? In this information age, there is so much to know. Let’s stop trying to stay up on the same trends. Let us meander every which way, collecting data deeply, and share synopses. Let us learn this world collaboratively, and stop believing the loneliness will only go away as soon as we know exactly what our neighbor knows. Ask each other, what do you know? and stop pretending to know it, too.

An opportunity to test this theory came up immediately after I took the vow. Recently, I admitted I didn’t know what the Camino de Santiago was. I’ve been in a long conversation with a pretty pen-pal and I figure she deserves, as much as anyone, the truer me. So I confessed. I added, “Let me know if you find this endearing or you like me less for not memorizing all the same things you have memorized.”

She responded, “Now, I do find it endearing that you didn’t Google The Camino de Santiago. Although when I wrote it, I expected you would.”

What followed, in her own voice, not Wikipedia’s, is a personalized and very real description of the Way of St. James. I read it, twice.

Dayglow San Diego 2013 (a.k.a. Life in Color)

Dayglow San Diego pissed off about 3,000* people last year who couldn’t get down to the over-packed floor, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised when it got re-branded as “Life in Color” this year with noticeably restricted ticket sales.  I didn’t comprehend this at first. I walked in past a dude shouting “is anyone selling tickets,” I didn’t wait in line, and I walked in to what felt like a very empty San Diego Sports Arena Valley View Casino Center. I thought to myself, where is everyone?

I think they did right. Security felt relaxed throughout the night. I didn’t really get patted down; a tired-looking woman whisked her hands on my sides while avoiding eye contact. So much for the sticks of Stride I hid in my crotch (wasn’t sure if they’d be confiscating gum and I really wanted to have it, don’t judge me)…  I heard about 30 people bum-rushed the event fences, so for awhile they checked tickets in and out of the smoking patio.  Later, I helpfully asked a zoned-out yellow-shirter if he’d be checking my ticket. He laughed, said “yah” before ushering me through the door without even a glance. Ok, saucer-eyes, I guess not.

Or, maybe, you know, security didn't spend a lot of time patting me down because I didn't wear very much clothing.

Or, maybe, you know, security didn’t spend a lot of time patting me down because I didn’t wear very much clothing. Picture stolen from Mel Marcelo, who photographs like 90% of the event pictures in this town.

Later I jumped up on my lesbro’s shoulders for a better view of the stage because I felt like being TALL. I made eye-contact with one of the guards. ‘Want me to get down?’ I mouthed. He shrugged and let me stay. Kids sat all over the floor, enjoying light shows and massage trains. At Beyond Wonderland last year they did not allow anything like this. It felt like being in a kindergarten where you’re allowed to eat the crayons. I got down from my perch and said, “I’m looking for people to adopt as my rave children.”

I enjoyed the relative emptiness of the venue. We saw the same faces, had space to burst around the halls, could find friends again we made an hour ago.  A skinny, solo guy shook and jittered next to me. His eyes pointed in different directions. Overcome with empathy, I asked if he needed a hug, and squeezed him like I could make his pupils point forward again.  Later I spotted him looking much happier, and much less cock-eyed.

Another picture by Mel Marcado. I wasn't too sure about my decision to wear braids until a girl ran up to me, touched them, and told me I looked "so cute, like an anime character."

Another picture by Mel Marcelo. I wasn’t too sure about my decision to wear braids until a girl ran up to me, touched them, and told me I looked “so cute, like an anime character.”

I had a major moment of skeptism when they unleashed the confetti. I hadn’t even made it down to the floor yet; I sat in the darkened stands at the far end. A cloud blasted into the paint smothered bodies below us. “Great,” Katelyn said, “Let’s make paper mache. Wow.” She insisted that it was paper, but the pieces fluttered like wings and shimmered like mylar. They floated upward (turns out it was the rising heat) and really did look like live butterflies. I imagined insect antennae and legs sticking to wet skin and grimaced. Yet the whole night all I saw was a single square of tissue paper stuck to Mel Marcelo’s clavicle — the only evidence that the thick sparkling swarm had ever existed.

_____________________________

Visit this article for photos of a similar confetti cloud effect @ a paint party in Dallas last year – it’s a good read too.

*Ok, rough estimate. I had a difficult time tracking down actual numbers. Google Fu is weak today. I blame hangover. When do I ever not blame stuff on my hangovers?