“Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers.“
~ Marshall McLuhan
How do you stay connected during these unusual times? What have you learned that’s surprised you? Have you made any counterintuitive discoveries along the way?
Remember when the coronavirus quarantine was just getting started? Folks were canceling classes and events with messages like “We’re taking a two-week break” or “See you in May!”
Ah well… Good times, right? Turns out the virus had other plans. Especially here in the USA where many in power stuck to a stubborn disbelief that any unforeseen disaster could outlive the attention span of the normal news cycle.
For folks in New Zealand, Taiwan, and other science-respecting countries around the globe, another story is told. A wise national response guided by the best practices of health officials and willing citizens created different results.
Regardless of where you are in the world, your dance with uncertainty continues. Travel restrictions, economic turmoil, and a shared sense of shock are all part and parcel to our global community. The basic facts are finally settling in.
Wear a mask when you’re anywhere near other people. Give folks you’re not already in a bubble with a wide berth. Avoid indoor gatherings in enclosed spaces. Wash your hands. Stay home when you can. Inconvenient? Yes. Rocket science? No.
Despite the shared backdrop that we’re all experiencing, our thirst for human connection is as strong as ever. Regardless of whether you’re locked down solo or on the front lines as an essential worker the environment has changed.
Marshall McLuhan theorized that every new technological advance in media and communications is in effect an extension of our nervous system. If that’s the case, this pandemic is activating these new nerves like nothing else in history.
Prior to this, Zoom was barely known outside of tech circles, I was what you might call an ‘early adopter’. Within a few short months, it’s become as ubiquitous as the telephone, calling the need for office space into question.
For you, it might be serving clients online or gathering your group into a virtual classroom. For me, the big shift has been with my DJ practice. Spinning records for a room full of dancing people is a huge part of my life.
You’ve got far-flung friends out there. The fact that the internet enables a real-time connection is what makes for an entirely new form of connectivity in the modern age. The experience is entirely different from either end.
On one hand, you aren’t getting physical feedback from a room full of dancers, but on the other, you’re able to create a tangible connection with people anywhere else in the world.
When you’re playing your records or teaching a class out into the great unknown of the internet, magic can happen that you would never expect. Not only are you transcending the space divide, but you also have the ability to close the time gaps well.
What do I mean by that? Well, we all know how social media has a way of fishing old friends out of the woodwork for better or for worse.
Playing records for folks you’ve lost touch with for many years is like opening up a whole new channel in your heart. I never expected such strong reactions to arise until it started happening.
You probably have various friends and acquaintances out there that populate the different chapters of your life. For me, there are a few that go all the way back to my high school and college years. Some from my punk rock and noise era. Quite a few from the rave days. And more recent random ones who have spread out across the country and the world.
The thing about any of your friends from any era in your past is that unless you are really tight with them and have made the effort to keep up with them over the years, they have no idea of how you’ve evolved.
Who you’ve become and what talents you’ve developed in the years in between is a mystery. And when it comes to your life story, there’s no better way to tell it than with your music collection.
Way back in my noisy post-punk days in Denver I was part of a posse of people that partied together, played in bands, and generally caused trouble in the Front Range underground. Most of these folks have fallen off my radar and the Denvoid Diaspora scattered everyone to the far corners of the globe. My best friend at the time became a big-wig in the Masons, my other good buddy apparently now has a career with the CIA in Washington DC.
One particular member of our little clan was always somewhat of a mystery to me. We had many a moment together on various sides of live shows or after-hours gatherings yet we never really crossed over to becoming close friends. I always held him in high esteem and recognized a unique intellect.
So imagine my surprise when one day on one of my social networks where users are obscured by anonymous ‘handles’ I saw a graphic image posted by someone I’d long been following that could have only come from someone who had been in our early ’80s Denver underground circles. I immediately commented with a clue that only someone from there would recognize. He asked me to send a private message and that’s when I learned who this is and why he prefers to remain anonymous.
Within a week his username started showing up in the listener list of my live streams. Why this electrified me so much became a question in my mind that demanded an answer. It was as if I could pick up where we left off decades ago and fill in the missing parts of my story. I found myself compelled to share more and more of my collection.
He would comment occasionally in the chat, and I’d catch myself wondering how a particular piece of music or mix would land with him. Meanwhile, friends in Texas, Chicago, Florida, and elsewhere would appear in the listener list and chime in. New acquaintances that I know from online interactions only have given me positive feedback that’s like the wind in my sails.
And yet whenever my old acquaintance from Denver appears it feels like a direct channel into our shared history opens up. I know where we left off musically. He was the synth keyboard player in a post-punk no-wave band. I was a Punk-turned-Industrial troublemaker who was doing ‘conceptual performance art’ and busking on the street with sheet metal and trash cans.
The soundtrack to our scene where when we went our separate ways were groups like Einstürzende Neubauten, The Birthday Party, and Throbbing Gristle. He knew nothing about the years in between when I had developed a taste for jazz, reggae, and soul music, or the era in the ’90s and ‘00s when I learned how to DJ and mix the dance music genres of House, Techno, and Breakbeat.
Through my music, I’ve been able to fill in the gaps and one day when we cross paths in person I’m sure that we’ll be able to pick up right where we left off. Meanwhile, we’re sitting tight far across the country waiting out the pandemic.
McLuhan wasn’t kidding when he said: “The Medium is the Massage.” And ‘massage’ is no typo, he was serious about modern communications mediums touching our ‘sensorium’ in entirely new ways. This is our chance to flex new muscles.
Covid-19 is a teacher none of us could have predicted with lessons none of us asked to learn. Yet there is wisdom we will gain and new senses to develop as we move through this time in history.
So take heart as you hunker down. We need each other more than ever as we face the losses we all will share. If we can come out of it kinder and more connected than ever we will one day be together to count our blessings.
With all my best till next week,