Intense, surreal, remote, dynamic. Come along with us as we chronicle the adventures of the soul through psychedelic, drone, noise, experimental, pop music based around Chicago bands in particular and local bands everywhere.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two Thoughts on Culture

I am now a married man!

In the course of getting married, one of the gifts we received was funding help for a honeymoon to Hawaii. I was excited to check out a tropical climate -- the first of my life -- and rest after weeks and weeks of clerking in the Loop without a break. My naivete lead me to believe that I would be eating fresh fish on a nightly basis in Hawaii, supporting a local culture and local food that I could not possibly find here in Chicago.

In order to obtain a package deal, we booked through a tour agency, which ensured us a ride from the airport. Riding through Honolulu, I was struck by how rough and industrial the city looked -- the road from the airport to the resort sector wound through Honolulu's industrial burnout, with the very graffiti, abandoned warehouses, and railway shipping I see on a daily basis at our Kinzie / South Ukranian Village practice/storage space.

Once our driver reached the resort stretch, he did not hesitate to point out our landmarks to watch. "There's your Jimmy Buffett restaurant." "There's your Louis Vitton," etc. I suddenly felt as though Michigan Avenue was checked and stored in the belly of our aircraft, enduring the same nine hour flight to some strange land that did not really lead us to another culture.

Luckily, we only spent two days on the resort stretch in Honolulu, where I shamefully held my head when I could not provide the cash to the very transients I encountered while clerking in the Loop on a daily basis. If I ever felt homesick, I could surely exit the hotel lobby and pick up a Chicken McNugget meal, or check out the overpriced liquor at the neighborhood convenience store -- of which there are an astonishing number in Waikiki, a succinct statement about the demands of a culture that is composed almost entirely of tourism, with the locals hiding in spaces that are completely, totally off-limits to Continental travelers.

Maui was an entirely different story -- rural, full of natural discoveries I had not ever imagined (much less viewed with my own eyes). And here I stood, in a rural town that consisted of two whole streets, looking for the local fish place, looking for a deal on that Hawaiian coffee that not even my local importer/distributer will sell to me -- too expensive. Of course, even in Maui -- which features local coffee farming collectives -- the local coffee approaches $20 per pound. That's a price I simply cannot afford to pay, even if I am transporting the beans myself. The mahi mahi is pretty much the only fish I found on menus around town -- much like rural Wisconsin, or Milwaukee, or Door County, the places that formed my youth, every place on the street is a diner or sandwich shop, almost abiding by some strange mathematical equation that only deviates as the needs of those transplanted from the continent demand.

The fish isn't any cheaper. The hamburgers are $14. I suddenly dream about home while sitting in paradise, walking to my importer, picking up a pound of Tanzanian Peaberry beans and then grabbing two deep dish spinach slices on the way home. That's usually where my $14 land when I spend that amount of money (or, of course, records).

And then I heard the music. Maui's local rock station -- which features two positions on the dial depending upon which side of the mountains and which side of the island you are currently driving -- is eclectic, independent, and comprehensive. A guide to the entire history of rock. While driving the road to Hana, we listened to deep cuts by Buffalo Springfield and Status Quo, next to singles by Dave Matthews Band, Stone Temple Pilots, The Decemberists, and Pink Floyd.

Suddenly, my senses overflow with a completely unexpected taste of local culture: rock music, unnecessary in a place where seasons do not exist and there is no tension whatsoever with the rhythms of nature, is relegated to one simple statement, approximately 40 years in the making, while cookie-cutter reggae beats dominate all other local stations, providing a true taste of Hawaiian culture.

Local culture, I found, is almost never what you expect it to be, no matter how many opinions you read prior to traveling, no matter how many tips you receive.

Culture is repetitive consumption in many cases -- a thought that I have had numerous times at Permanent Records and Reckless Records, where I often realize that even though I am supporting independent music, I am buying exactly what they say I should buy and exactly what everyone else tells me to buy through a convoluted path of local shows and rock criticism. This fact was drilled home as we spent one particular night walking up the resort stretch looking for a place to eat after one particular restaurant we scouted in hip guides was closed.

In a land far away, farther than I have ever traveled, I found all of the tones of home transported in ways sometimes unique, sometimes stale. The place I expected to visit never existed. Which leads me to appreciate the minute semblance of home-grown Chicago culture even more than I used to -- we enjoy heavy psychedelic rock because we have seasons here. The weather changes. That changes everything -- there isn't any need to actively stimulate the senses with hard, abrasive guitar sounds and reverb drenched, dark production when your only view is the ocean (on all sides) and you can predict the weather within minutes.

And yet I cannot escape the summary of rock n roll that I was provided in Maui. A gift wrapped for me in the most unexpected fashion, presented to my ears immediately: all those genres we hold dear, all those divisions we find on the Continent, they are narrow, they are superficial, they are simply surface battles, family struggles, between parties that have more in common than not.

I wonder how I missed this fact, this interpretation of rock n roll, when I have trumpeted this point about American politics for years. When one looks through the lens of liberal political theory from Hobbes through Gauthier, from Kant and Rousseau through Rawls, one finds that the divisions between American Democratic and Republican parties to be terribly small -- in fact, I'd wager that in the last century, no other "democratic" nation that elects its leaders features two parties that share as many ideological boundaries as the Democrats and Republicans.

And to think, I used to think that Pink Floyd and The Decemberists did not even meet at any point in my appreciation of my music catalog.