san francisco - mark petrakis
Cultural Activity (formerly known as Art)
As I write this, experts in the field of mass delusion, namely the general public, are once again trying to separate themselves from the dark likelihoods that wriggle just beneath the surface of modern life. People in non-California parts of the world are of course using the occasion of the 39 muffinheads' departure to wag fingers at us. But I say: fie on them all. In California, eccentric behavior does lie close to the surface, but that means that it need not shrink from sight, burying itself deep inside inherited regionalisms, strict traditionalisms, or stuffy Way of Life-isms. Increasingly, we skip having Ways of Life out here. Who wants to get stuck owning a way of life? It makes more sense to acquire or lease them as needed -- cultures of convenience, instant communities of style. Sure, there are dangers inherent in this approach -- uprootedness, obsession, despair -- but hey, that's the price you pay for living in the land of dreams.
A place of beautiful mysteries
I'm not being flippant or snide here. The fact that contemporary life is crazy doesn't mean we'd be any better off if it weren't. On the contrary, perhaps we are simply suffering the pains of learning to swim in vaster seas of freedom. Change is in the air, and with it incredible flowerings of strange and beautiful mysteries. I have become a convert of late to the adage that life is stranger than I am capable of imagining it to be. This is not altogether a contemporary insight. It was Mark Twain who, when asked whether truth was indeed stranger than fiction, responded, "Of course. Fiction has to make sense."
On that note, let's stroll out into the freaky streets of my hometown.
I like your freaky style
Freaky: unexpected, original, personal, humorous, strictly unconventional. Freaks transform; they morph. In many ways, freaks are simply artists who have done away with the pretentious labels and the standard job descriptions. San Francisco is a home field for freaks, for unlike your cosmopolitan centers where status and style come with hefty price tags, here in the disco of Saint Francis, originality and inclusion are what matters. Cold coolness buys you little here. That's just not freaky enough. So, what's freaky?
Baggy dancers in the flashing club lights, lost in time, ravers of both the light- and deep-mix variety. Somewhere in the unaffiliated middle is a balance point where both the timid and the bold agree that peace, love, and understanding never go out of style. Can you argue with that? Shut up and dance!
Geek-girls and -boys lounging on the grass munching green burritos. Ravers or no, they have made the Web what it is, and are probably connected even during the workday with what's happening on their backchannel circuits. They understand virtuality and the self-madeness of story. They know that computers are like skateboards: something to get around with.
Getting swept up in a pagan parade. Could be surrounded by ravers or geeks, but the ritual rhythms here turn everyone into earth gypsies and old hippies for a time. Very horizontal, feminine-centered, and full of a healthy disrespect for media culture.
Drinking coffee with fashionmasters and robot builders, art school dropouts, poets, transvestites and fetish freaks, all sitting side by side, no one even raising an eyebrow at the others' outrageousness.
Not quite the same as it ever was
It is easy to assume that this is the way things have always been. Not so. What we are experiencing today is the result of an ongoing, forty-year struggle against prejudicial social barriers and anti-creative paranoia.
We have those who freaked before us to thank for the freedoms we freak on today. William Burroughs said of the late Allen Ginsberg, and I think it applies to the generous heart in all of us, "He was a pioneer of openness and a lifelong model of candor. He stood for freedom of expression and for coming out of all the closets long before others did. He has influence because he said what he believed."
That's a fitting epitaph for a tribal elder, and one mighty mighty freak.
Uncle Freak wants YOU!
I realize that I'm focusing here on a narrow cross-section of the city scene, but that's where the big freaking energy lives. It's also where the potential for the greatest expansion lies. You see, the overarching virtue of life on the tribal side of Tomorrowland is that musical tastes, sexual orientations, political and social passions, and even ethnic and racial distinctions pose few barriers to inclusion in the observance of the festivities.
You want in, no problem. Are you sure? You know it may be tough to find your way out again. You may lose your place in line. But if you're crazy enough to want it, then you may just be crazy enough to get what you want. If you can live with folks thinking of you as some MUTANT RAVER GEEK ALIEN ART FREAK, then who's to tell you otherwise?
Whether it's a Defenestration, a Gateway Rave, Carnaval, or Bondage A Go Go, freaks love a show -- especially those they can help to create. Having participated in a series of rituals together, having shared the memory of one pop epiphany after another, bonding is quick and easy. It may well be delusional, as in the case of the muffinheads, but that's another story. Users and abusers make for glum freaks who add little to urban circus life. For in the world of clowning, as it has long been in the world of art, life and imagination are inseparable. Discovering that secret reveals how relative truth is, and how much there is yet to find, if only we can see past the mountain of opinions and let ourselves, as Frank Zappa suggested 30 years ago, "freak out!"
(Thanks to Kenneth Laddish for the title and to glassdog.com for the Twain quote.)
People are both better and worse than they seem. That is, there is far more to even the most simple person than is evident by their personae. People are deep, even the seemingly shallow ones. Everyone is feeling so much more than they let on... I have a friend who has a huge part of her life that is practically unknowable to her loved ones, so there is much that is a very important part of her which they will never see. Imagine the gulf that exists between different cultures. Love is an interesting word. "Please, a little less love and a little more common decency." (Kurt Vonnegut)
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We have those who freaked before us to thank for the freedoms we freak on today.
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