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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Bohemia vs. the underground

I'm reading Laren Stover's Bohemian Manifesto right now, and it's a fun read that hits close to home a lot of the time, since my pink house is a mess of candles, vintage furniture and decor, books and guitar equipment. Stover describes historical Bohemian types like the Beats and the post-WWI Auntie Mame types, as well as modern-day hippie types like Phish followers or middle-aged herbal tea enthusiasts. So far, she completely avoids the rock underground, who I would consider heirs of Bohemia just as much as people who make a living selling tie-dye.

Last night at Beerland there was a punk rock prom to raise money for the Austin Music Network. It was basically an excuse to see what kind of outlandish formal wear people would wear. And the local punk rock and indie people didn't disappoint, even though it was too cold to be wearing, say, a sleeveless dress in my opinion. (I wore a turtleneck, but I did wear my leather pants in some semblance of celebration.) There were women who just went with the tackiest, poofiest 80s dresses you could find, some who felt this was the proper occasion to put their beehive hairdo talents to work, and one girl who thought one black slip + one see-through babydoll nightie with pink ribbon=one prom dress, especially with a huge pink bow in her hair to match. (She was the lead singer of the first band, The Sweethearts, which my friend and I liked the best out of the line-up.)

And I thought to myself, since I'm reading this book, that I know a lot of eccentric, march to the beat of their own drummer type people, and most of them are hugely into punk rock, or at least indie of some sort. There is little doubt in my mind that Bohemia, constantly morphing, is best expressed now by the DIY, punk sorts. I see Auntie Mame all over again when I see things like a friend's Christmas tree that she decorates every year with devils and Dia de los Muertos skeletons.

But the scene that we cluster around is more the rock underground, which no one would really call Bohemia. So, what's the difference? Is it just cosmetic? (Rock vs. jazz?) Or is there something substantially different about the shake-'em-up scensters of today compared to the ones of yesteryear?

22 Comments:

Blogger Phila said...

Here's my 1/50th of a dollar. I got involved with punk stuff circa 1980, and spent about the next 20 years playing in bands that comprised part of an ever-more-extreme subculture. In the end, I found I had to get away from it for my own sanity. I found it simultaneously too rigid and too lax; too judgmental, and not judgmental enough. Though I still have a tenuous connection with it, it's on my own terms these days. Younger friends of mine seem to go through the same things in their own bands (or art scenes, or whatever), and my parents, who were active in the beat scene, had the same complaints. It's as though there's a certain structure that underlies bohemian life, no matter what its supposed focus is...it first brings people together, and then drives them apart...partially through growth, and partially through familiarity breeding contempt. All of which is fine, as long as one acknoweledges the ephemeral nature of youth culture. But I know a few people who, at forty, are pretending to be sixteen...utterly terrifying! All in all, I've lost most of whatever romanticism I had about it. And I still regularly have nightmares about some of the people I used to be in bands with!

12/12/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

One thing I do love about Austin is that it's very laid back. Being a rigid scenester here is considered sort of shameful. I don't tend to meet too many super-judgemental types. I think that's why I rarely see any kind of implosions like the one you're describing.

12/12/2004

 
Blogger Phila said...

Sounds great...I hope the attitude spreads! Out here on the Coast, the urge to be cool at all costs still reigns supreme, I'm afraid. It's not that people are "rigid" exactly...it's that they're acting open-minded and eclectic and artistic and everything, without actually being that way. Everything's so self-conscious out here!

I played in Austin once or twice, years and years ago, on an outdoor stage at some gay bar called (if memory serves) "Changes" or "Chances." I hung around there for a few days, and it was indeed very "laid back." A great town, full of very nice, enthusiastic people! Haven't been back since, but it sounds like it hasn't changed much!

12/12/2004

 
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