Get off my lawn

A diatribe from a 40 year old man

Electronic dance music. I try to get it. I’ve tried to get it many times. I’ve gone to many a party, from the volcanoes of Bali to the Great Wall of China to the beaches of Goa to the Acropolis of Lindos. I’ve shaken my ass. I’ve put my hands in the air like I don’t care. I’ve done the move where you put up one index finger and bounce. I get the crowd appeal, sampling popular songs ranging from the 60s to today. I get how the repetitive beat makes a body move. I get how the repetitive beat eventually builds to a crescendo, sometimes accompanied by a bit of synth and perhaps the DJ asking if we are ready. And then some repeated vocals, and the crowd goes nuts. I get all that.

What I don’t get is this: why do people do this to themselves?

I think back to the late nights I used to enjoy. Punk bands. Three chords and three minute songs. A sound that forced a thousand people to surge the stage and rage out, inhibitions cast aside.

One might say, “Hey old timer, what you’re talking about ain’t much different. Both genres are repetitive and predictable as a preschool picture book.” I get that too. But there is a difference.

The difference is drugs and ego. Neither of these elements were necessary to enjoy a punk show. I’ve been sober for both kinds of events, and on other occasions, a bit drunk, and across the board, punk remains fun. EDM is fun for about ten minutes. Maybe less. Often, less.

As for ego, let me explain further. A typical punk show is in a seedy venue and stagecraft is limited to antics of the performers (especially if ska is involved) and a banner behind the drummer reminding us of the band’s name. The audience is allowed to express any number of emotions: joy, rage, sadness, or vacuousness. It’s all fine. We are here for each other.

An EDM show is tens of thousands of dollars worth of lights, smoke effects, and one or several crazy LED displays popping out trippy animations. On those screens, the DJ’s name and face explode out across the crowd to everyone’s delight, though he’s really just flipping switches and doing an occasional index finger thrust. And you’d better look happy the whole time. Even better if you’re in a coveted VIP section with bottle service and all the rest. The crowd feeds the DJ and in theory the DJ feeds the crowd.

I know this makes me sound like a cranky old man who can’t understand the nuance of EDM (if there is such a thing), much in the same way as my old man couldn’t understand the angsty energy of punk, trying in earnest to get me to appreciate the honesty and purity of Neil Young and Bob Dylan and the Beatles. He was eventually successful in the end.

With that, I’ll end with a hypothetical: is it possible for me to not only appreciate what genres preceded my music of choice, but also the genres that emerge with the next generation? Or am I doomed to forever be the old man yelling at the damned kids on his lawn?

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End of an era: Final days in Kathmandu

In less than a month, I fly out of Tribhuvan International Airport for the last time.

At least, the last time in a long time.

Three years I’ve been here now. Kathmandu, Nepal has undoubtedly been the strangest host I could ever hope for. The thing is, I never imagined myself in Nepal. Or anywhere in South Asia for that matter. In fact, I fully expected to remain in South Carolina for at least another couple years.

Back in June 2015, I had just been offered a position at a local middle school, where I’d be teaching humanities — a dream job I’ve sought for years. Working with underprivileged youth in my home state, a great principal leading an enthusiastic staff, the school a ten minute walk from the house I’d bought just two months prior, what more could I want? Then everything was turned on its head.

In another blog, sometime in the future, I’ll detail the events between that decision point in June and the nine months that followed. It’s not a nice story. For now, I’ll write about Kathmandu. Those stories are better.

I’ve written about the process of moving out here with two dogs, and my first impressions of Kathmandu, as well as a few other stories. What I’ve never written about is how anxious I felt during those first few weeks and months.

One of the running jokes when I arrived was, “Did that building collapse during the quake, or before?” It’s more serious than funny. Nepal is euphemistically called A City Under Construction. It’s a nice way of saying A Total Shit Show.

Many buildings would be deemed unfit for occupation in the developed world. The streets are choked with diesel smoke, dust, bad drivers, and cows. Eating out, you stand a one-in-five chance of falling ill. Eating in, the odds drop to merely one-in-ten. The Kathmandu valley is bisected by the holy Bagmati River, which reeks of raw feces 365 days a year. Local produce is wilted and dirty, and imports are marked up by 200% or more. Just a few of the highlights.

That first week in country, I was terrified of leaving the hotel. Everything looked too dangerous. 

I realize I sound like a typical Expat Princess, griping about how it’s so much harder out here. Keep in mind though, after Indonesia, I no longer wished to work in the developing world. I’d followed The Wife like that guy who exploded social media a few years ago, minus the glamor and with a less happy ending.

By the end of the first year, my marriage had fallen apart, I had contracted Super Giardia, and my salary was eviscerated by Brexit. Two years to go!

This is counterbalanced by many positives. I developed my professional practices and graduated from a pockmarked resume to a pretty solid one. In these three years, I became a great teacher. I mean, I was probably a good teacher before, but what I know now and what I’m able to do now, three years down the road, is incredible. I do not think this would’ve happened had I stayed in Carolina.

I made new friends and reconnected with old ones. I’ve done a great deal of hiking and adventuring around the country, from the highest peaks in the world in Khumbu to the grassy safari lands of Chitwan.  I’ve holidayed in Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Goa, Abu Dhabi, and Bangkok. I always wanted to fast-boat my way across the Andaman Sea islands, so I did. I spent a lovely week with my family in Tuscany before enjoying a blowout night in Rome.

Aside from that, Kathmandu life is pretty routine. The weekend is a mishmash of social events, usually involving hikes, barbecues, rooftop sundowners, and barhopping. Often, all the above.

In recent conversations with friends, I’ve referred to Kathmandu as a sort of purgatory. Emphasis on the purge. I came in with a whole lot of baggage. More specifically, 350 kilograms of troubled relationship, self-doubt, high anxiety, and desperate need of therapy. Through meditation, mindfulness, psychoanalysis, and a healthy dose of hedonism, I feel leveled out.

As I write, the movers are on their way to collect my stuff. It’s much lighter at just 250 kilos. I leave behind many memories, not all of them good, but plenty that are. I’ll return one day — Annapurna and the Three Passes call my name — but for now, I’m eager to start my new adventure, this time well away from Asia!