It's been a while since I last posted anything here. I thought that I would like to share something that I am putting in my next zine, if you are so inclined to read it.
For background info, it's about trying to work in the punk scene as an out male-bodied, male-identified queer in my hometown of Provo, Utah, international spiritual ground for Mormonism, arguably one of the most stifling and conservative cities in the nation.
The Lowest Common Denominator
I, especially, am prone to assholism. Check it out:
The night proceeded as I had come to expect. Kids piled in and in and in. We're taking in a lot tonight, that's for sure, I thought, checking out the wad of cash that grew bigger and bigger in my hands. I sat in my chair for most of the night, talking to the kids coming and going, watching some of the bands out of the corner of my eye. It's sort of a bittersweet feeling to realize that you don't really care about the vast majority of the bands that play at a venue that you always volunteer, even as you are happy to see that everyone is having a good time. It makes it harder to rationalize that you're in it for the music, (lifer city, chah!) when the music fucking sucks. So, to answer any nagging doubts, one must establish in their head a theoretical compromise. I came to the hypothesis that not all bands suck, and the community that springs up around the ones that I really care about is what I was there for. Here comes the adapted Sturgeon's Law again! 90% labor, seemingly wasted, and 10% pure viewing satisfaction, worth dying for, and certainly worth fighting for. That's what got me in there to volunteer.
Sure, these brummagem bands are part of the scene in the way that the people that live in the house next door to the Cunningham House were my neighbors. However, we had never learned each other's names. We would probably see a few crucial ways that we are different on some surface level, and then withdraw, never to see the myriad of ways that we are similar, so convinced we were of the righteousness of our separation.
It's the asshole in me that just doesn't care.
I delight in my individuality. I love to express myself. I will do so by occasionally wearing cheap drag and gaudy makeup. I am momentarily neither man or woman.
I will be stared at.
And I will talk.
I am vocally and physically denouncing their gods and religions, to the point of upsetting offense of the other party (though it is admittedly an easy accomplishment). They can't handle freaks in Provo. It is obvious to them that their rules do not scare me.
Its the asshole in me does all these things. But its the dick in me that delights that I am so obvious –that's right, folks, its the dick in the asshole-- not the happy homo or the television-friendly good guy gay they had hoped for. Instead, they have a pissed off queer. The truth is, I try to push discourse farther than they are willing to go. Just trying to help out, you know. Maybe they'll come to accept less threatening forms of difference, having no other choice.
“You sure are sorry, aren't ya?” the yell out of the window of their Ford F-350. I pull the threads of a neon orange wig out of my eyes to get a good look.
“Me? Sorry? Honey, why that's so cute. I'd never apologize to you. Not in my whole life.”
I remember a band called the Elizabethan Report that had garnered quite a following from the BYU students. They played Steamers a few times, and everytime a legion of fans came. I sat behind the coffee counter, hoping to serve the crowd, maybe earn some tipes, but it was all in vain. The kids bought absolutely nothing, since Mormons don't buy coffee. Duh.
Nevertheless, if I were the kind to look on the sunny side, I should be pleased that sixty kids would show up to the venue that never showed up at all on any other time. Absolutely none of the Steamers regulars showed up, which, in a way, was a good thing. It increased the likelihood of them being able to pay for other shows. In an economic sense, it made perfect kind of sense: dollars and cents. It made the bucks, alright! There was definitely going to be more money for the venue, now that we were leveling the playing field, soliciting to the lowest common denominator. You'd think I would be happy. The Elizabethan Report played well, and it was quite telling they didn't trash anything, didn't leave me a mess to clean up. They were well behaved and polite, and they delighted everyone that had come out to see them play. But they bored me to tears and tempted me to violence, or perhaps the more grievious sin of heckling.
The lowest common denominator is not what I signed up for. I didn't want to sacrifice what I believed in to get a chance to do something that I believed in. Perhaps everyone should be glad that the decisions were never solely in my hands, because the venue would have surely gone bust a long time ago in Provo, Utah. Nobody in the region would have cared for my kind of music. It would take an impartial person, not to mention a skilled social weaver, to successfully build a scene based upon conflation in Provo. Fire and ice, oil and water, blood and chocolate, and oh, how delicious a social experiment a show would have been that would have attracted the punks and the Mormons...! I always imagined a massive show with six bands, deliberately planned. There would be an equal number of bands representing both of the intransigent youth cultures of Utah county. The damned, godless, and recalcitrant locals playing right alongside the ambitious, imported, faithful Mormon college students. One band would play right after the other, forcing the crowd to intermingle. Done, perhaps thus to eliminate the “them”, from “them and us”. Two turn to one.
Ah, but it had been a mournful long time since the gallant efforts of “mix-em-up” at August Arts. Nobody had the courage for that kind of thing all these years since. There have been some individuals more free than I, free of grudges, free of animosity, free of bad experiences that walked freely between worlds. Heathens that walked upon BYU campus and never felt sick to their stomach. Temple recommend carrying Mormons that played rock shows in sweaty, smoky beer bars, coughing through their set. These people and their social skills of empathy may still make me change my mind, but in the meantime I remain an implacable enemy of religion. As such, I have little more than disdain for the mainstream of the BYU students. I see them as children of the house of privilege that are being trained to be willing footsoliders for a dark social order. It's not very funny. They may well be ignorant children, blindly carried along from stage to stage, simply hapless victims of religion--And aren't we all?
The conflict is that I refuse to be religion's victim at all. I am an arrogant ass to think that I am any better than them, but I won't be a fool that doesn't know their own enemy when they're in my own backyard. Rejecting all makebelieve of religion surely condemns me in the eyes of God, but Matty Luv of Hickey sang it best: “Dying don’t scare me, just promise me that there won’t be any squares at my funeral.” God is not invited, nor are any prayers. Come as a human being, come to dance on my grave, or pee in my ashes, come for the free food, but don't you dare come to pity me.