Now, I'll admit that when I was walking up behind the stage I was a bit disappointed as the music was neither here nor there. If I didn't know MYD was performing, I would likely have just kept going paying it no mind. When I turned the corner though, I was greeted with a falsetto and a stage strewn with carpets, incense, and Buddhas. The lead singer didn't disappoint either with his sarong and Hindu facial décor. I immediately began snapping shots. When I framed the shot with Buddha in the foreground, I chuckled to myself and a shocked woman asked, "Is he laughing?"
I raced to the back to see who else had come to see the freak show and sure enough there were a lot of people there having a good laugh. The general consensus, at least between Steve and me, was that the band itself was decent but that guy (pointing to the lead singer) has got to go. Then Steve made the observation (Steve's family, by the way, is Thai) that, for many Buddhists, placing Buddha beneath your head is taboo as it suggests that you think that you are above Buddha. Then it hit me. Holy fuck! This is all a put-on. The guy isn't Buddhist and he certainly isn't Hindu. That's why all the pseudo-philosophy on the web makes no sense: it's a prop like anything else. Well, that was it for me; the time had come to heckle. So I went to the front of the stage and started the usual high school stuff: hyperbolically emoting to the singers performance, flipping the bird, and fake nose picking, interspersed with shouts of "NOT SENSITIVE ENOUGH!". Sure, not exactly clever but it got the job done. The bearded guitarist with a touch of sarcasm said "I see we have a critic!" He handled it exactly how you are supposed to handle this kind of thing which is to acknowledge the heckler but do it in a way that says "This is what I want to do and I'm not doing it for you! Now fuck off!" Well done, I thought, you get props. The lead singer though just continued with the script.
Later, I went to the Rice knowing that these guys were likely to be there. A woman then confronted me. The conversation went somewhat like this:
"What you did back there was not cool."
"Well, they suck."
"Well, why do you think that?"
"C'mon, this band has this whole "worship me" vibe that is utterly contemptible. I mean the band is pretty good - a lot of what the guitarists are doing is really interesting for example - it's the lead singer that is the problem."
"Well he is my husband. And that was really cowardly of you to do that."
"No, cowardly would have been me mocking them 20 yards back. I was right up in their face telling them how much they sucked. The whole white boy appropriation of other culture thing is pretty loathsome. Let me ask you something, is he Buddhist?"
"What does that matter?"
"Well I was told that Buddhists don't display Buddha beneath their head. So is he Buddhist? I mean he is using Buddha statues on stage."
"No, he's not."
"I knew it!"
"But I'm Buddhist and I'm not offended. I think it worked well theatrically..."
"Oh I see so he's taking someones religion and using it as a prop?"
"Well, if I was wearing a China T-shirt would you be offended?"
"No, that's not a philosophy or a religion; that's totally different. This is total white boy appropriation for his own ends which is to have to have the audience suck his virtual cock. I've got no issues with the band - it's him!" I say this while pointing to her husband who has been listening in. I then turn to him and continue the tirade. "I hate to break it to you but my transformation doesn't start with your band. It starts with me. Your insistence on that is contemptible..."
"Well, I'm not saying that..."
"Read your own website. It all focuses on you and your band. Playing music is about community and not look at me. You're a fucking vampire demanding the audience suck your virtual cock."
"Well we're clearly not getting anywhere but I'll take you comments into consideration for the next show."
"Fuck you! If this is what you want to do, then Fuck me! No! That's not the point - don't be a pussy! If you believe in this, then fucking do it but I have to tell you you're full of shit."
"Well, look were just doing these kind of gigs so as to get to what we really want to do; theatre." I shit you not he said Theatre! Now here, having read their website, I inexplicably thought I'd get to hear all about positive activism and how this is part of their plan to make the world a better place via their music and etcetera but then, to my shock, I get "Theatre"? "We want to take this to a theatre and bring in dancers and puppets and other things. It's going to be cool."
--BANG---suddenly I get it!
"Holy shit, you ARE doing theatre! No, that's cool. I can reconcile with that. I was judging you as a live band and with live music it's about honesty and putting yourself out there. In theatre you're doing drag. I don't mean drag as a put-down mind you, but that's a totally different thing and I can deal with that. I just I was just taking your band as a live band."
But this MYD theatre to me is ultimately a troubling thing. To understand my issues with this let me quote from Lester Bangs column about the Clash:
So I floated down the elevators and when I got there I saw a sheepish group of little not-quite punks huddled around one couch. They were dressed in half-commital punk regalia, a safety pin here and there, a couple of little slogans chalked on their school blazers, their hair greased and twisted up into a cosmetic weekend approximation of spikes. "Hey," I said, "You guys Clash fans?"
"Well," they mumbled, "sorta.."
"Well, whattaya mean?" You're punks, aren't ya?"
"Well we'd like to be...but we're scared..."
When Joe [Strummer] came down I took him aside and indicating the poor little things, told him what they said, also asking if he wanted to get them into the gig with us and offer a little encouragement for them to take that next, last, crucial step out into full-fledged punk pariahdom and thus sorely needed self-respect.
"Forget it," he said. "If they haven't got the courage to do it on their own, I'm bloody well not gonna lead 'em by the hand."
Strummer isn't asking for adulation and he isn't there to tell his fans how to act or view the world. Yet, this dependency is exactly what MYD is about. So the question for MYD is which one do they put first: is it adulation you crave or making great music? I think it is the former. The lead singer would love nothing more than having a line of kids line up for his autograph like those Morrisey fans did at Record Rack years ago. It's like the misguided kids who, when asked what they want to be when they grow up, reply "I want to be famous." In the end, you either have a band or you have a put-on. And MYD is the latter.
And so with that I went to see the Fatal Flying Guilloteens which is where I saw transcendence in the form of live music the way it should be seen. The players are giving themselves entirely to the music. The audience and the band are celebrating each other. It's loud, chaotic, hot, sweaty, and inspiring; it's a moment when the world stops and everything that is good about it is right there in that room. That, my friends, is what live music is all about and that is my kind of positive activism.