I wanna be part of a Zeitgeist

AlmostFamousWhen I first watched Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous – ashamedly more recently than I care to admit – I was instantly jealous of the people the characters in the film were based on. When I sit down and listen to Led Zeppelin II  I am instantly transported to a time where teenagers grew up with their backs glued to shag carpet in their bedroom while a crackling vinyl record spins in the corner. When I listen to The Who or Jimi Hendrix I invariably comment to my wife that “I’d love to go back in time and be at Woodstock 1969” because that’s the time the music industry for mine was at its most exciting.

This period in rock music is a bonafide cultural zeitgeist, paving the way for almost every band that has come since. The people that were there at the time were witnessing some of the who would be the most important musicians of all time playing some of the most important songs of all time.

I want to be part of a zeitgeist.

To place myself in a point in music history: I was just old enough to remember Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit being played on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s enduring Rage programme, but wasn’t really old enough to understand just how important they were in the scheme of things. And the remainder of the 90’s was when Australian rock really hit its stride – with soon to be mainstays  You Am I, Something For Kate, Regurgitator and Grinspoon really coming into their own.

Despite this though I grew up fascinated by music and in awe of the people that made it. My first real music love was the Smashing Pumpkins. I still vividly remember hearing Siamese Dream single Disarm on my not-so-great-sounding clock radio for the first time. The unforgettable nasal drawl of Billy Corgan was hauntingly beautiful, coming to life amidst a symphony of acoustic guitars and an arranged string orchestra. And that was it, I was hooked.

When I finally bought the album not long after hearing Disarm for the first time it was practically on constant rotation. I’d wake up and play it while I was getting dressed for school in the morning and fall asleep to it playing on repeat. Siamese Dream – and subsequent Smashing Pumpkins albums for that matter – was a soundtrack for a period of my life.

Still one of the greatest albums of all time.

But that wasn’t the moment I fell in love with the art of music. That moment came much later when I was laying on the floor of my bedroom – probably brooding – listening to track 7 on the album. Soma is an incredible song in almost every way; building from a slow and sombre affair to a bona fide hard rock anthem . It was that very moment that music went form being something that just kind of happened to something that was a work of art and passion. It was probably the first song I ever had a serious conversation with a friend about; one I distinctly remember devolving into praise for its brilliant pacing and progression. And that guitar solo; well that just takes the cake.

In 1998 I saw the Smashing Pumpkins (sans drummer Jimmy Chamberlin who was replaced by Matt Walker) at Melbourne Park in what I would’ve described as the best moment of my then-young life. Those larger-than-life character who I’d idolised for so long were less than 100 metres away, playing the songs that had accompanied me as I grew into an adult. As I looked around the crowd peppered with black ZERO t-shirts and shaved bald heads it hit me that this was a shared moment we’d all remember and treasure for years to come.

But despite how much those couple of hours meant to me and thousands of others it still didn’t feel like I felt a cultural zeitgeist should.

Watching the fervour around Pokemon GO I can’t help but feel that this thing – this game – somewhat resembles the sort of zeitgeist. Sure, they’re not sneaking into a Kiss concert à la Detroit Rock City, but people are doing some pretty mental and/or stupid things to ‘catch ’em all’ as it were. But despite this is feels like a bunch of people connecting through something rather than because of something; like a bunch of people who want to be a part of something. These people aren’t drawn together because they share the same interests or passions necessarily, they’re drawn together because Pokemon GO is the next big disposable thing. Whether I’m right or not, one thing is for sure;  it’s a phenomenon.

I don't get it.
I don’t get it.

And here’s the thing:  I have never associated that feeling of being a ‘part of something’ with video games. Make no mistake; I’ve had great times with video games. Playing Pro Evolution Soccer 5 waiting for the next match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup to play out was epic. Playing Persona 3 FES all day every day over a hot Melbourne summer was brilliant. Days playing Forza Motorsport 6 are memorable. But they’re not the sorts of things I would ever clamber over people to experience, or find groups of like-minded people to share them with. And even if you did it’s a culture that likes to be at odds with itself much of the time that it probably wouldn’t be much fun.

I was inspired to write this, in part because of Lucius’ fascination with Pokemon Go, but also because I’ve been reflecting a lot on how we capture culture in a world that moves so quickly. Who will remember cult Australian music show Recovery except for those who saw it, for example? Or what it was like sitting in the local independent record store, The Muses, when it held a listening party for the long-awaited Tool album Lateralus?

But everyone knows about Woodstock 1969 and when the Beatles came to Australia in 1964.

Perhaps I’m searching for something that will never happen. Perhaps my expectations are out of whack. Perhaps, even, I’m romanticising a point in time I could never understand. Who knows. But one thing I do know is this: in 2010 I saw Glassjaw live in Melbourne; a moment I’d been waiting for for a decade. The moment they came on – opening their set with a sneaky rendition of Cosmopolitan Bloodloss – the few dozen sweaty blokes down the front held onto each others’ shoulders and screamed the words to the song right back at singer Daryl Palumbo. That is a moment that will stay with me forever.  I didn’t know these blokes from a bar of soap but we were connected by sharing something we loved. I just wish I could have that same feeling with millions more people. But not because an app told me to.