The recent death of my maternal grandfather, with whom I had a very close relationship up through my early college years, has underlined for me many of the existential questions that are part of my mind's background hum: specifically, what is the point of all this? When we lay on our deathbeds, what will we think of as having accomplished in life?
When I listen to NPR or read the paper or even walk into a bookstore, I find myself in the presence of people who have, at least for some moment, accomplished something: they have brought peace to war-torn nations, they have climbed up the mountain of Moloch, they have created something that others find pleasing, or intriguing, or thought-provoking. Then, there's the rest of us: going through our lives, earning paychecks, coming home at night, going out on weekends.
When I was in graduate school I first came upon the idea that there was real value in parties; for me, they were about bringing people together and seeing what happened as a result. When I got into the rave scene I loved the utopian idealism of it, the idea that PLUR could unite a diverse group of several hundred people for a night, and out of that, new things might be born. As the scene hit its heights around 2000, I began to see a darker side to it, and when September 11 happened, it had the effect of making me doubt everything I had believed; while we partied and rolled and engaged in hedonistic rites, other parts of the world were suffering, and their resentment against us seemed justified. It was at this point that the voice of that ancient curmudgeon, Ecclesiastes , began whispering "vanity, all is vanity" in my ear. When I stand on the edge of a dancefloor now I hear those words echoing in my mind along to the beat, and I find it hard to take anything I'm experiencing very seriously. We're all foolish, spoiled children, I think, and any joy I might have once felt seems like a purely personal conceit.
And yet, I still buy CDs, get excited to go out, and spend hours every week thinking and writing about what I've experienced. Something about this still seems important to me, though I have a harder and harder time understanding what that is. In dark moments I think that it's all about convincing myself that I live in an exciting, vibrant time and place, that I'm somehow important for knowing about and experiencing these things, and that they are worth chronicling, when in fact all this is an attempt to compensate for the fact that I work in a job I find unsatisfying, I know I'll never have that much money, and, chances are that I will die in obscurity. In brighter moments I like to think that this is all about seeking that ephemeral moment of dancefloor trascendance that has come to me on precious few occasions, and that all my critique is an attempt to separate the crassy commercial and mediocre from the potentially genuine and uplifting. If I'm occasionally cranky and bitchy, it's a measure of how frequently I have gone in search of this moment and been disappointed.
I would genuinely like to hear from others who are into music, DJs, and going out who have wrestled with this question: why do we care about these things? In thinking and writing about them, in applying critical yardsticks, what is it that we hope to achieve? Are we just nerdy kids trying to pass ourselves off as cool, or is there some use to it? Is it worth even thinking about parties and DJs in artistic terms, or are we simply servants of commercial interests that trade in trends? What do we say to the ascetic who whispers those words in our ears, and then turns away from us, ashamed?