I enjoyed immensely the fairy and folk music tale “Wylding Hall” by Elizabeth Hand. It wasn’t the fae that sparked my brain, though well done it was. It was the folk side of it. It was the kids making music side of it. One section, a character mentions the way record albums used to be. When these discs of vinyl came out in stores, they were objects of genuine excitement. At the isolated towns and communities, record stores would receive these shipments of discs from far away, and place them out on shelves. Excited teenagers gobbled them up, and ran to friends’ houses to play new records on turntables, over and over again, dancing and sharing over music. I do not recall ever having an experience like this outside of video games, in my youth, and I played music and made music and even toured with a drum corps for a while, presumably, because I loved music. I never rushed to a friend’s house with the latest CD, or had anyone rush to my house to share a CD. Perhaps certain video games had that communal effect on us – Street Fighter II, perhaps – but I feel a genuine sense of sudden shifts in culture because when I talk to the students at the community college about their lives outside of college, I am often struck by how I couldn’t imagine any of them doing that thing that people used to do with records just thirty years ago. No one is rushing to their friend’s house with their impulse purchase, celebrating the moment and the excitement and the energy. Video games are mostly on-line. They are mostly played on-line.
Perhaps movies, in theatres, have this effect sometimes. People line up together, with their friends and lovers, to see the latest film. But that involves leaving the home, going out into the public sphere. Series television can be watched in groups, but more often they are talked about in groups, while everyone watches from their own private cyclops. Bingewatching is what is done, now. Whole series are released at once to the web, and people pound their eyeballs against it as if they are reading Harry Potter books. They do this miserable immolation of their eyeballs alone, mostly, or just with family who are already in the home.
What feels revolutionary, anymore? Where did that energy of music go? What do people do that makes them excited to share with their friends?
Even when I was young, I can’t think of anything that made me feel that. Communal experiences were communal. Home experiences were private, mostly. I’d go to a concert with friends and feel a communal excitement, but I’d never take a CD to a friends’ house to share this music with them, and nothing more, but just listen to the music and talk about the music and repeat the music and feel like something amazing was happening, something amazing was about to happen.
The magic of music, in Wylding Hall, this pulsating energy of possibility and youth and revolution made me pine for a world in the same way that Julian pined for a world. Julian longed for mysticism and spells and the ancient, hidden knowledge – what other characters called “Aleister Crowley shit”. I pined for the long summer energy and spirit, where someone would buy a record with so much excitement – where art was so important that it had to be shared immediately and run to your friends’ houses and share it all, because something amazing was going to happen. The magic came in the song, and the whole society shifted into an open, liberated, liberal culture, with these spells that carried hippies and punks and all those rebel yowls into the bedrooms and homes, where the spell was cast on a generation. I wish I lived that kind of youth, in my lonely suburb. I wish I lived the kind of youth where we thought the world would change with a brand new song.