Since my earliest childhood a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic; if it is pulled out I shall die.
There's a very specific breed of people who are just like me. Some of them are hipsters, some are weirdoes, loners, losers, nerds; some are even marginally successful. I think of Tao Lin in his depressive moods:
“...one had to expect very little—almost nothing—from life, Aaron knew, one had to be grateful, not always trying to seize the days like some maniac of living, but to give oneself up, be seized by the days, the months and years, be taken up in the froth of sun and moon, some pale and smoothie-ed river-cloud of life, a long, drawn-out, gray sort of enlightenment, so that when it was time to die, one did not scream swear words and knock things down, did not make a scene, but went easily with understanding and tact, and quietly, in a lightly pummeled way, having been consoled–having allowed to be consoled–by the soft, generous, worthlessness of it all, having allowed to be massaged by the daily beating of life, instead of just beaten.”
Or I think of Edward Limonov, bemoaning the sad state of his contemporaries:
” I've never met a person before whom I could kneel down, kiss his feet, and prostrate myself. I would do that, I would follow and serve him. But there's no such person. Everyone is serving. No one is leading. There's no one leading on a new path.
There's no one on the path.”
I’m also reminded of Dostoevsky’s underground man when he jealously contemplates action:
” One night as I was passing a tavern I saw through a lighted window some gentlemen fighting with billiard cues, and saw one of them thrown out of the window. At other times I should have felt very much disgusted, but I was in such a mood at the time, that I actually envied the gentleman thrown out of the window -- and I envied him so much that I even went into the tavern and into the billiard-room. "Perhaps," I thought, "I'll have a fight, too, and they'll throw me out of the window."
Or when he shrinks in the face of a man to whom action is natural, authentic:
”I was standing by the billiard-table and in my ignorance blocking up the way, and he wanted to pass; he took me by the shoulders and without a word -- without a warning or explanation -- moved me from where I was standing to another spot and passed by as though he had not noticed me. I could have forgiven blows, but I could not forgive his having moved me without noticing me.
Devil knows what I would have given for a real regular quarrel -- a more decent, a more literary one, so to speak. I had been treated like a fly. This officer was over six foot, while I was a spindly little fellow. But the quarrel was in my hands. I had only to protest and I certainly would have been thrown out of the window. But I changed my mind and preferred to beat a resentful retreat.”
The pipsqueak, by now, is an old, well-explored character in literature. Normally I’d avoid quoting Tao Lin, but he’s one of the few writers today who’s realized that the pipsqueak’s mind-disease has leaked out of literature and now roots in the populace at large—that is, we’re all of us, men and women, rich and poor, smart and dumb, we’re all of us becoming pipsqueaks. Never has this been more clear than at a party I attended last Friday night.
I was playing billiards with my friend F in a deserted bar on Thursday night when a skinny, muscular guy with long hair (who also ironically looks a lot like me) walked up to us and asked if we wanted to play doubles with him and a friend. I didn’t care, F didn’t care, so the guy fetches his friend from the other side of the bar and we play. His friend was a reserved Hispanic girl, apparently also his girlfriend (though this didn’t stop my friend from being intimidated by her beauty and surreptitiously expressing his desire to fuck her to me); a few games of billiards later they asked if we were free the next night. Why? I asked. As it turned out, they were playing a show at a dive bar on Friday night and wanted us to come.
Here’s a strange gesture, I thought, why would they care about a pair of idiots who they’ve known for less than an hour? In the cynical part of my head I began to wonder if they were the type of band that only got to play out if they got ten or fifteen people to show up and buy two drinks each; this wouldn’t turn out to be the case. As a sidenote, he did have a name, which I’ll leave at J, and she had a name as well, which I’ll leave at M.
I tried to make it to the show on Friday but I got held up, as I tend to do, in inanities. Also, I had almost no interest in seeing them play, as I’d logged onto their band page earlier and listened to some of their songs . . . I hated them. Anyway, at about one in the morning I texted F, who’d decided to attend the show, and he told me it was still going on. Normally, as is the tendency with someone like me, I’d rather sit at home or sit at a bar than get tangled up with overly friendly musician types, but that night I decided I’ll stop by since I was in the neighborhood. I arrived just in time for their show to be over; I was overjoyed! They were walking out, equipment in hand, with a group of burnt out stoner roadies, and it looked like I’d once again avoided interacting with those naïve men of action.
Then J asked me, in all seriousness, if I wanted to go to a party with them. Sure, why not, I was already partially drunk, I could go for free booze & the opportunity to talk to a bunch of obnoxious weirdoes. So we pile into the van (they were a band with a ratty old van from the 1970s, painted on the outside with psychedelic landscapes and slogans), which now contained the band, consisting of J, M (the attractive female bass player, a real innovation), and their drummer A, their three disgusting roadies, myself, and F. It’s difficult to communicate exactly how out of place I was here (and F even moreso); earlier I mentioned that there are strains of people in the world who are very much like me—the people I shared the van with couldn’t have been any further from my type . . . Even the roadies, who wordlessly followed their leader J around, were confident in their status as lackies; they never questioned the situation or their place within it. On the way to the party, F and I would not stop insulting one another and making ironic statements, some of which played well with J, M, A, and the roadies. All the while I knew this behavior was self-destructive, as everybody there (F and myself excepted) was out to have a good time and party, not engage in pathetic contests of wit.
Earlier I posted a still from the film Almost Famous. Here’s another one:
My reason for posting these images will soon become clear.
Arriving at the party, a twenty-five year old Jason Lee lookalike sprinted out and greeted J with an enthusiastic bear hug. A few more of these types walked out: friends of the ultra-cool bandleader. Each of these guys was more clichéd than the next: shoulder-length hair, flared jeans, stoned expressions . . . There wasn’t a hint of irony in any of these guys, just as there wasn’t a hint of irony in J, who was so open and genuine that he reached out to me and my friend, both of whom are the disaffected, disconnected type. All together, there were about five of these anachronistic burnt out musicians, and three or four roadie types . . . Inside was a stereotypical musician’s house: guitars strewn everywhere, a cheap Hammond organ, bongos, tambourines, loud music playing on a pair of 50 year old studio monitors (Bob Dylan, Black Keys, Johnny Cash, The Doors), hand-painted psychedelia on the walls.
A preliminary note so you might understand why this party was unique: the party was taking place in a part of town called Logan Square. Some of you may be familiar with Wicker Park if you’ve seen movies like High Fidelity or Wicker Park: WP is a somewhat expensive part of town that has a lot of authentic urban cred; however, since it has this credibility, it has become expensive and full of rich people over the years, and even though it’s still infested with hipsters, Goths, punks, degenerates, and other unsavory, the predominant type there now is a rich yuppie playing at hipsterism. Now Logan Square is where all the poorer people who’ve been priced out of Wicker Park have gone; as such, the neighborhood, while still maintaining some small part of its working class roots, is filled to the brim with hipsters and other forms of urban fauna.
Other than the cast and crew of Almost Famous who I mentioned earlier and who I will now refer to as Stillwater, every single person at this party was a fairly typical Logan Square Hipster. In fact, they were so genuinely hipster that I got along swimmingly with all of them, as my sardonic wit and general depressiveness tends to play extremely well with these people. These are my people: to them, nothing is ever real, nothing is ever genuine, and so laughter and wit are musts, as are disaffection, nearly-earnest embarrassment, and an aversion to genuine conversation or action; but all the same, all of us claim to be looking for something authentic, something real that has meaning. Some short descriptions: a homosexual ironically making a fool of himself, performing embarrassing dances, running up to guys and doing kissy faces, and delighting every time Stillwater would bust up laughing at him when he found some new depth of self-abasement; a girl wearing a mime’s shirt, a bonnet, and a pair of black tights that let you see her pussy, she made it a point to strike haughty poses and utter mysterious sayings; a man dressed as a cactus, in green sweatpants, green shirt, green hat, green face paint, and with green straws hotglued to his outfit; a quiet guy in a hoodie staring wistfully at certain points in the room; a skinny young man ironically performing the dougie; and more.
So there were two distinct factions at the party, and I myself was caught between the two. I have long hair, about the same length as the members of Stillwater, and I’d come with the alpha musician; but in attitude and demeanor I was clearly one of the hipsters. Things proceeded fairly normally at first: people drank, smoked up, talked . . . lines were being demarcated, as they are at parties, and people were making their alliances for the night. As the night wore on, Stillwater got more and more into their “thing,” 3 of them playing their guitars, passing a tambourine around, involving a bongo set; the ones who weren’t playing an instrument swayed their heads disgustingly to the music: at times it seemed as if they were ensconced in trance.
To the hipsters at the party, this sort of release couldn’t have been more alienating. There was one moment in particular where a pair of hipster girls (one a well-groomed brunette wearing plaid, the other dressed as a librarian might) sat somewhat close to Stillwater: this was a grave mistake on their part. One girl got the bongo, the other the tambourine; a song came on and Stillwater began loudly encouraging them to play along. Jason Lee and J were swinging their heads, hair flying everywhere, jamming on their guitars, the eyes of the room were on the girls—it was impossible for them to not act. So they ensued playing, not letting go, entirely self-conscious, giving a truly pathetic and half-hearted effort. I spied both of them desperately looking around at the room, expecting to find judgment and admonition, but instead there was only Stillwater’s feral head-bopping and savage, off-beat guitar pounding: this was the worst of all, that there were no eyes to cast judgment on these two poor girls (save for mine, and they both made self-abased eye contact with me for a portion of the song), nobody to care that they couldn’t hold a rhythm and that they were too self-conscious to lose themselves in the music (save for me, who sympathized with them). This went on for a good four minutes, and by the end I can swear one of them was on the verge of tears: the moment was too disgustingly real, too authentic in its baseness and vulgarity. It was music, man . . . But both girls jumped to their feet and retreated from the room as soon as the song faded out.
As the night wore on and Stillwater became increasingly authentic, the hipsters slowly began to disappear. This wasn’t their scene; these weren’t their vibes . . . But what about me? In a sense, and I think I shared this with all the other hipsters, I was attracted to the strange energy they were giving off, the release of being able to genuinely act like a moron and simply live in the moment. Kierkegaard again: The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived. At the same time, I understood perfectly why everybody there save for Stillwater wanted nothing more than to get out at the first opportunity: with even the slightest awareness of surveillance, to dive into a scene like that is anathema (what does the hipster want after all? To be seen). What if I were to look down on myself in the third person? How could joining Stillwater in their reveries be tolerated? And truly nobody did join Stillwater: every hipster there, obsessed with authenticity, was separated absolutely from the authentic experience transpiring right under their noses. Most of them were there alone or in a pair; there was nothing to prevent participation, yet there was no participation.
The False Escape
At a certain point in the night, I began talking to a girl who’d come alone to the party. Call her T. Her dress was that of a yuppie playing at nihilistic urbanite: expensive jeans, knee-high boots, tiny leather jacket, tattoos. I saw her standing away from Stillwater, looking at them with bewilderment and a slight scowl on her face; but neither was she talking to any of the hipsters, and in truth I wanted nothing to do with them either. I began talking to her, and at some point I said, “Who let out the cast of Almost Famous,” which she found to be irresistibly funny. Other than me, she barely talked to anybody all night; in a moment of brilliant, high-level self-deprecation, I talked about how the two of us were observing ourselves in the third person by distancing ourselves as we were, and our behavior was ensuring the highest level of alienation there could be. She concurred; however, unlike me, she felt no attraction to Stillwater’s authentic antics whatsoever—she was being crushed by an overwhelming boredom that I’d done some part in curing. At about the point she’d drank half a liter of vodka, she started to ask me if I had a coke connect. This was patently ridiculous, as she should have known, but later she did manage to get some cocaine (how? We will never know). She was gracious enough to share with me, and for a while I didn’t give a damn whether I was being authentic or not. I did, however, feel somewhat dirty, and the next day I was once again obsessed with this question of authentic experience: hedonism and nihilism are cruelly temporary palliatives.
Call my type what you will: depressive, melancholic, pipsqueak, ironist, loser, hipster—the only cure for us would have been to dive headfirst into the authentic moment Stillwater had created. None of us will ever make that jump; we never have, we never will. Present the opportunity a thousand times, and at best you’ll be like one of those girls pounding a bongo, hitting yours 2s where the 1s should be and the 3s where the 4s should be and cringing every time. Even if we embroil ourselves in something real, we’ll regret it because we’re incapable of true action. It’s just like Kierkegaard said: If you do it, you’ll regret it; if you don’t do it, you’ll regret it!
pictured: hipster in its natural plumage