Music as Code

There are still many things for me to learn in this life. Sadly, I will not learn everything I want in a singular lifetime.

I’m about to turn 40 and that feels like a big deal year to me. Far be it from me to be immune to the hostilities of western culture, but @ a certain point, unless you are creating the zeitgeist, you have been aged out. Since I am languishing in amateur status still, unpublished author, local musician, terribly unfunny comedian, the western world has checked me out. I couldn’t be cool if I tried no matter how many 20 somethings still think I exude youth (thank you Bunny, you beautiful darling).

This hit me the other evening. I was at a bar where a friend of mine had his last hurrah at his monthly DJ night before he moves. At this particular gig a pop up record store sells new and used vinyl to all us old hipster bitches who are too cool for digital (which is a lie, except that I don’t understand why anyone would stream and I don’t really know how to use streaming services). From them I scored, among other treasures, the 12″ EP of Macho Man by The Village People. Now, I don’t actually need to hear “Macho Man” or “YMCA” ever again. Or so I thought. I bought the 12″ because it features a song entitled “Sodom and Gomorrah” which is about (in my interpretation) a person wishing to save those villages of sensual pleasure from God’s irrational and homophobic wrath.

Many of my friends at this DJ night, which is devoted to music found on vinyl, are curious about each other’s purchases. We are constantly pulling our records out of the plastic bags we clutch them in to show them off. In one of these exchanges a new friend of mine began to pontificate wildly and fervently on the Village People. The disco group of yore is at present of particular interest to them. As I listened and learned about some of the curious gender and ethnic identities of the members, I realized that though I may have aged out of being cool and aware of the modern zeitgeist, I now have another role to play, that of historical curator.

In a certain ways music was the internet before the internet. There once existed in a former time and place where people went out and saw music and movies and plays and poets and lectures on a regular basis. Now we have 9 million channels and YouTube videos and other shit. In some ways this is great because everything is available. However, there in also lies a problem with total access, nothing is curated. The roots of now have been severed leaving us with little knowledge of our own histories. Without history, there is no struggle. Without struggle we have no revolution.

It is obvious to us now that The Village People were GAY AS ALL FUCK, but at the time they were not “out”. Their performances were coded in camp and while that was often read by gay and queer populations the straight world didn’t quite get it. Further, the sexuality was presented with a backdrop of disco, the musical du jour of the times, and allowed people to dance loudly and do mounds of coke in the bathrooms of night clubs. I know very little about the Village People beyond their presentation and reading their performance as queer. However, I am sure that many of their coded messages were read loud and clear by certain populations and as such were easily translated and used to increase self empowerment. Their importance to the queer acceptance movement remains important.

So then does ensuring they are not lost in the minutiae of modern, accessible, throw away culture that we exist in today. Very few messages, coded or obvious have lasting power. Trends and communication change quickly. The spokespeople of cultures and movements seem to be different year after year. There is not lasting power in today’s world. While gay and lesbian, queer, and trans lives exist out in the public arena now more than ever, and to some this feels seamless, this is not necessarily the case. Large swaths of western society are still violently opposed to queer identities existing, in public spaces or otherwise. This is not just true of our rural, bible belt America. Black, trans sisters are being killed in our so-called liberal cities at alarming rates. Their lives are taken by members of the communities they grew up in. Those communities of course fight for survival in a white hegemony, that uses economic, civic and social means to inflict terror and violence.

The Village People still matter because even as we gain ground through means of acceptable defiance, subversion, inclusion and dissent (often being forced to use our bodies as weapons against state sanctioned violence, further diminishing our worth and causing continuing wounds) coded messages in public, straight, spaces are still necessary. Even in spaces where it’s “acceptable” it’s still not safe to be gay or lesbian, queer or questioning, trans, non-binary, unsure and afraid. A DJ playing a song by the Village People in one of these spaces can still act as a coded message to someone that lets them know that there is, at the very least, an ally present in the occupied and overwhelming space. The straight world may believe they are in on “the joke” when “YMCA” or “Macho Man” comes on, but the historical context of The Village People still remains. It’s power still exists. It’s necessity still permeates.

There are still many things for me to learn in this life. Sadly, I will not learn everything I want in a singular lifetime. However, I try to take each moment I have as a possibility towards further enrichment while also recognizing the responsibility I have to share what I know with anyone curious enough to want to listen. Not every moment or action can be a hurled brick through the window of tyranny. Not every thing I do will be inspiring and revolutionary, but that doesn’t absolve me of trying. No matter how uncool I might be.

This is an unedited text for now. Please excuse the errors.