If we are to continue down a path of innovation and creativity, we must learn from those who came before us, and be open to the inspiration of those who follow. Living well is a multi-directional task. Each morning at my altar, I honor the lineage of ancestors and descendants.* As ritual orients us in space, honoring the ancestors and descendants orients us in time. We are helped by this awareness.
Last weekend, I went to hear L.A. punk band X. They were favorites from my youth, when I was a teenage Gen Xer and they were ahead of the curve Boomers in their late 20s. Now in their mid 50s, and with a lead singer with MS, they still pump out speed, volume, and sincerity. Unfortunately, many of their old political songs are still topical. Before I headed out, I quipped on Facebook (and Twitter and Google+, for good measure), “I wonder if there will be a middle-aged mosh pit?”
There was. But you know who started it? It wasn’t the early Gen Xers like myself in the crowd, nor the late Boomers. It was the Millennials, and young ones at that. The ones who started the mosh pit were around 16.
Here’s how it went down:
The club was full. Older folks had staked out the stage, a few of them with their tweens in the very front. About three bodies deep from the stage at this point, my friend and I remarked on the paucity of young people in the crowd. I’d seen only a handful, despite the popularity of Old School Punk in certain circles. Then, right before X came on, a group of teenagers appeared behind us, lips and tongues blue from suckers, backpacks taking up precious space. When the music started, they rushed forward and began slamming. The adults who had claimed territory were not pleased. We had earlier attempted to diffuse two pissing contests about space, but these Millennials didn’t care about turf wars. They were here for music, movement, and the energy rolling off the stage. We happily bounced and slammed with them. As the pit grew in intensity, some of the adults scolded the teens, repeatedly trying to control them and keep them out of their space. The mosh pit increased despite these efforts.
I was having a blast. I’ve written before about the magick of the mosh pit, and though I tend to mostly stay on the edges, I appreciate their beauty. This one was no different. When the middle-aged big guys discovered the teens and 20 somethings having such a good time, they moved in, and the slamming intensified. I moved, catching the waves pounding outward, becoming an edge holder who helped push people back into the pit when they veered off course. I was knocked back a few times and have a bruises from being stepped on. One young man asked if I was OK. I grinned and said I was just fine. A man a few years older than I told me I was brave. That last comment sheds some poignant light on the sociology I kept witnessing:
The skirmishes continued, with some people still fighting for territory. At one point John Doe admonished a man from the stage, saying, “You do realize this is a punk show, don’t you?” And the staff who descended to keep the edges of the pit safe spoke sharply to someone else, “This is the pit. You have to let people have their fun!” Meanwhile, the Millennials, having instigated the process, pushed toward the front and bounced in place, leaving the pit to the middle aged men who realized they could work something out by hurling themselves against each other. The Millennials only returned to the pit near the end of the show.
The lesson I took, as I avoided flying beer, slammed, danced, and grinned, was this: You cannot control the descendants, nor should you. The mosh pit would never have started without them, and we need the mosh pit. We need high intensity created by an exuberant joy in simply being alive. We need instigation. Without it, we grow comfortable in our own little worlds, in our own little homes, in our own little corporate fiefdoms or wherever else we stake a claim. I have taken inspiration from my ancestors and from those who have paved the way, including the members of X, who are at least a decade ahead of me. I also honor the Millennials who are figuring out a way to live vibrantly in this messed up world they’ve grown into. They are taking to the streets and the dance floors, and they are helping each other.
We need to seek out that which jars our status quo. That isn’t brave. It is simply practical: We need openness to that which shocks and irritates us, or we become moribund. We need to not grow comfortable in our place in the hierarchy. We don’t own space just because we decide to stand there, especially if we haven’t built it with our own efforts. Change is coming. Change is always coming. We may as well make room.
Millennials, I salute you. I salute your verve, creativity, and anger. I salute your mapping of uncharted territory. I hope you learn something from us, as I’ve learned from my predecessors, but more than that, I hope to continue to learn from you. The only advice I might offer? Stay engaged. Stay interested. Stay strong. And pay the $2 to coat check your backpacks. They are a pain the ass for the other people trying to share the pit.
I leave you all with my favorite image from the night: a 20 something in full hipster regalia, including ugly glasses, bad facial hair and a wooly hat, saw that a teen was trying to get up to crowd surf and couldn’t figure out how. The hipster went to help him, but the teen shrugged and said “That’s OK” when the hipster insisted, and crouched, offering his hands and shoulders for the young man to climb. He was hoisted into the air and we all caught him, passing him overhead, lit by the stage lights, as we danced and crashed along in anonymous darkness, one body, trying to figure out how to get along.
* Honoring the descendants as well as the ancestors was inspired many years ago by Ravyn Stanfield, a priestess from Portland, OR.
pic is by Shadow Tannin at deviantArt