My recent visit to Barcelona happened to coincide with an amazing party at the biggest squat I have ever been to in my life. Seriously, the Can Masdeu is lord of all squats. It is big enough to eat all the other squats I’ve ever visited. The party was to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the squatters’ and the community’s successful thwarting of a several-day police eviction attempt. Folks were pretty stoked at the party. I danced until 6:30am, and as I left, I passed probably 100 more people who were just arriving. That’s how they roll in Barcelona.
Can Masdeu: it’s big.
At around midnight I got to experience something really moving and intimate. A group of singers herded/ushered a couple hundred of us into a big room in the middle of the huge squatted building. The whole property had once been a leper colony, and apparently this room had been a big bathing room. The walls were stone, the ceiling high, the lights were low, with a small disco ball hanging from the ceiling, slowly rotating. The room was packed full, most folks sitting on the floor, everyone listening intently. There were maybe 15 singers, accompanied by one Spanish guitar. They sang several old songs from the Spanish revolution (e.g Ay Carmela). It was breathtaking, conjuring so much history, beauty, and tragedy.
Listening to the singers, I started thinking about how important group singing is to social movements. I had previously heard old original recordings of some of the songs — had heard the hope in the chorus of voices. Sitting there, I thought about how persistently Miles Horton emphasizes group singing in his (must-read) autobiography. And then I was trying to recall the details of a study I’d read that asserted evidence that deep primal group bonding is achieved through group singing. More and more thoughts, stream of consciousness. I had brought a pen just in case I might have some thoughts (they’d been coming frequently during my travels!). I quickly jotted them down on the backside of the directions (to the party) my friend had printed for me:
Is there a parallel in the extrication of politics from the fabric of most people’s lives (and groups) and the extrication of music? Music, like politics, is still in our lives in that it is all around us, but we are passive to its force. It affects us, but we lack agency — we defer to musicians as we defer to politicians (or even to “activists”). Music, politics, sex — everything primal and powerful — is sterilized, arrested, under control, and sold back to us as a tame consumer good. We are passive. We are spectators.
And then the next day I wrote a little more in my journal, which I’ll include as the remainder of this post:
…It was like the energy I get from very close friends whom I have deeply connected with… a feeling of reality — like this interaction is real, and most are not. It’s like wandering through a desert, parched, even dying, resigning oneself to mirages and hallucinations, and then, finally sipping real water. Why do I spend so much of my time wandering a desolate land, parched, thirsty, certainly unhealthy, not getting what I need? Are these fleeting moments of the real just that? Inevitably rare and fleeting? Or are they invitations, doorways, portals?
This is what I’m getting at with my tirade about music and politics: the ever-attempted retreat from the real; the sterilization of the truly living; the caging, taming, domestication of the wild animal. Yes, I do this too. I see it all around. When I reground and come back into tune with what we are all doing here — our continual retreat from the power, the force, inside each of us — I want to call it all out, all the time. I want to rip out my filter, as if it were a physical thing I could dispose of.
But more than that, I just want to breathe in the real again, to invite the joy of surrender to the real back into my life… I, too, repress the real: I make too many sarcastic jokes; I waste time staring at a computer screen, sometimes accomplishing little to nothing; most of all, I fill my life with too much activity, too much work, too many things to do. But like a person who represses sexual urges still primally desires sex, I want the real. I want reality to punch me in the face, to make me bleed, to break my teeth and my nose, to shine warm sunlight on my skin, to terrify me with the reality that I am not in control, that I do not know what comes next.