(my current haircut - now i just kind of look like Macklemore, rite?)
history, vanity and art
i don’t take selfies, but every so often, i definitely search for myself. and if you google image search my name, one of the first results that comes up is sonny moore, better known as skrillex. important biographical footnote: for three or four years, i cut my hair into a “montreal 2009”-style, asymmetrical side-shave.
so when i first noticed that mr. moore was my on-deck google image search result in 2012, my vanity heaved itself out of a very brief hibernation and snarled into action: “guh, people are so coarse in their judgments. they think every instance of an asymmetrical haircut is skrillex. why can’t they see i’m a special snowflake?”
my reaction was short-sighted and self-absorbed, but not really that surprising if you consider that i was already google image searching myself.
what’s more interesting is that when i repeated that act a week or two ago, and sonny was still there (he might be #2 now), my reaction had changed. comparing his iconic locks to a couple of my later-period, more closely-shaved assymetrics, i did not feel upset or defensive. after all, i now have a new haircut (see above).
but i did have a novel, gut-level response: “HOLY SHIT, I KIND OF LOOK LIKE SKRILLEX!”
sure, i had never heard of skrillex when i got my haircut - in fact, he was probably still fronting his metalcore band. and i was such a special snowflake at the time - none of my friends had a haircut quite like me, and afterwards, some of them had even imitated me. the haircut was a point of pride in the way stupid little things you self-determine become points of pride - which is probably why i had initially been so defensive about the search results.
viewed through the lens of that micro-history of myopic self-love, it’s even more incredible that i would later make the “Skrillex wannabe” assessment on my own.
but i did, and i did so instinctively—-almost involuntarily.
history had acted on me without my being aware of it at all. my outlooks on a number of things, including myself, had been given new shapes by the river.
when you choose to make art in public you choose to interface with history. sure, this example is from the realm of fashion (whose “apparent triviality” is a whole other hornet’s nest). but the music world works the same way.
my feelings about the art that i make are in perpetual flux. and while some of that flux comes situationally or internally due to bouts of self-doubt or childlike awe respecting new passions or what-have-you, the important takeaway here is that at least part of it comes from something wholly other than me, something over which i have no clear sense of control.
history moves whether you want it to or not, and if you decide to make art in the public sphere, you put yourself and your work into the spokes of its (presumably fixie) bike. it will change you.
this isn’t a good or a bad thing necessarily, but it is a thing that we should probably try to manage, to the extent that we are capable.
a skrillex haircut is a skrillex haircut. it’s not a cecil haircut.
but this is not an excessively long reiteration of the idea that “winners write history” - because that’s not even really true. even the winners themselves then have their outlooks shaped by history - i know enough of them to feel confident of that. by being a part of history, one gives oneself over to it, becomes its tablet for inscription in addition to a signpost of its highlights. history, in at least some sense, actually tells itself.
i’ve definitely been learning something about the long-term shrapnel of interacting with trends, but this isn’t exactly about that either. some trends stick and some don’t. one of the most confounding things about engaging with history is reconciling to yourself to its sheer unpredictability.
a simple, close-to-home example - when i began making synth pop in a guitar-dominated scene, it felt like an act of rebellion. but even the usually aesthetically conservative cbc radio 3 have recently lamented the glut of 2013 canadian synth pop. somewhere along the line in the past few years, me and my friends went from being outsiders struggling to be heard to a weird kind of status quo. it’s especially weird for me to find myself in this “status quo” position because i feel like i haven’t found my audience yet. but there is no subtweet here - just history.
as an artist, you have considerable control over the fruit of your labor. you don’t have to release anything, and you can keep working on something until it resembles whatever platonic ideal or inferior earthly duplicate you’re satisfied with.
but importantly, you don’t control the context in which your art is received.
sure, you can nudge it with interviews, your social media presence, whatever. but at the end of the day there will also be variables much bigger than any individual person applying pressure and shaping the way it gets read. and knowing where those are going next, well… at a minimum it’s not easy and has very little to do with actually making art.
so why waste your time trying? rather than seeing history’s conversational response (or inscrutable silence) as capricious or disempowering, i want to say we should let it be what it is - straightforwardly thrilling. art that participates with history is fundamentally a social act, so it moves with the blood and chaos that mark our other social interactions. some of that shit is ugly to the point of violence, some of it is gorgeous and cathartic — but most of it is messy and defies prediction.
kinda like the best haircuts.