It’s painfully early, pouring with rain and everyone on the train looks tired. I shared a smile with the girl opposite me, she’s dressed in a tracksuit, obviously out of place amongst the London commuters, but clearly we were both too tired to start a conversation. I’m sat in shirt and smart trousers, tepid cuppa next to the keyboard, bag packed onto the luggage rack. The man next to me is working on a presentation on his laptop, called ‘Global Financial Crisis’. I can tell it’s not a happy story.
But i have a secret.
My bag contains the Jacket of Rock. No, not ‘a’ Jacket of Rock. The Jacket of Rock.
The Jacket of Rock has become something of an enigma, given to me at the age of 16 by my best friend, worn to every major gig i’ve ever been to. It’s seen Guns ‘n’ Roses, it’s seen Mumford and Sons, it’s seen Avril Lavigne and a hundred other artists, large, small, good and indifferent. It only has one badge on it, pinned to the lapel from the Freddie Mercury memorial concert in 1992. It’s a classic, heavy bikers jacket, and it’s my other uniform.
You see, music is a funny thing. It creates community like almost nothing else on earth. Music brings people together and lets us build shared experiences. Whether playing it, listening to it or commenting on it, music forges links and enduring relationships.
And as with all communities, there are rules, conventions and ways of behaving that fit, and things that don’t fit. Like any community, you can conform, or rebel. Like any community, it has it’s uniforms, it’s jargon and it’s gatherings. Like any community, it gives a sense of belonging.
So, today, in the day, i will inhabit and interact with various communities. Right now, i’m in the silent community of commuters, individualistic, hidden, tired. Later, i will be in the heart of the city, in a Bank, part of a formal, work based community, bound by it’s own rules, lingo and suits. Then, later, i’ll be part of a wildly informal community as I, my best friend, and the Jacket of Rock see Alice Cooper in Birmingham. Three communities, all bound by conventions and rules, all powered by the same desires.
The desire to belong is a fundamental human urge. We define ourselves (even if how we define ourselves is as ‘counter culture’, we are still part of the counter culture culture!). We wear the uniforms, conform to behaviours and routines, seek to enhance and support others. This is as true for online communities as it is for ‘real’ ones, although there are differences in how it works.
People engage with communities for a wide variety of reasons, but usually there is some element of enlightened self interest. There is something in it for me, as well as for you. If our interests align, we may work together. Musical communities are based around a love of a common genre or artist, although there is a surprising level of conformity between events. There is a language of concerts that is usually spoken by all performers. The way they start, the ways they interact, the ways they manage the encore: even this most liberal and freeform of expressive arts adheres to as much structure as the most formal business meeting or project management methodology.
Which is, i suppose, natural. After all, it’s a winning formula! Stories, theatre, documentaries, they all adhere to certain structures: it’s what defines them, what defines what they are. You can vary it, but not break it without changing what it is.
Mind you, there are advantages to a musical community that are not shared by others. There is a certain unified experience within the rhythm. People experience music differently from conversations or books. Music gets inside you, it takes you on a journey. The psychology of music is a fascinating field, understanding how structure and repetition gives it form, from Wagner to Jonny Thunders, there are underlying rules about form, variance of form and return to the original structure. Sure, you can play around a lot, but it’s still a language, you still need to adhere to certain structures, or at least, it helps if you do!
And there is history within musical communities. Indeed, musical communities often arguably have a better defined history than many others, charted in albums releases and gigs. I first saw Alice Cooper when i was 17, travelling to Bournemouth for the gig. I’ve seen him six or seven times since, across my life, building my own history and timeline in parallel with his. Sure, it’s nonsense, but he is a storyteller, in my view a vaudeville performer, it’s more theatre than most, but shared with like minded people.
So here i sit, surrounded by companions immersed in their own silent worlds. Conforming, but with a secret. The Jacket of Rock is folded up small, hidden in a cabin bag, silently sleeping through the day until the time comes to wake it and let the music flow over us.