More thoughts on HONK!

We went to the parade today, and while my video from that is uploading, I have some amendements to make from my prior post.

I was sort of sour on the whole politics angle of the HONK! bands. I think what I said was true, that basically, if the goal is to convert the unconverted, spectacles like this aren’t going to be the forum where that happens. My experience is that the only time peoples’ minds are changed is when there is some personal connection between two people that transcends politics, and then they have to reconcile their feelings to their viewpoints. Anyway, so, maybe people are not going to hear the Leftist Marching Band’s song about Wal-Mart and are suddenly going to see the light and say, yeah, they treat their workers like crap, I’m not going to shop there.

But I think there is something to the politics of the music itself that I basically buy into. First off, it’s just a total non-product. Very few of the bands there were even selling CDs. None of these people are making their living from their music, they are just out there for the joy of the thing. (I’m guessing here, to be fair: but I suspect that only a relative handful of people are making a living from music these days, and the folks in the HONK bands have not given up their day jobs). But the format of this kind of music is just not salable; it can barely even be recorded well. I mean, it technically can be recorded, and it can even sound pretty good. But unless you have a really crazy sound system at home, it’s just not going to sound like 10 horns and 5 percussionists (or more) standing 3 or 4 feet away from you, there’s not going to be a crowd dancing all smelly after a day of dancing.

I also feel like it opens a viable door for popular music. I guess it’s not popular in the sense that a lot of people like it. But it is pop music in the sense that you don’t need any kind of specialized cultural context or background to have an immediate visceral human reaction to people blowing horns and banging drums in front of you. It’s a popular music that you can participate in just by listening to it and ditching the snobbery and admitting that you like it– you don’t have to buy a T-Shirt, you don’t have to participate in some kind of record store nerd snottery, you don’t have to claim your turf as part of a subculture (there were townies, trustafarians, old crusty Cambridge folkies, new somerville yuppies with their kids in their maclaren strollers, and Click and Clack the Tappett Brothers for god’s sake). You can just listen and shake your butt and be happy to be in the middle of something great on a couple of gorgeous New England autumn days.

... and it was beautiful... but so's Maine

And I love that it just harkens to a time when if you wanted music, you just made it. You didn’t go shopping.

5 thoughts on “More thoughts on HONK!”

  1. Years ago I went to see a play by a well regarded local playwright. (SPOILER ALERT: Conservative Governments and Corporations run by White, Christian, Republican Males are BAD and are ruining everything.) Afterwards, everyone was gushing about what a great, important, challenging, blahblahblah play it was. PLEASE. I’d never seen such an orgy of smug, self-congratulatory, self-righteousness. Not one person there had their views challenged, just affirmed. I was evasive and non-commital every time someone asked me what I thought of the play because I was so disgusted I could have puked. Of course, that might have been all the free champagne and hors d’oeuvres at the reception afterwards. Why didn’t they just distribute THAT to the poor and disenfranchised?

  2. Hey Ezra!

    On the politics:
    Penn and Teller did a great episode on their show Bullsh*t that made “feel-good” activism like some of that seen at Honkfest! look really stupid. (Their ultimate point was that, if you *really* want to change political views, you need to engage economically. Money talks, wearing funny clothes, while funny, doesn’t really accomplish much.)

    On the music:
    The other obvious aspect of non-recordability is being literally surrounded by the instruments, or only getting part of what’s going on when you’re there, because half the instruments are pointed the other way. That said, some of the music was really good.

    Mark!

  3. Hey, Mark, welcome to the blog!

    Marco, you’re such a walking crabcake sometimes. Even though I took the long way around and probably spent more time griping than I shoud have, I actually do love this event. In this case, I gripe because I love.

  4. Well, I wouldn’t say you’re entirely wrong in your assessment of me. Mind you, I wasn’t dissing the event itself. It sounds like a good time but there’s a fair amount of feel good activism in this town and sometimes it wears on me. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been offered a flyer, asked to sign a petition, or join a mailing list for one cause or another. I do think change is possible but it’s not going to happen by staging a play for a group of like-minded individuals or handing out leaflets in front of a drum circle.

  5. So, as one of the HONK! organizing committees and a HONK! band member, I’ve just got to say that the comments by the BLOG author (I’m sorry, I’m an older guy and not so blog savvy, and I don’t know where to look for your name, but the RealFake guy) suggest a beginning to understanding the HONK! thing. I’m speaking for myself only here, so this is not an official committee response, but I think reflects some of our group thinking over the past few years. Still, I take full responsibility for the ideas and inelegant phraseology.

    If you followed the parade into Harvard Sq. for Oktoberfest, you may have noticed their program. The back was covered by corporate logos, which speaks volumes about what Oktoberfest is about. Such commercial branding is one relatively easy way to get some money, and it is clearly the way that the art/music/festival world has gone over the years. (OK – another disclaimer: I don’t believe all corporations are bad, but I do believe in multiple bottom lines, and most corporations don’t.) If you look at the HONK! poster we produced, you will see our best effort to acknowledge all of our wonderful donors and sponsors, from big to small, equally, with no logos or branding, or preferential treatment to bigger donors. We honor them all for giving their assistance at their own level of ability. This may have distressed a few or our supporters initially, but I think they all understood it on some level. We certainly don’t begrudge anyone making money – in fact, we support it in our embracing of Davis Square – but we will not sell our souls to that enterprise.

    We have taken a different, more difficult, but principled path to avoiding the commercialism and the consumerism that is part of the culture. We decided early on that we would NEVER become the ‘Bank of America HONK! Festival.’ We simply drew a line in the sand and said, to paraphrase the blog author’s words, we are playing for the sheer joy of playing, not for becoming rich, and because we believe in the old adage of ‘Bread and Roses:’ hearts starve as well as bodies, give us bread, but give us roses!

    The work WE do, as organizers of the HONK! Fest and as musicians, is to provide sustenance and support and love to all the bands that do similar work. Some are VERY political, some are minimally political; a few are trying to make a living as musicians, but most are doing this only for the love of it. We the organizers dearly love what we have created in the HONK! Festival, and the connections to other bands around the world who are doing similar work, but the HONK! Festival will die from insufficient funding rather than become a corporate event with big money.

    I think Tom Lehrer *might* be correct in that art like ours may not change the world, but I think this might be too much to ask of it. Change occurs in small steps, as famously noted by people from Howard Zinn to Margaret Mead, and much of our efforts as HONK! organizers and bands, is to ‘energize the base.’ Our appeal to our audiences is occasionally cerebral, but more often visceral – we want to see dancing!!! A mosh pit is not a symposium on radical politics, but those who subscribe to such beliefs have as much right as anyone to shake their butts and have a good time. (I even saw a couple of typical young Mormon missionaries in the crowd, and maybe even THEY were energized and went out and gave some extra zest to their proseletyzing that afternoon. OK, well I hope not, but the point is that we want to uplift people through music, preaching love, hope, tolerance, etc., rather than their contrary values).

    Anyway, these are my bleary-eyed ruminations on your shifting postings. Thanks for thinking about this!

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