I've been on a frightful 80s bender lately. It started with nostalgically listening to music, a few conversations on twitter then some mates joined in and suddenly it was all on in late night sessions on a shared google spreadsheet and now I've got 750 odd tracks on high rotation and more in the pipeline. Good times.
It's no surprise to me that all this walking along memory lane led me back to 80s movies too. I was a movie lover almost as early as I was a music lover and my teenage years were dominated by an almost obsessive following of both. Both were near magic modes of transportation, ways of escaping the things I didn't want to or couldn't deal with in that unforgiving time of life. There are scenes from movies and snatches of lyrics I can still remember with complete clarity - I remember hearing and seeing them for the first time, I remember what was going on in my head when I did, I remember what they meant to me.
So I tracked down a copy of pump up the volume and rewatched it yesterday. I adored this film when it came out, I saw it more than once at the cinema and many times on hire from the video store and I very much enjoyed rewatching it.
There were some key differences - for a start I know enough about what Christian Slater became that makes him somewhat less appealing (though Mark's shirtless scene helped me put it to one side for some reason) and I know Samantha Mathis never reached the level of success I thought she should despite how much I loved her in the role of Nora. But of course the really obvious bit is that I'm not a teenager anymore, and I now have more in common with the hated parents and teachers of the film than angst ridden rebellious teenagers.
I'd forgotten the protracted awkwardness of Mark and Nora's relationship. At the heart of the film is a recognition of the terrible difficulty of human relationships. Witness Mark's sell out ex hippy parents, dad proud of his success, mum a worn out cynic, the school principal and her henchman, the guidance counsellor no one could ever take seriously, Malcolm's disdainful mother. Instead of focusing just on how hard it is to 'find' the right person, or people, in that classic filmic sense, pump up the volume grapples with how very hard it is even when they are found. Our difficulty in being ourselves, in truly 'knowing' another, in feeling loved, and understood and truly 'known' by the people in our lives in the face of the expectations and superficial typing that keeps human interaction moving. The desire we all feel to be free of that, to have something more, something fearless and unique and authentic, to be embraced and unjudged in our imperfections.
I'd also forgotten the wonderful English teacher, the only adult to give hope for a real ongoing existence involving meaningful relationships and an identity with integrity. She embraces and nurtures potential, not just in the students endowed with talent, but when she fights for the rights of all students to an education she makes clear her inclusive relationship paradigm. Not in words, but in actions. She surrenders her job almost happily rather than remain a part of the authority class which condones victimisation, takes on the fight for the dispossessed, seeks out the students she has connected with to say goodbye, she even sits at home listening to hard harry and chortling at his adolescent humour. There is some hope, but even she is at home alone such is the impossibility of the happily ever after.
But as I was watching, it suddenly occurred to me that pirate radio was in many ways the precedent to blogging. I remember feeling so envious when I watched the film of this voice Mark had - this capacity to reach out into dead air and put into words what so many others were feeling, not just to ease his own loneliness, but to make them feel less alone too. The energy he commanded by simply harnessing the inner dialogues of alienated disaffected teens makes me flush with excitement. His mantra that while being a teenager sucks in every imaginable way, surviving it is the key, and doing whatever you need to in order to survive is so much better than the alternatives. And that connecting to others, however imperfectly, and yourself, however imperfect you are, is how you can make it out alive. The power of community! If only I'd been an electronics nerd, and pirate radio wasn't illegal. How far the world has shifted that open sources to broadcast have been so thoroughly embraced!
But Mark also has to deal with the consequences of using his voice. When a listener commits suicide Mark has to face up to allegations he is the cause. Was he to blame? Were his taunts the final straw for Malcolm, or even more likely did Mark's verbalising of the painful reality in which Malcolm lived make it impossible for him to escape, deny, cope? Was it this that made being a teenager more painful than being dead? Because in the film, and in life too, exposing to scary things to the air can act as a catalyst for all kinds of downward spirals. Is it better to shy away from telling because you can hurt those whose strategies for coping rest on denial or supression of the naked truth? If the truth is what you see, can you hope to stop telling it? If the truth is the air you breath does not telling it constitute a kind of suffocation? Did Mark really recover from Malcolm's death and his knowledge of his own culpability? Let's not kid ourselves, in the end Mark was going to jail for speaking his mind, and taking Nora right along with him. No soft fade out resolution where we can put all that awkwardness behind us. If we imagine a sequel it was unlikely to be she's having a baby.
Of course my reasons for blogging are very different now from what they would have been when I was an alienated disaffected teen, and what I have to say is also very different. I'm no hard harry and I don't think I'm a danger to anyone's life source. But in the inner upheaval that put the blog on life support for me, watching pump up the volume has ignited something in my head. Something about accepting who I am and what I do, despite the trouble it may bring.
When I blogged about the end of blogging I was enormously touched by the number of comments and emails I received that made me feel like my voice is meaningful to people. I admit to shedding a few tears here and there like the sissy I am. The idea that I make people feel less alone, less confused, less disempowered, less humorous is truly humbling and very motivating. I'm really proud of that and I thank you.
I also want to put it on record that that post was NOT about a single incident, where some rigid person took undue offence. It was not about them at all. There have been a lot of thems in my life. It was about me realising that when you talk out loud about the kind of stuff that most people leave in their heads, it is harder to get along with people. I can make people uncomfortable, sometimes cause them real pain because I do a fair bit of pointing out stuff they'd rather no one stared at. I don't mean to do it, but I do and my lack of ill intent in no way reduces the reality of any pain or discomfort I may cause. And because I do it like breathing, without thinking or knowing, trying to stop is hard and causes me pain. When I try not to say the wrong thing I lose the capacity to speak at all because everything seems equally potentially explosive to me. I find it very difficult to tell the difference between things I can say and things I shouldn't, between the things that are obvious to everyone and the things that are obvious only to me. Its a certain kind of blindness. I'm sure there's some kind of diagnosis for this, it's almost certainly a disorder. Not because this is unique to me and my kind - but because I think maybe I experience a version of this basic paradox of human interaction that is more extreme and puts me outside the range of 'normal' on the bell curve.
I am clear now that my blog is about me, for me. It is not a conversation, at least not right now. I have turned off comments because I want to use this place to speak my truths and somehow I can't do that in the face of others. I'm totally cool with people not wanting to read anymore because I know as a reader, the conversation is important. I'm sorry if you are unhappy about that and I'm sorry if what I have to share is not enough or not the right stuff. But for now I want things to be a little simpler for me while I play with this idea of being honest and just living with the consequences.
I blame all those 80s songs but it's a bit like what MCA said really, you gotta fight for your right to party.
Go watch pump up the volume. Get inspired. Get crazy.