It's the new black.

When surrounded by hipsters

Library of Congress, c. 1910

We thought we were going to hear a homeless Gospel Choir.

In our defense, the concert title was “Homeless Gospel Choir.” English happened to be our first language and so my friends and I thought we understood: former street-dwellers clap their hands and sway and sing mighty music punctuated by “Alleluia!” and “Praise Jesus!” Who could resist?

We couldn’t; neither, it seemed, could the city’s hipsters. They appeared in the cobbled alleyway: the crusty local Magi of plaid shirts and gages come to pay their respects at the feet of the homeless Gospel choir.

We bought our tickets from a guy outside and walked into the concert hall. I say concert hall, but it was more of a club, with exposed wooden rafters, extraneous nails, large screens and garish neon lights positioned in unexpected places. And hipsters.

My two friends shared a Venn-diagram relationship with hipsterdom, meaning that they had overlapping characteristics (including an appetite for mustard yellow) but did not self-identify as such. I have an Orientalist relationship with hipsterdom, meaning I ascribe to hipsters most characteristics I do not myself possess. I was no longer in pearl and pump-wearing Kansas, awaiting “Alleluia!” sung by veterans down on their luck. I felt rather like Margaret Mead. I have never read Margaret Mead, but I imagine she took notes, and I promptly began taking notes on the natives in full amateur anthropologist fashion.

Most of our fellow concertgoers (all twenty-five of them) defied heteronormative standards of appearance. Most guys wore full beards and earrings; girls wore their eyebrows strong and their dyed-platinum hair simultaneously buzzed and long in different places. They altered traditional articles of clothing: guys’ cotton t-shirts had sleeves cut off, girls wore exposed neon sports bras with unbuttoned plaid shirts or 1950s dresses cut off mid-thigh. Everyone had tattoos. It was the unspoken conversation of the room: How are you protesting the suburban bourgeois?

The unspoken conversation continued on stage with the opening acts. Pale-faced local boys donned the electric guitars and said what a nice turnout it was and please I hope you enjoy the music. The music began and with it the ritualistic head-bobbing. The head bob, made by the band-players to each other to the beat, said: this is real, we are together, this is important, we will survive. It was ritualistic; it was the same ritual handshake grandfathers invented for cigars, the rote courtesy great-grandmothers made before tea.

The whole thing makes me think of Graham Greene’s Travels with My Aunt. In Travels, a middle-aged banker finds his retirement displaced by an extraordinary aunt. They travel together around the world, hopping in and out of crime and crisis. Yet it is in these most exotic places that Greene’s banker discovers the domesticity he’s never had.

As for the homeless Gospel choir – we left after the opening acts. Upon Googling, the Homeless Gospel Choir is a very nice bearded one-man-hipster-band. What’s in a name, eh? – Gabrielle

What’s your relationship with hipsterdom? Any tips for non-hipsters to survive encounters with the hipster world? What previous cultural movement do hipsters resemble?

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This entry was posted on July 5, 2012 by .

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