Vengo del Aire
Never in my life have I been on an airplane with smaller seats and less leg room than the one I’m currently riding down to Guadalajara, yet—despite the cramped space and the awkward position I’m sitting in—nothing about my situation is making me anxious or upset. I’m actually enjoying watching my tall and well-built friend DJ try to navigate the various perils of his position, hunched over his laptop with spreadsheets around him while the fuselage continues to close in. It’s all part of the experience and the journey. I know we’ll laugh about this flight a year from now and remember how ridiculous it was, which is why I’m letting the moment soak in. I’m enjoying my role as spectator more and more these days, doing my best to take a step back and let life come to me rather than attempting to manipulate every moment to my making. There’s a bravado in the modern world that encourages us to seize the day and force it into our preferred shape or design, but I’m no longer a fan of that mindset. Instead I seek to remove any sense of entitlement and make the best of every experience—be it first class or meta-economy.
I wasn’t always this relaxed about life, however. While today I’m much more at peace with reality, there are still memories that haunt my brain as I grow into my evolution as a person; experiences that should bring to mind fondness, but instead flood my body with embarrassment and humiliation. Some people think passivity is a weakness, but today I think it’s a skill and an admirable character trait. Someone asked me the other day what I’m most ashamed of in my life (it was an interesting conversation overall), and I prefaced my answer by asking: “Ashamed of in the moment or in retrospect?” There’s obviously a certain mortification in wetting your pants in public, or passing gas in a crowded room, but that’s an immediate and instantaneous feeling. There is another kind of remorse, however; one that overtakes you much later, only as you being to mature and understand the aftermath of your actions.
“In retrospect,” the person responded.
I had one such experience that came to mind.
I was roughly twenty-four years old and I was leaning against the stage at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, watching my hero Stephen Malkmus play a solo acoustic set from only a few feet away. This was before the big Pavement reunion, mind you, so at that point in time Stephen was only playing solo material. The other thing you have to understand, if you’re not familiar with Mr. Malkmus, is that he’s sort of a god in the indie rock scene; the musical idol of hipsters around the globe, yet someone who has never embraced or felt entirely comfortable in that role. As a Central Valley kid, I’ve been obsessed with Pavement since I was fifteen and the band is without a doubt my favorite of favorites, as was clearly the case for just about every other person in the room that night. For that reason, when Stephen suddenly started playing Pavement songs, none of us knew what to do other than gasp and freak the fuck out. It started with “We Dance,” but then it continued on into “Starlings of the Slipstream,” and beyond.
When it became clear Stephen was improvising and going off script, the invisible barrier between the performer and the audience instantly vanished and those who couldn't contain their emotions began catcalling and shouting out requests—myself included. Rather than sit back, shut up, and let this rare and incredible moment unfold before us, we felt the need to exploit it into our ultimate fantasy. We, the Pavement superfans, felt entitled to those songs, as if our adoration and knowledge somehow justified our demands and made us special or different than the casual observer in the crowd. Stephen, with incredible restraint, took the cacophonous feedback with grace and impressive self-discipline. He never gave in, responding only with prudence.
“No, I can’t play that; sorry.”
“No, not that one, guys.”
But even as he continued into “Range Life” and the entire room turned into a kumbaya style sing-a-long, we couldn’t help ourselves. The requests continued to fly and no matter what Stephen did he couldn’t escape or overcome the obsessive fandom that stood there before him, breathing down his neck; a room of people too overcome by their own dreams and desires to shut the fuck up and let the artist present his art. I look back on my own behavior in that intimate moment and I’m utterly mortified by my inability to simply be a spectator. It was a moment of pure selfishness, no different than jumping over the barrier at a baseball game and running around on the field, forcing the rest of the spectators to deal with my own solipsistic splendor. Just thinking about it now makes me nauseous.
There’s something very wrong with hobbyism and the appreciation of the arts when the people paying for the experience begin to think the price of admission includes a spot for their own participation. Nevertheless, it’s a trend that’s getting worse from my vantage point. I’ve heard Hamilton horror stories where groups of teenagers stand up in the crowd and start singing along with the play or shouting out the lines to the chagrin of those around them. Can you imagine paying $400 for a ticket and dealing with that? I’m not sure where that growing entitlement comes from; whether it’s always been a facet of human self-centeredness or if it’s been made worse by the Yelp era of consumer activism. Either way, I’m embarrassed that I was ever a part of it and I’m continually embarrassed when I see it happen in my own industry, both in those who work as a part of it and those who seek to enjoy its many fruits.
There’s nothing weak or impotent about being a simple spectator, or someone who blends in with the crowd. For years I wanted to be a tour guide of sorts, someone who introduced people to interesting and unique experiences. Today, however, I just want to sit back and enjoy the ride, which is exactly what I’m doing on this Volaris flight despite the circumstances. I’m going to Mexico to take care of business, but I’m going to let that business flow naturally and come to me. As the theme song to my favorite Mexican novela goes: Vengo del aire, no me compares.