It’s nostalgic idealism in some ways, and I’m not sure how useful it is, but it’s still sad that when you have fifteen largely strangers around a campfire, it’s hard to find a song that everyone knows.
We seem to be missing some of those shared bits of culture. There was a lament about the folk songs of old not being there enough to bring everyone together. An oral tradition dying out, and being replaced by fragments and memories of Disney films (that one was probably my fault, sorry).
Not having the shared song, however, gave room for something else pretty, on this occasion. Everyone wanted to carry on, but there was nothing we could all sing, and initially, not enough talent/confidence.
But there was support. An impromptu siblinghood around the fire. That desire to be part of something bigger, to share each other, and live in this space more fully.
Also, at least some of us were getting drunker.
So, it became safer for people whose voices were a bit more fragile to sing. It became safer for people to try the things they new half the words to. People who didn’t sing in front of people sang. To me it felt magical. Fragments of folk songs, and little bits of other things. Supported and attended and applauded by this immediate community of strangers. United by the warmth of the fire, surrounded by the darkness of the world.
On a metaphorical level, the situation is much, much worse.
As a civilisation, our part of the world only knows one song, and it’s not one made for singing round campfires. It’s not about coming together, and connecting to the past and the future. It’s not about the world around us. It’s not about being a part of something.
It’s just greed and noise and now and self. The hymn of progress.
Its a catchy tune, it sticks in your head, and you don’t even notice that you’re singing along. It’s addictive and impulsive and you’re dancing it’s dance all the time. It’s got you trapped in it’s harmonies, and if you don’t work really hard, you’ll never be able to sing your way out of it. It’s simply too loud.
But songs come to an end. And we need to learn to support each other once it happens.
I think they way that fire got it’s confidence, was through improvisation. There was a moment of explosive shared experimentation. A silly but lovely song about a dinosaur, and a chorus of people wanting to harmonise and scat. Each time the chrous rolled around, people got better at singing around it, and at the end of each chorus, there was a mass freestyle. Part barbershop, part explosion of silliness. Simple parts for the less confident, and plenty of room for noodling.
The thing is, we don’t all know the words, but most of us can sing. At least well enough to enjoy it and connect.
We can sing ourselves together.
Illustration by Billy.
This week is responses to the Dark Mountain Festival. There’s some more context here.