I’m usually excessively early to parties. It’s because I’m quite socially anxious, and if I arrive before anyone else, I can establish my exits and seating arrangements while simultaneously ensuring I don’t have to walk into a room full of people.
I spent much of my youth standing in empty nightclubs for much the same reason.
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I was a week late for Florence & the Machine at Glastonbury, though. Not that I was expecting a gang of exuberant youths festooned in flowers to float into my living room on a cloud of hippy crack the moment I pressed Select on the iPlayer (although you can never be sure these days) but because I wasn’t that fussed about seeing her perform.
Don’t get me wrong; I liked the latest album. I liked a few tracks off the debut, ‘Lungs’, too. And as someone disappointed with female representation on the bills of major UK festivals this year, I admired Emily Eavis’ decision to push Florence up the bill when Dave Grohl’s broken leg meant Foo Fighters were unable to fulfill their headline slot.
I just didn’t feel the urge to allocate an hour and a half of my time to the performance. It didn’t feel like enough of an event.
It was only when I started watching it that I realised that’s kind of the problem.Embed from Getty Images
The reviews of the Friday night headline slot I read focussed on how intent Florence was on pleasing the crowd; the Guardian in particular hammering home the point with a solid five paragraphs describing how “hard she worked for the audience’s approval” and that throughout the performance she “looked like a woman enjoying her unexpected moment“.
As it turned out, this was reasonably accurate.
Flo did bound onto the stage with the enthusiasm of a caffeine fuelled red setter. She did yelp between verse and chorus and run from one side of the stage to the other a lot, testing the efficacy of one unfortunate security guards bicep programme as she drifted perilously close to horizontal over the crowd barriers and those who’d put in a solid nine hour shift just to be there when she did.
If she could have kissed them all, she would have done.Embed from Getty Images
And you know what? Why the bloody hell shouldn’t she? Why should she have to act like she doesn’t care about doing something she’s obviously dreamed of since she was a kid? Why should she have to affect a veneer of cool because that’s what’s expected and because Kanye made such a great job of not giving a shit?
While I watched the show, I was angry with myself for allowing the imposed criteria of ‘proper’ rock n’roll to push me towards overlooking what was a gloriously empowering performance. I’d like to think I’m impervious to such rudimentary judgements but perhaps it’s so insidious that one has to try and be vigilant at all times.
Or maybe it’s just me. As a music fan, maybe I’ve become so used to the idea that insouciance and indifference (I’m a Ramones fan, for Christ’s sake) are not only part of the rock n’roll narrative but actually are rock n’roll. That anything else is simply a diluted and therefore less interesting alternative.
But I’m not going to take all the blame for this. I’m only human, as the Human League once said. As humans we love a narrative, and I, like pretty much everyone these days, have been brought up on a diet of strength and invulnerability being essential for success. On this basis, it’s disconcerting – unattractive even – to see uncontrolled displays of emotion. Exuberance. Happiness. Gratitude even.
When you start getting into that kind of territory, the whole facade threatens to crumble. After all, to impart gratitude is to acknowledge that you haven’t climbed to that peak by yourself. A certain proportion of your power comes from other people elevating you to it.
That’s not to say that strength and invulnerability aren’t useful in certain situations. In combat it’s fairly useful, I’d imagine. And much as I’d like to rid the world of war and pestilence, no one is ever going to put me in charge of the world.
I’m too antisocial.
But now a fair proportion of us don’t have to wrestle lions for food, can’t we at least acknowledge that emotion is actually part of the human spectrum of sensation and not something that should be stuffed down the back of the sofa at the merest hint of someone walking down the hall towards the living room? I don’t mean the kind of emotional incontinence that greets a boy band breaking up or the death of a celebrity but how about expressing genuine pleasure at someone’s achievement?
It might not seem like much, but I can’t over emphasise how much watching Florence made me realise how much of myself I used to suppress because I was afraid of being called out and embarrassed for it. I hate the thought that twenty years on, kids are growing up within those constraints, most of the time without realising it.
I obviously still do, judging by how close I came to not watching that performance.