The theme of this Spring Break Week is short stories, but more deeply it’s that of culture generally. Indeed, The Portly Politico has dedicated itself increasingly towards cultural, filmic, musical, and literary matters far more over the past few months than ever before, for a reason: creating culture is far more powerful and interesting than largely meaningless squabbles over minute points of policy. That’s not to say that politics aren’t important—at the local level it’s very important—but there’s not much we can do in a practical sense to sway the indifferent national government at this point.
Culture, on the other hand, is something we can proactively create and promulgate. A major push on the traditional Right as of late has been to do just that: create a compelling (counter?)culture to the prevailing popular culture of nihilism and materialism. Rachel Fulton Brown’s Centrism Games: A Modern Dunciad, the product of her excellent Telegram chatroom Dragon Common Room, is one exquisite effort at creating (and reviving) a rich literary culture on the Right. The collaborative nature of the work—RFB is the editor, with sections of the epic poem composed by different members of the chat—further highlights the proactive act of creation among like-minded individuals, each mixing their unique voices into a scathingly satirical blend.
My own book, The One-Minute Mysteries of Inspector Gerard: The Ultimate Flatfoot, is my own meager contribution to this new culture—a work so honestly reflective of my teenaged self, I didn’t even fix some of my collegiate typos! It’s a bit postmodern and absurdist, but it at least gives a glimpse into the gradual transformation of one young creator (in this case, me!).
My music, too, is a humble contribution to cultural creation. I’ve always thought of The Four Unicorns of the Apocalypse, in particular, as an eschatological statement of sorts. At the very least, it attempts, musically, to reflect a civilization‘s fall into decadence and nihilism, before the cycle repeats.
But I digress. For this week’s edition of TBT, I thought I’d do something I’ve never done before: bring a post from my SubscribeStar page out from behind the paywall.
The occasion for writing this post—“The Creation of Culture“—was the release of my friend Jeremy Miles‘s collection of poetry, A Year of Thursday Nights. Jeremy is no Right-wing traditionalist, but his collection is the result of a year of attending open mic nights and performing his (very entertaining) poems. In essence, he created culture out of a vibrant community of artists and musicians, both chronicling and enhancing the performances that took place at a local coffee shop’s open mic night over the course of 2019.
The impeachment trial rolls on, and continues to be so boring, even the senators involved were falling asleep. I have a classic Boomer colleague with whom I share a classroom, and he has been following the impeachment with rapt attention, periodically bursting into fulminations that “both sides have already made up their minds! They’re not even listening to each other.”
He’s a sweet man, so I bite my tongue. The reason no one is listening is because the whole thing is patently a sham. The process isn’t being taken seriously because it’s been cheapened: it’s merely a lurid attempt—the latest in a long series—to undo the results of the 2016 election.
That deep division is so predictable at this point that it’s not even interesting anymore, even if it remains important. But rather than dwell on the fundamental division between two diametrically opposed philosophies (and, in many ways, theologies), I want to devote today’s SubscribeStar Saturday post to something more positive.
I’ve been pondering lately the ways in which culture gets created. So much of our current political battles are really, at heart, spiritual. They are also cultural. In essence, some people are allowed to have culture; others—straight white Christian men, for example—are not. Never mind that straight (and a few gay) white Christian men gave us the greatest works of classical music, notions of liberty and self-government, and all sorts of other wonderful cultural products.
That’s not to say that other people can’t create culture. Not at all. Simply saying that Aristotle was a great thinker doesn’t diminish, say, the accomplishments of George Washington Carver. But if we’re allowed to celebrate Carver as a black scientist, why can’t we celebrate, say, Mozart as an example of the greatness of Western Civilization? Indeed, the greatness of Western Civilization is that its principles may have started in Europe, but are, in fact, universal: George Washington Carver was able to conduct his peanut experiments awash in the intellectual ferment of Western culture.
But I digress. A good friend of mine has written an excellent collection of poetry, A Year of Thursday Nights. The poet, Jeremy Miles, collected the poems as he wrote and performed them at a local coffee shop’s open mic night nearly every Thursday night for a year. The work is a powerful example of how culture—and a culture—gets created.
I’ve been playing at open mics since about 2012. My inspiration was the short-lived Tenacious D HBO special, in which Jack Black and Kyle Gass start and each episode with open mic performances. I loved how they took the stage to a largely disinterested audience (largely accurate, at times) and still rocked out at 100%.
Locally, the open mic scene has morphed over the years, but the Thursday night open mic at Lula’s Coffee Company has remained a lodestar. Through a combination of consistency and good talent, it’s remained the most enduring open mic in the Pee Dee region.
That doesn’t mean it’s always been great. There was a time when the open mic was dominated by teeming teeny boppers, who largely showed up to hear their friends play. Otherwise, they’d talk loudly during performances and vape in their cars (if you’re going to smoke, just do the cool thing and smoke real cigarettes). Those were dark, sweaty, pubescent times.
But sometime around 2018 the Lula’s open mic underwent a revival; indeed, I call it the beginning of a “Golden Age” for the institution. Some excellent artists began frequenting the place, some making the long journey from Hartsville to South Florence (that’s about a 45-minute—maybe even an hour—drive).
It was in that heady brew of creativity—the “churning,” as a fellow open mic’er put it—that Jeremy Miles wrote his poetry. It was also where I made some incredible new friendships, and enjoyed some wonderful musical collaborations.
The point is that, over the course of the past two years, I’ve witnessed—and been involved in—the creation of a unique, special bit of culture: a culture of culture-creators (as pretentious as that sounds, these are incredibly unassuming, humble people). All of these grand political conflicts and philosophical struggles break down. The point is the music, and the friendships.
One guy, Mike—a bald, tattooed poet and former security guard with a taste for muscle cars and motorcycles—is a self-described Bernie Bro. It’s never affected our friendship, even though I told him I’m on the Trump Train (Filipino heart throb and medical student Angelo is #YangGang). It doesn’t matter! All of that melts away, because, again, it doesn’t matter.
Yes, yes—politics matter because our federal government is so powerful, the nuts in charge can seriously mess with our lives. But perhaps the cure to crazy Antifa types is creating a healthy culture in which people of like interests come together and share their passion. Deplatforming and the like is so dangerous because it marginalizes and isolates people, making the creation of mutual bonds (and, therefore, mutual understanding) impossible.
But Lula’s open mic has offered a glimpse of how things should be—how they used to be. Passionate, committed musicians coming together simply to make music. It’s a powerful example of the creation of a culture, and the power such a culture has had on my life and the lives of some of my dearest friends.