Before I moved to New York City, I didn’t know what a hipster was. I was moving there after graduating from university in Oxfordshire; the corduroy, savant, lord this & that Mecca of the earth. I was used to delicious rowing gods and socially inept geniuses. Hipsters? Pardon? I obviously wasn’t prepared, I’d never heard of many bands (including my ex’s), wasn’t up to snuff on video art and was not aware that one of my closest, childhood friends was in fact; a hipster (to be clear, he is one of the best people I know and insanely talented). If you Google hipster, there is a general air of disdain wafting throughout the results. Words like; annoying, pretentious, pompous and Williamsburg pop up like groundhogs wearing Warby Parkers. I bet some of you don’t know what those are, does that make me a hipster?
Anyway, while attending drama school in Manhattan, many of my new actor friends lived in Brooklyn; Williamsburg to be exact or “the Burg.” I’d often accompany them to bars and parties in the area, it soon became one of my most favourite places to socialize, probably because it had a similar pub vibe that I was used to and took me away from the tumult of the city. We drank PBR’s, rubbed shoulders with cute lumberjacks and ate bagels at 4 am. It was blissful. I myself, made out with drummers in bar basements and spent hours reading inscribed bathroom walls like an Egyptologist. I still didn’t know the term hipster but was quickly becoming one, my socks stretched out from my Uggs and over my knees where they stayed, I began rejecting said Uggs and pushed them to the back of the closet, replacing them with heeled black-booties, my dresses got shorter and I bought a trilby and copious beanies. My long, island tresses were cut into an angled, banged bob and dyed black. What was happening to me? I was slipping into a movement and didn’t even know it. Then I met him.
In the world of hipsters, he was one of their deities. His band at least was highly revered. At the outset of our courtship, I mentioned his name to my best, hipster friend B one day and he almost dropped the phone, then regaled me with how amazing this guy’s musical impact was. Honestly, I’d never heard of the band or him, he was always just this cute, eccentric guy at drama school who’d asked me out. Apparently, he was much more than that, so what’s a girl to do? Google again? I did and it was the worst mistake of my life; what is he wearing? Isn’t that hairstyle called Emo? Whose lap is that? Is that legal? He’d obviously been a very naughty boy, my guy and was considered a bit of a womanizing, hipster hedonist. We all love our bad boys, don’t we? I was young and looking for adventure, so why not?
On our first date, at some point in the conversation, I brought up his band and innocently inquired if they were on iTunes. He chuckled at that and my organic, cage-free lemon olive cake was picked to nervous crumbles. After telling B this, his hand met forehead, I guess my Ugg-free outsides didn’t match my insides and I was still very much a hipster sapling, a hip-ling. I soon fell in love, with the man and the mayhem but quickly realized he embodied an attitude I didn’t fully understand. He took me to see strange theatre and films, had lots of taxidermy in his apartment and owned a nineteenth-century chaise that was like sitting on a brillo pad. Being cool was uncomfortable. I didn’t get it but adored his uniqueness and swagger. I guess I’d always felt like a weirdo growing up in traditionalist Trinidad so anyone against the norm fit well into my mindset.
Up until that point, I’d survived happily on hipster-lite, living with him sent me deep into the fault lines of the era. It started gradually; he’d play this weird music at dinner, lots of chanting and moaning, and then switch to euro-electronica featuring furious Germans. I’d retaliate by playing my airy, frenetic Soca and Reggae while hopping around the shag rug with his Italian greyhound. He took me to see films like Legend and The Room; we watched a series of his DVD’s including one with puppets and then a virtual assault of David Lynch. So. much. David Lynch. Including these obscure cartoons that made no sense and gave me nightmares. Dare I mention the ram’s skull on the wall facing my side of the bed? It was super-awesome when I would awaken to the cat staring at it, perching still in the dark. Let’s just say, the only peaceful rest was had by that dead goat on such nights. I was confused because, in his previous incarnation he’d made really beautiful music with a gloomy and poetic aesthetic that I loved, so the moaning monks and dead goats were bewildering, right? I’d often turn to B for interpretation, but when they finally met, the conversation turned into a debate on the cultural impact of the Muppets. I was alone in this.
We began frequenting galleries, mostly featuring video art; some of it I liked but most of it annoyed me. I felt like it existed for pretension’s sake. Soon after, however, the mother-load; he took me to this film called the Turin Horse, two and a half hours of utter black and white monotony. A man ate potatoes with his wife and saddled a horse on a loop, in Hungarian. I became desperate by the end of the first hour, praying for a projection-room fire. I thought I’d have to be carried out of there weeping. He hated my reactions to our nouveau outings and resented me deeply. Understandably, if you care about something enough you’d be protective of it so I don’t fault him in that regard. I guess I just didn’t get why he cared so much, why any of them did.
Art to me is resonant, and its expression shouldn’t ostracize so obviously. I was made to feel like an uncultured buffoon, especially when I didn’t grasp the concept of a dude in a wig screaming garbled, gibberish at me from a television set. On one such occasion I walked out of the exhibit and chose to watch kids play in a huge pit of those multi-coloured balls; I began acquainting the whole experience with him as a waste of my younger years and would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to dive in to said pit and escape the madness. To be fair, there were many exhibitions I was brought to that opened my eyes and I enjoyed the oddities explored, like; The Syphilis of Sisyphus, I’ll never forget because though fabled and totally disturbing, it told a story that pricked my understanding. Syphilis aside, I feel much of the heightened-art scene in a hipster’s New York is steeped in this hijacked idea of abstract and is always trying to outdo the other in originality and pomp, while consistently losing the point. TV’s anyone?
I have yet to encounter an artist that did pompous as stunningly as Warhol or satirized it quite like Basquiat. Now we have Damien Hirst, who I despise deeply and Bansky is my generation’s Samo, meh I’ll take it. Of course, I’m no expert and only know enough to make surface comments so take it as you like. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer and love a story, so the art I admire usually tells one that tugs. I don’t know. I will say, my brush with the hipster zeitgeist left me motionless, for the most part.
Now that I’ve loved and lost, rolled down my socks and packed away the beanie, I can look back objectively. What I gained from the experience with my hipster tour-guide showed me that such a world isn’t for me, at least not in totality, I like a little of everything. To me, the hipsters are the lost boys, who have created a plaid-clad Neverland in a mainstream world that just doesn’t understand…but to each his/her own. Fact is, in, amongst my rug-dancing and confusion, I felt and lived that moment outwardly. I was tasting a new life, a new city and though clumsily, I didn’t hide behind a facade of cool like he did. I never have to be honest, it ain’t real. Plus, the coolest people I’ve ever known, never tried to be.
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C.S. Lewis