Mile High Makeout: Playing the Part

I've got news for you. Hot Topic didn’t invent poseurs. A lot of us like to think that we’re “authentic” or “old school” or some other euphemism that implies both allegiance and entrenchment. But, in all likelihood, we all started off as poseurs. I know I did. And, in some aspects of your life, I’m willing to bet that you’re still a poseur. I know I am.

It is rare that I make it out to a high-dollar show in Denver – and by “high-dollar,” I mean anything with a double-digit ticket price – but in the past month, I’ve been to two of them, the Eels at the Fox in Boulder and the Raconteurs at the Fillmore.

Partly because these shows are a little pricey and partly because they are spectacles, they tend to draw a lot of folks who don’t see a lot of live music. You might call these folks “casual music fans” -- or “normal people,” perhaps. Either way, these aren’t the folks you’re bumping into at the Larimer Lounge or the hi-dive. They don’t fit the stereotypes of the scenester or hipster. Staying out past 11 p.m. on a school night is a serious decision for them. These are people with jobs, families, retirement plans – hell, I have all those things, too – but they’re also people for whom this weird world of live music is a diversion and not the vocation, occupation or obsession that it is for me – and many of you.

On the other hand, these people love music – and I love them for that. They proudly hold up their lighters and devil horns, scream with sincere adoration, sing along with the choruses and grin from ear to ear. They’re just as thrilled to be there as are the full-time live music extremists. And they’re also the folks who inject more money into the anemic music economy by buying thirty dollar T-shirts and real CDs.

But the folks I really noticed at these shows were those who decided to dress the part of “rocker” for the night. Eschewing their usual suits or business casual attire, these music lovers pulled out Van Halen world tour shirts, clip-on skull earrings and even leather jackets to complete the whole concert-going experience. One of my friends poked fun, but I really admire these folks. Poseurs? Sure. And magnificent ones.

When I was about fourteen years old, growing up in a tiny farm town, I stole a denim vest (yes, a vest) from my older sister. She’d probably acquired it at Casual Corner or some other fashion outlet for girls. Based on my limited understanding of punk, I covered the whole vest in safety pins and wore it proudly. I probably looked like a sexually-confused pin cushion – not the punk badass I so wanted to be. A short time later, I acquired an Army jacket from my Korean War veteran neighbor. Carefully – but not too carefully – I used electrical tape to recreate the Dead Kennedys logo on the back of the jacket. The jacket was way too big for me and probably looked more like a Halloween costume than a social, musical or fashion statement.

Poseur? Uh-huh.

And I’m still a poseur. When I put on a suit or business casual attire – I’m actually wearing khakis and a button-down today – I’m posing as a normal person. I go out into the venues where this style of dress is accepted and expected, and I play the part of businessman. And I kinda like it. And I also like the fact that I’ll carry a change of clothes – my own version of the rocker uniform – so that I can pose as something completely different after business hours.

The beautiful thing about all the semiotics of identity – all these external indicators of who we are or want others to think we are – is that they’re so easily changed. I get to choose at will which kind of poseur I want to be. And, five minutes later, I can choose again. This is a lot easier when my real identity, that sense of who I really am and what really matters to me, is well-formed and deeply internalized. Still working on that, I’m afraid.

In the meantime, I’m headed to Hot Topic.

-- Eryc Eyl

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera