Reinventing Ritual

Dean plays acoustic guitar

The image is of myself playing Richard’s guitar several hours into a wake.

Recently, I’ve had the dubious pleasure of attending several funerals. I’ve not been with hardcore drugs gangs, suicidal goths or trick motor cyclists – there just happened to have been a series of deaths this year. It’s a sad by-product of being in one’s 40s.

I’m quite used to being with my Generation X peers, hanging around, socialising, making merry, and being creatively spontaneous, but it’s quite another thing having to conform to society’s expectations after all this time. Few of us are even married.

Sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing and mostly we don’t care, but in doing what feels natural, we are stripping away the hackneyed remnants of centuries, and in being true to our punk generation, we’re returning to more elemental ways of expression. The fact that we are re-inventing rituals doesn’t even occur to us, but that is what we are doing.

I feel that the future of my own performance should include ritual in some way – not constructed from other rituals, but emerging from the realities of life as it is lived.

The only performer I have ever seen who has really pulled this off is David Byrne, during his arty Talking Heads days. Somehow he managed to absorb as well as model charismatic movement and gesture – in particular the wonderful video for “Once in a Lifetime” shows this clearly, with dress, choreography and declamation all orginating from Pentacostal preachers.

Studying the process he went through to arrive at this extreme artistic end point, it shows me that he used a process of observation and instinct. Like many artists he also found a sympathetic working partner, in his case Brian Eno, whose biggest gift seems to be becoming an effective catalyst for others, exploring with them their expressive outlets, pushing not just the envelope but the entire stationery shop, and often arriving at quite remarkable outcomes.

Both Eno and Byrne are from an older generation, but they still speak directly to mine. Their legacy which we cherish is the inventive flair and fearlessness which distinguishes them from so many conservative artists.

If I were to model myself on Byrne, that would be missing the point entirely, but he shows me a means by which I can navigate to find my own new ritual space.

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