Poetry, rebellion & the 21st century Band

By Andrei Codrescu

Zaid Faroqui, 20 years old and the C.E.O. of the Web design company Cyquester Technology, said: “Doing an Internet startup is like having a band – that’s my basic theory.” And thereby he illuminated an aspect of the zeitgeist that’s been puzzling me for, lo, these three years at least. Having a Band was the dream of powerless youth since the 1960s. It was the only way to gain independence and put one over on your oppressors. The Band dream lasted until the 1980s when most kids started dreaming of being stand-up comedians, but there were few venues for underage comedians, and the only way to the stage or to the screen led through the labyrinthine world of school productions and talent contests, a cumbersome apparatus still subject to authority. Self-expression and the potential for rebellion was still only possible for a kid through a Band. Music, famously, favors the precocious.

I came from even further back, from before Band or Comedy, when the path to victory over adults was Poetry. Poetry too favors the precocious and is a fine instrument of rebellion, calibrated just right to send arrows of disdain into the heart of conformity. It makes sense that music wedded to poetry should soon follow and congeal in the Dream of the Band, just as it makes sense that television should draw both Poetry and Band into its glow and return both magnified by the strength of the audience. And it makes sense also that the Internet should follow both Poetry and Band because it envelops all media and returns rebellion to its source, pure information, unencumbered either by Poetry’s referentiality or Comedy’s complex messages.

Poetry, when I first started, in the very early ‘60s in a society poor in means of expression, was an almost totally individual act of resistance, without much echo. The Band was a much grander public proposition but it was a collective assault made by complicated interpersonal relationships. The Comedy stage and its connection to TV with its wires and producers behind the scenes, had an even larger audience, but a lot less independence. Now, it’s the turn of another generation, and, superficially, the Internet seems to return the power to the adolescent creator because it is pure information emanating from a single source. It would seem also to correct the dilution of power induced by the collective of the Band and to eliminate the cross-purposes of producers. I say “seems” because the Internet Startup is not the blog or the individual Web site, but a commercial proposition that enmeshes youthful rebellion with the collective of consumer society, making it indistinguishable from conformity.

We have come full circle: Poetry has become money. Rebellion is dead, but power has passed on to the children. It’s up to the old to rebel now. Poetry is a pretty good tool.