Personal vs. Impersonal Relationships

There seems to be this implicit direct relation of a relationship’s quality and the closeness of the people involved, where the latter is measured through properties like the total amount of one-to-one interaction between people, the degree to which people are genetically related, or the actual amount of physical closeness (i.e. proximity) the people involved share.

I’m starting to think this assumption isn’t as true as I once thought. 

For example, one of my favorite sets of musicians is Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Besides the fact that I think their music is pure bottled joy, their live performances have never left me less than hypnotized. What’s so awesome about their shows is the genuineness they embody. There’s no scripted dialog, stupid routine, or cheesy “We love you, New York”; there’s just the moving image of happy people, doing their thing with a crowd you’d think they (Ed Sharpe, et al.) knew personally.

And that’s where I think the key concept lies; that’s where the idea of “the personal” breaks down completely. Because as a member of that crowd, I actually feel like I know these people personally, even if it is just for that night, and who is to say that’s not a legitimate connection.

Alex Ebert (the lead of Ed Sharpe) couldn’t remember my name if he wanted to, just due to the sheer massive number of people he meets at every show. In such situations I’ve discovered that you have to make a choice: either (1) know that the relationship between you and the band isn’t personal, and therefore can only mean so much; or (2) throw out the need for personal-ness as a required criteria, and allow yourself to feel the full force of the moment’s potential happiness.

Obviously this idea goes beyond Edward Sharpe or even music, but for me it’s so tightly couple to them, and especially Alex Ebert, because I’ve personally (in the traditional sense) met him twice, and although I know he couldn’t possibly remember those experiences with me specifically, the times I’ve spent with him and his band are some of the happiest memories I have.

Knowing someone’s name or spending a lot of time with a person are strict formalities that need not exist for an encounter to be emotionally fruitful.

I’ve spent more time singing and dancing with Ed Sharpe than I have with nearly ¾ of people I’d consider to be in my personal circle! AND WHO CARES! I don’t need my personal relationships to be anything they’re not, nor do I need Ed Sharpe to act any differently. The paradigm should fit reality, not the other way around!

All of that being said, I think this also sheds some light onto the entire celebrity complex that people, including myself, seem to be so fascinated with. Taking the above concept as a given: I don’t think it’s really that much of a privilege to be on either side of the celebrity relationship. If you can get past the boundaries that “the personal” imposes, then either side can enjoy the moment at equal intensity.

Also, while it’s practical for me to talk about how I (as a member of the crowd) feel about the performers, the idea of how performers see the crowd can be equally as interesting. I imagine this concept of a high quality, impersonal relationship is old news to people like Alex Ebert, his band mates, or any other genuine performer. They experience strong, short lasting, bonds to people they’ve just met much more frequently than we do, and perhaps even more frequently than they experience personal relationships, quality or otherwise. However, given that, such a perspective might shed some light on why some other performs can be such douchebags on stage.

While the potential for quality relationship is there, a lot of the time the crowd abuses their partner, the performer, demanding played out music, throwing things on stage, and doing generally anything to feed the confused hedonistic urge for a good time in a situation they’ve already predefined as impersonal. In cases like these, the crowd becomes its own beast, acting as if the performer is like some sort of credited vending machine taking a little too long to dispense their made selection; shaking the thing is near instinctual.

I think its because of this that one of my other favorite performers acts like such a dick on stage, yet remains to be so awe inspiring. Neil Young once told a fellow performer who was nervous before a gig to, “Show them no respect.” After experiencing Neil’s own lack of respect for the 4th or 5th time in person, I began to loose faith in my idol. Could such a prolific song writer, who’s work always carried the themes of compassion and togetherness, really hate people that much? Was he just another phony? I don’t think so. I think Neil just plays it like he sees it, and in the moment, the crowd – which is usually much larger than those at Edward Sharpe shows, and thus innately more unruly – can be just as much a factory of disconnect as it can be pool of mutual happiness. In that case, Neil looks at it (the crowd), recognizes it as an individual in itself, flips it off when it shows him no respect, and does what he came to do – play music.

Regardless, recognizing the true nature of one's involvement in “the whole” of things gives you a wholesome perspective on how to act. Allowing myself to let go of all the restrictions I’ve been indoctrinated with over the years has let me enjoy experiences with a new level of intensity; on the flip side, such a perspective has also let me forgive the mob-mentalitied crowd, as they know not what they do; and lastly, this outlook has given me an understanding of those who react to the mob rather than the individuals its comprised of; it’s only natural.

So, the obvious conclusion to this little rant? Ed Sharpe should cover a Neil Young song. I’d give a few suggestions, but I’d probably end up listing the discography, so surprise me.

Alex Ebert and I