Last month, during a weekend visit to Brooklyn, I found myself in a kitschy dance bar, listening to early 2000s Atlanta music that I hadn’t heard since middle school. Preceded by aggressively undanceable hits from the 50s and 60s – that people danced to anyway because sometimes a good time is a mission, not an experience – the Atlanta songs were jarring. Though I quickly realized that I rarely had any knowledge of these songs beyond their first verses or choruses – the attention spans of 12 year-olds are pretty short – it was genuinely exciting to hear them, especially when I was so far from Atlanta.
But the excitement didn’t last long. As my veil of nostalgia and surprise slowly lifted, I started to notice how other people were receiving the songs. Most of them were executing the same generic dance moves that they had been employing throughout the night. I didn’t think much of this until the DJ played D4L’s “Laffy Taffy,” the song that introduced the world, and me, to leanin’ and rockin’. Accordingly, I leaned, I rocked, I snapped, I did my step, and what do you know, I was doing it all by myself.
I was the outlier. Sure, no one said anything. But I could read their body language and the collective corporeal consensus was clear: my nativist, slightly judgmental dance moves were undermining the mission. I was making things weird. So I stopped, caught my breath for a few minutes, then quietly returned to the dance floor, adopting the rest of the bar’s generic dance moves in a fit of quiet rage.
As the mid-2000’s Atlanta hits continued to play and the crowd continued to carry out its mission, I pondered my rage. I have never felt particularly possessive of popular music, especially Atlanta music, especially mid 2000’s Atlanta music, which is often cheesy with parmesan sprinkled on top, but I was feeling it. I genuinely felt violated, like something had been taken from me.
Eventually the DJ moved to some other unduly appropriated era of music and my rage subsided. In retrospect, the rage was indefensibly obnoxious. In the future I’ll definitely try to curtail it rather than eagerly giving in.
Yet, I’m ultimately struck by how primal it was, how instinctively this rage materialized. On some level this worries me because who knows what other affective allegiances are lurking under my skin, but on the other hand, it’s refreshing to know that I’m connected to Atlanta and presumably other forms of music and identity, on this weird, inaccessible, visceral level.
That said, I’ll continue to decline those discounted Braves, Hawks and Falcons tickets. Geography is powerful, but I’m not its slave. (I hope)