I am usually very relaxed when I get on a plane. It usually feels like just another day, with a few tensions about organising this or getting a new pair of pants of something. But just normal and actually quite peaceful. Just walking along minding your own business.
But this is a whole new continent. And it is the country (too small a word perhaps?) that has colonised the South African imagination. When I was growing up you didn’t get Mr Bean amd Faulty Towers. You got Loving and Days of Our Lives, endless 30 min American comedy shows, Knight Rider, McGyver, The A Team. We were intimately acquainted with the American accent, American food, American cars, American houses, schools, parks, sports, history, music, life,…We felt the same nostalgia watching some young guy growing up in 1960’s USA as every young person in America probably felt…except it wasn’t our 1960’s and it wasn’t our present. To us it was one big movie set. It didn’t really exist and it referred to nothing real. It was just a big fantasy land where we could share the lives of strangers.
Back home in reality it was the 1980’s. PW Botha had his finger wagging at the nation, bricks were hanging from bridges over highways, the dark secret of separate development was slowly becoming clear to us young ones who grew up imagining that the beaches were full of white people because black people didn’t like swimming, that taxis were mini buses that brought workers into the cities from sprawling nameless townships (not yellow cabs hailed in NYC), and that Nelson Mandela was purple graffiti on the walls of subways.
No wonder we switched on the television at 6pm every evening for an hour of “America.” No wonder we drowned out the Afrikaans dubbed Beverly Hills 9021 with the radio’s “familiar” original American English original.
I visited Evita se Peron a while back with my family, and then again a few months later to play a concert. The whole place is a temple to the look and feel of 1980’s and…before. It all comes flooding back: the aesthetic misery that we have slowly erased with our smart phones and big screen TVs and shining malls. I felt a kind of terror just looking at these images from Evita’s world, the choice of colours, the grey suits, the flag, oh God the flag….the horror.
Pieter Dirk Uys, Evita’s founder, is a genius. He reminds us of the real. He reminds us why we fled into the fantasy world of the American people.
And now, as I sit in Cape Town airport, scarcely different to any of the many other airports I have been in in the last few months, I feel a sense of something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe I feel overwhelmed. I feel resistance. I don’t want to meet the reality behind the fantasy. I don’t want to relive the televised fantasy of my childhood. I haven’t really watched television in over 15 years (only the not-television of You Tube and the interactive television of the internet…insidious). I turned my back on the televised American fantasy and tried to find something else. New role models, new inspirations, new visions to drown out the blue and orange of the 1980’s.
I know that the America that I will land in tomorrow is an unknown entity. Regardless of a lifetime of absorbing one aspect of its culture, by choice or not by choice. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I insist that it be an unknown entity.
Because I don’t believe in collective pronouns.
Today I fly west to play music to a new audience.
I will attempt to leave my televised childhood behind.