Sunday, October 11, 2009

The marching bands of the radical left

At a bit after noon today, I heard some kind of big drum beat outside, and remembered--today was the day of the Honk! festival in which a bunch of radical leftist marching bands march down Massachusetts Avenue. They go from Somerville to Cambridge's Oktoberfest, a street festival with no particular political approach. Our apartment, near Mass Ave, is equidistant between the two points, and therefore ideally suited to notice the arrival of the Honk! parade.

What the Honk! festival lacks in polish--one band's website earnestly stated that it did not discriminate on the basis of musical ability, bless their hearts--it makes up for in enthusiasm and anarchic charm. As someone who grew up on the left, I was always viscerally bothered when people decided to go to protests and behave like a bunch of wierdos. But for all my normalcy since then, what have I accomplished politically? And despite recognizing that I have accomplished little in political terms, I am not a member of a ragged marching band with a dance troupe of slacker girls and gay boys doing cheerleader moves in front. So, in the end, I've had the worst of both worlds: I do not get to hang around and dance in the streets with a bunch of radical wierdos, because I'm not radical enough politically or culturally; but yet, I also do not get to enter the halls of power and really get things done, because, well, because of a lot of reasons.

The Honk! festival is a great community event, though, uniting Cambridge and Somerville in a Somerville confluence of radical leftist marching bands and a random Cambridge street festival. This allows the radical leftist marching bands to gather and play in different little pockets of fans and casual onlookers throughout Harvard Square; and also, presumably, allows the radical leftist marching bands to eat jerk chicken, vegetarian samosas, pad thai, caramel apples, and the other things that are served at the booths of any street fair in a big city.

Relevant to medicine? Well, there was a group called the "Pink Puffers"--a medical slang phrase indicating people with emphysema-predominant chronic obstructive lung disease, as opposed to bronchitis-predominant "blue bloaters".

By the looks of the Honk! festival, radical leftist marching bands can be found in many different places in the world; the Pink Puffers are from Italy.

Here, on YouTube already! are the Pink Puffers rocking Somerville in preparation for the festival, showing off their radical leftist marching band ways:

Representative videos from last year (we randomly bumped into the Honk! festival last year, too--it's in the neighborhood, and hard to miss once you hear it): here we have New York's Rude Mechanical Orchestra. This year they were standouts, playing this same song, "Matador", by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, as they marched down the street.

Apparently "Push It" is also a favorite:

This does make me think that just as this emerging tradition among the radical left is doubtlessly fuelled by the many former marching band nerds who went on to read Gramsci and Emma Goldman in college, surely too the medical community also contains many former marching band nerds. The medical community's events would doubtlessly be more entertaining with medical marching bands as part of our professional and cultural tradition. I suspect the psychiatrists would blow everyone else out of the water, but I bet that infectious diseases has a lot of closet marching band geeks, and they could be contenders. And I'm sure surgical specialties, if combined, could roust up a fair number of brass players.

No, I don't see it coming any time soon. But, you never know.


Matt said...

Thanks, Dr. Joe. It's true -- giant puppets and marching bands might make the left look ridiculous, but we also make oligarchs and warmongers cry, and we are having more fun. So join us already!

Katie said...

In Philadelphia, there are several contingents of anarchists in the Mummers Parade.

And we have Spiral Q, a respected puppet workshop and community organizing group that teaches kids about West Philly community values (diversity, anarchism, puppets as a political tool, group dynamics, reading, math, how to use a hammer, etc.). There's an annual community parade, PeopleHood, that combines neighborhood little kids and neighborhood adults and is adorable.