Fri Aug 17th, 2007 at 11:33:18 AM EST
There are, as they say, many ways to skin a cat. All through time, people have got themselves a little messed up in their heads, or found that the person they need to be and the one society allows them to be are just enough at odds that sometimes ya just gotta go let off steam. And funnily, many societies, probably without even realising it, do create little boltholes where people can go do a few things they wouldn't normally.
Take football, well any sport really, but that's the one I know. For 90 minutes or so, if you allow yourself you can have an emotional workout the like of which is rarely available in the real world. You can shout, get angry, scream, cry in frustration, quake in fear, go from the depths of despair to utter elation. All in a minute. When you care, football is agony. Yet when the whistle blows it's over. And somehow from that workout those of us who know are mentally healthier for it.
In other places people use, and abuse, alcohol or other things. Okay in occcasional doses, but not when it becomes our way of getting through the day to day. However, others may experience conditions of poverty or gender restrictions that don't allow this. In the muslim world the lives of women from lower classes are difficult and full of stress. Money is tight, or non-existent and invariably its provision or absence is dependent upon men. Yet they remain under enormous social pressures of expectations and confirmity.
It is no surprise that stress-related mental health problems begin to exhibit amongst such people; what is surprising is that there is such a well-used yet poorly documented remecy to such ills: The zar, or trance dance. Mind you, it is only poorly documented because researchers are invariably men and this is an event for women only; men burn off their steam in other ways.
Although the rituals surrounding the zar are formal, complex yet varying from region to region, the essence is that a woman who is finding herself with unspecified "issues" will seek out a zar performance. Here a group of musicians (the only males allowed) will play very insistent rhythmic musics which the women will "dance" to. However, it should be noted that this is a head-tossing dance where the feet are invariably static. The rhythms will change but the constant theme is that it has a definite and dependable beat. The zar can go on for hours and women will join in or step out as the mood takes them, gradually becoming more entranced until finally they will slip into a full trance and be guided by a leader from the dance floor to recover.
I have taken part in a zar and was struck immediately by the similarity to my old headbanging days when I was freaking out to a succession of "prog rock" tracks. Indeed such was the similarity that I was driven to compare the experiences (and decided the rock version suited me better). After a half hour or so I got tired and retreated to a seat, the whole thing petered out after 45 minutes (this was England and hours-long performances are not on). It was noticeable to me that all of the (British) women were deeply affected by the expeirence, which I put down to probably never having danced like that before (I admit I was blase to it having experienced it so much before). Nevertheless, their reaction was profound and sincere.
Afterwards, I began to re-visit my own rock-life informed by this understanding. Was my choice of music driven not so much by an intellectual admiration of Jimmy Page's guitarwork and more by the fact that the rhytms were reliably therapeutic for the emotional issues I faced during my teens and 20s ?
Silver Machine by Hawkwind was my first freak out. Day after day I'd come home from school and play the single back to back several times, burning out of myself all of the emotional issues I'd faced that day. Indeed I used to think of it in those terms, burning out the crap; I just never thought of it as therapy. Other musics followed, the notables being "Chain Reaction" by Can, "Dancing with the Moonlight Knight", "Fountain of Salmacis" & "Supper's Ready" by Genesis, "Echoes" by Pink Floyd", "Song Remains the Same" and "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin and "Wheels of Confusion" by Black Sabbath. Whatever my emotional state, I'd invariably find solace from one of those. Of course, other songs were suitable for other, minor moods, but somehow I'd instinctively know what would "sort" me out.
So, I wonder if, heavy rock arose to address the emotional needs of people in the 70s & 80s as we all became more isolated and separated from each other. A reaction to societal alienation. that's possibly taking it too far, but looking back on it, I can't help but see all of those who were into music the same as I was and wonder if, to some extent, they were self-medicating as I was, as football fans do, as trance dancers do.