I’ve been where you are. Enjoying the night. Letting the smoothness of the jam band on stage sink into you. The bouncing bass. The silver-tight guitar hits. The competent drumming. You’re doing what you can to forget about the week.
When all of a sudden some motherfucking steampunks show up.
Steampunks are essentially dressing up as Samuel Clemens retro. Steampunks look at a handlebar mustache, muttonchops, perhaps a guidebook for how to properly build a late-19th-century textile factory, a mechanical arm prosthesis, some short story tracks about eugenics, not-but-kinda futuristic pistols, saleable opinions about the East India Trading Company, and say why not? They act as if their last party was the pre-Antietam cocktail party at Lady Archibald’s. Steampunks are like Mary Todd Lincoln has had another one of her fits and needs a few officials adorned in formal, period-era sack suits, bowler caps, and wire spectacles to stand astride her bed for protection and intellectual companionship.
In essence, steampunks are not you and me. Steampunks embrace the technology of the Industrial Revolution and the unmistakable political tenants of the anarchists down the street who hold a taco night on Thursday from “7:30 to ?” Steampunks are here for us when we’re dying to talk about the political fallout from the Haymarket Riots and the latest art gallery at the local non-profit coffee shop.
Just the other night I hit up one of those retrograde bluegrass bands. I’d had a few, and I found my feet made more sense doing some roguish Celtic stomp. That’s how it is some nights. But, as I was out stepping on some Dick-Van-Dyke-notch bluegrass shit, predictable as rain some fucking steampunks showed up. And when the steampunks show up, they do not hide. The steampunks cavalcade onto the center of the dancefloor from whatever fucking H.G. Wells drug submarine they arrive from and with knickerbockers, a few choice karate kicks, and imperturbable boxer hats (perhaps a sporting jacket with ornamental copper buttons, perhaps a doctor’s working medical bag), the steampunks will absolutely sink to stage-flaccid whatever eagerness or excitement you had about enjoying tonight’s live entertainment. It’s fucking impossible to enjoy your time when near a steampunk. You just want to drink decent IPA and talk about why this song reminds you of your most recent break-up, and they just want to discuss the length of tailcoats and choice in monocles for private detectives who rode steam-powered locomotives.
We all like to think we’ve had enough of [insert noun here] punks. Crust punks. Fleet Farm punks. H1N1 punks. We’ve seen them all. Like a bad buffet. But then, just when we think we can go back to the club, when, like at the end of the zombie apocalypse movie when the streets of London or [insert Detroit suburb here] have been cleared from flesh-eating undead the heroine and her blood-smeared boyfriend emerge into a strip mall only to be gobbled up by a zombie Cecil Fielder from behind a fake office plant, well, same story for me and the motherfucking Steampunks. I thought the scene was clear. I thought after one cursory glance or two around the bar that nope, no one from the mid-19th-century reenacting a trend of clothing and/or living inspired curiously by the dominance of the steam engine and rapidly advancing industrialization of urban cores is here, and then, sure enough, from around the corner, at the first banjo strike, come two motherfucking Ellis Island steampunks—high-waisted pants, sensible leather boots, suspenders, Edwardian top hat, and obligatory neck plumage (representing the availability of Japanese silks).
Totally just sucker-punching the whole night. Putting Fun into a gunny sack, punching him senseless, and against the backdrop of heavy Cockney remonstrations, dumping that good time you were having into the motherfucking fictional, industrialized and quickly polluting, grimy waterway in mid-century London or Paris or Philadelphia.
Photo courtesy Sam Howzit