Saturday, September 7, 2019

Reverse Lion Dance

We all seem to agree that rituals and ceremonies are both needed and welcomed at life’s big moments— births, graduations, weddings, funerals and more. And in some cultures, they extend that idea to the opening of a new business. Like China, for example. At the grand opening of a store or business office or school, the lion dancers are invited to mark the occasion and bring good luck and fortune. There were lion dancers at the re-opening of the De Young Museum in San Francisco and we hired some to open our National Orff Conference that we hosted in San José back in 2007.

But what happens when a store or business or movie theater or school closes? Is there a comparable ritual marking of that moment? For all the people who were regular customers, for the neighborhood, for the store owners, isn’t this a death of sorts that is worthy of some public ceremonial farewell? I say yes and yet, I can’t think of any such thing anywhere that I know of. If people pass away without a funeral or memorial service, if there is no proper moment of mourning, it is said that their spirit wanders like a ghost, not of this world but not able to fully transition to the next world. Might the loss of places and businesses echo this sense of non-closure? Could there be some kind of reverse Lion-Dance to thank them and wish them well as they move on, a time for people to gather and share stories of their first date in that movie theater, the fun family dinners in that restaurant, the hours of pleasure spent browsing that bookstore?

Change is the way of the natural and human world and it is inevitable that the things we once enjoyed and even loved have a certain longevity and then close. But wouldn’t it feel good to do more than exclaim, “Well, that’s a bummer!” have a way to process the feelings of loss? Again, I say, “Yes.”

This on my mind because I rode my bike on Haight-Street and saw the big EVERYTHING MUST GO!! CLOSING SALE!!! sign on the Haight-Ashbury Music Center. My reaction was immediate: 


I’ve been a loyal customer since it opened in the mid-70’s, back when it was called Chickens That Sing Music. They’ve supplied my school’s music program with all sorts of instruments, repaired our drums, sold our special vibraphone mallets and with a remarkably consistent group of workers who I came to recognize. Especially the owner, Massoud. I didn’t have time at the moment to pop into the store and get the story, but found a newspaper article in which Massoud said he works every day except for three and hasn’t had a paycheck in five years. He explained:

"The demographic of San Francisco has changed a lot. A lot of our customers have moved out because the tech people have moved in and they can't afford it here anymore. Tech people don't seem to support local businesses — they like buying everything online."

Well, here’s the second post in a row noting that this truth is really starting to hit home. It pisses me off and at the same time, here I am writing a blog post made possible by the tech industry. We support it in a thousand ways and then it bites us back. Aargh!!

I propose a gathering of musicians outside (or inside) the store on closing day to sing it off properly to the next world. Have some time for testimonies, bring some rubber chickens to sing music (or a real one to sacrifice?) and hey, why not Lion Dancers going backwards out of the store? 

Meanwhile, Haight-Ashbury Music Center now joins the ranks of my dearly missed San Francisco places— the Surf Theater, Uncle Gaylord’s ice cream, Fleishacker pool, Aquarius Records, Stoyanoff’s Greek restaurant, Narai’s Thai restaurant (and recently Tep Nam), Heidi’s Bakery, Le Video and so much more. Thank you for your service and know you are missed! 

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