clap clap blog: we have moved

Monday, October 06, 2003
In the NYT Magazine, James Traub talks about how, despite the many similarities between NYC now and in the 70's, it was, no two ways about it, more dangerous then. Which is weird to read on Monday morning, because it was pretty much what I was thinking about on Sunday night.

Yesterday around 5, me and Miss Clap decided to go for a walk around Williamsburg for various nefarious purposes. We ending up heading north into Greenpoint, where we learned via cars with flags on them honking loudly, that some Polish team had just won something or other. After a while we turned towards the river and walked among the warehouses and factories and shipyards and weeds, and then we turned back inland (as 'twere) and walked beside very nice familial row houses. And then we stood on the corner of Bedford and North 7th for a while, opposite the subway, and watched. And it was then that I finally understood just what was so weird about Bedford.

I don't have the same love/hate relationship with hipsters that some people do (or, at least, a different kind of love/hate relationship). My feeling on the odd fashions is that if it gets 'em laid, more power to them. And I like going to Earwax and Main Drag Music and the coffeeshop and North6 and Galapagos. They're nice places to go. But the weird thing is the context. I don't think you'd get a lot of argument that the main ethos behind Bedford is a sort of recreation of the vital NYC scenes of the 70's and 80's, the punk and post-punk scenes that flourished in the LES. And in many ways, it's been a success: there's been more great music coming out of New York in the last three years than in a long time, it seems. But the problem is that the Bowery and the LES in the late 70's / early 80's really was dangerous. You'd probably get mugged, step on a crack pipe or two in your time, and have to be really careful. CBGBs was surrounded by violent crime, homelessness, and poverty. In contrast, you walk a few blocks away from North6 and you've got a pretty placid warehouse district, or a reasonably safe Polish neighborhood, or a Jewish community. It's not even remotely the same, and it seems pretty clear that it was this very context that fed into the NYC music scene of that time period.

That said, I don't think the difference is necessarily good or bad. (Although quite frankly, it's good for me, since it means I don't get mugged.) There are issues of gentrification, of course, but by all accounts Williamsburg is just a lot nicer than it was 10 years ago, and it seems like the old neighborhoods still exist beside the new ones. But that's irrelevant, because what we're talking about here is the artistic output of the scene, or, more specifically, the music. I don't think the LES context made post/punk better, just different in a way that was often good. And I also think, as I say, that the music that's been coming out of this new context is very good as well. From a certain viewpoint, it's less "authentic" because it's not created under as much distress, but it's still, you know, actually authentic, since this situation does exist, and this is what we're making out of it.

At any rate: take a walk around there, between the Williamsburg bridge and Queens, on a gray day sometime. It's quite nice.

ADDENDUM: Other articles in the Magazine bring up hip-hop, and maybe that's a better jumping-off point for what I'm trying to say. Even more so than punk, hip-hop came into being specifically because of poverty and government cutbacks. But while there's no doubt those criteria were crucial for that particular act, that's how it was created. So while poverty and danger was a necessary context for the creation of hip-hop, despite what some might insist, it's no longer a prerequisite for its continuation. De La Soul and their kin have, I think, inarguably proved that good hip-hop can come out of a comfortable middle-class existence.

The same thing, I think, applies to indie music. As the kind of sad post-70's/early 80's history of punk and hardcore prove, continuing to produce the new style of music in the same context simply replicates what was already done better. So the great thing about NYC right now, in many ways, is that despite the occasionally-annoying desires of its residents for it to be like it once was, it's not, and that new context, combined with the rich history we've built up, has just as much capacity for creating something new as the crime and danger of that earlier time did. This is exciting, and it's why I'm happy I semi-accidentally ended up here doing what I do.