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Friday, January 13, 2006
Walking up 5th Ave to work today, a bit earlier than usual, I saw the Empire State was entirely hidden by fog. I squinted into clouds so thick they just came off as background but nothing peeked out at me, no office lights or bits of facade that just needed a little focusing to emerge. Maybe it really was gone; maybe they'd come and taken it all down in one night, just to see if they could, and no one was making a fuss about it because they'd known for weeks. I had just missed the news somehow. Maybe it was in one of those flyers I don't take, or it was only discussed on cable. Maybe the people I thought were going to ask me for money were actually going to tell me about the dismantling of the Empire State.

I usually look to it when walking to work, just for a little bit of reassurance. I don't know quite why it has this effect on me, but it does. On sunny days when it's all shining it makes me feel particularly good. I have a constant, vague urge to go to the top, but it seems like it would involve too much money and too much waiting and not enough being left alone and lying down and breathing in quiet air. Miss Clap and I almost went to the top of Rockefeller Center a few days back but it didn't seem worth the money, especially when we could walk two blocks and go nuts in Nintendo World for free. (It was great, but that's another story.)

The fog wasn't just taking up the horizon as it sometimes does, but it was pouring out of plastic pipes and people's mouths, even though it wasn't very cold. It was wisping all over. My walk that day was soundtracked by two songs: Cristina's "The Lie of Love" and David Byrne's "Glass, Concrete and Stone." They are anomalies in my collection and so doubly anomalous that they would appear back-to-back like that, but they were absolutely perfect, in the same way that a particular mix was in its tendency to come to Fiona's "Red Red Red" just as I emerged from the subway into Union Square, taking the scenic route through sparsely-populated benches and still vegetation. It was the fall then, and there was a lot of fog, and the song seemed to fit. My initial impulse was to attribute this to the particular vibe of late 70s/early 80s New York the music was working, jazzy and live, with a lot of chorus, and conjuring the feeling of a lone taxi driving through dirty streets at night, even if there was, thankfully, no sax.

But this morning it occurred to me that the feeling is less a particular city at a particular moment in history and more just fog. (Annie's "No Easy Love" just came on, and that qualifies, too.) Critics have a tendency to use the word "hazy" when describing some music, but that seems to imply unpleasantness, discomfort. Haziness is in your head; foginess is outside, and if things come close enough, they come clear. If foggy music conjures that era of New York, it's probably because images of that era tended to focus on the vacancy and general disrepair of the city. And it's notable that I can still conjure that feeling, especially in the morning, before everything's started to move, in the period that feels like a shift change for the whole burg.

Many have commented about the great feeling you get in a city of being alone in a crowd, but it's also true that even when you're alone, there's this almost physical knowledge of all the people just out of view, the people in the buildings you're walking between, even if there's no one on the street, and this is a lovely feeling. This is the effect fog emulates; it takes a crowd and divides it into cells that know how many other cells there are in close proximity, but have no sightlines into them.

I would like to figure out how to make foggy music, and I guess I would like more foggy music, even though it strikes me that Cat Power is foggy music, and Cat Power makes me want to eat puppies. I once made a bunch of songs that seemed good for rain, but that's not the same thing. I think I would need more pianos and cymbals, and maybe rimshots. Violins seem to help, too. (Can you tell I'm listening to Carissa's Wierd now?) My tastes run away from music like this, I think, but when it's right, it's better than anything else.