Wednesday, February 01, 2012

turning in the decrepitude

i'm deep into will hermes' book on the music scenes in 1970s nyc, love goes to the buildings on fire: five years in new york city that changed music forever [fsg, 2011]. nyc in the '70s was for some a cesspool and emblematic of all that was wrong with u.s. cities: high-crime, poverty-stricken, dangerous, dilapidated, and so on. what hermes' book shows is that beneath the surfaces of all the grit and grime was revolutionary sounds percolating amid a popular music scene that was roundly criticized for its perceived sterility.

i bought the dvds for season three of the cop sitcom barney miller. the years for the third season are 1976 and 1977, the era hermes chronicles in his book. miller is a favorite tv show of mine. i've always admired and related to the zen-like quality and intellectual goofiness of det. arthur dietrich, played by the late, wonderful comic steve landesberg. often the episodes were penned with much wordplay so much so that one show had both dietrich and miller trying to one up each other by quoting dickens. it works.

very often the humor in miller comes from a deprecating knowledge of characters stuck in a city in decay. entropy is the rule of order. the city's looming bankruptcy, the environmental crises predicated on jokes about acid rain and polluted snow, brown-outs and black-outs, cuts in departmental fundings and threatened police force lay-offs. it seemed like it was the end of the road.

i look back to that era i see fecundity, humor and survival. there's a beckettian grace as the characters of miller go thru their staccatto rythms. in the music as investigated by hermes there were small miracles. the talking heads and television on fire at cbgb. anthony braxton performing in lofts. bruce springsteen proudly declaring his natal city of asbury park, new jersey. looking back at 1970s nyc i see individuals and groups of individuals not making due with what they have but taking what they have and making it new.

which might be said for any era. i wish i could point out object lessons for today. because often it does seem like it is the end of the road now. yet lessons taken from the past are not easily come by. or if they are those lessons could very well be proven false. i can't help it. it's probably because i'm on optimist by nature. i look at the worst era for nyc, or one of the worst times for the city, and i find great beauty. i'm not the only one. proof too with hermes book on the era. people don't necessarily stagnate. sometimes they do. oftentimes they do not. we turn in our perceived decrepitude in order to create because if we stop then we stagnate. then we die.


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