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Sitting on the Stoop

A while ago I worked in the Locations department of VH1’s Hip Hop Honors. Our job was basically to coordinate the coming and going of various trucks and tour buses so that traffic continued to flow on the street and all our vehicles had places to park and/or unload. This meant that I was outside, sitting on 35th street in New York City for 10 days straight.

As I sat stagnantly and waited for trucks to come or go, the world around me was constantly buzzing. I began to really feel like a part of the city. I began to see the same people coming and going every day, walking to and from work in their own little world. Occasionally, someone would stop and ask what was going on and why we had half the street coned off. Local vendors would stop to chat, some in a vain attempt to befriend us in hopes that we would allow them to park in our section of the street.

Over time, I began to love the constant hum of the passing traffic and almost started longing for that unique brand of New York street stench.

… almost

I felt like a part of the neighorhood, like I was sitting on the stoop with my friends, chatting with my neighbors. For me, New York became a living, breathing being. It had soul, it had character, it was alive. I could see it, I could feel it, I became a part of it.

I was 35th street.

Few cities actually achieve this. I have lived all over the US and have only experienced this in small instances in certain cities before this show. It happens most often while I’m listening to music. I felt it once while listening to Dropkick Murphys in Boston. I felt it again while listening to Tupac in Los Angeles. As cliché as it is, I feel it every time I drive down the Las Vegas strip listening to Frank Sinatra.

Certain cities have it, while others don’t, but I’m not sure what “it” is. I want to call it character, but there’s more to it than just that. What is it about these cities that spawns so many great artists and artistic movements. What about Seattle spawned the grunge movement? Why did gangster rap explode in Los Angeles? Why is East Bay punk different from East Coast punk?

I see it often in local restaurants and shops. They have a certain flare. You can taste it in the food; you can see it in the people. I can’t explain it, but the second I enter these cities I can tell whether they’ve got it or not. Some cities just don’t have it. I’ve decided I will never settle down in one of those cities. I’ve lived in a few of those places before. They seemed to suck the life out of me like some soulless monster trying to fill a deep void.

I’m not sure what the point of this little post is; I have no theories, just thoughts. Maybe it comes with age. Maybe some cities are just too young. I’ve never lived there, only visited, but Austin seems like a city that will have it in force some day. They’ve definitely got at least a part of it. Maybe it comes with art. Maybe a city needs a solid community of artists to truly attain it.

I think that might be it. I think it has to come through the art in the community. If the art is substantial or of any merit, the community it came from will most likely gain the same merit. The only common thing I see in those cities I lived in that just didn’t have it, was a lack of a good art scene. They had very little good music, few galleries, and no cinema worth anything. They did not support their local artists and I’m sure the artists just left, before the city sapped them of any character they may have had. I know artists in some of these cities, and they complain about that very thing almost daily.

This may be some sort of microcosm for any society. This may be the very thing that every society must have in order to survive. Maybe society needs art. Maybe art is what gives a society its life; its soul. I’m sorry to go religious on you, but I’ve heard it said that art is man’s attempt at recreating the divine. Maybe without this connection with the divine, society as a whole will fail.

Maybe I stayed up too late.