wombat_socho (wombat_socho) wrote,

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There's time for the taking

As part of my constant effort to keep my brain exercised while working at the Evil Banking Neighbor, I normally devote part of the day to a random walk through Wikipedia. Today I started with the entry for British synthesizer musician and graphic artist Dennis Leigh, better known by his stage name John Foxx. This led me to a fascinating interview with him whose first part was published online at Ballardian and the second at Sleepy Brain. Foxx discusses the influence of British New Wave author J.G. Ballard on his work in the first half, and in the second half talks a bit about advances in media technology - some of which appear to have escaped his notice, such as the advent of one-man animated productions.

Foxx' surrealist legacy from Ballard was expressed in much of his music, starting with the Eno-influenced "Hiroshima Mon Amour" on Ultravox' Ha! Ha! Ha!, continuing through Systems of Romance, and perhaps reaching its fruition in his solo albums Metamatic and The Garden, though it seems he continued to work with these themes in his later albums Cathedral Oceans and Translucence/Drift Music. It makes me wish I was more familiar with Ballard's work; I'm not sure that any American SF writer has explored the dreamscapes of the cities and highways in quite the same way, although C.J. Cherryh's Sunfall does come to mind. materia_indigo, you've read Ballard; what do you think? We have to look to our visual artists such as Edward Hopper and cartoonist Ben Katchor to summon that kind of empty cityscape of dreams, I think; there's really nothing quite like it in American SF that I can recall, though admittedly my taste runs more to combat SF or the sort of adventures that Keith Laumer once wrote when he wasn't spinning his tales of Retief.

Moving in another direction, Foxx' comments on the uses of technology in general and cities specifically as ways of extending our bodies and minds struck a chord with me, reminding me of this Virginia Postrel article (h/t Rachel) and Mitch Berg's grumbling about the opposition to the proposed Nordeast Porky's, and Lileks' unsympathetic look back at the heyday of Minneapolis' streetcars. American cities are not like European cities, quite; this may sound like a truism, but since the late 19th century American cities have largely been shaped by this strange tribe, the "urban planners", who decided that cities needed buses in the 1940s (so they tore out the streetcars), freeways and public housing high-rises in the 1950s and 60s (plowing under gobs of working-class houses in the process) and now they say we need streetcars again.
*rolls eyes*
What I'm getting at here is that between rampant NIMBYism, bobo snobbery and general fuckwittery, urban planners and their allies in city governments are turning a lot of cities into places that don't really work for anybody, and that's not what cities are all about. People used to complain about city business districts being deserted after the close of business, but they don't seem to get that people don't feel safe unless there's an obvious police presence keeping the thugs under control, and there has to be a solid middle-class homeowner tax base around to support that. Otherwise, you get Detroit.
Tags: culture & politics, music
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