Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rust Belt Chic: Thursdays in Cleveland

If I had to name one band to represent Generation X suburban America, then I would choose Talking Heads. In that regard, David Byrne as Rust Belt Chic connoisseur is no surprise:

“I found myself riding through vast vacant lots, covered over with grasses and some filled with rubble. Once in a while there was evidence of some habitation, but mostly it was a postapocalyptic landscape at its finest. One of the best and most memorable bike rides I’ve ever taken.”

Can you guess the city? Byrne also has some nice words for Pittsburgh. (Hat tip Pop City) I recommend reading his blog post about a recent trip to Cleveland:

I was tipped via an e-mail sent by a man named Tim Rossiter to my office. Tim wrote: “I've got to tell you about a special Cleveland treasure, Glenn Schwartz. Glenn started the James Gang in the 60s, then moved to California and was in the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. He flipped out soon afterward and was in religious communities. He's had a rough life and is tortured and crazy…Now Glenn is 67 years old and plays in a blues trio for free late every Thursday at a small bar called Major Hooples. There are typically 20-30 people there and he is jaw-droppingly amazing to see. His playing is like electric bolts straight from his psyche. He jumps off his amp and plays guitar with his teeth. And he often preaches fire and brimstone between songs. It's something very special and you won't see anything like it except on Thursdays in Cleveland.”

Well, Tim didn’t exaggerate. The place was a low-key little dive and at one end, not even on a stage, was Glenn, his brother and a drummer, all playing at full volume.

Sure enough, between amazing and inventive Hendrix-like solos, he would admonish the audience and prophesize “blood on the moon and War in America.” He may have lost his mind but his fingers are firing on all cylinders.

The bartender told Natalie that if you wanted him to stop playing you just had to dance. Well, see for yourself. Apologies for the mostly lousy sound quality; Glenn’s playing deserves better, but you’ll get the idea. As Tim said, only in Cleveland.

I first became aware of Byrne's love for shrinking cities in the magazine Pittsburgh Quarterly. The murals in the St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale captured his imagination:

The murals are a vivid mix of religious/cultural themes and commentary depicting the struggles of Croatians in America. Croatian immigrant Maxo Vanka painted them on the church's walls and ceilings between 1937 and 1941, and the unorthodox work represents his views on war and the toll of industrialism. At the time, Vanka said, “These murals are my contribution to America.”

When musician David Byrne of The Talking Heads saw them, he called the murals “spectacular” and called Vanka “The Diego Rivera of Pittsburgh.”

I tucked that reference in the back of my mind and I'd bet it has informed my thinking about the appeal of Rust Belt Chic to Generation X. Reading Byrne's Ruin Porn Tales (great title for a book) reminds me of Anthony Bourdain's celebration of Baltimore, Detroit and Buffalo. It is the best and worst of geographic fetishism. It smells of post-colonial exploitation. Most importantly, it is a wonder to behold. The love for these cities is sincere and invokes a passion that might energize a new American urban economy.

1 comment:

joe said...

Nice post Jim. That last paragraph about sums it up.

It's all there in Nothing but Flowers, no?