Saturday, September 24, 2005

oh, williamsburg...

last night, i went to williamsburg to have dinner at planet thai and spend the evening with john f. and porsche and j. willie and gina went out to eat in the city and didn't make it to meet up with us. hanging out on the weekend isn't my style. too many pseudo-hipsters and tourists and urban voyeurs. the best night to go out is wednesday or thursday when most of those people are at home in bed by 10pm so they can make it to their 9 to 5 on time.

we went to a cd release party that was actually happening in john f's former roommate shrimpei's loft space that he shares with his girlfriend. it was a bit off the beaten track but they had a lovely view of the city and some really expensive building across the way that has buses to take it's residents to the L and a water taxi service to take them to wall street. as we pressed our noses against the window and gazed at the desolate street below, shrimpei explained how the entire block changed when that building began construction. his explanation was very a basic gentrification how-to, of course. but there was something more.

i don't like williamsburg. i don't think i ever have -- although in the past, i've found a lot in it to love -- like domsey's, when it was five floors strong and filled with beautiful vintage cocktail dresses that could be had for $5 a pop. *heavy sigh* a few years ago, when it seemed that no one but puerto ricans and hasidic jews were particularly interested in living there, something seemed to be going on. there were these wonderfully ornate yet really inexpensive exotic restaurants to try, there were coffee shops to loll around in, there were watering holes that had vibe, there were a few more artists and musicians than usual here and there, making their way creatively like everyone else in every other borough in nyc. it felt a little like the haight. and then all of a sudden, everything went to hell. the streets were filled with an arrogant breed that were content in the knowledge that they were more fashionable, more talented and way more hip than you. it was almost as though there was a portal that opened up somewhere in the belly of american youth consciousness and let them out at the corner of 7th and bedford, with their trucker hats and their denim jackets and their von dutch t shirts and the like. pouty-faced girls living that sex and the city lifestyle -- high heels, cocktails and all. and that goes double for the lower east side. they are theme parks, really -- replete with four star dining options and the like, amidst the squalor of the ghetto as an exotic backdrop to the day-to-day foibles of their city lives. that ghetto element makes everything dangerous and cool, doesn't it? makes it feel more like what nyc is supposed to be, whatever that is.

they still say that there's a powerful art scene in williamsburg that rivals whatever is going on in manhattan -- or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. my problem with that is that whenever they say that there's a scene somewhere, the scene no longer exists. so what's really going on?

williamsburg seems to be a community of dillitantes, a high-falutin' collective of those who are striving to be artsy misfits, a neighborhood chok-ful of the the young and the marginally talented -- those who are so high on the surety of their talents that they don't seem to realize that they're just not that good.

take the music scene, for example. no one seems to know how to play their instruments. if they do, their band isn't so hot. if it is, they have no songs. and if they do have songs, they aren't running around in williamsburg. and the clubs. well. the sound system can be awfully sketchy, sometimes. that means that if you're a vocalist that's actually singing (like yours truly) and you're not just hollering into a mic like a wounded farm animal, you won't hear yourself because there are no monitors and you'll probably blow your voice out. (which is exactly what happened to me at frank's lounge last week.) if there's a sound system to accommodate you, there might be a busted bass cabinet somewhere out back, but there's no backline. and of course, no one pays a cover to get into your gig and everyone expects freebies all night long -- like pizza and beer and cds and whatever else you got. unless everyone splits everything fair and square, you have to pay the band.

that's williamsburg.

who knows how long it'll take you to learn how to play the drums or finish your master's degree in photography or paint something that sparks someone's interest besides your roommates? if you don't have a trust fund or alimony or well-off parents to pay your bills, you're selling pot out of your bedroom or you have to live with 5 or 6 other people or better yet, your girlfriend is paying all the bills. (at least, she thinks she's your girlfriend...) who knows how long it'll take?

all i know is, williamsburg is too young, too trendy and too gentrified for its own good. i don't have the money to live or gig there but thankfully at least i know where to eat when i visit my friends.


Trey Desolay said...

Well, you nailed the place. There is an "art scene" here the way that there is theatre on Broadway.

True story. I'm talking to some recently-arrived-in-NYC girl in my bar. I mention that I live in Williamsburg. Wow, she says. What's it like to live in the Rock 'n' Roll capitol of the world?

I laugh, thinking she's taking the piss out of me. But no. She was serious.

The kids here playing at being artists don't understand the difference between genuine engagement with what they're doing and subscribing to particular fashions.

In other words, it's a very American place.

queenesther said...

that broadway remark was dead-on correct. anybody that's paying attention knows that downtown performance spaces are where the real creativity happens in theater. as far as i'm concerned, the home of rock 'n roll is whereever the badass is.

the problem with williamsburg is, everyone thinks that they're a (budding) badass musician/artist etc. -- or rather, to be a badass whatever, they have to live in a certain place, dress a certain way, behave just so, and so on.

it's rather sickening to think that being that caught up in what's hip is particular to americans. but as long as that portal stays open and they keep 'em coming (like the girl in your bar), i'm inclined to believe that it's true.