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Monday, May 13, 2013

Brooklyn: It Ain't Where Ya From It's Where Ya At.

"It's funny how money changes situations."

That line (which is opening lyric of Lauren Hill's) doesnt really express what I meant, what I'm thinking is it's funny when diverse sides of issues get broken down into their extreme aspects and then those extreme aspects are positioned against each other.

"Can it be that it was all so simple?"

Brooklyn was simple (wasn't it) just twenty years ago. It was the sample place it is now, rich with history (the Revolutionary War and Brooklyn Dodgers had still happened here, despite it being the Brooklyn of twenty years ago) but back then Brooklyn was so simple to peg into a whole.

It was full of beauty, Brownstones and Botanic Gardens, and danger; Brownsville shootings, beef fed beat-downs and random robberies at best. Taxi's? No, never. Had no restaurants. This was of course a judgement made by the Manhattan minded and dwelling. So did we have restaurants? By those standards nope. The restaurants in the borough went largely unseen and those visible from across the river (River Cafe & Peter Luger's) didn't belong to the Brooklyn geography they occupied (hell River Cafe is ON the river) a Micheline starred restaurant may brush up against Brooklyn suggestively in those days, but occupy, heavens no. If you wanted cheap rent and long commute and the implied danger from topics listed above, you went to Brooklyn. Once in a while a concert grew in Brooklyn that non-Brooklynites and some locals would be needlessly be nervous about attending. There was a college, somewhere, that was decent for art, or music, or science or occasionally an NCAA Basketball bracket. Which is how people I spoke with described Pratt, Brooklyn College & LIU respectively.

Basically Brooklyn was simply thought of back in the day. It wasn't a simple place it just conjured simple impressions, which lead usually to simplistic and short conversations.

Today much real estate, printed, virtual, and physical is given to the great discussion of Brooklyn, and what that means, should me, did mean, will mean. Damn B your therapy bills must be crazy.

New York Magazine ran this article with the cover copy "Brooklyn is Finished" written by Mark Jacobson back in Autumn and I wanted to tack on my comments to the piece, in this blog. It didnt bother me that I never got to it because the article in my opinion didn't need my two cents or anything it stands in my mind as the best expression of what Brooklyn was through differing eras, what it became, where it is now, and what stays unique and constent about this place.

A friend sent me this article "The Ins and Outs" written (I presume) by some of the many talented and encamped J-School grads that are easy to find around Frankin Avenue's Crown Heights these days. It's a good micro focused piece reflecting the dynamic causality and impact of large scale gentrification in the short period of time that has passed. It's very good too.

And on Friday the Grey Lady herself dedicated much space and writing talent to this piece, titled Brooklyn, the Remix: A Hip Hop Tour. Also a great piece which seems in part inspired by this art piece (in which a variant of street artist, fabricated faux street signs with classic location specific hiphop lyrics written on then, and then the artists mounts those street signs on existing poles in the name-checked neighborhoods and streets. Many of those streets have since dramatically changed often for the lifestyle betterment of some, so there is an added contrast & impact of the installations.

Personally I want to imagine a creative coup within the Grey Lady led by writers who live in the borough and had grown weary of under-informed pieces written about Brooklyn, published in her name, I'm looking at you Real Estate section. But I digress.

The New York Times piece covers various Hip Hop landmarks and emotional sign posts of their own,  around the Borough. There's mention of old Sarah J. Hale nicknamed Sarah Jail because of it's often less than civil students, which is on a stretch of dean street that is now tony and gentrified. There's a reference to the Plaza movie theater on Flatbush near Park Place which became the Plaza Twin, then the Pavilion and finally now, an American Apparel store. In the article the person who invokes the movie theater reflects with irony that he say "Do The Right Thing" in that spot.

It's a testiment to the lightning rod that Franklin Avenue has become, the 180ยบ turn around it's undergoinf that all three pieces make references to Franklin in the case of the New York Mag article it was where the writter's grandmother lived some 50 years before code words like "Craft Beer" & "Artisanal" became synonymous with Franklin.

I was sucked into the online New York Times comments following their article. One comment by a reader going by "IRS" seemed to whine a lament, writing:
I am getting sick of articles like these. I understand the nostalgia with how life "used to be" in NYC. My neighborhood is the epicenter for some of my favorite hip hop. I get it. What people fail to acknowledge is that their NYC of the past is just a blip on the overall story of the city as a whole. This city has changed EVERY DAY, since its inception hundreds of years ago, and that is what makes it so beautiful.

People need to stop complaining and holding on to some rosy memory of what NYC "was," because "it" isn't coming back... Furthermore, those same people clamoring for the city to go back to its "gritty" days, that so many yearn for, are the same people who will complain the most when all of the street crime returns right along with it and they're afraid to walk down the street without looking over their shoulders.

It is time NYC to get over it and move on. Our city will be better for it.
I find that comment interesting because I hear it alot. It's one thing to say the past does and doesn't matter, but I'm impressed by the amount of residents ( I presume them to be new) who think it's time for people to stop having reminiseces. What an intersting suggestion, thought policing.

The conversation of this moment's Brooklyn is only halfway finished. Obviously the borough, city, country and much of the world will go on changing whether we like it, want it or not.

I think the impetus for all the dialogue is most eras take longer to switch and show visible signs. I myself often write that all these changes clearly started back in the late 70's right after the smoke cleared from the looting aftermath of 77's blackout. But the speed of change in Brooklyn, has been blinding and that's why we can't stop talking about it, besides all the other details that go into the conversation. The way a magic trick or lightning is fascinating and elicits fascinated analysis is partially because in the blink of an eye it's so dynamically different. And in Brooklyn the focus and who different groups are impacted is so extreme. There really was no breather before or after the crack era. Brooklyn was not much different that the rest of the city in 1970. By 1980 there were more extreme differences. By 1990 more so and by 2003 you could wallpaper your studio apartment with articles proclaiming Brooklyn the new Manhattan. By 2013 on some streets it is.

It's the change, its the speed, it's the cultural and socially effected and disconnected.

Basically, no one cared enough to think as deeply and consistently as people do now about Brooklyn. But I thought the NY Mag article and the NY Times HipHop remix article does a great job of pointing out a key detail of the neverending Brooklyn discussion. It's not that we want to go back to the gritty days specifically, its not that we want to close the artisanal cheese shops, its that we dont want to be resigned to the past, and a negative one at that, while we continue to live here. We who were in Brooklyn lived and exprienced like everyone else and in some cases we mined and polished social and culutral riches that are exploited and enjoyed today, in our borough and we wonder if the way we were generally ignored back then isn't happening now.

Nobody wants to be forgotten or ignored, especially not while we're still here.

And now I found what I was tying to say through the poetry often born of these Brooklyn streets.

Planet, Earth, was my place of birth
Born to be the soul controller of the universe
Besides the part of the map I hit first
Any environment I can adapt when it gets worst
The rough gets goin, the goin gets rough
When I start flowin, the mic might bust
The next state I shake from the power I generate
People in Cali used to think it was earthquakes
Cause times was hard on the Boulevard
So I vote God and never get scarred and gauled
But it seems like I'm locked in hell
Lookin over the edge but the R never fell
A trip to slip cause my Nikes got grip
Stand on my own two feet and come equipped
Any stage I'm seen on, or mic I fiend on
I stand alone and need nothin to lean on
Going for self with a long way to go
So much to say but I still flow slow
I come correct and I won't look back
Cause it ain't where you're from, it's where you're at
Even the (ghetto)


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