New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down
From Allen Gisberg’s poem Howl:
“Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smoke-stacks and antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the Mind!”
One of the things I love about New York is how walkable it is. I’m staying in China Town. It’s a wondrous onslaught to the senses. Nothing and no one is static. Even the old Chinese men sitting outside their shops smoking are buzzing with electricity. The bustle can be dizzying if you don’t keep focused.
After a long walk today to buy a midi controller to write songs, I walk into the reception area of the hotel I’m staying in and I make myself a cup of coffee. There is a man checking in and a boy who I assume is his son, sits on the couch of the reception area playing with his phone. When my coffee is ready I call for the lift to take me to my room. Just as the door is about to shut, the man calls for the lift and the lift doors open. I hold them open for him while he drags his big suitcase in. He thanks me and the boy and I make quick eye-contact. The door closes and I press 6, he presses 3. As soon as the lift ascends to our respective floors, the man starts to cough. It’s a wet cough. The last cough brings up phlegm, and he spits it on the floor of the lift. The boy and I make eye-contact again. He seems embarrassed . I try to keep my face as neutral and as reassuring as possible, so as to say, “You have nothing to be embarrassed about, buddy. You’re not the one spitting gob on the floor of a lift.”
I tell this story because of how bizarre it is, at least to me. But this is New York and as it has always been advertised to the world: anything can happen, anywhere.
I’ve been here for a couple of days. The jet lag is starting to subside. When I arrived I felt a riveting sense of elation, and now it’s being usurped by a feint melancholy. I walk the city wondering how one could or should live here. Make no mistake, New York is the epitome of a cosmopolitan metropolis. It is everything I love about the urban world: it is edgy and rough, it’s always speeding forward, the people are beautiful and stylish, if you turn into the right corner you may find the most interesting shops and/or restaurants. But turn the coin over and the things that make it wonderful could also be the things that make it unbearable.
It’s hyperkinetic. It’s cripplingly expensive. It’s ugly and sometimes impersonal. I can imagine it being easy to be lonely here. Somehow it reminds me of Johannesburg.
Some of my favourite artists lived here – even though an overwhelming majority of them speak about how the golden age of New York has long passed – and it’s easy to see what was so inspirational about the city. It’s massive. The roads are wide and sprawling, the pavements too are expansive, the buildings are overbearing and monolithic. They feel heavy and they cast terrible shadows. I can’t help but be reminded of the Moloch* imagery in Allen Ginsberg’s seminal poem ‘Howl’.
*Moloch is the biblical name of a Canaanite god associated with child sacrifice. Allen Ginsberg equated the god to the many ugly and destructive things that are part of the life lived in the city, such as: the establishment, industry, the economy etc.