Posted tagged ‘get a rope’

New York, New York, It’s a Helluva Town…As Far As That Goes

March 23, 2012

With this blog post I am entering the Spring for Music Arts Blogger Challenge. Spring for Music is a cool series presented at Carnegie Hall wherein various orchestras from around the United States (and, this year, one from Canada, the 51st state) show up and strut their stuff in front of an audience of presumably jaded New Yorkers, who have been enticed to attend by tickets priced at $25, even for the good seats. I would totally go, and the prize offered by the Challenge (free tix and $2500) would totally enable me to go, so here we go.

Spring For Music - Carlos Kalmar conducts the Oregon Symphony at Carnegie Hall, 5/12/11. From their website.

It must be acknowledged that I am not likely to win. There are more frequently updated blogs, blogs with more influential readership and commenters, blogs by greater eminences than me. But Spring for Music has cannily chosen a first blogging topic that I cannot resist!

New York has long been considered the cultural capital of America. Is it still? If not, where?

That’s some high-quality trolling! Especially with the grammatically ambiguous second question. I will answer the question SfM was not asking first: Yes, New York is still considered the cultural capital of America, at least by New Yorkers who move to the DMV for jobs, or because the DMV has multiple-room apartments at relatively affordable prices, or because they came down to attend college and stayed from sheer inertia. These people will extemporize on the superiority of New York in any arena, including the cultural one, given the slightest opportunity to do so.

For example, mention that you took in a cultural event over the past weekend, and the ex-NYCers will wax nostalgic for a parallel Gotham institution rather than asking “How was it?” Their two other complaints are:

  • The DMV’s pizza is inadequate, although it’s not like there isn’t a whole bunch of terrible pizza in NYC, and there’s some quite high-quality pie here; and
  • The subway provides subpar service, which is true enough, except that last time I was in New York I spent about ten minutes on one subway platform reading service-disruption placards before figuring out that none of them applied to me. Then I watched a rat attempt to wrestle an apple core into a hole next to the tracks for ten minutes. All subways are subpar somehow.

You could average the typical NYC-to-DMVer’s portrayal of the Big Apple with the vignette presented in Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and still end up with an inflated sense of the wonders of the former New Amsterdam. So it is with a jaundiced tone that I must answer this question.

Now, is New York the cultural capital of America? Was it ever? There have always been outstanding cultural efforts in other cities: museums, musical ensembles, writers, critics, the whole nine. New York has had far less of a cultural hold over the masses than Los Angeles, which mastered the whole moving picture thing, and most significant innovations in pop music originated outside its orbit, especially jazz, which, as a former writer for Jazz Times, I am obligated to note is America’s classical music.

But there has always been an expectation in many artistic professions that, having proven oneself in other burgs and cities, the final yardstick for one’s talents is New York. Whether this expectation ever existed outside the minds of New Yorkers and people who want to live there is difficult to judge, but there are certainly a few earwormy songs that testify to it.

Does this expectation currently exist? To my mind, New York’s role of “national stage” has long since been replaced by YouTube, which by the present definition makes YouTube the cultural capital of the world, which is funny because it’s dominated by videos of cats and teenagers discussing what they just bought at Forever 21. Prominent performers almost always do end up hitting New York at some point, but I submit that this is due less to New York’s role as cultural capital and more to its big rolls of capital. If there is money for the arts, the artists will come.

So the answer to the questions SfM meant to ask are (1) no and (2) the place where good culture is happening and uploadable to YouTube. As a great New Yorker once said, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

And now to return to the title of this blog, here’s a Trouble Funk song introduced by a passage from “In the Hall of the Mountain King”:

DMV classic, spiced with classical.


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