In listening to a lot of LCD Soundsystem this week, I have discovered at least one thing: LCD Soundsystem is the soundtrack of a city. Not, mind you, any specific city (with the obvious exception of New York I Love You). They are just the universal soundtrack of cities in general. (It is worth noting that 99.9% of my experience with cities has been cities in the United States. I can’t speak for cities of the world, which I’m sure have their own flavor)
I love cities. I love just about everything about them. I love how they look during the day and I love how they look at night. I love the sounds they make. I love the fact that a city is never actually quiet. Sure, there are times when there isn’t a lot of activity, but even without the noise of traffic and people and things, there is always the hum of the lights. Oh, there are so many lights. I even love the way cities smell.
I take cities as they are, the good and the bad. Cities are both gleaming and grimy, friendly and cruel, entertaining and obnoxious. Cities can build you up and tear you down. They can give hope or dash it against the concrete. Cities are by no means perfect, and the ones I have been to have all had their share of flaws. The one I live in has issues, too. But I never asked for perfection.
I didn’t grow up in a city. I grew up near a city, and not one considered a “major” city. On a list of the biggest cities in the country, it comes in just inside the top two-hundred. But it was still a city, with skyscrapers and crime and confusing one-way streets and museums and highways and commerce and pollution and a symphony orchestra. But I grew up in the suburbs. The suburbs are not the city. The suburbs were created so you could tell people you lived in a city without actually living in a city. But I went to the city a lot. My parents and I went to church in the city. We regularly went to the main library branch in the city. On special occasions, we went to restaurants in the city, or saw shows in the city. And I loved it when we went into the city. It seemed like such a magical place.
I took family vacations to cities when I was a kid. I saw New York City and Boston and Washington. I went to their zoos and their museums and their stadiums. These cities were so much bigger than the one I knew, but that just made me love them more.
When I finally moved out on my own, I did not move to a city. In fact, I moved further away from a city. I lived in a town that was confused as to whether it was a rural town, a factory town or a college town. The closest city was a half hour away (depending on route and traffic). I missed cities at that point. I ended up visiting them as much as possible, be it Chicago or Detroit or Columbus and in desperate times Toledo.
After two years of that, I moved to a city. Even then, though, I was still in the suburbs. I fully understand that my love for the city is not universal, and my roommates and girlfriend were not yet ready for actual city living. Over time, I lost the roommates and was able to convince the girlfriend (from a rural small town) to move close to downtown. So now, truly, I live in a city. And it’s quite the upgrade, since this one is in the top twenty of cities in the US as opposed to top two-hundred. Now, it’s going to take a lot to pull me away from a city.
But why do I love cities? I can’t exactly say.
Part of it is all of the pieces mentioned above shoved into one central place. Skyscrapers and museums and commerce on a large scale and bank headquarters and zoos and theaters and city hall and statehouses and monuments and parks and arenas and stadiums and intricate highway systems and if you’re lucky a waterfront are all shoved into a small space, as well as all of the people needed to operate all of those things. Cities are smashed together amalgamation of all of the art and culture present in an area. They serve, and have for thousands of years, as the center for art, culture, economics and government. They represent a hub of some sort, something for the areas around them to revolve around, and a way to communicate with other hubs and other peoples around them.
Most importantly, cities are where ideas come from. Because they are mashed together monstrosity of people and cultures and backgrounds, they represent the best crucible for new ideas in the world. Cities act as progressive beacons. Even with all of their density and complexity, a city is more fluent and accepting of change than anything else. Opportunities and inspiration spring from such a compact and volatile environment.
Maybe that’s it, I don’t know. What I do know is that cities represent hope and progress to me. I feel at home and comfortable in them. Part of that is pretty ironic. You would think someone who is as anti-social as myself would hate being around the aforementioned mass of humanity. But it’s easier to disappear in a huge crowd rather than a small group. The suburbs and the country are small little tribal bands of people, and trying to disappear in a group of five or ten or fifty is pretty hard, especially when everyone knows everything about you (which is easy, because you’re in a small group of five or ten or fifty and easier to remember). Fading into the crowd of a city is simple. Perfect for someone who doesn’t actually like people very much. I just love it.
It’s safe to say that I have a fantastic view of cities. I don’t think of them as their various pieces, or as some odd conglomeration. I think of cities as a living thing. A city has hopes, goals, and psychoses just like a person does.
In an excellent issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, there is a story about a man who accidentally wanders into the dream of his city (issue 51, “A Tale of Two Cities”). Through the course of the story, he is frightened and wandering around a cityscape that is familiar but not familiar. It is only after his meeting with Morpheus that he realizes that he’s in the city’s dream. The end of the story has him waking up with the frightening thought that cities are always asleep, and pray they do not wake up. He, in turn, moves to the country after that. The story is supposed to be an homage to H.P. Lovecraft and the ideas of hidden knowledge that humans were never meant to have, but I see it a little differently. I personally love the idea that a city dreams. And I think it dreams like we do. Sometimes the dreams are junk, just the subconscious blowing off steam. But sometimes dreams are aspirations. I like to think that a city, like any of us, dreams of what it wants to be, what it wants to accomplish in the world, how it wants to be seen and so on. And since I hold my city in such high regard, I hope it dreams of people like me being a part of it.
Anyway, LCD Soundsystem truly is the pulse of a city. from it’s catchy beats and dance-inducing rhythms to it’s moment of quite reflection. It is the musical soundtrack to a city, and to city life. Don’t believe me? Listen to Us v Them or I Can Change or even Black Screen while sitting on a bench in downtown anywhere (population 100,000+) and see if I’m wrong. Fair warning, it helps if you already like cities to see it.