Scottish-born musician, David Byrne, has written an open letter to the world about the one-percenters ruining the sex-smell of New York. Back when his band, the Talking Heads was thriving in the 1970s and 1980s, Byrne calls New York “legendary.” This is what he had to say:
“New York was legendary. It was where things happened, on the East Coast anyway. One knew in advance that life in New York would not be easy, but there were cheap rents in cold-water lofts without heat, and the excitement of being here made up for those hardships. I didn’t move to New York to make a fortune. Survival, at that time, and at my age then, was enough. Hardship was the price one paid for being in the thick of it.
As one gets a little older, those hardships aren’t so romantic—they’re just hard. The tradeoff begins to look like a real pain in the ass if one has been here for years and years and is barely eking out a living. The idea of making an ongoing creative life—whether as a writer, an artist, a filmmaker or a musician—is difficult unless one gets a foothold on the ladder, as I was lucky enough to do. I say “lucky” because I have no illusions that talent is enough; there are plenty of talented folks out there who never get the break they deserve.
Some folks believe that hardship breeds artistic creativity. I don’t buy it. One can put up with poverty for a while when one is young, but it will inevitably wear a person down. I don’t romanticize the bad old days. I find the drop in crime over the last couple of decades refreshing. Manhattan and Brooklyn, those vibrant playgrounds, are way less scary than they were when I moved here. I have no illusions that there was a connection between that city on its knees and a flourishing of creativity; I don’t believe that crime, danger and poverty make for good art. That’s bullshit. But I also don’t believe that the drop in crime means the city has to be more exclusively for those who have money. Increases in the quality of life should be for all, not just a few.
The city is a body and a mind—a physical structure as well as a repository of ideas and information. Knowledge and creativity are resources. If the physical (and financial) parts are functional, then the flow of ideas, creativity and information are facilitated. The city is a fountain that never stops: it generates its energy from the human interactions that take place in it. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where many of New York’s citizens have been excluded from this equation for too long. The physical part of our city—the body—has been improved immeasurably. I’m a huge supporter of the bike lanes and the bike-share program, the new public plazas, the waterfront parks and the functional public transportation system. But the cultural part of the city—the mind—has been usurped by the top 1 percent.
What then is the future of New York, or really of any number of big urban centers, in this New Gilded Age? Does culture have a role to play? If we look at the city as it is now, then we would have to say that it looks a lot like the divided city that presumptive mayor Bill De Blasio has been harping about: most of Manhattan and many parts of Brooklyn are virtual walled communities, pleasure domes for the rich (which, full disclosure, includes me and some of the Creative Time team), and aside from those of us who managed years ago to find our niche and some means of income, there is no room for fresh creative types. Middle-class people can barely afford to live here anymore, so forget about emerging artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, journalists and small business people. Bit by bit, the resources that keep the city vibrant are being eliminated.”
Throwing my hands up in agreement, Byrne emits nothing but the truth in his rant that New York has no longer become this place of opportunity and inspiration. It has become survival of the fittest. This notion that the hardships of living in New York create the greatest artistic ability is, in fact, ridiculous. The city that never sleeps is exhausted having to work 15-hour days to live in a million-dollar studio apartment.
However, all the blame can’t be placed on New York. The world of money, or loss of money, has created this disgusting, cutthroat society. This financial disaster has created lions living in this concrete jungle. People are fighting just to survive and artists are the ones that have to pay the price.
Dear New York, we agree with David Byrne. We want the sex-smell back.
– Lindsey Winepol