#188: More Songs About Buildings and Food

“Almost everything of interest in New York City lies in some degree of proximity to music,” Luc Sante declares in the opening line of his autobiographical essay about the city’s culture in the 1970s, before launching into a frenetic first-person tour of the local zeitgeist that lurches from record stores to punk venues to underground newspapers to radio fragments emanating from boomboxes and “hazy orally transmitted lore of dubious provenance”—the downtown cross-pollination of punk, reggae, disco, hip hop, the demise of the ‘60s, and the palpable sense of an emerging Now that was strikingly different from what had preceded it. “The bass these days is often physically present, issuing from bars and passing cars and pizzerias and record stores and clothing shops, but it is always in your head because it is indelible.” Today—a half century later—we still inhabit the landscape that was coalescing in Sante’s account, but it’s no longer quite true that everything of interest is adjacent to music. Music is everywhere, of course—more so now than it was then—but that ubiquity has made it into a decorative backdrop, a form of sonic wallpaper, at least in the situations where music doesn’t occupy the foreground. It has been naturalized and assimilated and somewhat defanged in the process. In 1998, when this transition had already reached a mature phase, Richard Meltzer wrote that rock music "was possibly once needed, but that was before it was everywhere—when you didn’t hear it in supermarkets or coming out of every Mercedes at a stoplight—before ‘rock-surround.’ What we need now is to turn it off.”

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