Urban Planning: Songs of Cities, Spaces and Society
Link
A collection of 21 songs that deal with some aspect of urban planning and the way we interact with our built environment.
I tried to spread things around the urban landscape. We have four perspectives on mass transit, a handful of disillusioned takes on suburbia, songs about patterns of poverty and abandonment in the inner city, unintended consequences of development, road maintenance, traffic, and housing security, and an instrumental interlude that evokes the passing of cars on a freeway like so many bits of information.
I also tried to balance the negative with the positive where I could—see the alienation of the Dismemberment plan’s “The City” going back to back with the celebration of incidental community in Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”—but when you’re talking about this stuff through a pop culture lens, inevitably the balance comes out a little lopsided in favor of the bad (I could have done a whole series of mixes about ghetto life, for instance).
1. M.F. McAdam: While You Wait 2. Talking Heads: Cities3. Lancelot Layne: Yo Tink It Sorf?4. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: The Wacky World of Rapid Transit5. Syl Johnson: Concrete Reservation6. The Jam: London Traffic7. The Monkees: Pleasant Valley Sunday 8. Chatham County Line: Route 239. Jonathan Coulton: Shop Vac10. Rachel’s: Arterial11. Bobby Womack & Peace: Across 110th Street12. Mercury Rev: Hudson Line 13. Tony Allen & the Afro Messengers: Road Safety14. Marlena Shaw: Woman of the Ghetto15. The Divine Comedy: Commuter Love16. Chicago: Saturday in the Park17. The Dismemberment Plan: The City18. Fugazi: Cashout19. Malvina Reynolds: Little Boxes 20. Danny Brown: Fields21. The Arcade Fire: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Urban Planning: Songs of Cities, Spaces and Society

Link

A collection of 21 songs that deal with some aspect of urban planning and the way we interact with our built environment.

I tried to spread things around the urban landscape. We have four perspectives on mass transit, a handful of disillusioned takes on suburbia, songs about patterns of poverty and abandonment in the inner city, unintended consequences of development, road maintenance, traffic, and housing security, and an instrumental interlude that evokes the passing of cars on a freeway like so many bits of information.

I also tried to balance the negative with the positive where I could—see the alienation of the Dismemberment plan’s “The City” going back to back with the celebration of incidental community in Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”—but when you’re talking about this stuff through a pop culture lens, inevitably the balance comes out a little lopsided in favor of the bad (I could have done a whole series of mixes about ghetto life, for instance).

1. M.F. McAdam: While You Wait
2. Talking Heads: Cities
3. Lancelot Layne: Yo Tink It Sorf?
4. Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: The Wacky World of Rapid Transit
5. Syl Johnson: Concrete Reservation
6. The Jam: London Traffic
7. The Monkees: Pleasant Valley Sunday
8. Chatham County Line: Route 23
9. Jonathan Coulton: Shop Vac
10. Rachel’s: Arterial
11. Bobby Womack & Peace: Across 110th Street
12. Mercury Rev: Hudson Line
13. Tony Allen & the Afro Messengers: Road Safety
14. Marlena Shaw: Woman of the Ghetto
15. The Divine Comedy: Commuter Love
16. Chicago: Saturday in the Park
17. The Dismemberment Plan: The City
18. Fugazi: Cashout
19. Malvina Reynolds: Little Boxes
20. Danny Brown: Fields
21. The Arcade Fire: Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

The Divine Comedy: “The Complete Banker” (Band Goes the Knighthood, 2010)

WARNING: Politics ahead. 

This song was written during the financial collapse, but I’ve had a hard time keeping it out of my head the last week. If you need me to spell out why, we’re probably on opposite ends of the political spectrum (or you’re not American and your news this week hasn’t been dominated by a certain political convention).

Anyway, in an era with a relative dearth of protest songs, this witty and vicious take-down of Wall Street culture is valuable and delicious. Let’s not mince words here: our modern economy, dominated by the financial sector, is engineered to make a small number of people very wealthy at the expense of virtually everyone else.

Industrialists of the past may well have been terrible people. They may well have felt genuine contempt for their workers. But they ran businesses that employed people, and as their wealth grew, they brought people along with them. that those people were far behind them is beside the point. The economy of making stuff benefited almost everyone.

The economy of extracting every last penny from a given entity and saddling it with debt you’re not responsible for benefits almost no one, and often directly harms people by killing their jobs. Making money from money is the new big business, and I’m sad to live in a world where this is the case. 

 The man at the center of the action this week, Mitt Romney, could be the guy in this song. He made his fortune in that second economy. And now he’s running for president. I think it’s imperative that we not enshrine money culture in the White House. I don’t want to live in a world that heaps more rewards and power onto people who’ve made a life out of rewarding themselves.

The Divine Comedy: “Lucy” (Liberation, 1993)

For years, I had my own interpretation of this song that was so far from the actual truth of its meaning as to be comical. For reasons explained further down, it was years before I registered that the lyrics were a setting of three poems by William Wordsworth, who died in 1850. It’s three of his five “Lucy” poems, specifically the third, “I Traveled Among Unknown Men,” followed by the second, “She Dwelt Among Untrodden Ways,” and finally the fifth, “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal.” You can read all five in order here.

The poems work as a cycle to begin with, so treating them as one work isn’t much of a stretch, but changing the order and leaving out two of them has the effect of changing the story and leaving it open to different interpretations. Such as my own, which until I bought a copy of Liberation and noticed the Wordsworth credit in the booklet, was formed through a decidedly modern lens.

See, the first thing the name Lucy brings to my mind is anthropology. Specifically the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton of a female Australopithecus discovered in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia’s Afar Depression in 1974. Clearly not something Wordsworth would have been aware of. But listening to this song, which I first heard on the bonus disc that came with American pressings of Casanova (where there is no credit to Wordsworth), I figured it was simply a modern song written in intentional and skillfully wielded archaic language.

And I also figured it was about Lucy, the Australopithecus. This is a stretch, I’m aware. Clearly, she’s living in England in this song, not Ethiopia. But to me, it seemed like an attempt to imagine her life through a familiar lens, that being the landscapes of the British Isles. I thought it was an interesting way to try to connect with the spirit of this long-dead, ancient creature who also happens to be a distant relative.

Of course, the song is none of that. No one knows who Lucy is, because Wordsworth never told us. It’s quite likely that Lucy is no one. She’s a construct Wordsworth used to project certain emotions, pastoral sentiments and thoughts about death. Which is fine but a bit disappointing if you were hoping the lyrics were an unusual take on anthropology.

I still like to listen to this song as though my own convoluted interpretation were true. I like to sing along to it as well, in the car at least. Neil Hannon does a great job of turning Wordsworth’s poetry into melodic, impassioned chamber pop. That much I know for sure.