In the St. Mumford thread below, a reader quotes from a Bono interview:
To live in the garret with a knife in your hand and a bleeding ear is more romantic than the fragility that leaves open the wound…Bohemia is more attractive than suburbia but maybe you don’t live there, maybe you live on a street which is like any other street where the opera that goes on behind parted curtains is more than enough…
I think this is a hugely important point (and by the way, I don’t take a moral or aesthetic position on Mumford & Sons’ music; it doesn’t appeal to me, but then again, most pop music today doesn’t appeal to me). When I was at the Dallas Morning News, there was a big push in the newsroom to increase coverage of the suburbs, because that was where our subscribers overwhelmingly lived. For the most part, reporters resisted this, and for reasons I completely understand as a former reporter: because the sexy stories were downtown, and downtown-ish.
But I remember thinking at the time that this attitude represented a failure of imagination on the part of reporters — and a failure of imagination on my part as well, because I too was an editor. The lives of middle-class people in the suburbs are no less meaningful than the lives of the urban poor, or urban hip, and so forth. It is harder to investigate those lives empathetically, because comfort and safety disguises particular kinds of despair, and hunger, and aspiration. But it’s there.
As Bono said, it’s not romantic, and finding it is not easy.
But it’s there.
You know what’s a great pop album exploring this sensibility? “Welcome Interstate Managers” by Fountains of Wayne. Can anybody else list examples of good popular art created out of the middle-class suburban experience — and not paint-by-numbers bitching about suburbia among its creative exiles?