Berlin vs. New York II

14 February 2007

New York is annoying. Besides the snow, the freezing cold, $1000+ rents, $9 glasses of beer and miserable cell phone coverage, the people are all crazy, constantly defending themselves against the emotional invasion of the city. And by "the city" of course we mean all those other people. People pick up emotional bruises and then bump it onto the next passerby.

There are lots of really sweet people here. I'm enjoying the friends I do hang out with, though we don't hang out enough. Everybody is crazy busy.

In this city, its usually the ambitious ones that are the most annoying, especially the ones that have only been here a few years and haven't figured out how to play it smooth with their small town dreams. Denmark was recently declared one of the most content countries in the world, mainly due to a lack of ambition. Desire leads to suffering. Simple equation. New York is sickly with desire.

Berlin is a couple of little villages surrounded by a lot of vaguely occupied suburbs. Most of the city seems to have moved there from somewhere else, so for them they are in the big city. There is a lot of space, a lot of distance and relatively little interaction.

German formality adds yet more space, even in casual Berlin. A friend of mine at the über-hip software firm Ableton complained to me about some German guy who had called him up and started off way too friendly, using the informal Du and acting like they were already friends. "So ... American ! yuck."

In New York people you barely know will start off warm and informal, give you their card and say "hey we should work together, let's make music, I know some people..." and they probably won't call you but the warmth and immediacy seems nice to me now.

In Berlin nobody ever every offered to do anything with me. They wait years until you are part of the family; they work with people they already know even if the work is inferior. This isn't a bad thing, it builds more solid friendships. Americans seem superficial and all about the market, and they speak with forked tongues.

At a lazy sunday BBQ in a Prezlauer park I met an architect. He didn't make buildings of course (few do): he wrote books and discussed theory. He explained that after living through the rush of '89 when the air was filled with such mind-blowing promises of a new world, life was now just easy-going and people were just happy to "live outside the mainstream". Everyone who lived through the aftermath of the fall of the wall knows that that was the peak.

But he didn't seem too productive. I started to miss the energizing force of the big city, in the motivation that competition brings. Oh fashion and real estate, advertising, making images, making culture, hip hop, dancehall, TV and film ! Only the fierce fires of the marketplace can generate that, with all its attendant evils. I'm gonna step up my game.

So I'm here in New York now and I find myself listening to old dissonant jazz, wolf eyes, sonic youth, my bloody valentine, bob dylan. Interested in texture, messy paintings and old new york mystics. I'm certainly not a business guy.

Marketplaces tend towards immorality. This includes art markets and music scenes. If money or fame or audience numbers are "how we keep track" then morality as a value system disappears. Art gets made in order to make those numbers; clockin' Gs, cash & ho's, attendance numbers, YouTube view counts.

You have to find your own way to rate things. How many shivers down the spine does this record give you ? Did it change the game, cut deeper ? Did this one make time stop or make you physically remember your love or your pain ?

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