09 July 2006

The Other Williamsburg

Considering my oft-expressed disdain for hipster, people who knew me laughed or even engaged in a bit of stealthy schadenfreude when they heard I was moving to Williamsburg. But what they weren't aware of, or, if they were, failed to consider, is that there is more than one Williamsburg.

These days the most well-known - and notorious - Williamsburg consists of the strip along Bedford Avenue north of Grand Street, along with the side streets leading off a couple blocks in either direction. That district is turning into a regular rabbit warren of restaurants, bars, clothing shops and related enterprises catering primarily to post-college 20-somethings. I imagine teenagers might find some of it interesting, too, even if they're legally barred from entering half the premises, but it can be a bit grim for people of almost any other age.

I suspect even the target demographic finds it a bit grim at times, or they wouldn't find it necessary to be so ostentatiously bored and/or intoxicated to cope with "the scene" and/or each other. But in attempting to analyze the social patterns of a generation as remote to me as the World War II generation is to them, I'd probably be overstepping my remit. Let's just say I don't find Bedford Avenue and environs all that enjoyable or exciting.

Because of that - and my inbuilt inertia - I could count the times I've been over to Hipsterville this summer without using up the of one hand, even though it's at most a 15 minute walk or a three minute subway ride. Nonetheless, I made the effort last night, first to meet up with Chris A for dinner, where we talked about Yellow Cardigan, the new magazine he's launching later this year (I know, sounds kind of twee-indie, doesn't it, but trust me, Chris A is very smart and I'd be surprised if this doesn't turn out to be one of the more vital literary outings in the coming months) and other cultural and sub-cultural matters. Then it was over to North Six to see a truncated version of the Steinways (guitarist Ace was MIA, so his place was unaccountably taken by Grivet, who's normally the drummer, who was in turn replaced on the drums by Mikey Erg). It started out shaky, not helped by the DIY PA system that kept cutting out in one channel, or the fact that without Ace there were few of the trademark backing harmonies that make the Steinways such a joy to listen to.

But within a few songs the ineluctable Steinways magic somehow kicked in, and Astoria's Finest showed Brooklyn just how it's done. They were followed up almost immediately by the Unlovables, with Mikey Erg on drums again (I was going to draw up a spread sheet illustrating the bands and permutations thereof that Mikey is or has been a part of, but my computer overheated and broke). At least one Unlovable is local to Williamsburg, but I'll keep it on the DL which one that might be, and anyway, the Unlovables don't sound at all like a Brooklyn band. If there even is such a thing as a Manhattan sound these days, they've got it, and they also had some new songs, which sounded great. The PA was cutting out even more during their set than for the Steinways, but Hallie solved that by singing louder. Best I've seeen them lately.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Not that the following bands were especially bad; in fact they were pretty decent. But they seemed oblivious to the logistics of putting on a DIY show in a tiny basement that's not even the size of my apartment. In the first place, they each had their own elaborate drum and amp setups, which had to be switched between each set and in the meantime occupied more floor space than the people watching the show. If they'd simply shared equipment, as the Steinways and Unlovables did, they could have saved an immense amount of time and aggro. Secondly, they cranked up the instrument volume to a level more appropriate to a mid-sized auditorium, which meant that the vocals could barely be heard, and was virtually guaranteed to induce ear damage in anyone not wearing protection.

I made it through one band, Banner Pilot, on tour from Minneapolis, and part of another, whose name I didn't catch (I don't think they ever said), but at that point had to get out. It was already getting on toward midnight and there were two or three more bands to go. I meandered back home to another, very different Williamsburg, completely awash in Italian flags and bunting and, just up the block, a home adorned not only with the usual Forza Azurri banners, but with a lifesize papier mache pope or bishop hanging from the upstairs window, arms outstretched in a blessing and clutching an Italian flag in one hand and an American one in the other.

This morning there were not one, but two marching bands parading up my block, both of which congregated in front of the Pope house. Aaron Cometbus asked me which Pope it was, and I had to admit that it didn't look like either of the two recent ones, neither of whom was Italian anyway. I started to wonder if it's not meant to be the fourth century bishop whose emancipation from slavery is celebrated by the Feast of the Giglio, a local celebration in which a hundred or so men hoist a seven-story tower topped by a statue of the Virgin and dance through the streets with it to the music of a band who riding on the tower and, quite literally, on the shoulders of the dancing Giglio Boys.

The fact that the Feast of the Giglio this year coincides with Italy's accession to the World Cup Final has driven the neighborhood completely mental. As kickoff approaches (seven minutes and counting), long black cars have blocked off the intersections so that nobody can drive through, and hundreds, maybe thousands of people are gathered on what is normally a quiet residential street to watch one of the many TV screens that have been set up atop trucks and cars, and loudspeakers are broadcasting (in Italian of course) the event at a volume that no number of closed doors and windows could shut out. The Italian national anthem just played to a rapturous reception, and now it's time for me to get out of here and watch the game myself. Don't tell my neighbors, but I was kind of hoping France will win. But in the face of the overwhelming sentiment spilling out of nearly every house up and down the block, I just may have to have a change of heart.

1 comment:

City Slicker said...

Like the blog
Have come across the other way
Used to live in Prospect Park now in London
Keep typing