June 8, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
DW Gibson's The Edge Becomes the Center is a fascinating and powerfully told oral history of gentrification that has earned numerous comparisons to the work of Studs Terkel.
The Paris Review wrote of the book:
"A generous, vigorous, and enlightening look at class and space in New York; it ought to be required reading…Gibson has found vibrant humanity in a subject that is, paradoxically, lacking in it…The Edge Becomes the Center raises critical questions about what we expect from our cities and how groups become communities. Mainly, though, it’s a joy to read, its chorus of voices a reminder of oral history’s power. Anyone who cares about the shape and gestalt of life in New York―and anyone who believes in cities as centers of culture―will come away moved."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
In his own words, here is DW Gibson's Book Notes music playlist for his book The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century:
Like a lot of New Yorkers, I used to listen to music when I was in transit -- on the subway or walking down the street -- but for three years while I interviewed people for this book, I made a commitment to take off the headphones whenever I was out in the world. The Edge Becomes the Center is an oral history of gentrification and, in many ways, it's meant to chronicle how we relate to the changing world around us -- the people and the physical spaces we fill together. So I wanted to reconnect with my surroundings and disconnect from my phone. This made for some awkward moments in bars and restaurants where, if you are waiting for someone to arrive and you do not have your phone out -- listening to music, dashing off urgent emails, etc. -- you are suspect. Who sits and looks around the room anymore?
This commitment made me jones for music -- big time jonesing -- when I was home. Sometimes I play something while I work because it can help send me to the deep zone of solitude and concentration that I seek, but there are a couple of important rules: I prefer no lyrics, so there's a lot of jazz, or if there are lyrics then the songs have to be so familiar that I don't really listen to the words anymore because they are imprinted inside me.
These are the most important tracks for this book:
Iggy Pop, "The Passenger," Lust for Life
This song is the perfect entry point for this book. The relentless guitar riff sets a nice pace for a trip across the city. The vocals are somehow passive and active all at once, which is how I felt while interviewing people. I like how the vocals start out so cool, just checking-the-world-out, then become more visceral, a bit charged and hungry, building toward the end.
David Bowie, "Changes," Sound + Vision
Bowie's back up vocals on "The Passenger" provide a smooth pivot to a song of his own. I like to imagine it is New York, herself, singing this one. Note: Bowie is good across the board for this book -- early (all of "...Ziggy Star Dust") and later ("New Killer Star" off of Reality.) So much of his music mirrors the pulse of the city over the last three decades.
Lorde, "Royals," Pure Heroine
In many ways, this is the anthem for this book. I quote the lyrics on the first page -- "that kind of luxe just ain't for us/we crave a different kind of buzz" -- and the melody has, more or less, been running through my mind for the last three years. It was the song that was playing when Bill de Blasio took the stage on his victorious election night.
Talking Heads, "Perfect World," Little Creatures
There's a sense of displacement at the heart of this song: "Well, I know where it is/But I don't know what it looks like." Displacement is, of course, central to the conversation about gentrification and not just literal displacement, where someone must vacate a home, but also more subtle, perhaps figurative, forms of displacement: managing to hang on to your home while the world around it changes into something unrecognizable.
Lee Morgan, "Exotique," Tom Cat
This track helps me feel the energy of the city when I'm working in a far off place. There's a nice soft build up early on and then it gets going in a way that puts me in sync with New York. There are some drum riffs mixed with a beeping horn that make me feel like I'm standing at an intersection, looking for that chance to get across before the pedestrian signal gives me permission to do so. And when Morgan really gets going with the horn -- circa 6:45 -- well, be still my beating heart.
Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi," Ladies of the Canyon
When I was looking for a title for the book I searched and searched this song. I was sure it held the answer -- literally, I kept scanning the lyrics hoping there was a phrase I could pluck. That didn't happen but the song still delivered: while listening to it for the nth time the title for the book popped in my head.
Rodriguez, "This is Not A Song, Its An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues." Cold Fact
If ever a song's title required no further comment this would be the one. (This entire album feels right for this book. Rodriguez's sensitivity to the world around him is inspiring and it helped me connect with the people I interviewed.)
Tom Waits, "The Heart of Saturday Night," The Heart of Saturday Night
This song is all atmosphere to me. I feel like it's Tom still singing after Iggy falls asleep in the passenger seat. It feels really late, this song, it's the sound of all those characteristics and behaviors of the city in the wee hours of the night. It puts me in the mood to drink a cup of coffee way too late and go walk around for a few hours.
DW Gibson and The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the 21st Century links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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