Topic: Bike Lane
Don't get me wrong, I totally love it musically. I find a kind of surfer vibe in it, and I've always loved surfer vibes. Makes me feel like I'm in California and the wind is blowing and I'm down by the ocean and everything is sunshine for miles and if I could still fit in a bikini I'd definitely be in one but I'll blithely pretend my second century curves are still sexy anyway. (They are.)
I love "Bike Lane" as long as I don't listen to the lyrics.
But of course so many reviewers have made so much of the lyrics, "Malkmus' most overtly political song..." and all that. Not that I necessarily agree. Well, I guess if overt is the criteria, okay. Maybe.
Anyway, so back to brass tacks.
So I'm listening to this tune, amazing musically, so of course I want to dance, apparently in some kind of surfer way. No problem, I'm grooving in my little studio. This tune works! She's still got it.
Then, predictably, in enters the consciousness that I'm dancing to the story of another beautiful black man, another beautiful black man...mowed down, "max 25!"
What kind of asshole would dance to that??? Gotto sit this one out.
Or maybe that's the point? Or if not the point intention-wise then at least the effect. I wouldn't dare tap my toe, either. "Hattie Carroll" and "Pawn in the Game" and even "Hurricane" this is not. You don't dance to those. "Bike Lane" is storytelling yes; frank balladeering, no. But watch out -- it tries to trick you into dancing!
So it gets me to wondering, wondering if maybe the point is, the effect is, to awakenly find oneself in a surfed out Cali groove in dance or in mood and then find oneself arrested, ah hem, to be in such a lackadaisical space, just like us 'Mericans are always in such a lackadaisical space --new music, let's go cruisin now eveybody's cruisin now come on and sa-cruising with me!
This endlessly gleeful American Bandstand ripples unabated because it's difficult to imagine that anything post-Kent State has ever shocked, arrested, or stopped us Yanks enough to really let it all sink in; the injustice, the indifference, the violence, the violence, the violence and all brought to us in widescreen, CinemaScope, Dolby surround sound. Thank you, Arthur Penn, we loved Bonnie and Clyde. Get me another glass of Champagne! Ros-ay Champagne!
Damn, I hate myself!
But then I start taking exception, content wise to "Bike Lane." We're all not distracted brutes!
It just so happens, entirely coincidentally, that I've been a person who has worked on issues like bike and pedestrian infrastructure. So of course "Bike Lane" stings even harder when it just happens to be exactly something I've worked on myself. It's not like it was, "Just another clean stream," or "Just another parts per million less..." or "Just another living wage."
Sure, I can mount a defense to the validity of working on bike lanes. The huge number of roadway fatalities, many attributed to bad infrastructure, others to distracted driving, some to stupid cyclists especially those w/out helmets, many to an increase in cycling, particularly in commutes, our wretched suburban paradigm in general.
I can note that cycling is greener than driving, it's massively doable for the lion's share of the citizenry, it's gentler on those streams and that air and climate and is more human and thus more humane and less brutal and isolating than car culture and that second century curves might stay fitter if cycling as transport was among the prevailing norms and thus safer and attended to.
I can mention that half of kids biked to school in the 60s when I was born and now fewer than 3% do. No wonder kids are whack -- those little bratty fatties need to burn some energy.
I can mention that, while little known, America's black citizens as organized factions are intimately involved in green infrastructure issues because environmental justice is social justice.
Damn, my cause starts to sound plausibly noble.
Not that I'm really taking it hyper-personally or anything, just a little sting, seriously, fodder for thought. I just want to think it through some more because it punched through.So weighty.
The prevailing view when the song's been brought up by reviewers, and maybe in some SM commentary too, is that on the one hand the struggle for racial justice, particularly in its more morbid and troubling dimensions, Eg., killed while black because...black...and no recourse... is naturally the story that should be out front, that should rise like cream in our culture's consciousness because of all its compounding factors -- our country's shadowed origins, the ever-twisting permutations of racial injustice playing out again and again and again so unabated, and the reality as well as the feeling that nothing substantive has ever happened to foment a real reckoning. Totally reasonable. To say nothing of the state's violence in the unchecked cops. And in the face of that, sure, other activist issues might plausibly be regarded as frivolous, even indulgent, petty, silly, and most of all, unconnected to a bigger story, to some possibly palpable whole.
But then I wonder why?
Why do things need to be pitted against one another and a hierarchy asserted and categories sequestered and one legitimated narrative presumed and calcified? Sometimes that's helpful, but when is it not?
The mob is always perched and ready to spring.
More than all that though is a question of omnipresent inputs, down to the telecasted, radiograph-ded, wirelessly swimming last byte. All the time.
How are any of us in a time of persistent, junctureless, visual-auditory-informational multiplicity supposed to both consume and D I G E S T the totality of it all in a way that we can remain present to the scale of horror from our corner streets to our broader localities to our regions to our nation as a whole and on out to the global world in conflict and also the violence of thought and word and Capital with its manipulation of values and the erosion of apparent meaning and the self-absorption of our vernacular needs playing out in personal-is-political identity spaces and now the proxy battle of the sexes and rise up to all that and respond in an utterly focused way -- Freddie versus bike lanes -- in a united manner, with enough work stoppage and life stoppage and complete stoppage that any given percolating horror leaves no more room to surf dance to bike songs? That makes us all act. A watershed.
Not that I'm calling Steve intellectually weak for making such a juxtaposition. Far from it. Seriously. His is a rare mind and one I both admire and adore. "Bike Lane" is a song, and a song needs a device. And that device is effective if anyone is thinking about it in a literary and musical sense and even in a contemporary sense of the moment... which I am, and others have.
I guess I'm simply resistant to the interpretation of the song hardening around the notion that, first of all, issues and focuses must necessarily be either/or and nothing in between. And that anything short of obvious life and death (obvious life and death) must necessarily disintegrate into its own perverse triviality to anyone in the know. With those in the know likely very nod nod, wink wink, pass the soapstone-iced bourbon cocktail and it's their surf dance song.
Though America and Americans have achieved some singular greatness, much of it poorly understood and therefore not appreciated by the populace, nonetheless we remain both a young nation, and am immature people. We very likely lost "our rich inheritance" or at the least it is clearly in grave peril. Our cultural superficiality, distractedness, deep level indifference, and entitlement on so many scores by most of us, transcending race, class, sex, and gender assertions may be the things we hold most in common, up there with Coke and McDonald's french fries.
But we're not all brutes and we have a latent greatness to draw on if we'd dare rediscover it.
I wonder if, instead of issues needing to be ranked, or at least ranked in the manner that will bind us and limit us and drive us apart in the way the world of identity and issue politics has done in recent years, in wedge fashion -- as George W. Bush said to choke us out, "You're either with us or you're against us," a cognitive behavioral model that lived beyond its original intent -- that instead we might find a way to value again thoughtfulness, contemplation, debates that don't fall under the "Crossfire" rubric, national conversations, the ability to read through and think through an issue and explore its dimensions before reacting, choosing teams, aiming for win-lose, turning to marble, and then fighting it out to the death without even a "good game" when each round is over.
Lincoln versus Douglas in a long form debate cage match.
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend." - Thomas Jefferson
There is a hunger out there. Evidence abounds. Maybe a fight for bike lanes proves it.
At a time when we have the encyclopedia of everything in our pockets 24/7 and powered glistening -- you might even say sparkling -- on ancient dinosaur goo, the best we can do is surf dance to tragic murder songs unawares and stop there?
Wakey wakey is a bigger story than woke with woke there, too.
Not that there's any guilt in surf dancing otherwise. Long live surf dancing! There is room enough for it all, but perhaps a little more room might be made for the worth and value of intellect and reason and compassion and the rejection of the real silliness. The real silliness. Silliness that a bike lane could never be.
If citizenry itself were a reasserted American value, and humanity an essential American value, too, then any of us would be working on service and effort and engagement in the ways that drew from our hearts and skills and we'd do what we could, where we could. "From each according...."
Some would likely still do nothing, and others too much. Maybe most would at least do something. If it was a value. A valuable value.
And if people themselves were valued, maybe we could truly pause aghast collectively when such a grave injustice as Freddie Gray was perpetrated that we'd be forced to either believe the spin and bow to it, cowing to the blue line or believe our lying eyes and then...stoppage, and unity, and our impenetrable line, and acting on it.
Anyone can mount a slay track to this -- the country's too big, people don't care, ideas and vision are for the deluded, it's just life, or worse, "it's all good." That's one road.
But I'd argue that there's a lot of tools in our arsenal of engagement should we wish to elevate them. Or you can "Elevate Me Later."
I really do love this song. Wouldn't mind the all-instrumental version for when I'd like to dance to it guilt-free, the music is stellar.