Jesse Jarnow

welcome to bourgwick (some neighborly navel-gazing)

July 1st marks my fourth anniversary as a Brooklyn resident, where I moved after college (and following a month on Mom’s couch). Since then, I have occupied the same corner of the same loft above the Morgan Avenue L-train stop, on Seigel Street. I have watched the walls grow around me and hem me in, the open 900 square foot room first divided by a half-assed frame/bedsheet construction, then scrapped to create three doorless/roofless cubicles. This year, a ceiling grew, stairs were built, and an attic was created. There was painting.

When we moved in, the remains of the A.M. Knitwear Corporation were intact below us, a ghost factory filled with unused envelopes in abandoned desks where plates of fried chicken sat uneaten, milk left to curdle in the office refrigerator. We salvaged what we could: a few clothing racks, some furniture, and what is now my absurdly huge wooden desk. Within the year, the remains of the factory were wiped free, and more rooms installed.

The building has changed. Graffiti-etched paint was scraped from the walls to reveal a rich brick. Clean marble was laid on the cement hallway floors. There are new doorways in the stairwells, and security cameras. Most of the rooms now have hardwood floors. Our crap was already in by the time that was added to the deal and you can still see the yellow paint from the factory floor in our living room.

There were people on the block before us. They were across the street when we got here. I suspect some of them were responsible for the founding of the health food store and the bar. I am not entirely sure. And so, outside our front door, a neighborhood began. The New York Times said so last weekend. My ex-roommate, who recently vacated the premises for more civilized digs elsewhere in Brooklyn, weighed in with a pretty fair critique of the Timesstory.

As an unrepentant hippie, however, I take some umbrage with use of the term “hippie music” to describe what comes out of this neighborhood. At its worst, it’s usually sub-indie shitpiles or Radiohead-knockoffs. The latter can be particularly dangerous, what with their love of bass and all. But, as an unrepentant hippie, I will also defend to death their right to make it in their natural habitat. Which, I guess, doesmake them hippies (and relegates jamband kids to the suburban youth demographic it probably always was).

The picture at the head of the Times pieces is of the public area in front of Brooklyn’s Natural and The Archive — the main drag of what I’ve been trying to get people to call Bourgwick Village. Next to the entrance to Brooklyn’s Natural, there are several surfaces ripe for graffiti. Recently, some new stickers have cropped up: KEEP YOUR ART TO YOURSELF NEXT TIME. I laughed when I saw it, but every time I think about it, it gets more and more repellant. Self-righteousness is certainly the tone of most of the neighborhood graffiti — the standard issue liberal arts cultural critiques on the subway ads, to spray-painted slogans like “devious semantics.” If graffiti’s anonymous safety is a forum for a neighborhood’s true self, then we petty Bourgwickians are a pretty navel-gazing lot. But we also live here. Don’t like street art? Get outta Brooklyn, asshole.

“I guess I’ll say that I think that everybody should play music,” Laura Carter of Elf Power once told me. “The more the better. I guess I like the Sun Ra perspective on it that you’re giving and making things, by choosing to play music, versus a lot of other things you could choose to do.” Probably 1% — if that — of all the art ever created will ever mean anything substantial to anybody besides its creator. But I don’t think that’s sad or pathetic. It’s just how it goes. And that’s cool! Make that album! But it doesn’t mean I want, or even need, to hear it, either. Maybe I’m being a bad neighbor by not going out and seeing my local bands whenever they make the trek to gig on the Lower East Side or wherever. but — shit yeah — go play.

As for people practicing music “all night,” I can honestly say that it doesn’t happen. At least not in ear shot of my open windows (and I can hear the pinched hi-hats of at least three drummers practicing most afternoons). I think that’s mostly hyperbole. (As for people listeningto music at all hours, that’s another story.) But the musicians aren’t the only loud part. There’s also a city park out our back window. And, as anybody who has ever tried to record music in the building will tell you, it’s not the other bands that leak onto your virtual tape, it’s the fucking ice cream trucks.

That said, calling it the new Haight-Ashbury is a tad absurd, and I don’t really believe that the dude meant it. Though maybe he did. The Haight, after all, was overrun with herpes-carrying pilgrims come to find the San Francisco dream (“how I love ya, how I love ya, how I love ya, ‘frisssssscooooooo — oh, my hair’s getting good in the back…”) George Harrison called them “spotty.” Even the Grateful Dead bounced for Marin County pretty early on. It’s not quite the Summer of Love out here, thankfully.

Nobody’s trying to save the world (except my friend Jeff, and he moved out a while ago) though that might change when the pilgrims start to arrive — which, with the promised Williamsburg waterfront project, could be soon. Or it might not be. Or maybe they’re already here. How can one tell? Is there a secret handshake? Maybe the Timesarticle was a blip that won’t turn out to mean anything, but it’s a blip that at least warrants some attention from those being blipped.

There is also the matter of the new building going up one block over, between the Wonton factory and the Boar’s Head plant. It is next to another pair of loft buildings owned by my landlords, and it is being built to look exactly like them. Except that it will not serve any time as a factory, despite what its architecture might suggest. It kind of creeps me out, like one of the memory-impregnated replicants from Blade Runner. Do the residents of android buildings even dream, let alone of sheep (electric, organic or otherwise)?

I moved here because there was space and because I could afford it. Split three ways, places still seem affordable. Perhaps it is an existence of prolonged adolescence, though I suppose I prefer it to one of premature adulthood. Yes, welcome to Bourgwick my hippies. Go forth and try not to suck..

(And I mean that in the nicest possible way.)

 

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