Begin The Begin

 

1979 album cover

1979 album cover

One hundred years ago, in 1913, my grandmother was born. Like me, she was reticent and fair and we had a kind of unspoken bond that played out over iced coffee at her favorite lunch counter in Trenton (and then later over hamburgers at Friendly’s). The woman I knew who was nearly crippled from arthritis and possessed a limestone dry sense of humor and who listened to the Phillies on the local station WHWH wasn’t the same sylvan raven haired girl my grandfather had discovered while driving around town. But after decades subjugated by his stubborn, willful, self-inventing, and brutally demanding ways, she had buried the pain. Her eyes glistened though just the same. Not everything could be so easily resolved.

In Paris on May 29, a few days after my grandmother’s birth, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Igor Stravinsky debuted “The Rite of Spring” (which had its US premier in Philadelphia under Leopold Stokowski). Historians of Western culture say this was the exact moment music became modern (tracing the birth of the modern is a special subgenre of historical analysis–1789? 1848? 1876? 1913?). In fact, for its atonality, primitive rhythms, fragmentation, and lack of resolve, the piece and the performance shocked. But then traditional music like traditional art and literature and architecture was done for. Only the boldest, most abstract forms could match the violence of industry and the uncertainty of political upheaval.

New York Times, June 7, 1913

New York Times, June 7, 1913

Driving home on New Year’s day, I caught the end of an NPR story on “The Rite of Spring.” The commentator Lisa Simeone made the point that the balance of the 20th century was spent trying to resolve the severe and far-reaching changes in human existence brought about by modern world (and the art, like “The Rite of Spring,” it produced). Now, a century on, she wondered, at a time of similar uncertainty produced by the digital revolution, the Arab Spring and its reactions, the rise of China and other centers of economic power like Brazil and Turkey, were we about experience another radical shift in art and expression?

I am doubtful of these meta-historical analyses, especially ones that seek answers in the symmetry of time. And yet I am drawn to the idea that human beings desire invention and subversion as much as they desire consistency and tradition. And cities, as reflections of human need, must capture that sense of invention, or else they wither and die.

And so it is a sign worth noting that on Tuesday a group of young artist members of a three year old Mummers brigade the Rabble Rousers broke through the tradition-bound culture of mummery. Their rather biting skit, “Scraptalism,” took first place among Comic Division brigades. “I will say that many old school mummers were suspicious,” said Rabble Rouser participant Nic Esposito (a writer whose work you’ll soon find on these pages) in an e-mail. “But the art community of Philly has really arrived when we can take first place in Mummers.”

The Rabble Rousers after their winning performance in the 2013 Mummers Parade

The Rabble Rousers after their winning performance in the 2013 Mummers Parade

What the Rabble Rousers have begun well may be a year of true invention in art and architecture in Philadelphia, a possibility that has been building for several years and now feels swollen with possibility, like a rite of spring.

Will we find something altogether new and surprising, elevating and exciting in SHoP Architects apartment building at Second and Race Streets? In campus development at Drexel or Temple? In skyscrapers likely to be proposed by Liberty Property Trust and one being designed by Erdy McHenry Architecture for Brandywine Realty? In KieranTimberlake’s energy campus at the Navy Yard? In a series of small scale reuses being proposed by the folks behind the project Gray Area? In the Hidden City Festival’s temporal artist interventions in vacant and underutilized places? In plans for reimagining the Reading Viaduct and City Branch railroad? In the biotech fueled city-within-a-city that will begin to sprawl down the Schuylkill River to the Grays Ferry Crescent and beyond? In the frenetic North Broad dreams of Eric Blumenfeld and Bart Blatstein?

It doesn’t matter that some of these questions won’t be resolved this year, or perhaps ever, or that some of the answers will disappoint us, even bitterly so, but only that this January 2013 is a kind of spring, the beginning of possibility, the search for the new forms and shapes of our urban desires.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



No Comments


Trackbacks

  1. Lunchtime Quick Hits | Philadelphia Real Estate Blog

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

City Council To Vote On Ridge Avenue Demo Moratorium

December 13, 2017  |  News

A bill to place a temporary hold on demolition applications for 300+ historic properties along Ridge Avenue goes before City Council tomorrow. Michael Bixler has the details > more

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

December 11, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Last June, one of Center City's last classic diners, Midtown II at 11th and Sansom, closed its lunch counter for good. The high-profile property is now under development, although plans for the space remain elusive. The Shadow takes us behind the façade to reveal a lively list of tenants and a colorful history of reuse > more

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly's Paint King And His Irish Lass

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly’s Paint King And His Irish Lass

December 8, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us to Old City where the flames of a secret affair scorched newspaper headlines in the early 1900s > more

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

December 6, 2017  |  Vantage

Academic, activist, and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill carries the tradition of the Black-owned bookstore into the 21st century with Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. John Henry Scott has the details > more

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

December 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City's annual fund drive is in full swing on Generosity and we've got a brand new batch of perks celebrating Philadelphia available. Here's a look at this year's killer lineup > more

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

November 30, 2017  |  Vantage

Three historic properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places were abruptly stripped of legal protection last week. Contributor Starr Herr-Cardillo unpacks the details of each situation > more