Standing On the Shoulders of So Many Bodies

Standing On the Shoulders of So Many Bodies
Guest blog post by Peter J Hochstedler

A Reflection on Dream Machine and Necrobisect, as performed at the Birdsell Mansion on October 18, 2014 by Sade Murphy and Peter J Hochstedler, respectively

There are few things I would rather do on a Saturday evening than perform a set of new songs alongside writer Sade Murphy in the ballroom of an unused mansion for a hundred people. A couple weekends ago, I got to do that. Sade, Dream Machine is fearless and intense and funny and devastating and so are you. Thank you. Thank you Myles, Nalani, and the others of the Birdsell Project for hosting, Steve for your hospitality, Bethy and Matthew for joining me for my set, Meghan and Matt for being the most encouraging, awesome sound techs, and everyone who came. I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did. 

Much is being made of the future of South Bend, Indiana:

city

Dream Big® is a registered trademark of Viagra®, used with permission

This vision of the economic future is not merely bold: It is admirably masturbatory. Will massive steel erections soon surround the former Chase Tower’s boyish protrusion like bullies in a locker room? Will David Guthrie finally fly his sweet red sperm-ride towards McCormick’s as if there were no bridge? (But there still is a bridge?) I am sure I am missing the point of the illustration.

My point is: who wants to live there? That city is butt-ugly. It is the domain of super-villain megalomaniacs, a place where police are more powerful and more corrupt, a place where money is hyper-stratified. Haven’t we watched a goddamned movie?

I prefer old, dead money for my playground. I prefer my carousels spinning ’round the ruins of capitalism. I prefer money that leaks out of the cracks in the toilet pipes and floods the floor below in shit. That kind of money has no pretense: It was ill-earned by greedy fuckers on the labor of the subsisting class. It is a corpse. (Let’s be birds of prey!) It lives on in its dead image, the hauntings of a drafty house. Let’s not reiterate some sick nostalgia for the “glory days.” Rather, we can try something new in the shell of the old: we can, in the spirit of the Birdsell Project, make new meaning in the vacant spaces of old, monied myths. The bodies have rotted; let’s have a dance party in the gorgeous mausoleum.

There are people who stand to gain monetarily from the emergence of a new creative class in and around downtown South Bend. These people are, by and large, not members of the creative class themselves. They are entrepreneurs, developers, dealers in capital. Their clientele, those with some money to spend, has in the past been either too scared or too bored by downtown. But they see young hip people doing artsy things and they are drawn like grandparents to a flea market, like my 3-year-old nephew to the monkey cage at the zoo. The artists might be poor but they are not the frightening kind of poor people. In fact, when they are done playing rock n roll, they will make you a latte.

I write as one who no longer lives in South Bend and who has only a sentimental stake in the matter of its future. I also write as a member of this so-called “creative class.” We create like children create, out of love for the work itself. Perhaps we make a little money, perhaps we don’t. But while we do it, however radical we may be, we create value that can be monetized by those with capital. This is particularly true for those of us creatives who are white—who, by our very presence in a so-called “bad” (low-income) neighborhood (of color), increase the potential value of real estate.

Perhaps I take personally the inequities of being a tool in the hands of capital. But, for me, there is a far more urgent wrinkle in the contracts of progress: When money moves in, those with neither money nor social capital must move on.

We might imagine that, prior to 2005, nobody was downtown and nothing was happening. But downtown has for decades been a hub of so many people living, surviving, being themselves. Perhaps they were invisible to you; they wanted it when no one else wanted it. Non-profits and government assistance agencies wanted downtown so they could be close to their invisible, unmonied target populations. And of course there have always been creatives in South Bend; there have been other art scenes and other visions of other futures.

Money (capital) and its human displacement will be justified on so many grounds. “Look what a beautiful city we have created!” they might say when the last of the ugly people can no longer afford to live there. Or, even better, “Look how we have taken people who were once ugly (unemployed) and taught them to be beautiful (tax-paying) people, so they can fit into our beautiful city!” And we continue to make one another in our own image, an idol, a “success story,” a testimony carved into the temple of the Great White Cock of Capitalism.

I know that I am not alone in my concern. The movers and shakers of the new South Bend are, by and large, a people of good will and social conscience. And the creative class, holy fuck, is inspiringly, resiliently DIY and collaborative. We do not need capital to do what we want. To the extent that we are privileged by the capitalist system, we must push back against its unleashed violence. We must imagine a future in which humanity is not bought and sold, in which we are not afraid of people who do not fit our respectable vision of a thriving city.

And so I submit, for your perusal and enjoyment, my Personal Manifesto, Autumn 2014 Edition:

Fuck respectability.
Fuck the police.
Fuck capitalism.
Fuck the hip.
Fuck “culture” and its centers.
Fuck me and fuck you too.

Let what is brokenhearted and desperate inside draw us toward those whose brokenness, whose marginalization, whose pride and desperation we cannot fathom. Let us tend wounds if we can; let us listen and be changed. Let us learn acceptance from whom we find hardest to accept. But let us not think, O White Savior, like Columbus before us, that we have discovered anything. We are only witnesses.