I Can See Your House From Here
Friends, Romans, countrymen – lend me your ears. I seem to have damaged mine.
In spite of all the naysayers in the artistic community, Birmingham is no different than the rest of the nation. Which is to say, it’s a completely different microcosm: the religious element is stronger, the politics trend toward the conservative, the cost of living is lower, the humidity off the charts. But all in all, Birmingham is the same as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles: we follow some trends, we ignore others, and once in a blue moon, we inspire a few here and there.
Sure, there are no major music labels based here, no well-funded Hollywood-style studios, no empires of artistic production. Those things are secondary to the creative world, though; without the works of the artist, labels and studios and publishers have no raison d’etre. The Atlantics and Sonys and Putnams of the world are businessmen, channeling finance from art. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; those of us who create could certainly use a little more finance in our lives. But to point to the lack of artistic business world in Birmingham as a major weakness belittles the true source of creativity.
Argue the individual importances all you like, but the Magic City has been home to many a nationally recognized entertainment figure. We’ve got musicians (Verbena, Cleve Eaton, Emmylou Harris), writers (Robert McCammon, Dennis Covington, Margaret Walker), actors (Courtney Cox and Kate Jackson). We’re to blame for the area code shirts that everyone wore for a year. Without us, there might be no Alan Hunter, and where would that leave MTV?
Two words: Alan Curry.
If there is a separation between Birmingham and other cities, it might be the support system for creativity. But there, again, I wager that we balance out, looking from a distance like any other city or town in the nation. The audiences are larger at Star Wars than Crash, J. K. Rowland outsells Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and television is viewed more than all the theater and gallery exhibits together. While the products aimed at the masses will always draw more people than the art that challenges and stimulates, there is still an audience for even the most obscure. Theater productions, art house films, and the collected works of William Burroughs have their fans here, and will continue to do so. Complaining about the small size of your audience as a creator is to ignore the desire for easy digestion by the majority of the world (or your own lack of talent – but easier to blame it on the city, right?).
No, we’re not as influential on the national trends as Los Angeles or New York, but then, we’re not as large. For our size, though, I suspect that we have more than our fair share of impact, just as we are shaped by the endeavors of artists from San Francisco, Miami, Boston, or Austin. And just like those landscapes, ours is filled with hidden treasures, pockets of brilliant riches waiting to be discovered, if only by the few who can divine their beauty.
The American Heritage dictionary defines creative as such: “Characterized by originality and expressiveness; imaginative.” This means two things: we can take Britney Spears off my list of topics to cover, and I can add a lot of areas that people tend to ignore when thinking of creativity. Of course the area encapsulates music, filmmaking, theater, writing, dance, and the rest of the cultural arts, but it’s wrong to forget things like architecture, web design, and advertising – ventures that step outside of entertainment, but benefit from a unique and imaginative approach.
And so, Birmingham, I challenge you: look around and find the creativity that surrounds you every day. Recognize the originality that exists in and is inspired by the city. Note how it is influenced by the rest of the world, and how the rest of the world is influenced by it.
Written 15 May 2005, and promptly forgotten. Oops. I think this was my pitch to the Birmingham Weekly editor for a resurrection of I Can See Your House From Here, a weekly column I wrote for RevolutionSF.com in 2002.
I should really get off my ass and write more.