I have just returned from an all night walking tour of Lower Manhattan in celebration of Independence Day.
An artists field day-- so many things to observe and question:
Who are those regular lumpy people that spend the early hours of Independence Day trooping around the Revolutionary War sites of the city? Where do they come from? Why?
What do they want and what do they need?
There are the history buffs who travel in from outlying states to do the tour every year. There are single lonely women looking for a partner. There are smart and walled off men who sleep alone- and not much anyway- who come every year to spare themselves the humiliation of no barbecue invites. And the guide, pudgy, once the head of his class, now hopelessly in love with the story that he tells us and his chance to be Alex Trebeck for a night...poof, I'm Cinderella. And the same man who has abandoned his body to such a degree that twice he attempts to hop onto a bench and almost topples himself and the three folk who come forward to hold him.
There is the City at night.
This place. Is it in conflict or in support of its stories?
The heat through dawn. The cops cruising and the doormen leaning. Deli owners counting change and drunken kids. There are three Hasidic Jews peddling on bikes, circling circling the crowd.Reconnaissance after Shabat. Landing, buzzing, snickering, riding. Drunks on the bench snoring next to the erudite. Who is listening more attentively to the guide?
Smell. Heat of the new day, smells of the old. After shave, coffee breath
Sounds, wind against taxis, distant drunken laughter. The mobile microphone is never quite right. Every stop and narrative spurt prefaced by, "Can you hear me now?"
Actions.. aching knees, stretching backs, rubbing against gates and fences to find the itch. A stray dog trotting, peeing, trotting along, flirting, fawning, yawning--take a closer look.
and then, the basic question of :
What is the artist's role in a society so clearly based on capital and economics? A country inspired by Tom Paine and the antics of a rabble militia. What do we observe? What do we write about and reflect? What is of most value to ourselves and others?
Did you know that Nathan Hale was a lush and though he regretted having only one life to give for his country, it was a short and fairly stupid one?
And that Benjamin Franklin gave a job and refuge to Thaddeus Kozciusko, a Polish engineer banished from his native land for attempting to elope with the wrong girl, and this same disappointed lover managed to engineer the fierce frontal attack and defenses of our struggling disorganized army?
It was a rich night for an artist.
Keep your eyes and ears open.
Here's to the freedom to observe.