Yesterday I had to take the ferry over to Manhattan to take care of some band business. It was a beautiful day, cool, a bit windy and not quite one of those days when New Yorkers begin to celebrate summer by changing to their summer clothes and heading for Central Park. All the same it was of those days when I found myself reflecting on the past.

The transient nature of modern life is an escalated version of what I felt myself feeling as I walked around the island. Last year I read a history of the Dutch colony which founded New York City which was then known as New Amsterdam (it became New York after the English took over). The name of the book was “The Island at the Center of the World” and I highly recommend it even to those who don’t like non-fiction or history. By translating a tremendous amount of documents filed and forgotten in Albany, NY a human drama unfolds in the pages of the book.

The author, Russell Shorto, is good enough that you can imagine farms and fields in midtown and a stupid little wharf on the southern tip which was the center of town. Brooklyn was one guy’s farm and the Jersey side was wilderness with a few outposts.

Similar to my experience following my reading Kandinsky‘s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art” in that I finally got it. I looked at a landscape and it was reduced to it’s basic geometric form and thereby could be abstracted. I found myself looking at Manhattan and the Hudson Banks and being able to see the fields and wilderness as it was.

I once had the same experience in Los Angeles during a period where I was rather depressed about the city sprawl. It must have been a remarkable place to begin building a dream; hard but limitless. Without bridges and scheduled ferries, paved roads, roads at all… getting from Wall Street to Central Park West (let alone Queens) would have been an undertaking.

There was yet another layer to this current appearance versus my personal 30 year history with New York City. I found myself walking past the previous location of SIR on 52nd Street, a place that I have spent months of time working in. The business was closed down as someone owned the airspace above the building (a pretty amazing concept if you choose to think about it) and offered to buy the buildings location to build a skyscraper.

The Link - 310 W 52nd Street

This is the place where our friend Mell worked; it was a place I never seemed to miss stopping in to visit whenever I was in midtown. Now there is one of those construction facades and a pretty tall building where the storage lockers and sound stages were. My own personal history in this place which seemed so long and old now isn’t there; there is no trace of it.

The Link Condominium

In less than a year.

I wonder how the people of the middle east feel when something which has been there for 8000 years is bombed into silt.

As the suburban sprawl eliminates more prairie and the memories of childhood fields become parking lots for mini-malls, the history of cities are re-written, built over, raised and there will probably never be any brass plaques for the places I haunted. Sarah Vowell may be able to find where shot presidents lay down bleeding but I doubt that people will know (or care) about there Foreigner’s backline was stored for many years. I guess that’s my job.

We take these common abilities of transportation, food purchase and shelter for granted in our lives. In my current read, “Guns, Germs and Steel“, the history of how food production and other technologies shaped the world as we know it seems to move so slow. It looks at 13,000 years of human life and how seed, germs, language, geography and the ability or inability to extrapolate tools from stone to steel shaped the world as we know it. Will people look at our lives 13,000 years from now and speculate how genetically modified food changed our history and how ebay effected the existence of a village market? Will they have the chance?

What does this have to do with wandering around Manhattan on a non-performance day?

Probably nothing.

It just had me thinking about impermanence and how we choose to see our surroundings. Can we be in the moment and still see the total history of a place? Can it change damaging decisions we make for ourselves and others? Can we learn from our mistakes and build on our positive experience? I avoided saying “success” as the current definition of that world in this country usually means maximum profit at any cost.

We’re headed for New Orleans where nature, government and the human propensity to settling in dangerous places has given us another lesson in impermanence. We are going there to hopefully be part of a rebirth. It will not be the same; it might be better or worse. I will carry my limited memory of the place it was before. Perhaps I’ll be able to see what was there before my personal memory as well. It makes me admire those people who can see the future in an empty lot of land; not the Waffle House builders but the visionaries who can see residence, commerce, recreation and nature together.

This is a blog-prayer that the carpet-bagging cronies of big business don’t eliminate the life of New Orleans simply for profit. We really don’t need that many casinos or outlet malls and we certainly don’t need a clean Disney/Vegas version of the town. I have faith that the complexity of the area and the corruption will make a sanitized version impossible.

Now it’s time to see for ourselves.