File this under The City Canon.
Clubs aren’t just fixtures in cities.
Clubs are also metaphors for cities—concentrated, lively subterranean terrariums where people’s narratives collide.
The musical bent at clubs highlights the city metaphor; dancing and DJ mixes, for example, are both exercises in the same act of chaos management that defines cities. (Doesn’t Jane Jacobs refer to great city streets as “a ballet?”)
It’s telling: In movies when the city itself is the subject, club scenes often play a big role. The club scene in Blow Up’s swinging London, the club scene(s) in Wings of Desire’s Berlin, and the club scene in Masculine/Feminine’s Paris all come to mind.
My favorite city paean, Colin MacInnes’ 1959 novel about the multicultural underground in late 1950s London, Absolute Beginners, didn’t translate well to the screen (or more so, the movie’s 1980s aesthetic botched MacInnes’ classic late ’50s novel!) So, unfortunately, there’s no good footage of his literary, city manifesto. But there is the video clip (shot in a club) that I’m posting below is a good stand-in.
First, I must tell you: Absolute Beginners isn’t merely a city novel. It’s specifically a pedestrian novel. The main character in MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners is a lot like J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. Just as Holden spends most of his time walking around Manhattan, MacInnes’ narrator, a witty unnamed and untamed teenage photographer, spends most of Absolute Beginners falling from scene to scene as he treks around London on foot.
‘Car driving,’ I told him, … ‘is the licensed murder of the contemporary scene…’
A cab was passing by, and slowed down politely for the wayfarer, but I didn’t want to break into Zesty-Boy’s fiver at the moment, and also wanted to remember what Suze said about 10,000 times, so I set off to foot it back across the city to my home up the north in Napoli.
The surrogate video clip I’m posting, which captures the London club scene a few iterations after Absolute Beginners, in the mid-1960s, doesn’t feature as much of the cultural melange in MacInnes’ London; Absolute Beginners revolved around Caribbean immigrants, underground jazz and calypso clubs, queers, teens, labor organizers, fashion models, bohemian writers, junkies, pop singers, right-wing gangs, TV personalities, and PR media slickee boys.
But this clip’s energy is undeniably sourced by the urban setting that itself is directly sourced by MacInnes’ bohemian London.
And talk about traveling by foot. The dance moves are fantastic.
Lorde’s song “Team,” another pro-city manifesto, came on the sound system at Macy’s today, which is the whole reason I decided to write this post.