Tuesday, 8 July 2014

In Praise of Americana

Friday was the 4th of July, Independence Day, a celebration for Americans across the world. Generally as a fastidious cynical Brit there's plenty of things I like to criticise about our friends over the pond notably language, faux-positivity an geographical ignorance. However really the United States of America is a complex and astounding country that has given the world a lot of impressive objects, laws, celebrations and notable figures. In honour of the 4th July, here is my personal and current top 10 brilliant Yank things or people:

1) Attitude

Yes, yes, yes. Well done. You can. Congrats. The yanks are streets ahead of us in celebrating success. The clich├ęd and much maligned American dream is still woven into the fabric of the country. Every small town gal and guy can make their dreams come true and America praises them when they do. They're proud of their countrymen's success. 

Whilst there may be a lot to criticise about the American attitude towards various things, they rarely tear down and scorn the successful as we often do in Britain. Surely success should be encouraged (ungrit your teeth).

2) Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Country Music and Hoedowns

Johnny, Johnny, Johnny, the man in black, drug addict, lover, prison reformer and epic songwriter and singer. I pine for his dark tones and languid lyrics. I do not recognise his world and yet I lap up the emotion he conveys. I want him.

Dolly Parton and her hoedown contemporaries are part of a genre that we will never have in GB, despite our recent bout of nu-folk bands. Oh how I yearn to journey to Nashville and dance in cowboy boots all night...

3) Denim

Levi's were the first, hard wearing clothing for the workers which have since become an international u
nform for hipster teens, weekend dads, chic oligarch wives and everything in between.

God bless America for making our lives easier...

4) Teen Drama TV

Not sure if I would have got through the relative vanilla-mess of my Home Counties adolescence without Dawson, Jen, Joey, Pacey, Ryan, Marisa, Brooke, Lucas, Chuck and Blair. Well in to my early twenties these kids had my heart and the wardrobes I wanted. Why did public school boys from Guildford not have the rippling abs of Ryan or the deft wit of Seth, the sexiness of Chuck. Why didn't we have jocks and keg parties and incredible vocabularys...

In "teen-drama" land if you drunk a few drinks every Saturday, you were probably an alcoholic, the boys next door were cute (they NEVER are) and it was quite normal for close friends to die or have sex with your boyfriends...I bloody miss them and their prematurely 30-year-old acerbic wit...

(*side note: also weird how the actors playing their parents were probably about five years older than some of them)
5) ScarJo

Yes, I know her parents are Danish and Russian or something similar, but she is seen as the modern classic American sex symbol, and she is. At the top of my #girlcrush list... there are little who rival that blonde bombshell look. She makes some good films too... but to be honest I just stare at her face.

6) Hollywood and Films

This could be seen to be a tad wide perhaps.. but the USA is the centre of the film industry, the championer of the Talkie, the location of the famous Hollywood Hills. Some of the best movies in the world ever have been made there.. and some more of the best have been funded by money that comes from there.

I can't really write too much about films without being terribly sweeping and I love too many. So I'm not going to, but you get my point.

7) Martin Luther King

 “You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”

8) New York City

  There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless. Simone Beauvoir

I lived in New York when I was 19 in 2005 for three months with one of my best friends. 

We had a tiny apartment in East Village that was infested with mice, we had no TV and lived on Chips Ahoy and Reeses Pieces. By day we interned at an advertising company and a photography studio. At night and at the weekend, we walked and shopped and explored. We only walked though, we had no idea how to use public transport.. occasionally at night we'd shell for a taxi. We blagged our way with terrible fake ids and the most British accents we could manage into clubs: Duvet, Marquee, Bungalow 8 and then stood silently staring at everyone, impossibly glamourous American everyones. And there we were in our peasant skirts and coin belts weighed down by beads, as was the way.

We snuck into gallery openings and drunk all the free wine. One time we stayed up all night dancing in the W Hotel basement and then later in The Coffee Shop with some boys from New Jersey who bought us club sandwiches and champagne. 

Us in NYC, 2005
We stalked the Olsen Twins, devouring US Weekly and the like to try and guess where we could run in to them. We bought so many clothes that we couldn't afford. We stared at ground zero sadly. We watched live music in little dive bars in Greenwich Village and skipped down the street at midnight singing Downtown by Petula Clark..

The thing is... we just weren't aware. We knew we were lucky, but we weren't aware how lucky.

New York is beautiful city, an impossible city, a city that deafens you and hurls you around. It is in your face you see, but it's also layered and witty and clever. And small enought to really know. And big enough to hide. And you can just walk everywhere, which I love.

9) F Scott Fitzgerald and His Contemporaries

20th Century American literature has always been one of my favourite eras. I just loved what they were searrching for, Fitzgerald, Williams, Salinger, Miller, Walker, Kerouac, Lee and then later, Palahnuik and Morrison etc etc etc. It was so different to everything I ever read before when I started reading it at 16. It was so about the now and the future and little to do with the past... It was so about the pressures of success and who belonged. What made one acceptable or a decent person. Racism, Sexism, Capitalism it was all so exciting it burned me up inside and kept me searching for more from over-the-pond.

This may be another too-wide reaching paragraph. But it's true.
10) Computers and Social Media

Bill Gates; Steve Jobs; Marc Zuckerberg; Jack Dorsey... I salute them all...

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