I haven't posted here for a long time, but still occassionally visit (and still a big Dylan fan). In anticipation of his concert in Berlin, I wrote a little piece linking his work to the change of the neighbourhood I currently study and live in. It combines his music with urban sociological issues, specifically gentrification.
Here's the piece:
As Ruth Glass first coined the term ‘gentrification’ in 1964 in her influential work Aspects of Change, about the eminent change of London’s inner-city neighbourhoods through this process of gentrification, the 23 year old Bob Dylan was conquering England by storm as the prophetic writer of protest songs, giving voice to a dominated working-class population. Bob Dylan was actually on a crash course with this reputation as the voice of this protest movement, starting with the release of the ironically titled Another Side of Bob Dylan, featuring such songs as Chimes of Freedom. During the year he also recorded songs like Mr. Tambourine Man and It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). Gone were the traditional protest songs: the new songs represented a call by Dylan for artistic freedom.
This artistic freedom very much seems to be at the heart of most gentrification processes in the world, but especially in Berlin, where the influence of Künstler, artists, is so overtly present. Most of them, necessarily, are in search of cheap places to live, in order to achieve relatively high levels of economic autonomy, allowing them to practice their, mostly unprofitable, artistic occupations. Bourdieu states autonomy from economic factors, gives artists self-assurance, audacity and a relatively high indifference to profit. Cheap places to live and work in are thus essential in stimulating artistic production, in what Bourdieu terms the ‘field of restricted production’. This field produces ‘pure’ art: l’art pour l’art, where the producers are the consumers as well, as opposed to art for the masses.
Gentrification thus, in its initial pioneering phase, plays an important role in facilitating artistic freedom. In later phases, this cultural attractiveness may lead to a more expensive neighbourhood, resulting in the exclusion and displacement of its original inhabitants. Is this entire process necessarily a bad thing? No, but it’s not a good thing either and negative effects should be mitigated. But, as cities constantly evolve it is necessary for neighbourhoods to reinvent themselves, or else decline is inevitable. Or, in Dylan’s words: he not busy being born is busy dyin’.
Successful neighbourhoods are those, which are able to adapt to varying circumstances, by taking on different shapes and offering place to different uses. Dylan knows the importance of reinvention like no other: through his career he has been a protest singer, rock-and-roller, country singer, circus troubadour, religious rocker and the old frontman of his current cowboy-blues band, always rejecting his previous identities. He is playing in Berlin July 2nd and I bet a lot of ‘gentrifiers’ will be in the crowd. So will I.