Anyway, the lyric was: "I wanna be Bob Dylan... "
Who doesn't? I remember reading that this group often changed that lyric to pander to the specific audience they were performing in front of. For instance, if they were touring with Big Star, they would change it to: "I wanna be Alex Chilton... "
That's cool if it was the original lyric, but it's not. Aspiring to be Bob Dylan is a big job and if you're heart is truly in to it, you can't sway off course. Who is going to stop those geeks from singing "I wanna be Jeff Tweedy... " or "I wanna be Zack de la Rocha... "? Nobody, and that's the problem. Immediately this band is exposed as a fraud because they don't really want to be Bob Dylan. They just want to be cool like Justin Timberlake wants to be cool.
Maybe that's why I can't remember the name of the white boy with the extensions or what he called his band.
Anyway, I've been reading the first installment of Bob Dylan's memoirs, which I am enjoying very much. Obviously, that cat can really write. Based on Tarantula: Poems – a stream-of-consciousness tome that puts even Jack Kerouac and Thomas (not Tom) Wolfe to shame – and now Chronicles: Volume One it’s clear that ol’ Bobby D could have been an influential writer or novelist.
Like Bob writes in his memoirs, I too am a “traditionalist with a capital T.” He was talking about folk music with that line, but I sense that he’s talking about other things too. Like I bet Bob gets his hair cut in a barbershop that has a red, white and blue pole spinning out front with the old-fashioned chairs and old-timers who use talc, thinning shears and let you hold the mirror so you can check out how they snipped up the back.
I don’t think Bob goes to the Wal-Mart, Olive Garden, Home Depot, Best Buy or Barnes & Noble. Then again, maybe he does. Thanks to those stores, the suburbs have its exurbia. Even the backwoods folks can get vice grips, a CD, Pasta Primavera and a mocha latte at any time of the day.
Who knows, maybe that’s progress? After all, as much as Bob (and me for that matter) is a traditionalist he is also quite progressive. In fact, I imagine he’s more broad-minded than anything. Shit, maybe he goes to Home Depot all the time. Maybe he’s a mall rat.
So I went to the barbershop on Queen St. in downtown Lancaster this week for a haircut. As far as I can tell this joint – called Segro’s – is one of the few traditional (or “old-school” in the popular parlance) barbershop remaining in the area. I used to go to the College Barbers, which was a joint with three chairs, a long mirror and a leather bench built into the wall for people to sit and wait their turn. I used to like waiting so I could sit and read the paper or bullshit with Tom the barber. But apparently Tom wasn’t as into as much as I was, because he sold out and went to work at one of those blow-dry salons. Now, instead of regular old shears, clippers, talc and warm shaving cream, Tom has to shampoo, rinse and repeat.
So now I go to Segro’s, which like Tom’s old joint, is a throwback. I’m convinced the old-timer who cuts my hair was there at the beginning because he says he knew my grandfathers and talked knowledgably about seeing them around town in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Therein lays the point. Those old timers remember when the downtown flourished. It was a place where one went to be seen, to see and to take part in community life. But like urban centers all across America, the cultural shift and white flight placed the centers in the suburbs. The center of commerce in Lancaster is at the mall beyond the edge of town, not the city center.
Needless to say, there have been many groups and organizations – both public and private – designed to get people to come downtown. Sadly, these groups have been miserable failures. The ideas produced lack inspiration or innovation and the city leaders are arrogant in accepting ideas that are not their own and in how they treat the constituency.
In a nutshell, the downtown leaders and the groups associated with them are trotting out the same tired ideas from the same old tired people. They fear progress when it is progress that they must embrace or die.
Oh they have their ideas. One of them – and perhaps the only one at that – is to build an upscale hotel and convention center smack dab in the town square. OK, sounds good. Now how come I called around and couldn’t find a single group or organization that would want to hold a convention in downtown Lancaster, Pa.? How come it has been nearly 10 years since the project first came together and not a single minute of construction has been performed? How come the image of the state of the downtown sector has gotten worse, not better?
In Lancaster, Pa. the downtown resembles one of those old west ghost towns by 5:30 p.m. every day. Who would want to bring a convention to a town with nothing to do? Maybe the smart thing to do is to try to get people to come downtown instead of hanging out at the mall. That way outsiders will see the area as lively and want to bring conventioneers so they drop some expense-account cash in local restaurants and stores.
Good idea, huh? Well, not to the Downtown Investment District folks. In fact, it seems as if the Lancaster D.I.D. prefers the ghost town look. All that’s missing in downtown Lancaster is tumbleweed blowing across the main drag.
Now I’m not the smartest dude in the world. That one is pretty easy to figure out. However, I’m smart enough to know that if people like going to the mall, maybe other businesses should copy what the mall does. In fact, in Boulder, Colo., a town similar in size and population to Lancaster, the downtown leaders did just that. When the suburban malls started popping up, the smart folks in Boulder paved over a section of Pearl St. and turned it into an outdoor pedestrian mall. Not only is the mall popular with merchants, and consumers, but it is also a tourist destination.
When I suggested the Boulder model to the folks with the Lancaster D.I.D., they literally scoffed at me. They may have even rolled their eyes, for all I know. But it was definitely a scoff. It wasn’t that they hated the idea, they didn’t even want to consider it.
But when I asked why I saw more people at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night at the Pearl St. Mall than I would in the entire downtown district of Lancaster for an entire week, they had no answer. Maybe I was asking the wrong questions. Maybe I should have asked why they were so lazy or what they were afraid of.
The point of this that the traditionalism we all love and miss is still there. We just need to be a little less lazy and we can make it return. That means we might have to challenge civic leaders to look beyond the tiredness of bureaucratic and political thinking.
Until then, I'll see you at the Orange Julius.