Knock It Down!

Does this deserve to be preserved?

How many times does the public have to declare something a failure before self-proclaimed arbiters of taste get it? How come a small cadre gets to call itself “experts” while those who disagree get labeled as “Philistines?” I just finished reading the umpteenth apology for why buildings such as Boston’s City Hall and London’s Trellick Tower are actually “important” buildings that need to be appreciated. Rubbish! And that’s what these buildings should be. Mark Twain once gazed upon an offensive memorial and commented, “There’s nothing to recommend it. Except dynamite.” Exactly.

I’d be the first to agree that popular art is not the same as “good” art (and vice versa), but I’ve had it with experts trying to convince me that the architecture of the 1960s and 1970s is “misunderstood” and deserves to be “preserved.” Says who? Not the public, surely. The form-follows-function neo-brutalist buildings from that era have long been out of favor and it’s not because the public have been seduced into liking something else. Sixties and Seventies architecture evolved from another style more people hate than like: the International style of Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and their ilk. We hated that for the same reason we hate neo-brutalism: the people who designed this stuff confused drafting exercises with human habitats.

Do architects and preservationists study history or psychology? I wonder why some of the earliest known artifacts are items of jewelry? Or why tools and tombs are decorated? Hell’s bells, even the caves of Lascaux were painted. Processed food and medicine are meant for the inside of sterile packages, not people. Human beings like color, line, angles, and (yes) frippery. Even if we live in dorm rooms or cold-water walkups, one of the first things we do is put up some artwork and gussy up the joint a bit. We hate neo-brutalism because it’s boring, and a Trellick Tower’s worth of equally boring dissertations isn’t going to change our minds. I say let’s take all the preservationists who love this stuff and make them work, live, and recreate in said edifices. And since they’re so hell-bent on simplicity, let’s add a few covenants: no gardens, no landscaping, no internal art, and no furniture that doesn’t have straight lines. Rip out the lawn and haul in the gravel. Form follows function, baby!

I work in a neobrutalist building. I hate it. I look out my window at what would easily be the most-hated building in all of Massachusetts if it weren’t for the fact that the UMass Amherst campus is too far from Boston to be known statewide. This would be the Fine Arts Center (see above), a gigantic nightmare of concrete slaps that look to have been salvaged from the Berlin Wall. It compensates for ugliness by also being leaky, drafty, damp, and soulless. Seeing a performance at the Fine Arts Center has all the intimacy of making love in Aisle Three of your local Wal-Mart, except that Wal-Mart has better lighting.

Preserve this junk? I think not.


Richard Julian CD More Sour than Sweet

Richard Julian
Girls Need Attention

Compass 7-4537-2

Whenever I hear someone whose voice is no better than mine, I listen hard to determine whether they’ve got something else going on that makes them unique, or if they’ve just got more chutzpah than I. Put Richard Julian in the second category. This is a record that tries very, very hard to be “cool.” We’ve got high-contrast international symbols on the cover and the inside art features Julian with his goatee and Homburg. The performance? At its best it’s Neil Young doing Punk Lite. (This is especially the case on the track titled “Words.”) There’s also some gravely acoustic folk-blues and lots of attitude-laden songs. (Some might even view the title track as offensive.) But here’s the deal about being cool—it’s a conferred status not a chosen one. Julian’s probably a nice guy, but this album sounds contrived and there’s simply not enough here to compensate for a very average voice that, like mine, is like a Chinese soup: sweet and sour.--LV