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GERMAN SHOWGOER ENJOYS SUPERIOR AMERICAN ART

“We played with an American band last night,” I informed my bandmate. We were walking around Hamburg, searching for a bookstore that might stock books written in English, our native tongue.

“Yes,” my bandmate replied.

“This was the first American band that we have played with in Europe,” I continued. “And we have been here for three weeks.”

“Yes,” My bandmate replied.

“I enjoyed this American band’s music more than the music of any European band we have played with,” I continued.

“Yes,” my bandmate replied.

“Why?” I queried.

“Because they are American,” my bandmate replied.

“Really?” I persisted

“Yes,” my bandmate replied.

“But…” I stopped in the middle of one of Hamburg’s finest boulevards. My voice cracked. My face flushed with emotion. “I find your conclusion unsatisfactory,” I annouced. “Can European and American aesthetics be so disparate? We live in a rapidly globalizing world—-a world so small that, if we need a place to stay in Bologna, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris, or London, I can use my cell phone, email, or MySpace account to call upon the resources of one of my many acquaintances who dwell in these foreign metropoli. Or, if we need British working papers faxed to France before we ferry ‘cross the Channel, or need to have compact discs shipped to Prague or Milan, I can accomplish this feat via text message. On this shrinking Spaceship Earth, how can art from one side of the Atlantic sometimes still fail to move potential audiences on the other side of the Atlantic?”

My bandmate did not reply.

“I suppose you might say that there’s no accounting for taste,” I continued. “I agree with this sentiment. Yet, while our trip through the Old World is a grand adventure, I find the foreign places we stay ever-more familiar. When in Hamburg, I begin to wonder—-is Hamburg that different from Cleveland? ‘No,’ you might say. ‘Hamburg and Cleveland are interchangeable.’ Fine. Fine! After all, I like Cleveland, and I like Hamburg. But, if Cleveland and Hamburg are the same, shouldn’t I be as impressed by bands native to Hamburg as I am by American bands playing in Hamburg? Yet, when I see an American band in Hamburg, I say, ‘Goddamn! That is a wonderful band.’ But, when I see a German band playing in Hamburg, I say, ‘Eh…'”

My bandmate did not reply.

“So,” I concluded, “Maybe you’re saying this: ‘Justin, you just don’t like that many bands.’ I find this conclusion reductive. I prefer to think that, for the most part, I prefer American music because Americans are exceptional. I assert that there is something about our nation—-its vastness, its obsession with religion, its obsession with sex, its obsession with wealth, its Puritanism, its debauchery, its classism, its diversity, its racism, its political isolation, its absurd War on Terror, its ‘newness,’ its large refrigerators and larger automobiles—-that is the raw material of good art. The so-called ‘American dream’ is a capitalist fabrication, but Americans either pursue that dream or have that dream thrust upon them. Though we may live in New York or Los Angeles, Americans are still cowboys and cowgirls. We are cowpeople grazing an uncharted psychogeography.”

I had come to the end of my speech. My tirade had caused a traffic jam on Hamburg’s Reeperbahn—-the red-light district where the Beatles had perfected their aesthetics and engaged in libertinage that would embarrass their biographers. More than one car was honking at me to move. Move, American! the cars seemed to say. Move out of the German interesection!

“It seems that you have answered your own question,” my bandmate replied.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes. It seems that I have answered my own question.”