Saturday, November 06, 2004

A Century of NYC Subway

I guess with the elections the national media paid virtually no attention to the fact that the centennial for the NYC subway just happened (on October 27).

I realized it when surfing, which I found through the Librarians' Index.

The Subway is a cultural fixture that is, if you think about it, hugely important. It is 1) an engineering marvel, 2) an economic powerhouse, 3) one of a very small number of non-commercial public spaces left in the city, and 4) an iconic space in countless works of art, literature, music, and cinema. Rap music, for instance, would probably not exist without it. And that's just a few things that come straight to mind. (Can people think of other classic subway moments?)

Someone should have a party in one of the abandoned stations (maybe the one at 18th St). Or maybe: an exhibit of subway-related art at a gallery? Or a PBS special? (Or were these things going on and I just didn't hear about them?)

Three random cultural references.

1. Two memorable stanzas from the punk band Unwound's "Natural Disasters" come to mind:

I'm on a subway train
To a place
I can't pronounce
But at least
I didn't pay

Train of thought
For a movie plot
Starring me and you insane

Not only is this a subway reference in a song, it is, via a little modernist lyrical impressionism, a subway reference alluding to movie references to subways.

2. In The Years Virginia Woolf had some very interesting stuff about the transformative effects of the London Underground on the concept of space and location in the city. [Have to find the quote...]

3. And the unforgettable 1980s pop song by the group Berlin, "Riding on the Metro":

I remember searching for the perfect words
I was hoping you might change your mind
I remember a soldier sleeping next to me
riding on the Metro

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