Afterdays Media focuses on archaeological views of our contemporary culture. Artifacts, art, or cultural phenomena that picture us in the past tense.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Abandonment? Part 2

In an earlier post, I pointed out that the focus on abandonment in the various Afterdays Media endeavors is not simply about emptiness, but how abandonment can be instructive. Here is another example...

An empty lot in the city is so utterly mute of the millions of stories and memories that hinged upon the buildings that once stood there. One sees only vacancy, and can barely imagine the former presence of structures, landscapes, or people. And in many places, what was recently removed was not the first to occupy the site. Often, there were generations of structures that were built, inhabited, and demolished on the same, small parcel of ground. Layers of places, and so many more layers of lives, activities, and stories. Historians try to tell us this all of the time.

Take for instance the 600 block of West Monroe Street in Springfield, Illinois. Along the north side of the street, a completely unremarkable block has been erased of its buildings, landscaping, lot lines, and even its addresses. Today it just looks bad, but probably not as bad as a row of abandoned or disintegrating structures that “blighted” the properties a decade or more ago, depressing the neighbors and their property values.

I stumbled across a little reminder of the invisible iceberg of such stories, melting away along most of our city streets. The reminder was in the form of an advertisement in a 1970 phonebook. A small business (probably a very small business ) that came and went over 40 years ago. Earth Sounds: rock albums and far-out clothing. Earth Wears.

This was probably a small shop tacked together in an aging brick storefront, or perhaps in a converted wood-frame residence. No one remembers. Imagine the décor, the products, or the sound of a little window air conditioner droning away in the summer heat of 1970. Jimi and Janis, and that Iron Butterfly record that someone’s sister had. Incense, macramé, black light posters, and maybe some paraphernalia behind the counter. Things For Your Head. Promising an alternative lifestyle, encouraging a return to nature, and helping you look cool  - all at the same time.

Imagine the conversations, and the plans of the twenty or thirty-somethings that ran the place. See the purchases made by their too-occasional customers, who came inside to reaffirm their membership in what was a rapidly fading counterculture. Things were changing.

       Earth Sounds was probably just a brief, homespun, Midwestern echo of the massive cultural party that was happening on the West Coast. Politics, cobbled-together belief systems, and always pop culture. An outpost and a dream. It is remarkable how thoroughly such things can be erased from our landscapes.

UPDATE!  Earth Sounds remembered. Click HERE

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