"I really enjoy coming here," I tell Shazna, "but I can't shake the feeling that Americans are living wrong. Their aesthetic of everyday life is simply incorrect. And I can't help feeling that the longer non-Americans stay here, the more they get absorbed into this wrongness, and start to see it as, if not right, at least acceptable and convenient." Shazna knows exactly what I mean. If there was ever a time when there were "beautiful Americans", it's gone.
When would that time have been? Well, perhaps when cowboy movies were all the rage. Or perhaps when the rock opera Hair introduced us to American hippy styles. Now, though, to "dress American" means to dress badly. I've been struck, this trip, by the fact that only people from the Indian subcontinent are impressing me. Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, south of the L train stop, is a sort of catwalk where you're probably going to see the best -- in purely visual terms -- that New York can offer. I did see some people in stunningly beautiful outfits: an Indian mother and her daughter, who had on a turquoise top and a bright red scarf falling across it. The colours were simple, bold and optimistic . Adjectives we might once have used about America we now tend to use about India and China. The pure sexiness of optimism, expressed in colour and form, is now theirs.
Outside PS1 in Queens I see another Indian -- Shazna says she's probably a Bangladeshi -- this time wearing pink and green, a combination filled with the freshness of spring. It's pretty much inconceivable to imagine a white American wearing that combination, and yet it's gorgeous. Somehow I find the colours in subcontinental clothes "chromatically trustworthy". They express not only positivity about the future, but a traditional culture thousands of years long.
I feel the same way about Indian music. The show before the one Aki and I appeared on up at the Columbia campus radio station, WKCR, was called Garam Masala, and consisted of such gorgeous Indian classical music that I asked Gerry not to play any of my music during our interview. I felt it would sound crude and shoddy in comparison to the glowing, throbbing drones, scales determined by the hour of the day, and divine voices in the Indian court music.
So, an emerging theme during this visit: I am totally impressed by people from the Indian subcontinent. These -- not hipsters, not Harlemites, not Japanese art students, not affluent gay couples walking little dogs in Chelsea, and certainly not the weary, nervy people I see on the streets of the Upper East Side -- are the people tweaking my aesthetic antennae here in New York. These are the people I'm noticing, and admiring. Make of that what you will; my conclusion is that I really need to visit India itself soon. Or, at the very least, Jackson Heights.