It started out as a utopian dream. A city unlike any other. Filled with visionaries, rebels, renegades, stars. A metropolis of rockers who hated the Man and saw rules as a mere suggestion. “Wake up late to stay up late,” was our motto. And for a few years, it worked.
But, let’s face the music: Building a city on rock and roll wasn’t a good idea. It’s a living nightmare.
I moved here from Topeka, Kansas at the age of 24, right when the city was starting to come into its own. Music on the streets all day and night, work when you want and report to no one, and the drugs. Oh, the drugs. When I moved into my small studio on Exile on Main Street Avenue, there was a fat joint sitting on my lease, which I wasn’t even supposed to sign or smoke without a town manager looking it over first.
But the nonstop music led to partying and vomiting all night — I can’t go for a leisurely walk without ducking someone’s projectile stream. And not having someone to report to might sound like a good idea, but sometimes we need structure and validation. I’m not positive anyone even reads my emails. I fire them off into the universe and just get constant OOO replies with subject lines like, “Back after my set.” What set, Derek? I need you to confirm you understand my feedback. And speaking of drugs, I got clean two years ago, which prompted all my friends to sit me down and regretfully tell me I’ve been “kicked out of the group.”
This city doesn’t work. Our local grocery store, The Green Room, only sells beer and chips. That’s not a healthy diet conducive to healthy living. How am I expected to send my kids to Skynyrd Elementary with just a non-alcoholic Budweiser and a bag of Lays?
I’ve been trying to sell my beautiful brownstone for the past year to no avail. I bought it in 2015 for 1.5 million. A luxurious building in Hendrix Heights with a bouncer and a garden. Do you know what its value is now? $20,000. No one wants to move to a city that has no noise ordinance and it’s encouraged to play your music loudly until 5 a.m.
There’s also no garbage union or sanitation system, so the streets haven’t been properly cleaned for fifteen years. The city is beyond filthy, littered with show flyers, roaches (both the insect and the small joint variety), condoms, and thousands of guitar picks.
Anytime I try to bring these issues up at our town hall gigs, no one shows up. The set time is at 7 p.m. and if anyone does pop by, they get there two hours late with a fifth of tequila and promptly leave when they realize it isn’t a party.
A city needs infrastructure, local government, bus times, cold cuts, milk, irrigation, plumbing, cafes that serve more than Irish coffees. We don’t need encores, stage dives, and drum circles.
The oldest person here is 65. Everyone else has died off from overdoses and crowd surfing accidents, or moved out before the city turned.
So, consider this my farewell tour. My last stop. Maybe we can build this city on more than rock and roll. Set up parks without free outdoor concerts. Have bookshops with more than rock biographies and memoirs. Launch restaurants that open before 3 pm and close at 11.
So, what do you say? Oh, great; I’m getting booed off the stage right now.