Songs for the Struggling Artist


Café Culture’s Death by Proliferation

When I was in high school, I fantasized about starting a café. It was going to be called The Bridge and there, people could hang out, meet each other, read, play board games and eat and drink. I was particularly keen on finding some Vietnamese lemonade that I’d had a few months before and putting it on the menu.

This was the late 80s/early 90s so Starbucks hadn’t made its way to my neck of the woods yet and coffee shops weren’t really a thing where I lived.

I really wanted them to be a thing, though. Not so much for the coffee, as I was not yet a coffee drinker, but for the relationships and the art. I dreamed of a quirky Virginia version of a Freud era Austrian café combined with a Paris in the 20s coffee house.

I imagined a world where artists would get together and talk about ideas. I pictured 20th century flâneurs sharing their stories with painters and writers and philosophers alike.

I don’t know that any such thing ever existed in the way that I imagined it. The café in Dawn Powell’s Wicked Pavilion has some of the qualities I imagined, combined with some of the realities of actual artistic life. (She absolutely nails how artists are usually the ones talking about money and the business people have the freedom to talk about art.) Anyway. I grew up. I developed a love of coffee. I picked up a habit/practice of writing in cafes and I’ve been doing it for over twenty years.

To my delight, there has been an explosion of coffee shops and cafes since I dreamed of inventing one. I am usually spoiled for choice everywhere I go.

But the café culture that I imagined all those years ago seems to be dead. Now when I go to cafes, everyone is on their laptops or having business meetings. It feels like visiting an open plan office rather than hanging out in a culture hotbed.

It used to feel a little bit romantic to be writing with my pen and paper in a coffee shop. Now I feel like …well, let me describe it this way. When I was in college, a student arrived who wore velvet dresses and played the lute. She went everywhere like that. She was really sweet and I enjoyed her a lot but one had the sense that she was a woman a bit out of step with her time.

I feel like that lute player in coffee shops now. Except the difference is that I used to be surrounded by other lute players and slowly but surely all the lute players disappeared and were replaced by baby faced boys in suits and fancy shirts.

Some cafes try to address the loss of their lute players by disallowing laptops but it only serves to make them seem cranky and dictatorial.

I don’t know what the answer is. I’m very sad that there are so few places that are actually cool anymore. Almost every place I go is just lame. Not because of the place, really – just because everyone there is on their computer or on their phone or just, generally not present in the place they are.

I don’t know how I find that café I dreamed of as a teen. Maybe I have to start one and implement a dress code of velvet dresses. Lute players only.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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