Sometimes Things Turn

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Sometimes Things Turn by James Howard Kunstler

A February night in 1924, in a Manhattan concert hall owned by the Aeolian piano company… the wailing, warped, and flatted clarinet glissando that opens George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blueannounced the 20th century’s self-recognition that something new was up in the world, and especially in the USA. The composer tried to represent the stupendous energy of the maturing industrial culture in a symphonic cacophony with a core of the deepest tenderness — capturing all the wonder and grace of the moment. For America, everything was on the move. Love and power were in the air.

The idea that this was the American century stuck. The 1920s were a kind of hormonal rush of wonders and amazements. Radio, movies, airplanes, giant industries, electric power in farm houses, the dizzying rush of progress that welled up into a dangerous wave that broke over the world in economic depression, and then war in 1939 — by which time George Gershwin was gone at 38.

America performed splendidly in World War Two, rescuing Europe and Asia from manifest evil. The nation found itself the fully mature leader of the free world, with daunting responsibilities in the Atomic Age, filled with confidence, but tinged with an understandable paranoia in the nervous peace of the 1950s. This was the time of my childhood, along with my fellow travelers, the Baby Boomers. What a time to come into this world!

For a while, the USA luxuriated in power and stability. I sang the Davy Crockett theme song from the Disney TV show, and wore a coonskin hat, and lived in a home where dad left for work in a business suit, and all was well in the world. To me and my childhood friends, the mindboggling horrors of the recent war were reduced to comic books and plastic soldiers in the sandbox. Everything else in America seemed to work as advertised. We built a lot of stuff and saw the USA in our Chevrolet. President Ike bossed around Britain’s PM Anthony Eden. The Yankees bossed around the major leagues. Hardly anyone knew what the Federal Reserve did, or even what it was. Elvis was in the Army, babysitting the defeated Germans. Then somebody splattered John F. Kennedy’s brains all over Dealey Plaza in Dallas, and everything changed again.

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James Howard Kunstler

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, “Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.” Home From Nowhere was a continuation of that discussion with an emphasis on the remedies. A portion of it appeared as the cover story in the September 1996 Atlantic Monthly. His next book in the series, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, published by Simon & Schuster / Free Press, is a look a wide-ranging look at cities here and abroad, an inquiry into what makes them great (or miserable), and in particular what America is going to do with it’s mutilated cities.