What is going on around here? A full page ad for Karaoke as the entertainment offering at the hippest new downtown restaurant, open-mike nights at places too cheap to pay entertainers. To Do Listings for meatball nights, wine tasting, Tapes bars, singles nights, Donny Osmond or another truck tour of “Grease” at Providence Center for the Performing Arts, and oh dear, not another Salsa night!
Clubs with half a dozen TV sets blaring third tier sporting events, throbbing, faux leather ultra-lounges; pricey, overly designed theme restaurants suggesting Paris in the ‘20’s or Rome during Nero’s reign. We’re all dressed up with nowhere to go, unless we want to eat. And eat. And eat.
Who doesn’t like a good meal, but how much can a person consume without exploding? We’re being reduction sauced to death, meatballed to madness. Swimming through olive oil en route to the gym, we are still starved. Starved for stimulation.
Why is Providence such a bore? Its sum continues to remain smaller than its parts. Lodged between Boston and New York, with easy access to moneyed Newport and the ocean, an Ivy League school and a top School of Design, it seems improbable that the mainstream restaurants, theaters and nightclubs continue to thrive, while those attempting the unique soon close up shop.
The artists are here, I’ve seen them. The intelligent are here, I’ve spoken with them. The misfits, rebels, and bohemians who might be in Paris, or New York, if they had more money- they’re here, too. Gay men keep the nights alive despite the cold and recession, forgotten musicians keep music alive despite exploitation and lack of venues. The mayor, a lover of arts and beauty, stands firm against corruption and ignorance. The journalists and columnists wrestle with silent censors; the students and youth rehearse their garage bands and provide us poetry slams and they are adorable, but it is not enough.
The Renaissance that Mayor Cianci inspired several years ago has left us a beautiful waterfront, loads of calories, struggling artists and little else. In 1998, Buddy said in an interview, “Cities have to breathe. They have to smell like a city, feel like a city, sing a song of a city with symphonic proportions.” It breaks my heart, but Providence is singing the blues. How can we shake it up again, bring back the gritty edge, the unpredictable eclecticism that makes art worthwhile?
It’s common knowledge that the general population, called general for a reason, doesn’t like surprises. These dull minds, with a taste for status they can never achieve, crave the nouveau as packaged by Madison Avenue. Scurrying around like desperate squirrels in search of a fat nut, the masses demand suggestions from glossy magazines and the local rags. They need to know what and who they should worship and in what order. The fewer choices, the happier they are. Their limited imaginations avoid challenge.
The monstrous Providence Mall, front and dead center, is the cities beacon. The pastel mausoleum still hums with activity, even during this recession, in the middle of an ice-storm, with glassy eyed hoards spending 10 dollars on a movie ticket and 4 dollars for bottled water before they head to the food court for pizza, Chinese food and ice-cream. Down the street, next to a busy hair and nail salon is a bawdy sports bar, a proper coffee shop, a near empty Jazz club offering, again, Vinny at the keyboard or Bob on guitar.
Why is Providence the East Coast’s answer to Toledo? Is there a secret organization of inbred plebeians undermining our efforts? A good old boy network invested in hiring cousin Vinny or Uncle Bob so that Aunt Brenda can keep her Jaguar?
Who or what continues to suppress the avant-garde within these city limits? Pawtucket offers us more sophisticated alternatives.
I need to know. I love this city very much, and keep returning to it again and again, as many artists do. We need to save it from the timid minds who suffocate the spirit of this great place. The recession may be a good time to do it. With nothing to lose, proprietors may be willing to take more risks. It is written that this should occur. It is, after all, Divine Providence.