The curmudgeonly Jeremiah Moss, on his blog Vanishing New York, often complains that New York City is full of Young Urban Narcissists whom he nicknames "Yunnies": "They have no empathy for others. They see people as interchangeable, one the same as another. They throw items of value away, believing they can always get more." They are attracted to "disposability, easy access to objects of desire, and cloning in their environment."
In a passage eloquent in both its optimism and its crankiness, the blogger asks if the recession is chasing away this "swaggering crowd of safety-seeking do-nothings" and making room for those President Obama called "the risk-takers, doers, and makers of things":
Many of us are feeling optimistic about this city for the first time in a decade. . . . There is great hope that the narcissistic, sociopathic tenor of our entire country, the dark cloud we've been living under for the past 8 years, is poised to change. . . . And our city will be far better for it. We don't need to tumble into violence and degradation. We can be safe, we can prosper, we can enjoy beautiful things-without living in a sociopathic New York.
The lines about the "narcissistic, sociopathic tenor of our entire country" and a "sociopathic New York" reminded me of a song I heard Andrew Bird sing at Carnegie Hall Wednesday.
Bird is a quirky indie rocker whose classical violin infuses his music-"one of the most distinctive and creative songwriters working today," says New York Magazine. His songs are esoteric to the point of pretentious. One of my favorite lines on his latest album, Noble Beast, comes from the song "Tenuousness": "From proto-Sanskrit Minoans to porto-centric Lisboans / Greek Cypriots and harbor sorts who hang around the ports a lot." He ropes archaic and technical terms into rhythm and poetry.
Bird took off his shoes and played in his stocking feet on the Ronald O. Perelman stage, which still looked spacious even with the drums and the cluster of spinning gramophones that sent sound through the auditorium. His sock monkey sat on the stage behind him as he layered and looped the music to create the symphonic sounds that wrapped themselves around his erudite lyrics.
He sang "Oh No," the first song from his latest album, and the lines echoed Moss: "It would take a calculated blow to the head / to light the eyes of all the harmless sociopaths."
Bird explained this line months ago on the New York Times blog Measure for Measure: "What does it take to wake us up, we who feel so little? Aren't we almost like sociopaths, only the kind that don't kill people?" Sociopaths are people so callous to other people's pain they almost seem to have no soul; and on some level, Bird is saying, we're guilty of that callousness and consciencelessness, too. Maybe we don't do others active harm, but our hearts are hardened "calcium mines buried deep in our chests." Waking us up to compassion would take a hard blow to the head.
If Moss is right, the recession could be that "calculated blow" that dislodges the "calcium mines" in the hearts of the not-so-harmless sociopaths.