“We’re from Brooklyn,” is something I’ve been hearing a lot of bands spouting. The phrase deserves consideration; traditionally, when a person or entity declares they are from somewhere, they mean it (just like in the movie Cool Runnings when the lovable Jamaican bobsled team shouts, “We’re a Jamaican bobsled team!”). A notable exception to this idea is when some kind of deception is involved along with it (just like if you were a serf in the Dark Ages and you wanted to marry your King’s daughter, and in order to win acceptance and her hand, you decided to dress up and pretend to be some prince from some far away land). Based on the fact that we know Brooklyn has become the adopted hometown of many young adults, we can conclude that nearly anyone declaring Brooklyn as their hometown is not by any means actually from Brooklyn. True Brooklynites (or Vikings or Romans, for that matter) have no need to declare themselves native to their place; like trees, they are part of the landscape, they are the landscape.
Why is it that so many young people move to Brooklyn, an area where neighborhoods were once defined by their local culture and predominate ethnic groups? Are the newcomers interested in experiencing a variety of cultures, or are they tantalized by the strong independent art scene? Is Brooklyn chosen for its proximity to Manhattan, and if so, why isn’t Jersey City a coveted place to live? Is moving to Brooklyn just a trend, like Seattle was in the 90’s, at the height of grunge music?
There is a certain amount of pride associated with being from a place; most people feel their hometown is a great place to have grown up in. But what happens when this notion of hometown is co-opted? How then is meaning derived?
A band who says, “We’re from Brooklyn,” must make some kind of gain, gain in popularity, gain in image, gain in the hearts of dopey post-college kids wooing in unison after the phrase in question is uttered. Whatever associations “Brooklyn” springs into people’s minds are the associations sought after, just like hearing a band is from “the Yukon” raises its own associations. But if I was in a band and my band moved to Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine, would we declare to an audience of Portlanders, “We’re from Portland”? If so, what (if anything) would we be hoping to accomplish?
This conundrum strikes the casual observer as strange, ironic even. What happens in (and to) a place where no one has any connection to the soil on top of which they lay their heads at night? “We’re from Brooklyn,” is a phrase which simultaneously tells so much about those who utter it, and so little.