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Best Reason to Live Here

We're So Cool

Posted 9/19/2001

We know, we know, it's a little hard to base a winning civic identity for several hundred thousand diverse people on the dubious notion of "cool." We also feel a bit silly positing it in light of our city's endemic problems and strife. But the fact remains that Baltimore's stubborn provincialism and peculiar blend of high- and lowbrow culture have finally begun to translate as cachet. First we noticed a trickle of young musicians and artists from other cities bucking decades of cultural outflow and moving here, to busted-ass Baltimore, to do their thing. What do we have that New York or Chicago don't? The perennial low cost of living and good, cheap housing stock are draws--as a starving artist, your no-money goes a lot further here. And then there's the sense of Baltimore as virgin territory: If you move here and want to promote electronic-music shows, you're pretty much it, instead of the sixth guy in line, notes electronic-music show promoter Jason Urick. And then there is Charm City's certain je-ne-sais-what? Twig Harper, of the recently arrived avant-garde duo Nautical Almanac, told us Baltimore reminded him of a cross between New Orleans and Flint, Mich. He meant it as a compliment, and we took it that way. Next we noticed Baltimoreans themselves starting to look at themselves a bit differently--and others seeing us in a new light in turn. Mobtowners have always had a strong idiosyncratic streak and a love/hate relationship with the way mainstream culture brands that streak as weird/cute. It could just be our alt-weekly filters, but it seems to us that more and more local artists, musicians, and others have stopped looking to the rest of the country for cues and started reveling in their uniqueness. With the inroads made by rock bands such as Oxes and the Convocation of . . ., the thudding breakbeats of Baltimore "club music," and the improv/experimental High Zero Festival, people around the country (and the world) who obsess over fringe culture are starting to obsess over Baltimore. Finally, after years as the butt of national jokes, we think Pleasant Livers have developed thick enough skin not to worry so much about what everyone else thinks--the very essence of cool. Instead of having a chip on our collective shoulder about cosmopolitan Washington, we just commute there, collect their money, and come back here to live in relative comfort. People still can't believe the thuggish, no-offense- having Ravens won the Super Bowl, but that's their problem, isn't it? And say what you will about Martin O'Malley, but the mayor says what he thinks when he thinks it, no matter how many feathers he ruffles. Plus, he plays in a band--how cool is that?

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