Despite a popular modern attitude of disparagement regarding cities, placing the urban at odds with that which is natural, the promotion of the urban is one of my greatest interests. A while back on my and Greg’s former blog, Criticism As Inspiration, I decided to write a short series of posts concerning some of my favourite [non-trespassing] adventures from Los Angeles (beginning with parts of Griffith Park with the intention of becoming more unconventional/climactic as the series progressed). I ultimately aborted the series after the initial post because I realised it wasn’t exactly suitable content for the CAI blog. Even so, one of my most favourite pastimes is ‘urban exploration’ – exploring that which is typically overlooked, ignored and shunned for being banal, strictly functional and ugly.
The popularity of urban exploration is on the rise and I suspect that many incredibly curious city-dwellers have been doing this sort of thing for a long time (I’m pretty certain Fagin knew all the good underground routes in London). Among contemporary urban explorers, 32-year-old Steve Duncan is one of the most notable. Duncan is not merely a thrill-seeker, but is deeply concerned with urban history and development (he’s currently working on his PhD in urban history at the University of California, Riverside) and preserving these urban sites he so cherishes.
This past weekend I caught All Things Considered on NPR and was pleasantly surprised by a story about this hero of mine: ‘Into the Tunnels: Exploring the Underside of NYC‘. For this story, NPR’s Jacki Lyden and producer Brent Baughman join Duncan for [most of] a 25-mile excursion beneath New York City, wading through raw sewage, crawling among rats and cockroaches, jumping over third rails and evading police. Duncan, Lyden and Baughman are joined by world-famous Norwegian adventurer, explorer and author Erling Kagge (he’s climbed Everest, hiked to the South Pole, and became the first person to walk alone to the North Pole, just to name a few of his accomplishments).
I strongly urge you to read the article and listen to the 20-minute broadcast if you have not already!
Duncan was also recently joined for an adventure under NYC by HDSLR director/cinematographer Andrew Wonder, which is documented in this 30-minute video entitled ‘UNDERCITY’, which is definitely worth a view.
Greg has done an excellent job of raking in this year’s best (at least in his highly-informed opinion) albums. That’s great stuff (I’m only speaking generally because I think Coldplay’s Viva La Vida is mostly rubbish), but how much of it will we be listening to in two years? Because music is in-and-out so frequently I’ve composed what I consider the best albums of 2008, though none of them were released this year. Lend me your ear eye.
If you or I were to look at a list of our favorite albums from two years ago it would probably be different than the list we would make today. I’m suspecting a lot of the albums that I considered my favorite from two years ago have lost ground in my personal rating and that is not to say that the latest albums have replaced them. What I’ve found is that through recycling the music I listen to I sit with an album longer and it really grows on me. For instance, I first heard Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 in 2001. Since then this album has been climbing its way up my list and I considered it my favorite album of 2005 (even better than Come on Feel the Illinoise!, the quintessential indie-folk hit that year). If Greg’s picks were subjective, mine will likely be hyper-subjective. This whole thing also has to do with the fact that the music I listen to usually gets to my ears one of three ways: by way of NPR/KCRW, by way of associated acts (i.e. I heard of Sufjan Stevens because he once played in Danielson, an earlier favorite of mine), or by way of a highly sophisticated (and elitist) filtration system consisting largely of Greg Stump.
With all of that said, I must also add that I have not purchased much new music from this year. In fact, as I look at my computer the only albums I see in my iTunes library from 2008 are Ratatat’s LP3, Danielson’s Danielson Alive EP (free online), and Danielson’s Trying Hartz. I’m not against new music, but I suppose that after sampling I wasn’t compelled to buy many new full albums this year. That is not to say that I’ve not grown in my musical breadth: according to my “date added” information in my iTunes library I’ve added more than forty albums to my iTunes this year (and it’s not over), thus I’ve purchased more than forty albums this year (buying used music on Amazon is incredible). So out of the albums that I’ve purchased this year here are my top ten.