I wandered briefly around Times Square on a Friday night for the first time in years this past weekend. There are now a bunch of newer, taller buildings, many more bright lights and video displays everywhere, at least three news tickers rather than one, and an almost completely unnavigable pedestrian traffic flow. Its sense of self-importance has probably never loomed larger. Although in our ever more de-centralized culture, it’s hard to imagine anyone still calling it the crossroads of world with a straight face anymore. Yet still, Times Square cries out as an emblem of a mainstream of sorts, for better or worse.
Not able to get very far very quickly with all the throngs of people idling about, I found myself drawn to the original Times Square new ticker where I read the then latest news about North Korean nuclear tests, Hastert’s refusal to step down, and the latest scores in the baseball playoffs. For a brief moment I thought I saw something about Tower Records there but, alas, it turned out to be the wishful thinking of an active imagination.
Indeed, aside from Michael Jackson’s brushes with the criminal justice system, there is never anything about music on that ticker. And there certainly has never been anything there about the music we talk about on these pages. This got me thinking about the things in contemporary music that have wound up on historical timelines: the riotous premiere of The Rite of Spring, for example, or closer to home, the premiere of Terry Riley’s In C or maybe the first time John Coltrane started exploring free improvisation. Does anyone even have a date for that?
That’s just it. We can talk about the global importance of a musical event only after the fact. Is there ever a time when art, which is so personal, is ever of global importance as it is happening? Walking by Times Square when I was younger, I longed for the music I loved to make headline news. Now, I know that it never can and I’m almost glad it doesn’t and the sooner I can get out of the crowd the better.