Column: Toward a local manifesto
Duluth, right now, is in a remarkable period of cultural expansion and flowering. For many years latent energy accumulated, as in a flower bulb below the ground, and now we are seeing a bursting forth of springtime-like growth. This has been ongoing for some years, but seems to be gathering a head of steam.
Duluth’s number-one finish in Outside magazine’s contest for America’s best outdoor city is some evidence of this. Duluthians are jazzed and excited to live here. If you have a relatively positive outlook and live here by choice, you are contributing to our resurgence as well.
Recently we held a party in our yard for a dozen elementary-age kids celebrating their last day of school. I was uncomfortable with the playing of top-40 pop music. I write this manifesto with love and charity, but with strong opinions. My feeling is that this music erodes local culture, hollowing it out from within and aggressively pushing a monoculture for the benefit of big business and consumerism. These are pervasive elements of society that Duluth’s strong tradition favoring localism rejects.
We have our own local culture here, which is unique and distinct from anywhere else on earth. This is something we need to support and promote further. We do not claim to be superior to anyone else, but at the same time our way of life is not looking to emulate some other place.
Our culture includes, but is not limited to, the unique combination of arts, outdoors opportunities, environmental concern, love for family and neighborhoods, and numerous intangibles that put the Duluth into Duluth. We are not trying to be the Cities in any area of life!
In gathering my thoughts, I turned to the text of Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise” speech in which he spoke of a “crisis of confidence” spreading across the nation that could be seen “in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.” Further on he remarked, “We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.”
Read the speech some time. It resonates with how Duluth is currently succeeding. Our culture is mostly the opposite of what he was deriding and attempting to turn around.
Last month, Charlie Parr performed a fabulous concert at Chester Bowl. The place was a real melting pot with over 1,200 in attendance from every conceivable walk of life. “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down” ended the show in an especially powerful way. The lyrics, “Meet me Jesus meet me ... Meet me in the middle of the air!” reverberated off the hills as reckless teenagers illegally climbed toward the top of one of the ancient ski jumps.
He ended before dark so he’d have time to mow the lawn. The musician, dressed in old well-worn clothes like the rest of us, is just a normal guy with a family, home and neighbors.
I realize his music doesn’t appeal to the masses, or most kids perhaps, but my point is that he’s an accessible human being, and one of our own. We need not look up to inaccessible celebrities far away that push a ridiculous body image or attempt to shock and awe at every turn and sway as they push a culture that is the opposite of what we are building.
Today we are seeking a more traditional way of life that was largely lost in the generation of our parents. While looking to the past for clues in a manner similar to the Renaissance, we are infusing what we glean with our own eclectic and eccentric take on things.
In joining the cultural conversation, from beer to bluegrass to biking, painters to poets, walkable neighborhoods, viable local agriculture, chickens in the city, growing beautiful things from our challenging soil, it is not possible to focus solely on the local. However, we should only welcome things that promote our shared values. Cheers!
Monthly Budgeteer columnist Eddy Gilmore is a freelance writer, father of twins and husband of one. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. See his blog Adventures Near the Woodstove and Beyond at http://eddygilmore.areavoices.com.