One of my writing projects for Glimpse is going to be about – for lack of a better word – Urban Americana, and the whole lumberjack aesthetic that was considered painfully hipster a few years ago but which, while it may not have completely shed the baggage of the H-word, is hardly avant-garde and at best modestly ironic today.
There were so many bits to this aesthetic, from gourmet pickles to rockabilly tattoos to Green Bay Packer beards, that I wasn’t really sure how to get at it for a long time. There were too many parts to it. As I tried to define this aesthetic as best it can be defined though, I kept coming back to texture.
This is a microscopic concern, but the more I think about it the more I find it everywhere. In getting back to American roots, in going country, in going home-made and artisanal, there is always the question of texture. Nothing should ever be smooth or polished. Whether it’s your beard or your flannel or your kicked-in leather boots or your woolen cardigan, there is always texture. This is not a sleek, minimalist aesthetic. This is coarse and rough and homespun.
My local cafe, Swallow, happens to be a perfect case in point, which is why I’m sitting in it blogging, instead of doing so from my apartment, maybe 100 metres away. Looking around this cafe, I see nothing but texture. The floorboards are worn wood. Naked light bulbs hang from bent metal fixtures in front of exposed brick walls. A rusted steel dolly leans against the wall, serving no purpose other than to highlight that half the furniture here looks like it was pilfered from an old train station. The tables are made of old wooden crates (or are strategically designed to look like they were); they are mounted on chipped iron legs. Antique lamps lean over rough-hewn wooden benches. A few chairs at the back look like they were purloined from a cinema, before cinemas became all plastic.
The guy in front of me, hunched over his macbook is wearing red flannel and sporting a modest beard. At the next table – the long one – there are two more beards, another item of flannel, suede boots, canvas bag and a moleskine. A guy just walked out; beard, wool cardigan, wool hat scuffed hiking boots.
Not everyone is bearded nor enflannelled. I haven’t said a word about the girls yet, and that makes me wonder if this whole skew on the hipster aesthetic is, if not a predominantly male thing (which I don’t think it is), certainly reaching its quintessence in a kind of lumberjacky, fishermany figure. A grizzly woodsman, out in nature (not that there is any nature around here, unless you count bed bugs).
The guy in front of me just put down his book; it’s Fire from the Mountain by Omar Cabezas, a Sandinista that fought up in the Nicaraguan highlands. Another wild man of the woods, though perhaps a little less stylised than the wild men of Brooklyn.
I’m banking my article on the fact that this whole thing runs more than surface deep. But for all strategic coarseness of this place, the glaring coontradiction is that there are 11 laptops open in the room, every single one of them a Mac, every single one of the them smooth and sleek. Mac hasn’t bought out an untreated timber carry case yet, although it’s probably only a matter of time before macbooks start sprouting hide and antlers too.
PS… they just started playing Johnny Cash.