That one written by a folk anarchist is, as it turns out, kind of political.
When I first listened to Mississippi Swells, it sounded like a long-distance pining song (and, to my defense, everything looks like a nail to a hammer). The singer has a twangy, whining, folky voice that additionally lends itself to that interpretation, in my opinion.
Because of that, the sound, the words, and the energy all spoke to that, and therefore spoke to me. It was only recently that looking back on it that a much simpler testament stood out – an observational song about gentrification and how it creates inhospitable living conditions. The author has stated this song is a commentary about oil refineries polluting the Mississippi watershed, the commentary about infrastructure and gentrification is what stood out the most to me. Considering how the artists referenced anarchist literature through the song, there are certainly many different qualms that can be drawn from the lyrics.
“So when I got to your city, it was summer.
It was pretty and we walked around because we had the time.
You remarked on all the places that you hadn’t seen in ages
Disconnected from the metro city lines.
And on the closed doors of the fire stations,
testament to forced displacement
Shocked me so to see it from the ground
What seemed so functional from great heights looking down.”
“In letters now you wonder
The lights you’re living under
And the vantage points you’ve yet to even come upon.
You dream of transportation, infrastructure, the bus stations
On the blocks between the shops the lights flicker on and off and on
And my imagination too travels those streets
Thinking of places and the people that we meet
And conversations with strangers on bus seats.”
I recently had an interview with my most recent employer, who was explaining that although their office is located in Peoria, he works remotely from Tennessee. I expressed relief, describing how I haven’t had a car throughout my whole time in Peoria.
“Wow! Peoria never struck me as somewhere you could be without a car.”
To which I responded,
“Yeah! It’s really not!”
In fact, while researching social determinants that lead to undesirable health outcomes for those in West Peoria, that fact that it’s a food desert is one of the main reasons. This, combined with that about 23% of households in the lowest income zipcodes don’t have cars leads to limited food choices, and limited access to resources in general.
Due to a bad experience on Peoria public transit, if not for people I knew who had cars, my food would be coming from the Dollar Store in Campustown.
In the interest of this not turning into a manifesto about how the increase of car-centric spaces is a detriment to society as a whole, I’ll simply point you toward the bolded section of these lyrics. They describe quite aptly something that over the past year I have come across in research and observation, which is that your environment writes your story.
By isolating individuals in vehicles for any kind of commute, the chances of organic interactions with your community are decreased. Combined with (at least in American society) ultra-individualism, it’s not uncommon for suburbanites to barely know their neighbors. This phenomenon speaks to the appeal of living in highly walkable cities.
What this song actually begins to speak to is the gentrification of these communities that chip away at it’s original intrinsic benefits. Many inner-city communities throughout the decades have been low-income. Considering the cost of private transportation, the close-knit communities and close-together cities provided amenities that benefitted these working families. Now as more affluent individuals move to these places for the “charm”, the cost of living and value of the properties go up with them, forcing these original inhabiters to leave the area.
In all, this song is an artistic description of what could be considered a deterioration of cities – at least in the ways that they are effective ways of allowing many people to live together in a community, close to amenities, and in a manner that is efficient and functional.
“And though urbanity was not without its flaws
You found the time and space you’d need to sharpen your claws
And hone your eyesight on the skeletons upon which all your little interactions carry on
Those that are visible and not
Metaphysical and hot
The anatomy of everything.”