Money changes a city

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


New York in the late 1970s and 80s, though economically battered, was a fertile place for young writers and artists. Sante’s friend Adele Bertei, a member of post-punk band the Contortions and an actor in films such as Born in Flames (1983), says “We did all feel like cultural émigrés. It was as if we had this dystopic playground to ourselves to make whatever we wanted out of it. Luc was part archaeologist, part kid in a candy store. It was just like fin-de-siècle Paris. We were working from almost an extension of our nervous systems. It was all very raw and visceral. What was most exciting was the cross-collaborative feel of it.”

This era’s New York – cheap, open to chance-taking and to hybrid projects, its countercultural energies not so co-opted by the advertising and real estate industries as it would soon become – was good to Sante. Having already gone on a university-town poetry tour with Jarmusch, he wrote lyrics for their post-No Wave band the Del-Byzanteens, as well as playing drums for the Flags, an outfit whose only live show consisted of them playing the same song – dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “All Wi Doin’ Is Defendin’ ” – three times in a row.

…If New York celebrates amnesia, perpetual transformation, accelerated obsolescence – and offers newcomers a blank slate, a chance to be born again – then Sante offers a mordantly heretical vision of the city. For him it’s full of layers and depths, of echoes and eerie reverberations, of occult whispers. “The tech crowd thinks that we can’t afford the past to be sitting on our shoulders. It’s a burden, a dead weight. We’ve got to innovate constantly. We have to … disrupt. But the 20th century is littered with valuable stuff – writers, ideas, daily certainties – that gets discarded and that needs to be picked up and looked at again.”

His undying relish for little guys thinking and acting big, for texture and tonality, for the black comedies and rough-edged circus of city life is present in every page of The Other Paris; it’s complemented by a political critique of the ways in which Paris – like New York, like so many global cities – has been tamed by capitalism. Its final paragraph reads: “The history of Paris teaches us that beauty is a by-product of danger, that liberty is at best a consequence of neglect, that wisdom is entwined with decay. Any Paris of the future that is neither a frozen artefact nor an inhabited holding company will perforce involve fear, dirt, sloth, ruin, and accident. It will entail the continual experience of uncertainty, because the only certainty is death.”

…Another pause. “My book is a kind of love letter to the city as it was and before it got overtaken by money. Money, for me, may not immediately kill people in the way terrorism does, but it does certainly change the fabric of daily life in much deeper and more insidious ways. The terrorist may be defeated in 50 or 20 or 10 years, but money is going to be much harder to defeat.”