Carl Wilson

Carl Wilson is the author of Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste (33 1/3 Series). He is an editor at The Globe and Mail, a blogger at backtotheworld.net and a curator for the Trampoline Hall Lecture Series, and has written for The New York Times, The L.A. Times, Slate, the Oxford American and many others.



"We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful: The Death and Life of Great North American Scenius"

The era’s pre-eminent hip-sociologist-in-song, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, sang in 2007, “You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan/ And the next five years trying to be with your friends again.” Anyone who’s been entangled with a thriving city music scene can relate: It emerges haphazardly out of inchoate creativity, ambition and urban opportunism; then, at some equally indefinable moment, it’s irretrievably past. The collective inspiration Brian Eno called scenius has leached away.

In the ‘00s in Toronto I was a witness-participant to a leap in music (very roughly “indie”-related) and several other fields (including urban activism) that was called, only half-jokingly, “Torontopia.” I’ve written often about the broad conditions I thought enabled and shaped it. Yet when it deflated, the reasons felt small-scale and individual: departures, divorces, at least one death and, perversely, career successes. How is scenius born -- is it a site-specific inevitability chartable by some Jane-Jacobs-esque systems theory, or the encounter of a few remarkable figures at a fortuitous time? How do you know when it’s expired, and how can it be usefully mourned?

I’ll perform my own investigative elegy by tracing portraits and pathways of some key Torontopians; by comparison with past cycles of cultural ferment here, and with scenes elsewhere and elsewhen via interviews and oral histories such as Everybody Loves Our Town (about 1990s Seattle) and EMP’s own Yes Yes Y’All (about hip-hop’s first decade); and with some epistemological fork-testing of the very concept of “scene,” which may be too narrow and static a model to serve contemporary, globalized, polycultural cities well.