4 million buys you shit

photograph by robert altman.

\”It was cheap; cheap; cheap-uh,\” squealed Jonathan Richman at the age of 41, moved by the vaguely unclean spirit of Bubba-Ho-Tep. Mo Diddley. Blue Mask era Lewis Reed as dessicated hip priest. \”Nowadays I hear the rents are steep.\”

I fell back on the futon, feigning a head cold. My wife busied herself in preparation of a Sunday morning expedition to the swimming pool. With our young son. My stepchildren. If I wasn\’t unspeakably selfish, I might never find the space to scribble.

Such is the routine loneliness – surliness – of the long distance sniveller.

I sheltered behind a paper shield. Saturday\’s edition of what was once a broadsheet.

Like everything else, it has diminished in stature somewhat.

\”Mumbai\’s slums are being gentrified,\” writes their foreign correspondent, \”as middle-class Indians… sell their flats in distant suburbs and purchase illegal shanties in the city\’s central areas.\”

Actually. It was the headline which glued my eye.


In a week which saw UK mobsters, RBS slapped with a writ issued in the US – for their part in the subprime confidence trick which all but crippled global faith in free market religion – India races one step farther in paying through the nose for a silk purse fashioned entirely out of a pig\’s ear. Stealing the show in staging a masterclass in the art of turning the other cheek.

In a country where it pays better to dabble in out-sourced customer \’service\’ from a US or European financed call centre, than to take the Hippocratic Oath, India\’s new wealth is defined by hard currency.

It is not immediately apparent just who is making a killing.

On the face of it, it is those people living in the heart of Mumbai\’s slums who stand to make a profit. Typically, investing in a slum dwelling may net the aspiring buyer a loss in straight \’trade\’. A modest shanty in Sewri, for example, may fetch as much as \”four million rupees\”. £50,000. The stench of human waste running freely in the gutter seals the deal; vermin openly feeding on untreated filth.

But as rents soar as a direct result, it is those families who settled there generations previously who are being squeezed out. To establish new illegal settlements in ever more harrowing no-go zones.

No schools. No community. Scant opportunity to make ends meet.

The scandal evolving, then, has less to do with the modern parable of playing pass the parcel with toxic securities than the age-old saga of slum landlords ruthlessly embracing token regeneration.

Lest one forgets. In the 1980s, the darkly comedic double act of Regan and Thatcher popularized the free market economy to a staggeringly gullible and avaricious electorate. Privatizing one industry after the other; peddling them back to the public at large in shrink-wrapped token stocks and shares.

Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, not so much asleep as intoxicated at the wheel, were impervious to the consequences.

In such a climate, social housing was auctioned off with the rest of the family silver. Many individuals turned a tidy profit. Others inherited negative equity.

A lot of people spoke quite often of \”collateral damage\”. Laughing all the way to the bank. A newly entrenched underclass – in Detroit, Glasgow, Manchester – took on the mantle of India\’s untouchables, and never shook it off.

House prices rocketed. Entire inner city areas, too, turned to shit.

Of course, there will always be a vocal element who stand to profit from shrouding the great illusion in still more smoke and mirrors. Mumbai, they will argue, is on the up. What\’s happening in Sewri, Dharavi, is indicative of India\’s commitment to eradicating poverty.

Really ? I think we\’ve heard word to that effect numerous times before.

The Commonwealth Games village in Delhi dribbling sewage on the white hand stitched leather uppers of its athletes\’ Nike Airs, while government shoots for the moon. And an estimated £1 Billion in International Foreign Aid which still can not be accounted for. Not this side of Bollywood\’s space race.

Jonathan Richman tells it more entertainingly than I, sibling.

At some time in 1972 I guess he relocated to Venice Beach. In the company of David Robinson, Ernie Brooks and Jerry Harrison. The original Modern Lovers. 

On the heels of an east coast session for Warner Bros., recorded at Intermedia Studio in Boston, Massachussets, the group secured two demo sessions in LA; the first overseen by one John Cale. The Venice they encountered then might just have been invaded by surfers operating out of Dogtown, a seedier bay area on the south fin of Santa Monica.

In 1972, Jeff Ho, in partnership with Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk, founded Zephyr Surfboard Productions in the decrepit heart of Dogtown. Stecyk, a local artist, invested Ho\’s board designs with a delinquent edge informed by graffiti tags seen all over the street; wholly at odds with those saccharine airbrushed sunbursts washed up on Muscle Beach. In Dennis Wilson\’s beard.

Dogtown\’s surfers were hard core. Digging in and occupying an abandoned amusement park on the Pacific Ocean Park Pier – the P-O-P – midway between Venice Beach proper and their home turf back in Dogtown. The P-O-P was a dangerous spot to surf, seemingly teeming with rotting timber pilings, an Iwo Jima fought for and defended with dogged enthusiasm, it is alleged.

In 1972, too, polyurethane skateboard wheels emerged, and Dogtown\’s Zephyr crew slipped the leash, taking to the streets and sidewalks like punk Angels on a staggered run.

Zigzagginng as ferociously as hoodlum circus collies on rollerblades.

In 1972, this would have been a part of The Modern Lovers\’ Venice Beach. A part of the scene they stumbled into. Between the shabby rooming house inhabited briefly, and that studio session produced by Cale.

Who could have anticipated it ? 

Slumdog. Dogtown. Roadrunner, Once, Twice, Three Times.




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