Just when we thought the world couldn’t get any crueler, someone invented pigeon spikes for the homeless. The same sort of hostile architecture used to keep pigeons from roofs is also used to prevent homeless people from finding a place to rest. Examples include bench bars, studs, and rails, made “aesthetically pleasing” so as not to offend the rich ~ or even draw the attention of the middle class. Most are unaware of such things, although we’ve seen them, illustrating the point that the most desperate members of society are the forgotten bottom. Myles Donovan (Disemballerina) wades into this crisis on the streets of Philadelphia, where he is a worker with and advocate for the homeless. The music he makes with Eric Bandel as Forgotten Bottom is a vivid expression of his anger, frustration and disappointment, especially as he has returned to his home city only to find gentrified buildings and opioid despair. Yet it’s also an expression of multi-colored hope, the beauty of the everyday, the wisdom of the common man and woman. After the liner notes rile us up, we need this music to calm us down, and lead us past awareness into action.
The album begins with a sound that could be crickets or chains, either way a beautiful beginning. The former interpretation speaks of sleepless nights, the latter of social shackles. Bandel’s guitar sings a sorrowful lament, while Donovan’s viola offers dignity. Halfway through “Touch Nothing Until the Signal,” a Baltic melody leads to a Gypsy dance. What else have we forgotten in our xenophobia?
And then the rain begins to fall.
Imagine wandering the streets of a decaying city, home to Rocky and cheesesteaks and Motown and the 2018 Super Bowl champions and all manner of happy things ~ but to have fallen to the bottom of a net that has not been mended. From the cracked street, you spot a good place to sleep: sheltered, safe and clean. Unfortunately there are protruding spikes. You’ll have to twist your body around to lie convoluted, ribs poked by metal rods. But you try, and just as you’ve managed to fall into the night’s first dream, the police arrive. This is “The Dog Has Been Poisoned So It Will Not Bark,” frighteningly cinematic and all too real.
The four long, deep notes of “Narcan Fairy” (2:42) are set in opposition to the cheery melodies that buffer them. Their minority status mirrors that of the forgotten bottom: present, occasionally noticed, but let’s not ruin the day; something on our cellphones is much more important. In the live finale of “All Men, No Windows,” the desperation grows frantic, culminating in a crash at 3:03. Is it nothing to you, all who pass by? We’re building borders around our nations, borders in our social classes and borders in our hearts, as if every man were in fact an island. (Richard Allen)