An essay of mine appears at The New Inquiry, an upstart journal out of New York City that’s well worth checking out and sticking in your rss-feed reader. The essay discusses the massive earthquake one kooky geologist, Dr. Iben Browning, predicted would demolish most of western Illinois and eastern Missouri, including my then-hometown of St. Louis.
The Big One never happened (I suppose you could say it bit itself). But it did occasion a long weekend of impromptu partying (December 3, 1990 obligingly fell on a Monday, thus allowing many folks to use possible disaster as an excuse to miss work). The fact that the Big One — the really Big One — hit Japan prompted me to recall that day of December 3, 1990, to which the band Uncle Tupelo later paid tribute in a song on their superb 1993 album Anodyne.
That song, “New Madrid” (the title refers to the Missouri “bootheel” town that lends its name to the fault that runs beneath it), blends quack science, natural disaster, and lost love into one superb alt.country song. Recent events in Japan, which I had followed obsessively, put me in mind of that song, particularly its refrain: “Come on, do what you did / Roll me under New Madrid / Shake my baby and please bring her back / ‘Cause death won’t even be still / Caroms over the landfill / Buries us all in its broken back.”
A nineteen year old on December 19, 1990, I tended to entertain fulsomely cinematic scenarios in which I Prince Hal–like would rouse myself from my malaise of base pursuits to impress some true love with the valor a disaster summoned from me. Like Jeff Tweedy sings in “New Madrid,” all my daydreams were disasters. As only a late teen can, I conjured Ragnarok for no other reason that to end my malaise.
A few years later I left St. Louis for parts west. My melancholia morphed into ironic distance and intellectual pretense, which I suppose led me to identify a theme I develop in my piece for The New Inquiry. The postmodern condition is such that we can’t even take seriously our own annihilation, and thus to warnings and portents to that effect we can only respond with antic hedonism and binge-drinking. That’s how people in St. Louis responded, at any rate, on that December doomsday. And I was among those turning tumbler bottoms heavenward to scorn the gods whom we had angered with our flip-chapeau insouciance.
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