Everything's waiting for you
July 29, 2004
New murals are transforming Cape Girardeau's gray floodwall into an eyeball-grabbing panorama of the city's history.
The murals are simply wonderful as art but seem to be having a broader effect on the downtown.
Down by the river, people are having conversations about art, conversations that continue when they leave downtown. My dad, who might never have been in an art gallery, loves the way the horse seems to be jumping out of the wall in the mural about the horse race that was occurring when Lewis and Clark stopped here on their way to explore the West.
One recent night at a downtown pub, one of the artists helping paint the mural sat in on saxophone with the homegrown sounds of the International Playboy House of Pancakes Blues Band. People around here don't play the saxophone the way he played it. At least not yet.
Same night, same pub, the artist who created the murals created a dance floor for a woman he may or may not have known. I had never seen anyone dance in that pub before.
Something's going on here. The murals seem to be creating a gestalt, a different feeling downtown. For decades, the city watched businesses abandon the downtown for shopping centers and the mall. Now there are businesses that only want to be downtown. Empty storefronts still persist. But it feels as if they are an endangered species.
This is what art does. It provokes, it challenges the status quo. Some art unsettles, some reassures. John Lennon asked to meet Yoko Ono after he went to a gallery showing her art and found a piece that consisted of a telescope he had to climb a ladder to peer into. When he looked through the telescope, Lennon found the word yes.
Lennon poetically and famously captured the utter beauty of a yes in his song "Imagine."
"You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one"
The spirit of the murals is catching. Some downtowners have begun spiffing up their own properties.
The Greenwoods have a new driveway. The Wymans are adding onto their house.
After nine years of living in the same house, we for some reason decided it was time to shape up our front yard. It now is as close to qualifying as landscaped as it's ever going to get. I thank the murals.
Not everyone has been affected, mind you. The sidewalk and street in front of the apartment building across the street from us still looks like a football stadium after the fans have left.
Petula Clark's '60s song, "Downtown," promised that everything was waiting for you downtown. Poetic lyrics didn't make the song a hit. "Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossanova/You'll be dancing with 'em too before the night is over."
No, it was its promise and that there was a place you could go to forget your troubles and cares. And you didn't have to go somewhere over the rainbow. Just downtown.
Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.