Transverse City is a darkly dystopic song by Warren Zevon, from his album of the same name. It was written by Mr. Zevon and one Stefan Arngrim in 1989.

I won't be able to give you a commentary on the musical structure of the tune, as I'm not educated nor trained in music theory or history or indeed any scholarly area pertaining to music at all. I can give my perspective on the track as a noder and Zevon buff, however; it's up to you to determine if that's worth anything to you.

The music itself is fairly pedestrian, meant to showcase the lyrics (IMHO) through the suggestion of dissonance and repetitive rhythms which speak to the subject matter. The lyrics themselves are what matter here. They are an exhortation to undertake what seems almost a pilgrimage to the place named in the title, for purposes which aren't entirely made clear but seem by turns to be hedonistic, resigned, grim, desperate, recreational and voyeuristic. Sometimes all at once.

Here are the lyrics themselves, transcribed from the song by yors utrly. Note that they are copyright 1989 by BMI Records and Zevon Music Inc. I have interspersed my own observations by paragraph; the lyrics are italicized.

Told my little Pollyanna
There's a place for you and me
We'll go down to Transverse City
Where life is cheap and death is free
Past the condensation silos
Past the all-night trauma stand
We'll be there before tomorrow
Pollyanna take my hand

The singer's companion's name is almost indicative of the rest of the song. For someone who sees good in everything, or is just optimistic enough to make others squirm, the world of Transverse City is the perfect counterbalance. We don't know what the possessive indicates; Pollyanna might be the narrator's child, lover, friend, or combination of any and all.

They'll go down to Transverse City. It's a city, with all that entails in song and story, and just to make sure we get it, we're told - life is cheap and death is free. This is not a place that exists for people; it's a place that people exist for - it's apart from them, and has an anima of its own.

Condensation silos start to set a sci-fi dystopic tone, as they're found in all manner of fave sci-fi bits, in various guises. The all-night trauma stand? Whether for aid, for salvage or for dispensing, it's a sobering image. Transverse City isn't that close, but it isn't that far either.

Show us endless neon vistas

Take us to the shopping sector
In the vortex of the night
Past the shining mylar towers
Past the ravaged tenements
To a place we can't remember
For a time we won't forget

Here we begin to see a picture take form; two lines of scenery, one line of structure with a sci-fi flavor, and a line of atmosphere. We pass by images of the artificial and images of the past in search of an almost mythical destination. Note that while we can't remember the place, Transverse City isn't so much a place as an experience - one which we won't lose.

Here's the hum of desperation
Heres the test tube mating call
Here's the latest carbon cycle
Here's the clergy of the mall
Here's the song of shear and torsion
Here's the bloodbath magazine
Here's the harvest of contusions
Here's the narcoleptic's dream

Although this looks like a chorus, it isn't - it's almost the heart of the song. It's a checklist travelogue of Transverse City, a description-by-damaged-desiderata. The hum of desperation. Science and nature and technology and religion, all await us in Transverse City, and they have their own impact on the place, imaged in the second half of the verse. Why would we ever travel to such a place, that sounds so much like the future so many are (albeit unknowingly or uncaringly) working towards?

Told my little Pollyanna
Here's a place where we can stay
We have come to see tomorrow
We have given up today
Down among the dancing quanta
Everything exists at once
Up above in Transverse City
Every weekend lasts for months

...simply because, apparently, us pilgrims are victims of the system too. We're trying to escape fast time down below, and ascend to somewhere where the ease and leisure stretches out; a place where our experiences can be had individually (even if only in our imagination) and where it's all about us, singular, not about the teeming quantum masses whorling below.

Here's the hum of desperation
Here's the test tube mating call
Here's the latest carbon cycle
Here's the clergy of the mall
Here's the witness and the victim
Here's the relatives' remains
Here's the well-known double helix
Here's the poisoned waves of grain
Here's the song of shear and torsion
Here's the bloodbath magazine
Here's the harvest of contusions
Here's the narcoleptic's dream
Here's the hum of desperation

Zevon ends the lyrics with an almost audible colon, following them immediately with a muffled and distorted but still evocative guitar solo. It is difficult to avoid the implication that that solo is, in fact, the 'hum of desperation', and as the solo fits so wonderfully into the song's tone, by extension, the song itself is a hum of desperation.

Transverse - across the lines. Don't live beneath the line. Don't live between the lines. Strive to live across them - but be aware of the dangers and the strangers who inhabit the interstices.

This song brings to my mind most strongly, and in no particular order: Transmetropolitan, the world of Max Headroom, Cordwainer Smith's Alpha Ralpha Boulevard, Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and Jack Womack's Ambient.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.