Jim Dowd and The Why Gloucester Is Hipster (and that’s not a bad thing) Rant

Jim Dowd submits-


I want to talk about an ugly word in the English language that’s come back into common usage. It’s a word that ends in “er” and is thrown around as a blanket descriptor to disparage a specific population of people. Usually it’s spat out of a passing car window or muttered under the breath as it becomes noticeable this group has taken over a favorite café or bar.

You hear it out for a beer with your once-cool uncle, the guy who dropped out of college in the seventies to follow The Grateful Dead. You assume he’s a tolerant dude, but as it turns out, oh no. He leans over to you and snarls through his Sam Adams, “Can you believe all the fukin’ hipsters in this place?”

Yes, I’m taking on the pejorative overuse of the word “hipster” which many of us knew before it got popular. For years it was a way to explain places like Brooklyn, Seattle, even our own Davis Square in Somerville. It described cities with large numbers of young people; places with organic art and music scenes and certain cultural touchstones like independent theatres, small coffee shops and used book and record stores. Those are the things that make a place “hipsterish” or as I call it “worth bothering to live in.”

But increasingly of late I hear more and more people hating on the actual members of this rather large and ill-defined sub-group, the hipsters themselves. They bash the hipsters’ choice of jeans (skinny) hipster’s facial hair (moustaches or beards) and the hipsters’ preferred form of transportation (fixed-gear bikes or “fixies”). It’s kind of relentless and a little bit lame considering many of us participated in the fashion apocalypses of the 70s and 80s. Hypocrisy aside, I’m not suggesting we avoid clowning hipsters because of some dumbass PC thing. The reason we can’t bash hipsters is, as the hipsters say, “Because Gloucester”.

Seriously gang, we are in no position to down hipsters seeing as Gloucester very simply is the most hipster town that’s ever existed on the face of the Earth. We make Portland Oregon look like frigging Wenham. Gloucester is so hipster we should have a giant fedora lowered onto the City Hall tower. So hipster that someone here driving a K-car wearing a silkscreened wolf sweatshirt with giant 80’s glasses ISN’T TRYING TO BE HISPTER. Let’s examine further, shall we?

Dive bars? Check. Thriving arts community? Check. Music scene that’s more than just a bunch of old dudes with ponytails playing three chord cover songs in lame bars? Check. Vintage vinyl outlet, bike shop, Thai food, sushi, indie bookstore, organic grocery, farmers’ market, coffee shops and other key elements of hiprfrastructure ? All check. Unapologetically gritty? Big fat checkity-check-check.

But most importantly the things that hipsters celebrate, the retro-style cultural items of the 70s and 80s never actually went away in Gloucester. Moustaches, for instance. We still got ‘em, unironically huge ones proudly sported by awesome Italian guys. Beat-up old cars and trucks from that era are still “in vogue” here; if “vogue” were translated to mean “I am keeping this POS running one more year, but only as an on-island.” Beyond appearances, for 400 years we’ve been a kind of “anything goes” culture. Everyone has permission to be a little nuts and oddballs of all stripes suffer no consequences. Far from it, being a whack job can be a badge of honor in “America’s Oddest Seaport”

Scroll up and down. A solid chunk of the stuff that gets celebrated on GMG is crazy-totes hipster. Photography, art, food, film, poetry and literature all = hipster. And I shouldn’t even need to point out that adults playing dodgeball in the winter is only slightly less hipster than donning a vest and joining Mumford and Sons as a back-up banjoist. You couldn’t invent a more hipster place if you tried, from historical art colony to ethnic identity to the fact that our key export is fishsticks, unarguably the most ironic food item ever produced.

“But what about the annoying skinny pants and the fixed-gear bikes?” In response to that complaint all I can ask is: Yell at clouds much? Because being vexed at other people’s fashion choices in no way makes you seem like the kind of person who would shout gibberish at the sky while shaking a cane, really.

The next criticism leveled at hipsters stems from the hallmark hipster “sarcastic and ironic attitude”. Look, every conference I go to for work is chock full of top strategists and analysts from business, science and the military. On the first slide of the presentations they give, we attendees are always informed that none of the old rules apply in the 21st century. They tell us that we simply don’t know what the new rules are yet. I won’t go off on a rail here, but young people already know this. They can tell that we, the responsible people who are supposedly running things, in fact have no fucking clue how to solve our problems when we even admit we have them. Irony and sarcasm then would therefore be what are called “emergent” properties.

I would further argue that the distinctly ironic bent to the hipster worldview is an entirely logical response to knowing they are being fed consistently incorrect and skewed information from the culture-at-large. Take a cold, hard look at the outdated assumptions we ask people to accept about everything from government to religion, from finances to the supposed benefits of consumer culture. Then look at the outcomes we’re experiencing. Sort of makes you want to drink cheap beer and listen to Death Cab, right?

But sarcastic or not, Gloucester fans and especially GMG readers should pray for a never-ending supply of Yo La Tengo-listening, four-barrel-espresso drinking tat-sleeved hipsters of the first order. If you love this town and what it represents you should get your ass down to Coolidge Corner and lay a trail of PBR tall boys and packs of American Sprit back here like a secret hobo trail. You know why? Because hipsters actually buy art. They spend seven bucks on coffee. The frequent both microbreweries and dive bars. They’re foodies but at the same time eat from taco trucks. Hipsters rent bikes, go to poetry readings and don’t get all pissy about a bunch of rotting fishing gear piled up on the waterfront. They instead post Instagrams of this gear with the caption “Spending a day at the seaside”.  

For every groovy restaurant that cannot survive on locals alone the answer is some flavor of visiting hipster. Locals can only buy so many objects d’art, can support only so many coffeehouses and will attend only a set number of photo exhibitions. If we want to move toward a creative economy we have no choice but importing cultural consumers. Look at what hipsters have done for the emerging scenes in Salem and Beverly. Both are getting hipper, you can see previously broken down neighborhoods sporting new cafes and shops because instead of going to malls hipsters seek authentic local culture. We can argue about the cod population off the coast, but a land-based resource Gloucester still maintains in huge stocks is persons of authentic indigenous “color”, just read the police notes. We need to start capitalizing on it.

“Isn’t this gentrification?” No. It’s not gentrification. Gentrification is townhouses, Starbucks, lame chain restaurants like “Not Your Average Joe’s” (correction: It is) and dudes in khakis that list the primary attribute they look for in a city as “abundant parking.” Hipsters don’t mind the rough edges and Gloucester has plenty. If you harbor an unreasonable hate for bikes, art-school-dropout-glasses and anachronistic hairstyles, tolerating them will be a small price to pay for visitors who’ll come downtown and spend eighty bucks on coffee, pie and locally made/vintage consumer goods. That money stays in town.

In closing, I’ll relate a discussion I had with my Irish cousin Chris about the then thriving city of Dublin. I was complimenting him about what an amazing job they had done keeping a heavy Victorian feel while so many other European cities were modernist dullscapes of concrete and glass, completely lacking in character of any kind (I used to go to Frankfurt a lot). He looked at me like I was some kind of moron and said, “Well it wasn’t some kind of preservationist council at work, James. We were fekin’ poor.”

Gloucester is not poor, nor rich nor is it anything easily definable. But like Dublin one way or another we held onto our undeniably authentic selves while so many other places became emblanded. Therefore we should heartily embrace those who put the most value on us as we are today, not as how we would be if we…(insert pet project).

So though it’s not a mainstream thing to do, as a start I’m asking you that the next time someone with tattoos from out of town is taking pictures with an instamatic camera of the same kind you threw out of your mother’s attic twenty years ago, don’t sneer and pretend you’re some kind of “normal” person who isn’t “weird”. Instead go up and say, “Thank you”. You probably have more in common with them than you realize.

Because, to somebody, you my friend are a fukin’ hipster.

40 thoughts on “Jim Dowd and The Why Gloucester Is Hipster (and that’s not a bad thing) Rant

  1. Well, aside from the (actually cogent) economic argument, I’d say better ‘Hipsterville’ any day than become Disney’s Enchanted-Lobster-Village just up the road…


  2. Awesome. I love it! Bring on the hipsters and send em to Rocky Neck – we’ll be very happy to welcome them into our proudly quirky little hood.


  3. This is beautiful. Because it is entirely true. A wide variety of experience, all side by side. So much good stuff happening right now. And yes, GMG is helping to drive much of this growth. Bravo to all!


  4. Another brilliant rant, Jim. Keep ’em coming. You have explained G-town in a particularly cogent way. I especially liked “hipfrastructure” and “emblanded.” I too like living here because I can be quirky if I feel like it. Or not.


  5. Thanks for all the kind comments! Here are a few notes:
    1. That is not a pic of me, it’s the reference image from the meme “Hipster Barrista” http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/hipster-barista
    2. “Wenham” is just a funny word and I was trying to find a sort of anti-Gloucester as a reference. But now I remember it has that cool museum full of vintage stuff. It’s totes hipster. Crap. In future edits of this piece I shall say “Boxford”, but it’s not as funny to say.
    3. Skinny Jeans. I have no problem with them, but I don’t wear them. Less for fashion than for the fact that my legs have been correctly described as “two broomsticks joined by a grapefruit.”


  6. If only we had an Indian restaurant…even just a take out version would be nice. I would also offer that the many thrift stores, yard sales, and close proximity to Todd Farm adds to Gloucester’s hipfrastructure. Would you agree Master Dowd?


    1. There is tons more hiprastructure I could have listed: Indie chocolate shop, The Hive, Brewery, Bakery, so many of the restaurants and bars, there is theatre all over the place, there are Unitarians and Buddhists and Jews and hip Episcopalians and Catholics and Lutherans and others all led by groovy folks. The museums are gems. And all the weird, unexplored nooks and crannies: Dogtown. Stage Fort staircases. Tucked away beaches and coves. Surfers, kite boarders, kayakers, sailors on every kind of loony craft (we share a Bolger Micro for instance, the most hipster of boats) there are geeks, freaks, townies, immigrants, artists, hippies, preppies, poets drunks junkies and madmen. Look at all the great cities whose identities transcend the cultures they inhabit: Istanbul, London, New York, Shanghai, Hamburg, Naples, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Dubai- all of them sea ports that accepted loony amounts of diversity even when their parent cultures went through periods of restrictiveness. That is our strength. Not fish. Not the waterfront. Those are the resources we have to support our culture, not the other way around.


  7. Everyone’s comments and the article (great writing) are so spot on. You describe exactly why we were so taken with Glosta from the first visit. On a road trip hugging the East coast from Florida to Bar Harbor, Maine, Gloucester is the place we loved most and return to as often as possible. There is no other like it!


  8. I too love everything about this, especially this part….
    “Hipsters rent bikes, go to poetry readings and don’t get all pissy about a bunch of rotting fishing gear piled up on the waterfront. They instead post Instagrams of this gear with the caption “Spending a day at the seaside”.


    1. I mention indie theaters in the opening. If it’s not coming through that this is an essential hiprastructure component, then I have failed. Cape Ann Cinema is pure awesome.


  9. Great rant – Gloucester is hipster, in the best way.
    Adding my vote for an Indian restaurant if anyone is counting- maybe Salem’s Passage to India wants to expand operations?…


  10. Well said Jim..keep them coming. Friends of mine that moved here about a dozen years ago are fond of saying “there are only two kinds of people in Gloucester, Characters and characters in training.”


  11. Im sorry, but gloucester- one of my favorite places ever- has ZERO style, as does much of the North Shore. Yes there is culture and lots of small sweet spots, but Hipster? Id say zombie apoclyptic maybe. There is also much in the way of biking that is lacking. where is the BIKE STORE? public transit? Bike paths? Clothing that doesnt come from MARSHALLS? no WAY.


    1. Are you trolling? Do you have The Google? It will tell you where the bike store is. And the vintage clothing store. And the bus schedule. Do you even read this blog?


  12. I’m not quite sure what the draw of attracting hipsters to Gloucester is? Hipsters = increased rents, increased property values (taxes too), displacement of the working class, ushering in of yuppies and the inevitable death of industry. In some places where the housing market and economy is in serious decline it sort of works out (for example, Providence) but in an area where affordable housing is hard to come by, I’d be very leery of attracting such an element.


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