I realize that there have been many, many songs written and performed about different cities and states in the country. If you want to hear a song that covers almost every city in the Union, listen to Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere”.
However, for the purposes of this entry, I wanted to talk about songs written about New York, and there are many.
The way I’m going to do this is to cover my favorite 3 in this entry and then continue the list in subsequent entries. Thus; “Songs of the City”, volume 1
So, here goes:
The Boxer: Simon & Garfunkle
One of my all-time favorite songs in general. Add to that the fact that it is a chronicle of the challenges faced by a real NY artist, Paul Simon himself.
Simon found himself taking a lot of criticism and mocking about his music (criticism and mocking taking place in NY? Shocking, right?). Simon was fed-up with it and wrote this wonderful piece of music.
It beautifully depicts the life of a struggling artist in The City;
“Asking workman’s wages, I go looking for a job
But I get no offers…
Just a come-on from the whores on 7th Avenue…
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome, I took some comfort there…”
The longing to get out of this tough, cold city is wonderfully portrayed in the lines;
“Then I’m laying out my winters clothes
and wishing I was gone
Where the New York City winters
Aren’t bleeding me………..”
I always struggled seeing the homeless and poor (the “ragged people” as Simon names them in this song) on the streets of New York, especially in the harsh winter months. Their eyes were empty and hopeless. Simon captures it here and every time I listen to this masterpiece…. I see them, In the Bowery, on 42nd street, near 7th avenue. Sadly, most probably never made it out of the hopelessness. Simon obviously did. He is the fighter spoken of in the last line of the song….
“But the fighter still remains…..”
It calls to mind another classic by a very different artist; “If I can make it there…… I can make it anywhere….it’s up to you, New York, New York……..”
“Shattered”: The Rolling Stones.
For me, this song did an outstanding job of portraying a love/hate relationship with The City. There is no doubt that to live there, one must be ready for challenges and hard times.
“To live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough! / you got rats on the west side/bedbugs uptown”
This is an honest, hard look at what was New York in the mid to late 80’s. Jagger goes on to instruct his listeners to; “Bite the Big Apple, don’t mind the maggots”
Yet, though this somewhat clear negativity, you definitely get a clear sense that there is a quite a bit of love and pride associated with living in the Big Apple:
“Pride and joy and greed and sex/ that’s what makes our town the best…”
I remember that feeling. “I can make it in New York! “ I survived the mean streets of New York!”
Again, “If I can make it there….. I can make it anywhere…….. It’s up to you, New York, New York…”
My final selection for this post is;
New York State of Mind: Billy Joel
A much different flavor to this song than the other two I mentioned. This is nostalgia in a very pleasant way for me. This song comes to mind when I find myself reminiscing about the City I was raised in. Understandably, this often happens while writing this very blog. All the wonderful, diverse, exciting, beautiful things about The City come to mind when I listen to this piece. The good memories, the family times, the sights, the sounds all come rushing back with just the opening chords. I have not lived in New York for many, many years, but when I hear this line, well…
“I’m just taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line…..cause, I’m in a New York state of mind.”
I remember so well the years after I moved away from New York. The car rides from other states back into the “Big Apple”. Getting closer, the traffic increases, the night lights get brighter and then that majestic skyline. I felt it then. I would feel it today. Whatever that feeling is that tells you that here are your roots; here is where it all began for you…. The City. Yep, even writing this, I have drifted into a New York state of mind….
The Music of and about “The City”…. The Big Apple. Take a bite and enjoy……. More to come.