Big Lights – Dear New York.
From a very young age, I was quite taken with the idea of a better place. Somewhere filled with fantasy and wonder, where your dreams became an actual, tangible reality. We’re encouraged from our youth to follow that. Although, with age and maturity, we place these obstacles in front of us, each hurdle growing closer and closer to the heavens we’re trying to reach, our anxiety and anticipation growing along with the burden of your subconscious voice, heaving, “why bother?”. We turn to art forms for diversion, consolation and answers. The radio’s response sang to me, “New York”. I thought I was lucky to be from Brisbane. I seriously did. To hear each lovelorn vocalist declare their affection to this town, “New York City” sounding from their lips with a shimmering sparkle that could never be achieved with the same ring of ‘Brisbane’ or ‘Melbourne’. I can’t imagine The Veronicas exulting “Brisbane” in the same allure that Alicia Keys did for her hometown. Anybody keeping any sort of tab on me at the moment would know that upon graduating from my first Bachelors degree in June, I will be escaping Australia to take complete advantage of my youth, my British passport, and the world that won’t wait. Here are five songs about the Big Apple that are currently soundtracking my travel plans.
Fairytale of New York.
“They got cars big as bars, they’ve got rivers of gold, but the wind goes right through you, it’s no place for the old.”
Juxtaposing my dad’s love for punk music with my mother’s taste for lilting singer songwriters, this was undoubtedly my first exposure to the romanticism of New York. The Pogues collaborated Kirsty MacColl to deliver what has become a renowned Christmas classic for it’s lilting melodies, lush instrumentation, and the yearning crass exchange between vocalists, MacGowen and MacColl. At the age of ten, not knowing the exact implication of the words MacColl was singing, “you scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot” was probably the most spitefully spat line I’d ever heard. It’s definitely still up there.
Moving to New York.
The Wombats’ contagious jangly tune of sweet harmonies and handclaps tells the tale of their singer, Matt Murphy’s desire to escape the dull gray insomnia of Liverpool for the illustrious American city. I’m certain one of my high school teachers played this song accompanying a slideshow for an older year’s graduation ceremony. I wonder if anyone from my high school actually visited there, let alone relocated.
Empire State Of Mind.
“In New Yoooooorrk, concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do”
I was at a friend’s 18th birthday party in the outer suburbs of Brisbane when this Jay Z/Alicia Keys collab was first actively brought to my attention, some what four months after its initial release. It was repeated a few times throughout the night, its audience being a group of (some, illegally) fermented teenagers flailing themselves across the chipped wooden floors of the rural pony club that was hired for the night’s celebration. What summed up the occurrence was my friend turning to me “here we are, at a pony club in Darra, drinking whatever we could convince our parents to buy for us, with people we’re not that certain we like, singing about possibly the greatest city in the world.” They say this chorus is as big as the city itself.
“I want to be a part of it”
I’d be abhorred if I didn’t include this song in one of it’s many of forms. Old Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, brought the this song to it’s original fame with great grandeur although I found myself captivated by Carey Mulligan’s haunting rendition in the teasing psychological drama, Shame. The minimal arrangement takes on a different context as Mulligan’s character catches tears in her lashes, her pitching imperfect, quivering “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere”.
It makes me wonder if New Yorkers ever get sick of hearing their town referenced in song? Or are they as bored of it as the artists that continue to write love letters about New York City? The National are one of those bands, referencing their shiny city at whatever chance they can. Yet, it wouldn’t seem right if they didn’t do so. Their smooth, soothing baritone vocalist breathing out lines of love lives backed up by a small orchestra of strings, horns and drums isn’t the worst way to fantasize about the city where “the most important people are nineteen”. (I’d recommend this song, along with much of the National’s recorded works, to be played against RainyMood.)