Today’s subject was brought to mind because it looks like I’m headed to New York for a business trip next month, for an “Idea Jamboree.” (My commute to work these days is to take the bus to the El, the El to Cumberland, and then a time machine to 2004.) However, there have been approximately forty-nine million songs written about New York. It’s not possible to give a thorough overview in a list of five. So what we’ve got here in not Generic New York, but Claire’s New York.
If I were in a relationship with New York on Facebook, it would be categorized as “it’s complicated.” I worked like hell to move there when I was 17, and then at 18 I promptly turned around and ran home to Chicago after… well, “a breakdown” is completely over-dramatizing it, but let’s say “a very difficult time.” Then I went back to New York for about three months in the spring/summer of 2001 for an internship, making a lot of good friends who I then spent days and weeks tracking down via phone and internet post-9/11 (finding everybody safe, eventually). Then I didn’t go back for years, fearing the destruction and the misery and the rights-infringing security. Now I go about once a year, visiting my dwindling group of friends still hanging on out there and alternately thanking my young self for knowing I would never be happy in a city so intensely competitive and wondering what my life would have been like if I’d have stayed.
OK, memoir time is over. Let’s hear some music.
“You Said Something” – PJ Harvey
This song reminds me of a really specific night I spent driving around New York with someone I shouldn’t have been driving around with, but it’s brilliant (as is the whole album, actually) even if you don’t have that memory to think back on.
“Fire Door” – Ani DiFranco
I know this doesn’t specifically reference New York, but that’s where she was when she wrote it, and it perfectly captures the feeling of a young artistic girl (as I certainly thought of myself at the time) trying to fight her way through a strange new city.
“Fuse” – The Folk Implosion
I can’t think of any other 9/11 songs offhand, but this is really the only one you need.
“I’m Waiting for the Man” – The Velvet Underground
I wasn’t ever a junkie in New York, or anywhere else for that matter, but for a ridiculous number of teenage years I thought about junkies a lot. Jim Carroll, the great New York junkie poet, remains one of my idols. This song gives a little peek into that world that I only ever saw through art.
“New York City Cops” – The Strokes
The only song on this list that’ll make you bop your head. And as difficult and dark and hard as New York often is, I’d be remiss if I made it seem like it was never crazy funtimes. There are a lot of hours in the days of the city that never sleeps, and that’s a lot of time to fill with adventures, mis- and otherwise.
Bonus tracks: I actually covered two of my favorite New York songs in the Public Transit edition of Musical Geographies: “My My Metrocard” and “Thank You Lord For Sending Me the F Train.” Go re-listen to those too.