Late, disconnected, reawoken, a little confused.
But here’s something that’s been rattling around my head for a while, and it needs to get out.
Contemporary songs which capture the essence of a particular city. I have a burning need to compile lists of such things.
So let’s start with the easy ones…
Sufjan Stevens – Chicago (er, Chicago)
I’ve spent less than a day in Chicago, but besides being an incredible piece of music in its own right, this song sums up my limited experience of Chicago perfectly.
All things go, all things go
Somehow it sums up the closeted, slightly dirty feel of downtown Chicago, the run-down neighbourhoods nestling uncomfortably next to the freeways that lead into the brighter centre (freeways you can never access, due to construction work on the ramps).
It sums up the bus station, a nexus for crazy shouting homeless people tucked underneath the breathtaking modern city library. And it sums up Millenium Park, a beautiful space full of modern art which, by the nature of its newness, remains completely disconnected from the city which surrounds it.
Interpol – NYC (New York)
I had seven faces,
Never knew which one to wear.
The subway is a porno,
The pavements they are a mess.
Chosen with even less authority than my transitory experience of Chicago. See, I’ve never even set foot in NY. And yet somehow, I’m pretty sure that I know her already. She’s the slightly more glamourous, less historied sister to London, a city I know and love deeply; a place I still carry with me in my very bones.
And this song is about the inevitable relationship that you have with such cities. You have to love them, the instant you set foot in them, because they desperately need that love. And you need it too. You need to love and be loved in return.
And yes, the city will wear you out, make you scream to the roots of your soul, but still you’ll love her. Kiss her quietly in corners where no-one is looking. Because every second you spend in her, she shapes you and makes you into someone subtly different. Subtly (you like to think, as does she) better.
New York Cares.
Mountain Goats – You Or Your Memory (Los Angeles)
I checked into a bargain priced room on La Cienega
Gazed out of the curtains at the parking lot
Walked down to the corner store just before nightfall in my bare feet…
The only tangible connection between this song and LA is that reference to the major thoroughfare of La Cienega, but somehow, once that connection is made, the entire bittersweet lament becomes rooted in what must be, ultimately, one of the most impersonal urban areas in the world.
LA is lonely, even when you’re with good friends. Somehow it’s impossible to completely shut it out – the desperate posing, the horrow-show grimace of the waiter who’s achingly desperate to “make it” somehow. Wherever you go in Hollywood, Venice, Santa Monica… that same relentless distressing need.
This song isn’t about that need. It’s about the oppostite of that. About escape, hiding, dealing with personal grief in a cheap motel. And yet the psychic backdrop of LA, all its intensity versus the private moments we all need sometimes… that just makes it all the more poignant.
And down there in the dark I could see
The real truth about me
…and epihpany that LA perhaps needs a little more of.
And I’d love to continue in this vein, but, well, my mind fails me at this point. Nominations, please. Cities and their defining songs. Send me a postcard. Or an email. Or a comment.