I was listening to the radio this morning and heard Ryan Adams’s “New York, New York.” It is undoubtedly a slick song, both catchy and rhythmic. I like it, nice song. But, listening to it makes me wonder about how and why we can attach such meaning, and not really attach, but project meaning onto a place, a city, a region, or even a part of a city within the larger conurbation.
Does that place exist?
Like the weather, isn’t it always changing, as people and businesses and really damn importantly, opinions change?
Both of my parents are from Brooklyn. They left in the 1950s and I think they stayed away, for the most part, until the early 1990s. It was in a state of disrepair and had, as they say, a bad reputation. Now it’s a beacon for people around the planet wanting to move somewhere and project their vision of themselves, and the world, on this borough.
Why did my parents leave? Why did these folks move in?
In a recent review the music critic Sasha Frere-Jones commented about an artist’s song that, “Maybe it’s the seagulls that pop up on several songs, but nobody would mistake this or a New York album.”
What does that mean?
New York, hmm. New York is a state that borders two Great Lakes, one ocean, and a sound. Oh, and it borders another nation! It might have seagulls in one of those locations, right? I’m guessing he means New York City which is to privilege and glorify five boroughs at the expense of a large, wonderful state.
What is a New York album? In two enormous cities such as Los Angeles and New York City there is a bit of everything, from ethnicities to infrastructure, so why does he assume that everyone understands his version of New York as how they interpret New York (City?)? What a shame. Aren’t assumptions damaging and limiting to one’s perspective and experience?
If you channel your own inner spirit and energy, every place you live is unique and exciting. Nature can surely dictate the feel, as can weather, but to assume we’re all insiders on his New York is a cheap assumption that limits his voice and his ability to elicit engagement from a broader audience. Any writer or critic hopes to reach another person, then another.
I don’t know what a New York album sounds like. I also don’t know what an L.A. album sounds like. But, I do know that Mr. Jones loves the duo Sleigh Bells and that, though neither of them originated in any of the five boroughs, they both enjoy the connotations of being from Brooklyn.
I think as I get older I see things in more stark contrast, or at least appreciate that when the world is so tumultuous on a daily basis, and growing more unpredictable, when I can put my finger on something and identify it as this or that. Clarity is something I have grown to cherish.
New York isn’t only New York City.
In cities with millions of inhabitants, there is no such thing as a “New York album.”
When you were born and raised in one place, living in another place and adopting the local vibe, which only exists within your own mind, doesn’t mean you are from that place.
I kid, I kid, but just be more honest with yourself and with me. It’s just easier that way, kind of how it’s just easier to assume things about your readers. And listeners. I can understand why Mr. Adams likes New York, New York, considering he grew up in Jacksonville, North Carolina, which is a military town on a strip of American Interstate. Those two locations, one with Marines, one with a dash of every person on the planet, surely differ. But, the world is what you make it, right?