This is a little silly, I’ll admit, but sometimes when I go to New York I can’t get “Empire State of Mind” out of my head. The song’s lyrics have absolutely no relation to anything I do when I’m visiting the Big Apple- I’m certainly not cruising around in a Lexus or copping in Harlem. It’s more like going to meetings and having cupcakes with friends. But I DO go to Tribeca a lot, and I can never resist humming the first line of Jay-Z‘s megahit when I get there. And then that just spirals into the chorus running on repeat through my thoughts as I walk around, punctuating my steps.
Songs about cities and places abound in the world of music. Think about Sinatra’s ode to Chicago, “My Kind of Town.” Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco.” Guster’s “Amsterdam.” Some of these songs have a strong relationship to the places they talk about, and some song’s lyrics fail to justify why a place name was invoked in the first place. For example: I love the Three Dog Night song “Never Been to Spain,” but can’t for the life of me explain to you why Spain is involved!
A street artist named Jay Shells has taken the art of linking music to cities to a new level with his Rap Quotes project. Shells has placed signs around New York with rap lyrics that speak to particular locations. So a lyric about a bench on 12th street has been posted on 12th street, for example. I think this is a fantastic idea, and a thought provoking one, too. It really makes you think about the connection between these songs, and the places that inspired them. I’d love to see something similar in my town- it’d be so interesting to walk around and see mentions of what’s been sung about the very places I walk. And same for literature, too: it’d be fantastic to see quotes from books that mention the places I walk and the streets I love.
I don’t have any plans to be in New York anytime soon, but I know many of my readers live there- let me know if you see these, and tell me what you think about them! In the meantime, I’m going to work on getting “Empire State of Mind” out of my head…