Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finding my NYC State of Mind

Working and living in New York City isn’t always what it seems. With so much energy devoted to the day-to-day affairs, keeping noses to the grindstone as it were, the allure of the city goes to the wayside. But the arts - film, television, song and comics – can be refresher courses in the city’s wonder. Such is my case. I've been introduced to works that have re-introduced me to New York City: they reflect not the traditional conception of New York but rather show the New York that I've experienced, am experiencing or long to experience.

Woody Allen has become one of the most famous New York auteur. Prior to his acquiring a passport, Annie Hall and Manhattan served as practically boilerplate on depicting New York City. While I own both of those movies, I have yet to remove their shrink-wrap. I’ve seen them before but I have not been compelled to re-watch them. Not to discredit Mr. Allen's fine films but my NYC movie happens to be Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. To be fair, neither Nick (Michael Cera) nor Norah (Kat Dennings) speak to me as characters (both characters are from New Jersey, which is an automatic disqualification); The film's setting, the concert venues of New York, are a backdrop to the characters' pursuit of a mystery performance. This romanticizing of concert euphoria recalls some of my fondest high school experiences.

I was something of a concert hall junkie during the latter years of high school. I dragged many a friend to Irving Plaza, the Roseland Ballroom, Webster Hall, the Hammerstein or elsewhere to see bands they had barely heard of, if at all. Because of my bona fide momma's boy status, the biggest thrill, after the music, was being in the thick of these places, surrounded by the smells of beer and various smokes, without partaking of either recreation. I have a fondness for cigarette smoke that can’t be mirrored. I stayed in the mosh pits because it was a workout for me, surfing people and
pogo-ing. I’d emerge from this mass, drenched in sweat (mostly mine) while remaining mostly unscathed. I say ‘mostly’ because on one night at Irving Plaza, I was lightly bitten on the neck by Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones . I'd call it a Hickey by Dicky but I didn't have to wear a turtleneck to school the next day. He was gentle.

Nick & Norah is an avenue for these concert moments but also for the post-show atmosphere. Bodegas and Diners are the locations of preference. When lucky, the ideal is a hotdog from Gray's Papaya. Ideally, it’d be from the 72nd & Broadway location, which is my favorite one. I really appreciate that the film has the characters go to that specific location even though it is geographically illogical (The concert venues in the film are either on the Lower East Side or Brooklyn; that Gray’s is on the Upper West Side.). Also, kudos for going to a Gray's Papaya and not a Papaya King, King Papaya, Papaya Dog or Famous Original's Gray's Papaya. Accept no substitutes, kids.

Gray’s has earned its loyalty. Fools Rush In, starring Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek, holds a very special place in my heart because, without giving too much of this cinematic masterpiece away, the 72nd and Broadway location plays a pivotal role. My college roommate, who’s from Texas, developed a craving for those specific hot dogs because of the movie. I took him there and he called his Dad afterwards. It filled me with a sense of pride that I’d never felt before. It was like … a Gray’s hotdog.

Television holds my single favorite depiction of New York: The Simpsons' episode “Homer v. The City of New York.” That episode shows how the same city on the same day can be wondrous for some (Marge, Lisa & Bart) while disastrous for others (Homer). While the message is not something unique to New York City, it is nice to see The Simpsons use the city for that vehicle. Also, Bart licking a subway pole in a grift gone wrong really makes you admire the art of the panhandle.

Putting the Taxis and the Night Courts aside, the television series that holds the most influence on my NYC view is How I Met Your Mother. The show revolves around 5 friends (Ted, Marshall, Lily, Robin and Barney) living in New York City at pivotal stages in their lives. Their exploits are told through a series of flashbacks that Ted narrates to his children in the near future. I want to make their New York City my New York City. I’ve awoken after a night out to discover things I have no recollection of but never something as strange as what Ted found in “The Pineapple Incident.” I’d like to have a reoccurring driver like they have Ranjit. “The Limo” persuaded me the idea to rent a limo for New Years for me and my friends to use; it also dissuaded me by pointing out that traffic is everywhere in New York, especially on that day. All of these things are nary impossible but How I Met Your Mother makes them seem plausible at least.

The episode “Ten Sessions” has a sequence that epitomizes that sense of the improbable. Ted wants to ask his dermatologist Stella on a date but can’t due to AMA rules. Ted decides to wait until he is no longer her patient to ask her out. During that time, he learns a lot about her, particularly that Stella only takes 2 minutes for lunch. Ted devises a date that includes a cab ride (Ranjit!), a short screening of Manos: the Hand of Fate, lunch al fresco, flowers and a stroll back to her office. It's illogical that all parties involved - the cabbie, the electronics store, and the restaurant - would be willing to bend the rules just so that Ted could charm Stella for 2 minutes. In their New York, however, this happened and
totally worked

“The Burger” is a more relatable episode that carries a sense of the city with it. Marshall leads the group to various New York burger joints in search of the perfect burger he once tasted 8 years before. In doing so, the episode observes the city’s corporate expansion: independently run shops that were New York staples - diners, clubs, restaurants - have become Pharmacies, Fast Food Chains and Banks, frustration Marshall in his Quixote-like search for burger shaped windmills. But the use of framed autographed 8 x 10’s adorning the walls of burger joints that triggers memories of Big Nick's Burger Joint, the location of one of my favorite burgers. Like Marshall, I've been in pursuit of the best burger (while taking an occasional side journey for
cupcakes) in New York City. I too have exhausted Zagat guides and humored the recommendations of friends, co-workers and know-it-alls. They’ve all ended in disappointed. Given the quality and variety, it is an almost endless endeavor. Marshall achieving his goal is motivation for me to continue mine.

Incidentally, Ted, who is originally from Ohio, has an irrational hatred towards New Jersey, brought on by residing in New York for a few years. It is a trait that many New Yorkers share, including me. Thanks, HIMYM writers.

Several Comics take place in New York City. New York City, in the Marvel Universe, is home to Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, several Avengers teams and the Hood, which is only a small sample of the heroes and villains that protect and terrorize New York City. For a genuine homage to New York, I turn to
Johnny Hiro by Fred Chao. He combines true-to-life depictions of daily life in NYC like the big city weariness that inspired this post but combines it with element reserved for the superheroes. Johnny and his girlfriend Mayumi, get their sleep interrupted by a giant lizard attacking for example. In another instance, a night at the opera turns into a battle against 47 ronin businessmen. At any given time, an ordinary night can become and unlikely adventure. They’re rarely on par with fighting a Godzilla-like creature while wearing bunny slippers but not everyone is Johnny Hiro.

There are countless bands from New York and countless songs about New York. Right now, “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys fits both categories. Hearing Keys sing the beloved city name alone encapsulates the song’s anthem-like and admittedly cheesy nature. It’s a sense that the residents of New York have embraced, expressed by constantly playing the song. Hell, it’s the first Jay-Z song on my iPod that hasn’t been mashed with something more to my palate (Jay-Zeezer's Black and Blue Album and Danger Mouse's Grey Album hold the other spots). My everlasting sentiments, however, are with another song and I plan on converting people to it one day soon.

The Artist: Andrew WK

The Song: “I Love NYC
The Venue: Drunk Karaoke Bar

Have you ever noticed that an Actor, when interviewed, will say something like. “[City] has the best audiences in the world.” or a Musicians say, “Nobody rocks harder than [City]!” Better yet, have you ever been at a concert and realized that the musician changed the words to a song to include the city name or one its landmarks? The response is always a loud cheer from the audience, right? In professional wrestling, that’s called a “Cheap Pop.” “I Love NYC” is one of the best Cheap Pop ever recorded because it only really works with New York City. I’m sure Andrew WK may have tried at to put another city name in there (I Love … Walla Walla?) while on tour possibly, but the song wouldn’t remain the same. A more blatant examples of a Cheap Pop song is LMFAO’s “I’m In Your City.” They actually released multiple versions for
multiple cities, a marketing move that I respect.

Back to “I Love NYC,” I have no idea what the verses say. I only care when Mr. WK gets to the Chorus: "I Love New York City! Oh yeah! New York City!" Repeat 20 Times. I mean, I've looked up the lyrics but, frankly, I could care less. Here is the mental image I get when I listen to this song: Me conducting dozens and dozens of Karaoke Kings & Queens in a chorus of "I Love NYC," having them alternate between bellowing "I Love New York City" and "Oh yeah! New York City," arranged by gender, or by side of the bar, or by whatever arbitrary factor I decide. It’ll be the World’s Worst Chorus having the World’s Best Time! And by ‘World,’ I mean “New York City,” because they will be one and the same at that point. How do I am to accomplish this feat? Well, the song speaks for itself; but a round of free drinks should carry “I Love NYC” the rest of the way.

The Pop Cultural items listed below are representatives of New York as much as the works considered more traditionally or more popularly 'New York.' From my vantage point, these works are greater representations of New York because of their ability to invoke my personal memories or wants. I'm not shunning quintessential New York works. Arguing that Nick & Norah is a better film than Annie Hall would be silly. My preference on what to watch on an idle Saturday afternoon, however, leans more towards seeing Michael Cera and Cat Dennings over Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. My flow can't handle "Empire State of Mind" nor the vocal prowess to tackle the chorus, for that matter. But hoarsely yelling "I Love NYC" over and over again? Mission Accepted, providing copious amounts of alcohol. If anyone doesn't like it, deal with it. That's about as New York as it gets.

1 comment:

  1. It seemed too simple, but when his advice, there was a loose wire exciter. My handful of instruments and band wiring has been temporarily fixed, and the trip was saved.

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