Every wake up with a song? Not like your alarm clock goes off and you half hit at it with a drowsy hand before the DJ comes on to do some morning news, but an actual song in your head as you wake?
This morning the fog rolled in on the mountain and I thought of “New York City” by They Might Be Giants. The bells and guitar and somewhat nasal tone of the singer droned over and over in my head as I woke, wondering where this song came from. In case you don’t know the song, here it is:
In my mind, the images the song evoke are not of NYC but of New Orleans despite the lyrics. The song lists all the attractions of NYC, but the overall image is of a relationship based on the city. That the singer is talking about being in a time and place with someone making the place special, not the place itself, latched into my brain.
And I thought of New Orleans.
I grew up two hours from the Crescent City, spent dozens of weekends of high school driving down there for punk rock shows, festivals, or just crazy nights running around from bar to bar where the legal age of drinking was tenuous and flexible. The city reminds me of youth and love and excitement, finding joy in hidden spaces and jukeboxes filled with Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Taj Mahal right along side The Clash, Bouncing Souls, and The Circle Jerks.
As I got older, the city became cliche. Friends from other parts of the country wanted to go for Mardi Gras parades of colorful revelry, sidewalk strip shows where the price of admission was beads, and all the substance abuse that could be found in a cloud of piss and drunken renditions of “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
After Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, I went less. Found myself down there only for special occasions, weddings and funerals and conventions. Long weekend dates where we tested the bonds of a relationship. Weekends of escape when I realized I was lost. Silly trips to see the world back when I did not know I had it.
The New Orleans of my youth, the shiny city full of possibilities, is gone. Not really, not for everyone, just for me. I woke listening to that song about NYC in my head and believe that my special place with special people was gone, grown up and moved on, that the city when viewed like that is only available to the young and foolish and lovely.
I hope they enjoy it, hold each other close and stare out at its noise and joy, at the wild abandon the city incites. I hope New Orleans retains the romance and allure, the long dark alleys where lovers go for a quiet kiss filled with smiles, the bars where people sing to each other and laugh. I hope the city loves and knows it is loved, if only in a memory.