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Rhythm and soul: New York City music

By Kathleen McWilliams
On March 12, 2014

Well, I'm off to New York this evening for the National College Media Conference, and I thought it would only be fitting to write about music from the greatest city on earth.
Everyone who has ever been to a Yankees game knows the feeling of celebrating a well-deserved win with a sing-along to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." It's a classic, old timey song that captures the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as the feeling of endless possibilities. "Friends with Benefits" used a FWB remix of the song in a flash mob scene, and the update is a beautiful tribute to the diversity New York embraces.
Following Frank Sinatra, the '60s yielded a wave of talented musicians who were New Yorkers through and through. All you have to do is listen to Simon and Garfunkel's albums "Bridge Over Troubled Water" or "Sound of Silence" to capture a unique essence of New York. My personal favorite song on "Bridge Over Troubled Water" isn't the titular track, but instead "The Only Living Boy in New York" an elegiac tribute to the city. Garfunkel's soft, calming vocals take you to a street corner in Queens and you feel what it is like to be a small person in a big city. Additionally, their music is filled with references to New York landmarks that most New Yorkers would have immediately recognized when their records were released. "The 59th Street Bridge Song" references the Queensboro Bridge that links Long Island City to Manhattan. For two youngsters growing in Queens in the '50s, the bridge was a permanent part of life in Queens.
Bob Dylan is another artist associated with New York. Although his music reflects American culture as a whole, he also has that New York spirit of individuality and creativity. Plus, I'm pretty sure my mom is the only who reads my column, and she's his biggest fan. (Hey Mom!) Dylan's famously scratchy vocals and meaningful songs don't necessarily conjure images of urban settings- we tend to think Woodstock when we hear his music - but his Bleecker Street presence is a significant part of New York culture. Dylan was part of the wave of musician, poets and social justice advocates who settled into the then grungy Greenwich Village neighborhood. Fast-forward 40 years and the space famous for housing beat poets and radical musicians is gentrified and inaccessible to those not making six figures.
In the modern age, New York is home to a plethora of musicians including The Strokes, who captured to 2000s era city in the songs, and Jay-Z, who takes pride in representing the struggles of people living in grittier environments within the city.
I'm off now to the city that never sleeps, and you can rest assured I'll be listening to "Empire State of Mind," "New York, New York" and "Only Living Boy in New York" at least once.
 


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