By: Patricia Kusumaningtyas |
“This is a city of eight million strangers,” my friend told me one lazy afternoon in my dorm, as we munched on kosher-salted popcorn and listened to sad music—feeding on our mutual emotionally masochistic tendencies. We both experience that urban isolation—myself in my uptown Manhattan campus bubble and himself in his deep Queens community. We sense our communities drawing in and feel gravity pulling us in whenever we have a single thought of swiping our MetroCard and letting the subway take us to another borough. The commute from Queens to Manhattan and back again is pretty rough, and recently we have taken the time to peruse the boroughs for future work prospects or simply hanging out with each other—all for the sake of defying the urban loneliness that is ingrained in even the littlest unspoken NYC rules, such as not making eye contact in the subway.
When I first listened to LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” I was taken back to that conversation. I’ve always known LCD Soundsystem as a primarily electronic group—having only listened to their 2017 LP “american dream” and their lengthy piece “45:33”—a song that’s as rock-infused as this track is atypical for the band. But what makes this song great is its emotional core, represented in its instrumentation and presentation.
In “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” frontman James Murphy expresses a subject matter that is different from what I had in mind; being a long-time resident of the greater New York City area, Murphy has grown to experience NYC from one period to another, and he embodies that in the song by expressing his frustration towards gentrification and, more generally, changes that the city face. However, the song does not sound like an exasperated back-in-my-day speech, at all. The song starts with Murphy singing over simple piano chords, with the first five stanzas of the song mirroring each other over a steady instrumentational buildup highlighting the pianos reminiscent of Elton John’s songs. The song then explodes into a full rock ensemble while Murphy reaches the limits of his expression by comparing the beautiful mess of the city to a mailing list (“And oh! Take me off your mailing list/For kids who think it still exists”). He brings the song home by singing about how personal the whole issue is, and connects it with his confusion over his understanding of the rapidly changing city.
While not necessarily related to the lyrics’ subject matter, Murphy’s delivery and the nostalgic vibe that is given off by the song’s instrumentation reflects my own experience with urban loneliness. As I move into the city for the first time, I found it hard to connect with other people, since they seem to always have something going on that I cannot interfere with. I thought I was the only one with that feeling. Then, time went by and I talked to more people: friends, acquaintances, roommates, classmates, volunteer shift partners, Tinder matches. In these conversations, I found that the experience is shared more than I expected; I was taken aback knowing that we are all cooped up inside our unjustly overpriced living spaces, getting $1 pizza for dinner on a Saturday night. For a city made famous for being fast-paced and never sleeping, urban loneliness and isolation is such a common thing, and I am both comforted and troubled by this discovery.
As music is, we attach meanings and memories to songs that brings us back to listening to it. Some people would listen to “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” and buy a one-way ticket to New York. On the other hand, some people may listen to this song and buy a one-way ticket out of New York. Regardless of the true meaning of the song, taking personal value into a public work of art is an act that is deeply human and deeply valid. My theatre teacher once said that great art means different things to different people, and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” proves that it is a piece of great art. So, tune in, space out, and I hope that you feel as moved as I do, whether you’re cooped up in your apartment in New York, Jakarta, the suburbs, the countryside, or at any place in your life.
More songs to feed into your big city blues: Father John Misty’s “Leaving LA” / Sufjan Stevens’s “Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)” / RM and HONNE’s “seoul” / Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” / Grimes’s “REALiTi” / Blur’s “For Tomorrow” / Adhitia Sofyan’s “Forget Jakarta”