New York City

Just like I pictured it!

Does anybody get that reference anymore? “Living For The City” came out in ’73, and my old friend Johanan Vigoda, Stevie’s lawyer who played the judge in the middle of the track, passed a while back. Funny how the most important events of your life are ultimately plowed under by the passage of time.

Now I grew up fifty miles, an hour and fifteen minutes, from the city. And my mother was and still is a culture vulture, she went in to see a play or go to a museum seemingly every week, sometimes more often, and my parents would take us kids, believing culture was the most important thing, that a big house was secondary to eating in good restaurants and going to the symphony and there was unlimited money for movies and concerts, just don’t ask for a car or another big ticket item.

And we’d take school trips too.

But I always feel like an impostor.

Which is weird, since I’m now 66 years old. Scary number, I know. I don’t feel that old, then again when I look in the mirror…and everybody now talks about their health but I’m still worried the cool police will collar me and eject me from Manhattan, no matter how much I try to fit in. And I always wear shmatahs, I refuse to wear a suit, it’s what’s inside that counts, I don’t look quite like a homeless person, but I don’t get any respect.

Then again, when I was growing up New York City was dangerous. Especially Times Square, which was anything but Disneyfied. My favorite depiction is a joke by Elayne Boosler. She’s out on a date in the city and the guy asks her to take a walk by the river, she says he should have told her in advance, then she would have left her vagina at home! Hell, my mother even had a chain ripped right off her neck.

But today the city is safe.

But I still don’t feel I belong.

One of the reasons I live in L.A. is it’s a giant suburb, albeit with much worse traffic. You can have a house and a lawn and a car, it seems familiar, whereas in NYC you’re piled on top of each other. At least you used to be, when artists and poor people could still live in Manhattan.

And, of course, writing about my hometown I pulled up the Springsteen song. The music makes it haunting, there’s no music in writing.

And after listening to his new track, “Hello Sunshine,” and being unimpressed, I pulled up “Human Touch.”

It was so different. Do artists lose it? Oftentimes they do, because they don’t need it, they don’t have anything left to prove, certainly not all night. Now Bruce is tied to the E Street Band and has to do multiple hour shows for the faithful, but it didn’t use to be that way. He used to be an outsider, kind of a greaser, who only came alive on stage, and he was a secret until Jon Landau outed him, his first LP was a disappointment and then the magic flickered on the second and when you saw him live you believed you were experiencing the night of your life. It wasn’t about entertainment, but soul fulfillment.

I was talking to Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins last week. He said he’d been shopping in the Beverly Center and he had to leave, because of all the bad pop music. He told me music used to be dangerous, we thought it could change the world, now that’s the internet.

And when I was living on the net 24/7 in the nineties because of a free subscription to AOL, not having to pay by the minute, I checked out every nook and cranny, and chatted with women. And when I thought we were simpatico, I always quoted “Human Touch,” and it never worked. But that’s how I felt.

I ain’t lookin’ for praise or pity
I ain’t comin’ ’round searchin’ for a crutch
I just want someone to talk to
And a little of that human touch
And a little of that human touch

It’s hard getting divorced. They were there, in your house, in your bed, and then they’re gone. And you have the rebound relationship that seems destined to be forever until you realize it doesn’t come close to the one with your ex and then you’re…

Alone. Listening to your records. Dreaming of what could be.

And “Human Touch” and “Lucky Town” were rejected by both fans and the marketplace. I understood the second album, I experience that all the time. You break the ice and then you’re all revved up and want to continue. But it’s too much for the audience and you learn this and…

Bruce stretched, played without the E Street Band, but his fans couldn’t accept it. Funny about fans, Todd Rundgren recently said if you do what you want they’re pissed you’re not staying in your lane and if you keep giving them what they want they chide you for not developing. It’s a no-win situation, so you’re best off listening to your inner mounting flame and doing what you want.

And then I pulled up “Tunnel Of Love,” which I wrote about in 1990 when I was hung up on this woman who told me I failed her intimacy test. I didn’t even believe it at the time, but it hurt nonetheless, and she never did find a significant other but then she kept inviting me to things and it was so weird but I ultimately got over it.

But I wanted something darker, and there’s only one place to go, “Darkness At The Edge Of Town.”

And I played my favorite cut, “Candy’s Room,” and the passion wowed me and I suddenly remembered I played it in the dark for my ultimately to be wife on our very first date. I haven’t done that in years. But I used to. That’s how much the music meant to me.

And I realized there was an urge along with a darkness in these classic Boss songs. That’s what made him, broke him through, you could see his pain, and his release when he performed. Used to be everything didn’t work out. Now it still doesn’t, but no one talks about it. Everybody’s a winner.

Thinking about this darkness and edge then I decided to play the Stones, “Beggars Banquet.”

“Street Fighting Man” was a revelation.

Well now, what can a poor boy do
Except to sing for a rock ‘n’ roll band?

There was no place for a street fighting man in London, so Mick and the gang were gonna make their mark via music.

Just as every cop is a criminal
And all the sinners saints
As heads is tails
Just call me Lucifer
‘Cause I’m in need of some restraint

Mick’s not being ironic in “Sympathy For The Devil.” At the time we hated the cops, and the discarded, the looked-over, were the saints. Everything was up for grabs, you questioned everything, you thought for yourself.

And I love “Parachute Woman”…land on me tonight!

And “No Expectations.”

But what really got me was “Factory Girl.”

Waiting for a girl who’s got curlers in her hair
Waiting for a girl she has no money anywhere
We get buses everywhere
Waiting for a factory girl

You couldn’t cut “Factory Girl” today, the backlash would be massive.

Today you sing about wanting a model. But most people are never gonna date a celebrity. It’s the person without a profile who’s gonna be your savior.

Waiting for a girl and her knees are much too fat
Waiting for a girl who wears scarves instead of hats
Her zipper’s broken down the back
Waiting for a factory girl

Identity politics. It’s for the educated, and the rich, who have the time to ponder all this, everybody else is just trying to get along, in a dead end job where sex and alcohol soothes the pain.

Waiting for a girl and she gets me into fights
Waiting for a girl, we get drunk on Friday night
She’s a sight for sore eyes
Waiting for a factory girl

I remember in law school, we’d get drunk every Friday night, as a release from the pressure and the boredom, and when we had enough we’d fight. But she’s everything to him, and to the rest of us thrilled we’ve got somebody.

Waiting for a girl and she’s got stains all down her dress
Waiting for a girl and my feet are getting wet
She ain’t come out yet
Waiting for a factory girl

The Stones’ comeback was not complete, not cemented until “Sticky Fingers,” with the instant smash, the party starter, “Brown Sugar.”

It had the iconic riff, but you could never understand the words, even if you owned the LP, there was no lyric sheet.

Gold coast slave ship bound for cotton fields
Sold in the market down in New Orleans
Scarred old slaver knows he’s doin’ all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight

You couldn’t tell this tale of Brown Sugar back then, and you still can’t today. This is when the Rolling Stones were still dangerous, when you went to the gig to testify to your outsider status, to meld with the music, the only thing that made life tolerable.

And that’s why the Stones and the rest of the limit pushers can still tour decades later, even if those too scared to go the first time around make up most of the audience.

The Stones are now safe.

And Tom Bailey talked about how even hip-hop has been almost totally co-opted at this point.

But back when…

I can see that you’re fifteen years old
No I don’t want your ID

It’s amazing “Stray Cat Blues” has not been deleted. If Kate Smith has been banned from ballparks, maybe the Stones should be too.

But, like I said, today the Stones are safe.

Back then rock stars charted their own course, would never tie up with the man.

It’s no hanging matter
It’s no capital crime

Only it was!

Musicians were outlaws. There were no billionaires, they were as rich as anybody. And they woke up late and destroyed hotel rooms and paid for the damages and kept on going.

No wonder we were drawn to these acts and their songs. They were a way out of conformity.

And when you listen to these tracks, they still are.

New York City Playlist

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