A Bowery Christmas

August 2, 2008 10:14 PM

A new song. A New York holiday song from a drunk.

PROPERLY, this is not a new song, but a radical rewrite of an older song. I wrote the essential melody back in 1998, but never liked the lyrics and shelved it. Today I wrote new lyrics for the thing. It was always a Christmas song, and always set in New York, and about a drunk, but the way I express that lyrically is entirely different.

I've been meaning to write about New York for a while. Although my experiences as an adult has found me moving around between Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Omaha, and New Orleans, I spent a lot of my childhood in New York. Both of my parents are from the Burroughs, and, for quite a long time, most of my family lived there (many have since migrated to New Jersey or Florida). I would generally spend a few weeks in New York with relatives every year, and sometimes would make two or three trips, with my family, to the city every year. For several summers, I spent extended periods with my grandfather in the Catskills Mountains, going to what remained of Borscht Belt summer resorts, listening to comedians tell jokes in Yiddish, and learning to dance the cha cha.

I probably still get out to New York about once per year, sometimes for a week or more, when a play of mine is produced there, which seems to happen annually. I was quite frightened of the city when I was a boy -- which was, admittedly, in the Seventies, when New York could be pretty frightening. But I was also afraid of getting lost, because the city seemed to huge to me. Nowadays, I realize that Manhattan, at least, is a very hard place to get lost, as there are maps and unexpectedly helpful natives everywhere. But I think my childhood fear of getting lost has been replaced my a more adult sense of just getting swallowed up by the city. It's a magnet for midwesterners with outsized senses of their own importance, and the city is regularly flooded by waves of ambitious, all of whom shook the boots free of the dirt of their crummy little hometowns and headed for the big city, just knowing their destiny is there. And some of them just get eaten up as a result, and some just disappear. I remember a fellow I knew who would wake up every morning, dress himself in a suit and tie, and declare that he was about to head out into the city and have an adventure. Then he would sit down in front of the television, smoke marijuana, and just remain there all day.

I suppose this song, as a result, is about being lost in a big city, in the way that you get lost when your experiences don't match your ambitions, and you end up barely staying afloat, your presence barely registering on anyone else. And this can happen anywhere -- I know a young woman who was just eaten up and spit out by Minneapolis, which hardly seems possible to me, but it happened. Perhaps I should have written this song about Minneapolis. But, then, I've never been afraid of getting lost in Minneapolis.


All you Times Square sailors
All you Bowery punks
I've a bottle of sherry
And I want to get drunk
There is snow on the ground
And the tree's strung with lights
It's Christmas it's Christmas
It's our Christmas night

I loved a New York girl once
She lived in battery
I had moved up from the Midwest
She danced a dance with me
But I was just a poor man
She had her eyes set on the Heights
And it's Christmas, it's Christmas
It's our Christmas night

I've meatpacked Gansevoort
I've stevedored the dock
But I've spent up every penny
And put all my things in hock
I invest now in the cheap wines
I'm not happy unless I'm tight
But it's Christmas, it's Christmas
It's our Christmas night

She saw me once in August
On a bench in Sherman Square
She pretended not to see me
I pretended not to care
I'm in a city filled with rovers
They're all my gang tonight
And it's Christmas, it's Christmas
It's our Christmas night

posted by Astro Zombie (2 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

It's Christmas in August! I like the seamy / sleazy city feel of the lyrics, and the wordless hook in the chorus is affecting - could use a string section or something.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2008

One day I shall have a string section, and then I shall rule the world.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:13 PM on August 4, 2008

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