Today’s Song: Intimacy and Frustration in St. Vincent’s “New York”

New York - St Vincent
“New York” from St. Vincent’s MASSEDUCTION captures all the loneliness and comfort that the city offers.

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It’s impossible to deny there’s a sense of wonder in New York City.  Even when you’ve lived here forever or visited a million times, it can still evoke a sense of wonder from even the most jaded cynic. Even if you’ve only ever thought about New York, you’re forced to have a relationship with it.  Because you have a personal relationship with it, you can love it, but it hurts more when you’re slogging through the slush to get to work. St. Vincent’s “New York” captures the hurt and wonder that this big city brings.

St Vincent

St Vincent

New York isn’t New York
Without you, love
So far in a few blocks
To be so low
And if I call you from First Avenue
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city
Who can handle me

The Jack Antonoff-produced short song is so intimately sweet, stemming from Annie Clark’s personal relationship to the city.  It’s deceptively simple, mainly compromised of a warm piano and synth-texturing.  Clark’s soft voice, occasionally theatrical delivery captures the comfort and exasperation that the city has.  Alongside tracks like “Happy Birthday, Johnny,” this captures tender moments compared to songs like “Los Ageless” and “Young Lover” that flaunt raw sexuality.  “New York” and “Happy Birthday, Johnny” are more akin to calming pillow-talk as opposed to much of MASSEDUCTION’s fearless fucking.  The instrumental is inviting, the way the skyscrapers can be when wandering to the subway alone at night.

New love
Wasn’t true love
Back to you, love
So much for a home run
With some blue bloods
If I last-strawed you on 8th Avenue
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city
Who can stand me
St. Vincent © Nedda Afsari

St. Vincent © Nedda Afsari

Contrasting the warm piano, Clark’s lyrics are pretty lonely.  Inspired by a text, it’s a vivid picture of how New York is a city built inside its inhabitants.  “New York isn’t New York without you, love.”  New York is just as much about whatever chosen family you’ve found there, and as you get older, you can feel a change in the city when you can’t just give a call or send a text to grab a drink.  There’s a bond between New Yorkers that’s different from other bonds.  There’s frustration and short-tempers, but those feelings are born out of love and caring.  This is why when Clark calls the subject of the song a “motherfucker,” it’s vulnerable.  The way Clark uses it here, it’s the way you call someone a “motherfucker” after they make fun of you, after listening to you cry about an ex for three hours.  It’s endearing, not malicious.  It’s the way you whisper it under your breath when you lose a hero or friend like Clark does in the chorus.

I have lost a hero
I have lost a friend
But for you, darling
I’d do it all again
I have lost a hero
I have lost a friend
But for you, darling
I’d do it all again
Listen: “New York”- St. Vincent

Clark mainly taps into the fact that New York is a place of belonging.  In the third verse she sings,

New York isn’t New York
Without you, love
Too few of our old crew
Left on Astor
So if I trade our ‘hood
For some Hollywood
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city who would
Only motherfucker in the city who would
Only motherfucker in the city who’d forgive me

There’s the obvious idea that New York belongs to each person who resides there.  Everyone has their streets, their bars, or their clubs, but Clark’s addition of the fact that some of us belong more to New York than it does to us.  St. Vincent’s “New York” stands out most on MASSEDUCTION, because it so perfectly encapsulates both the borrowed fantasy of the city and the belonging of the city.

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:: stream/purchase Masseduction here ::

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Masseduction - St. Vincent

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photo © Nedda Asfari


 :: St. Vincent Tour ::


01/09 – Stage AE – Pittsburgh, PA
01/10 – Express Live – Columbus, OH
01/12 – Chicago Theatre – Chicago, IL
01/13 – Kieit Concert Hall at Holland P.A.C. – Omaha, NE
01/15 – Fillmore Auditorium – Denver, CO
01/18 – The Moore – Seattle, WA
01/20 – Keller Auditorium – Portland, OR
01/22 – Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA
01/25 – Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA
01/26 – The Van Buren – Phoenix, AZ
01/27 – The Observatory North Park – San Diego, CA
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James is a writer, currently in Human Resources at The New York Times. Besides Atwood, he's contributed to and his own blog In his free time, James also writes poetry, performs stand-up comedy, listens to more podcasts than he can keep up with, and can be found floating around shows in New York City's punk scene.