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     New York City Ė "Everyoneís Your Friend in..."

 


The They Might Be Giants & New York City (NYC) connection runs long and deep. Probably the most prominant connection between the two lies in the fact that the Johnís live in Brooklyn (one of the five NYC boroughs; the other four are Manhattan, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island). Another major connection between the two lies in the song from Factory Showroom (FS) called (appropriately enough) "New York City". This song may provide some insight into why the Johnís ended up considering NYC "home".

The song "New York City" was originally written by an all-girl group named "Cub" (Cub has since broken up). Cub wrote a "metal/thrash" version of the song, unlike TMBG's "poppy" approach. As legend has it Flans was driving listening to the radio when he heard the song and immediately fell in love with it. He called the radio station and asked for the name of the group that played it. He then went out bought the CD, worked out the music and lyrics with John L., and eventually included it on FS.

Authorís note: On a semi-interesting side note, I was at the opening show of the FS tour (Roseland, NYC Ė 11/97). Cub was one of the opening bands for TMBG. I had a chance to talk to one of the girls from Cub and one of the questions I asked was what they thought when TMBG called and asked to cover their song. Her response was that TMBG never asked the band members (maybe they asked the label) for permission to cover it and the first time the band members knew anything about it was when they heard it on the radio. She said they were surprised/thrilled.
 
You called me last night on the telephone
And I was glad to hear from you 'cause I was all alone
You said, "It's snowing, it's snowing! God, I hate this weather."
Now I walk through blizzards just to get us back together


The chorus re-iterates that everyone is your friend in NYC. This is a stark contrast to the image that New Yorkers are "unfriendly". Although NYC has changed a lot over the years, a lot of people still view it as a cold, uncaring place that you do not want to spend more time in than you have to. It is debatable whether or not this statement still holds true.
 

We met in the springtime at a rock-and-roll show
It was on the Bowery when it was time to go
We kissed on the subway in the middle of the night
I held your hand, you held mine, it was the best night of my life.
The Bowery (referenced in the song) is a former "tough" section of Manhattan made famous by a 1940-50's film series entitled "The Bowery Boys". It actually provides a very good example of how NYC is changing. The brick-paved streets lined with old apartment buildings are now starting to give way to top-of-the-line clothing stores, premium coffee shops/cafes, and other assorted "capitalistic endeavors".

Overall, NYC HAS changed a lot over the years, but one thing that hasn't changed is the subway, especially in the middle of the night (most of the time its alright, but). If you visit the city this is one area you might want to use caution with. Here is an interesting quote regarding romance on the subways. It was actually taken from a NYC website that asked people to list their most romantic places in the city: "I love the subways (preferably the IRT) at about three o'clock in the morning. They're oh so romantic, and bring you closer to your loved one when you know you're taking your lives in your hands--taking that special risk together." --gg

 
'Cause everyone's your friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me


Well as we all know, J&J hit NYC in the early 1980ís (1981). Everything didnít look beautiful and the streets werenít paved with diamonds. JF and JL ended up living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn and were  seperately recording their own music. Being musicians/"artists" NYC was/is a very important place to make connections and they felt they needed to live there if they were going pursue work in that field. Occasionally they would help each other out. Eventually they started playing together as a band ("El Grupo de Rock And Roll") in 1982 in Central Park. Their first show as "They Might Be Giants" was later that year at Dr. B's in Soho (Soho is short for South of Housten Street).

Back in the early 1980ís, when J&J first started living there, NYC  wasnít very "friendly". The crime rate was high and growing. The city was dirty. The rules for going into the city were

All of this advice was for out-of-towners and it seemed very sound.

The NYC music scene was still recovering from the punk rock hangover it had received from all the safety pin, spiked hair, leather wearing, slam dancers that frequented the clubs there. The punk image fit the city and may have accounted for some of these "unfriendly" perceptions. Disco was waning, but nobody ever took it very seriously, at least from the "music" scene standpoint.

J&J had both taken various jobs after first arriving in NYC. JL was actually a courier, which has to be one of the most dangerous jobs anywhere, especially in NYC. In the meantime there is always a lot to see and do in New York. There is no way of knowing what J&J did with their free time but some of the things they must have taken-in were (as mentioned in the song):

Statue of Liberty, - we all know what the SoL is (the girl with a crown and a septer Ė of course). The SoL is located on a small island in the Hudson River just southwest of Manhattan and a few hundred yards from Staten Island/Ellis Island. You can only get there by boat from Battery Park in Manhattan or from Ellis Island. If you ever want to go see the statue leave early in the morning.There are LONG (hours) lines for the ferrys and to go up in the statue.

Staten Island Ferry, - The SIF is a ferry that has been running for years between Manhatten and Staten Island. There is no cost for pedestrians to ride the ferry and it offers an incredible view of the Manhattan skyline. It goes between the Manhattan Terminal on Whitehall Street and the Staten Island Terminal on Richmond Terrace. The ride takes approximately 25 minutes each way.

Co-op City, - is located in the northeast section of the Bronx just off Interstate 95. It is a NYC landmark you will see as you enter the city (you CANíT miss noticing it). It is a huge collection of brick buildings (35 buildings, 15,000 apartments, and 50,000 people!) that make up a very large "middle income housing project".

Katz's,Ė is a famous deli down on Housten (pronounced How-sten) Street. It is a block away from the Mercury Lounge were TMBG play semi-regularly. It has been used as a setting in several TV and movies. A famous scene filmed at the deli was from "When Harry Met Sally". There are scenes from the movie, along with pictures of some famous people who ate there, in the deli. The food is typical deli food and pretty good. BTW, JL was seen picking up some dinner at Katzís prior to a Mercury Lounge concert last year.

Tiffany's* Ė A very famous jewelry/china/etc store located on Fifth Avenue. It is very pricey but very interesting to walk through. The window displays are usually fun.

*Original Cub version: "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Ė BaTís is a famous novel written by Truman Capote which was made into a movie starring Audrey Hepburn.

Central Park Ė A "small" park located in the middle of Manhattan. It was founded in 1870 by Joe Pepitone (this was an unprovoked Sienfeld reference). ;-) It runs north and south from 59th Street all the way up to 110th Street and east to west from Fifth Ave. to Central Park West (over 840 acres!). On weekends there is a lot going on in the park. Located right next to the park are such famous landmarks as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Natural History, The Guggenheim, and the Central Park Zoo. There is a bandshell where concerts are held. TMBG has played there several times. Unfortunately, this is not the same stage where the huge "Simon and Garfunkle" - "Garth Brooks" concerts are held but maybe one dayÖ :-)

Brooklyn Bridge - is a very old bridge that connects Manhattan with Brooklyn (obviously). The bridge was built in the late-1800s and was the tallest structure around for a long time. It is still revered as an architectural masterpiece. You can actually walk across the bridge. There is a pedestrian walkway located above the traffic in the center of the span. It offers an incredible view of lower-Manhattan and the East River.

The Empire State where Dylan lived**- The Empire State Building was, for the longest time, the tallest building in the world. It was built in the 1920ís and is still an impressive site. It is located at 32nd-34th between 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan. You can go up to the 102nd floor for a great view of the city. Arrive early or go late because the lines to the elevators can be long. You can always take the "King Kong" route and climb up the outside of the building to get to the top but it is dangerous and illegal. Dylan, it is believed, refers to the musician Bob Dylan. TMBG sing "Dylan" because JF misheard the lyric when covering the song and found out what the actual lyrics were after FS was recorded and released.

**Original Cub version: "where King Kong lived." - King Kong was a very big, misunderstood ape from the movie bearing his name.

Coney Island - Coney Island is a seaside resort community located in south Brooklyn, on Long Island. You would need to cross the Brooklyn Bridge to get to it. BTW, Long Island is that huge island east of Manhattan on the map (Brooklyn and Queens are on Long Island). Coney Island has been around forever (well almost - since the late 1800's). It was very rundown but they have been fixing it up over the years. is most famous for the "Astroland" amusement amusement park. The "Cyclone" roller coaster at Astroland is supposed to be the standard for classic wooden roller coasters. Also, Coney Island still has sideshows with some very "unusual" acts.

Times Square - is a section of mid-town Manhattan where Broadway converges on 7th Avenue at 45th Street. It is most famous for being the site of the annual dropping of the ball on New Yearís Eve. It is also famous for itís billboards. Some of the largest and most elaborate billboards line the buildings in this section. MTV (please keep the booing to a minimum - thank you) has a studio in Times Square where they broadcast live. Nearby is Rockefeller Center and the theater district with original "Broadway" plays (half-price tickets can be purchased at the TKTS booth located right in the middle of Time Square). The Ed Sullivan theater is just up Broadway from Times Square where the David Letterman show is taped. TMBG was guest on his show twice!

Rockefeller Center - is a complex of buildings located in mid-town Manhattan, just east of Times Square. It lies between 48th - 51st Streets and 5th&6th Avenues. In the center of the complex is the famous skating rink and Christmas Tree (in season, of course). The NBC studios are located in the southwest corner of the complex. RC is just off Fifth Avenue, which is famous for itís shopping.
 

Wish I was there


J&J were both working on their respective music careers, sharing equipment and eventually even a few ideas. After playing some of their songs for a few of their friends, they were eventually encouraged to play "out". They did one show and split up for a while. They reformed months later. Eventually they started to build up a small following. They put together a demo tape in 1984. The Bar None record label in Hoboken, NJ (just across the Hudson River from Manhattan) picked them up after reading a review of the demo tape in People magazine. They met up with a friend Bill Krauss, who helped produce their early albums and went on tour with them and their drum machine for the first few years.
 

You wrote me a letter just the other day
Said, "Springtime is coming soon so why don't you come to stay."
I packed my stuff, got on the bus, I can't believe it's true
I'm three days from New York City and I'm three days from you


As time went on it seems the Johnís made more and more connections/friends in NYC and their roots really took hold. Some of their NYC friends include Brian Dewan, Joshua Fried, among others.
 

'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me


NYC has an incredible nightlife/club scene. Excellent clubs are located throughout the city. Manhattan is the center of it all. Two good sections to find clubs that feature "alternative" music are Greenwich Village (an area of Manhattan between Houston St. north to 14th St. Broadway west to Hudson River) and the Soho (short for "South of Houston St.")/lower-East side. TMBG has played regularly at these venues;

Mercury Lounge
Irving Plaza
The Knitting Factory
The Bowery Ballroom
The Roseland Ballroom
Central Park Bandshell/Summerstage
 

'Cause everyone's my friend in New York City
And everything looks beautiful when you're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds and there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is you and me.


- Erik J. Chuss


Pollstar can tell you about They Might Be Giants tour dates near you.

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Last Update Saturday, 18-Oct-2003 16:56:00 PDT.