Lonely cities

City life is millions of people being lonesome together.

Thus spake Henry David Thoreau. The late Gerry Rafferty, meanwhile, noted that “this city desert makes you feel so cold: it’s got so many people but it’s got no soul.” Urban loneliness – the curious sense of being alone in a crowd – has inspired many an artiste….

Judy Garland could do sad all right, even in the guise of a cartoon cat. In the 1962 animated movie Gay Pur-ee she provided the voice of Mewsette, an ambitious moggy who runs away from her Provence farm to the bright lights of the French capital, only to find that Paris is Only a Lonely Town. (It does all end well, however, and she also has her portrait done by Claude Monet, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, Amedeo Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso, no less).

Throwing yourself into the Seine, as Mewsette threatens, is one response to urban alienation. Or you could take Paul Weller’s approach and go mental: “Break it up, burn it down, shake it up, break it up!” Strange Town is surely one of The Jam’s finest moments. Plodding around with an A to Z guidebook and getting blisters on your feet “trying to find a friend in Oxford Street” like this song’s protagonist must encapsulate the experience of many a bumpkin immigrant to London. He even takes his existential crisis back to his, doubtless, squalid flat: “I look in the mirror but I can’t be seen. Just a thin, clean layer of Mister Sheen looking back at me”…

Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water album spawned four hit singles. The Only Living Boy in New York wasn’t one of them, but I reckon it’s the best song they ever made…

Still on theme, but here’s something to raise the spirits. Frank Sinatra sings Lonely Town on a 1958 TV show, but before that Pat Suzuki belts one out, engages in some truly corny banter with Ol Blue Eyes, and then, gloriously, wrongly introduces Frank’s number as ‘Lonely Nights’…

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6 thoughts on “Lonely cities

  1. finalcurtain@gmail.com'
    May 15, 2011 at 11:45

    After the geo-political love-in of the Eurovision Song Contest last night, how refreshing to be reminded that, not so long ago, real songs were being written, and singers could actually sing them. New York’s ‘Living Boy’ is memorable in so many ways, but not least for the liquid bass of Joe Osborn, who also leaves an indelible mark on the album’s title track. And what can you say about Frank? He may have been a low-grade human being, but has anybody before or since been able to tell a story quite as convincingly as Old Blue Eyes? I think not.

  2. john.hh43@googlemail.com'
    john halliwell
    May 15, 2011 at 12:32

    I wonder if Andy Williams would regard Sinatra as the Beethoven of popular music, with himself as, say, Bruckner, Tony Bennett as Mahler, and Crosby as Haydn – all wonderful, but not quite in the same league as top man. I really love Williams singing ‘Lonely Street’ – I can clearly see the collar of his shabby raincoat upturned against the rain as the drizzle mingles with his tears; the despair of unrequited love, the sense of ‘where from here?’ What am I on about? Andy Williams never wore a shabby mac in his life. Anyway, here he is:

  3. info@shopcurious.com'
    May 15, 2011 at 15:24

    The stylishly sketched illustrations in Gay Pur-ee remind me of the style of Raymond Peynet. Thanks Brit, this film is new to me. Curiously cool retro photographs of Simon and Garfunkel too…

    • wormstir@gmail.com'
      May 16, 2011 at 08:19

      thats just what I thought too susan! very raymond peynet

  4. Gaw
    May 15, 2011 at 21:20

    Great theme. It may be a bit fanciful but the lyrics of Strange Town make me think of the King James Bible’s ‘I have been a stranger in a strange land’, a phrase that’s very resonant.

  5. russellworks@gmail.com'
    ian russell
    May 16, 2011 at 08:05

    The Only Living Boy in New York wasn’t one of them, but I reckon it’s the best song they ever made…

    I won’t argue with that. Great song.

    One day I’ll realise why Frank Sinatra is held in such high regard. Listening to him is like walking in lead boots.

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