This is a song called “Nantes” by a band name after another city, Beirut. When I studied abroad in Nantes (waaaay back in 2009), people would ask me if I picked Nantes over Paris because of the Beirut song, and I always said yes in response to this cheeky question. Truthfully, though, I didn’t even know there was a song called “Nantes” until I got there. I like to think that I had one up on anyone who asked me about the song because I had actually seen the city, which, for the record, looks like this:
Now, I love the song almost as much as I love the city, especially that opening, “Well, it’s been a long time, long time,” which feels so right now that I’m heading back to France (on Monday!). While the song does a great job of evoking my own personal nostalgia, though, I’m not sure “Nantes” accurately captures the city either musically or lyrically. Of course, I’ve just made an intangible and entirely subjective judgement… but on the other hand, that’s what Omnivosaurus Rex is all about.
It’s probably always been a trend to name songs after cities (or locations in general), but I’ve observed a preponderance of city songs peppered throughout some notable recent releases. Beirut’s recent Rip Tide, for example, calls upon Santa Fe and Goshen, and even highlights New York’s East Harlem neighborhood. ”East Harlem” has wormed its way into my heart, and maybe that’s because I’m a native New Yorker, but I also love “Santa Fe” and “Goshen.” Most revealing of all: “Vagabond” is probably my favorite track on the entire album. The image of a rip tide complements the idea of an itinerant vagabond, which is perhaps what makes the location songs so exciting to listen to; the album sketches a journey for the listener.
But the very suggestion that a song can act as a place is what makes writing place-songs so risky. What exactly are we supposed to understand from a place-song? And please don’t use the word “essence” anywhere in your answer. Is a place-song descriptive? Emotive? Analytical? Editorial? My intense love for Bon Iver’s “Perth” will not necessarily translate to a love for the capital of Australia… or will it? Place-songs, it seems, are not exactly named after places, but seem to be named for places or by places.
Place and song only truly converge in folk music — and I mean real folk music, none of this Mumford & Sons business. While today’s musical innovators attempt to insert place into song, folk music takes the opposite direction. As songs endure and become ubiquitous, they merge with place. ”Perth” will never remind me of Perth; it will only ever evoke memories of early summer in New York and Philadelphia, and when I remember these few days before my trip in a few years’ time, I’ll be thinking of Georges Brassens and Pete Seeger (who will become the definition of America for my students, if I have anything to do with it).
P.S. Realitweets digests will be on hiatus until May 2012 at least because Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t understand the way the internet generation watches TV.