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Friday, April 17, 2015

Bleecker & Macdougal / Greenwich Village

I was standing on the corner
Of the Bleecker and MacDougal
Wondering which way to go
I’ve got a woman down in Coconut Grove
And you know she loves me so
-"Bleecker & Macdougal," Fred Neil

My favorite part about putting sight to sound is discovering more to the story than what I’ve set out to find. The more pop cultural hodge-podge within a single edifice, the better. This is often the case in Greenwich Village, as this neighborhood represents so much of the art and culture we associate with New York, and has served as a musical mecca throughout the decades. Despite the fact that most of the city has been renewed and gentrified, it is not difficult to take a stroll down Bleecker Street and memory lane all at once--I would venture to say it’s impossible.

Also impossible is the task of choosing just one song about Bleecker Street, when the very theme deserves its own Wikipedia subcategory. As a result I have hand-selected a few tunes that I find to be strikingly personal and picturesque in their treatment of New York.

First, it thrills me to recognize “Bleecker & Macdougal,” because the name of its composer, Fred Neil, has gone criminally unnoticed, even at the height of his career in the 1960’s. While his folk-rock originals have slipped under the radar, Neil's work has been covered by popular artists like Harry Nilsson, who brought fame to the song “Everybody’s Talking” (and vice versa.) The blues-infused “Bleecker & Macdougal” refers to the corner where the San Remo Café used to stand, now replaced by an Italian restaurant, pictured below. The café, I learnt upon further research, once served as the stomping grounds of renowned Beat authors such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Keruoac.

Many legendary Greenwich clubs along the strip have become history, in order to make way for bigger and better things, you know, like chain drugstores. However, several bars such as the Bitter End have miraculously escaped the musical massacre. Signage for retired venues like the Village Gate, while unlit, still exist to remind passersby of a brighter past.

The song “Bleecker Street” by Simon & Garfunkel is an unforgettable ode to the entire stretch of the street. Somehow, the route is far more breathtaking when these historic spots are put into focus. The lyrics they inspired are nothing short of poetry and stand as a guide to the time-travelling imagination.

Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand
On Bleecker Street

A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street
-"Bleecker Street," Simon & Garfunkel

I can't help but wonder if both songs were inspired by the same cafe, the same corner, the same faces--what do you think?

1 comment:

  1. Some curious questions you propose, not sure of the answers myself