{discovery} Leaving New York City: A Musical Memory


Love-hating New York is a longstanding trend.

I’m  joining the league of bloggers and writers leaving New York and confessing how hard it is. So many times I’ve felt I’m experiencing a moment larger than life, like in a movie. Or, perhaps more aptly, I’m in a middle of a song.

I longed to live here for so long and a soundtrack fueled that urge, passion, and dream. This is not a memoir but a chain of memories as tunes – an abbreviate version, for your listening and viewing pleasure. Maybe you recognize some of the songs.

1. One of the first songs that I lived through, lived through in NYC  while being a pre-teen in Helsinki, turned out to have a connection to my life, as realized some 20 years later:

Well it’s great to do a neighborhood concert. I hope everybody can hear us. I hope the sound is good…” I knew those words from the recording of the concert, almost as a part of the song. And the beginning: “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together”. During one of our first dates my husband played me the song on his grand piano — and told me he had been at the concert. I was there too, in spirit, but intensely longing for the city:

2. Another song that reflects to NYC and still strongly resonated with me was introduced to me by a dear friend. We used to skip high school, drink vodka or coffee, and listen to the the music a bit before our time. Another song that sanctified Central Park for me forever, and the spirit of freedom and rebellion, a trip from boredom and flatness to the center of life, even if the Age of Aquarius had already passed:

3. In 1984 (I think) I finally  travelled to NYC. I was with the student drama group of Oulunkyla High School, on our way to a youth drama festival in the midwest. In the city, we stayed at — the YMCA.  This was also the summer of Thriller:

4. I’ve never been one for musicals but saw this one, on a trip with that time boyfriend, to the city, in 1993. So romantic: both of us were exchange students in the US but half a country away form one another. And so we meet in New York…We stayed at the Philip Starck hotel across the street from the theatre. I had listened to the CD in order to begin to appreciate the genre and learned the songs and lyrics. Here’s a version a few decades later, from #LesMiz:

5. It took me a while, a lot of longing but a lot of courage to get to New York for good. I got an internship at the UN in 1997. As the luck would have it, I also fell crazily in love a month before leaving Finland. Ironically, the object of my desire and longing changed from a city (where I finally lived) to a man half a world away. His work had to do with music so he traveled often to see me. He was crazy about John Zorn, so I became crazy about him, too:

6. Thankfully, he introduced me to Celia Cruz and La India, as well. (I went back to Finland, heart sick for him — and promptly, we broke up. But knowing this is worth it):

7. Fast forward years when I house sat for friends here and there, during every vacation. Those times were coloured by intense introspection, yoga practice, and search for… something. And I wrote, little stories, for example about this wonderful messenger of grace and faith — Krishna Das.

8.  Those days, I also got to know a wonderful Indian friend who got me into Bollywood. Nothing like Shah Rukh Khan and the Brooklyn Bridge (and nothing to describe the best of NYC than the video of the song with Spanish subtitles.)

(A more visually pleasing HD version can be found here).

9. My love for all things New York and Indian took me often to SOB‘s and I learned about the fabulous DJ Rekha:

10. Starting over in Crown Heights. On the verge of what some might call middle age I moved back to New York and settled in Brooklyn. It became my universe. I don’t think I have ever loved buildings, streets, and neighbors as I did then. I don’t know if I ever can. My building was Haitian, a block away from the Lubavitch Hasidic community. My life was full of the world, my world was right there, in sadness and happiness, sounds of reggae mixing with jazz, klezmer, pop. I was “riding my bike from the Brooklyn Bridge to Crown Heights“, from “darkness into light”. But, as beautiful the song is, Musiq Soulchild just couldn’t sing live, as we discovered in a free BK concert…

These songs tell the story:

11. And then love came, and Manhattan. While I missed Kings County very much, I was consoled by treasures such as Pedrito Martinez playing at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban place close by. That divine voice:

12. Thankfully, after Hell’s Kitchen, we moved to BedStuy. My university would play a one specific song in the beginning ceremonies for Freshmen, by my former neighbor of Marcy Playground. So why not, as an appropriate version:

13. Finally, how else could this post end: Leaving New York – never easy. [I told you: I love you, I love you forever.]