Hey, a Canadian band. The New Pornographers take the prize as my favorite band of the current century. And yet when my friend Annie laid this track on me on a playlist disc, in 2007, I’d never heard of them. They were already on their fourth album (which contains today’s song), and you know how I am about fourth albums.
Challengers remains my favorite. It’s the one I “came in” on but I did go back and acquire the others, and the subsequent one, Together (2010). One reason Challengers is my favorite is because of this song, written and sung by Dan Bejar. When I saw the NPs live at Electric Factory, in Philly, in August 2008 with Anna, they did not perform it, though some called out for it. Indeed, Bejar didn’t sing lead at that show, so. Anyway, it was a great show and is one reason I went out and got the rest of the records. Very good live band.
Today’s song is suitable because I’m just back from NYC when I’m posting this. And the song very hummably encapsulates the feel of hanging out in town. “I took a train I took a plane / (Ah, who cares, you always end up in the city)”—in the period this song kicks off, that actually became true to some extent. After not going into NYC much at all for ages, I started to go in, in the good weather months, as often as once a month (that’s nothing, compared to some, I know), and even got to some other cities, Chicago notably. Philly occasionally. It used to be Baltimore, up till 2005.
Other things: “Stranded at Bleecker and Broadway looking for something to do”—that line pinpoints not just an area I started to see more of, but recalls being around there in the hot, humid summer of 2007, and it’s one of those things that's a bit prescient too, as my friend Rob moved into the Washington Square area with the new decade and I’ve seen much more of that area as a result (like just now, on the lower East Side and many galleries). And back in 2007, the reference to PS 1 was apropos too. And, well, “stranded” is a feeling I know well. And even that bit about “girls dropping out of school, breaking daddy’s heart, just to hang around.” I was enough of a “daddy” back then—sure, my kid had graduated college (can’t be caught out there) but I had concerns about a student unenthused about college life and a rising senior in high school who still had to make the leap, so.
Oh, and I did get American Music Anthology for K around that time too. Funny, huh. I guess this guy was right on the mark for me. And if all that weren’t enough, the song just sounds so bright and up. Not carefree, completely—cool, but a bit prickly too. The guitar melody is so perky and the call-and-response way of the lyrics make it sound like a group effort. We’re all in this together. And yet the vocal has this way of keeping us at a distance, deliberately.
Cool, but a bit prickly is often enough how I feel “in the city.” It’s hard to pinpoint the mood exactly but I feel it in this song. “Sounds fun!” Like the way he says that. It’s irony, yeah, but he's not saying “fun!” meaning “not fun,” he’s saying “sounds fun” to indicate that he’s aware it’s supposed to be fun, and it probably is, but, y’know, there’s no need to buy into that completely. I mean this is the post-9/11 City, so, how “fun” is anything supposed to be. And it’s W.’s America, and, and . . . we haven’t even gotten to Occupy yet.
I also love the “Is there anything in particular I can help you with?” The great customer service question, generally asked when you don’t want any help at all, because you “came in here for a special offer, a guaranteed personality”—and nobody can help you with that. But Bejar is equal to the task: “All I ever wanted help with was you.” Spoken like a man out of his depth. Or a fish out of his water. I’m just a visitor here, ma’am. I’m not really sure I speak your language. Wanna speak mine?
We can begin with “Myriad Harbour”—if it were “harbours,” it would mean there are many of them, “countless” places where you can rest from your journey. The word always carries for me a certain poetic value. It gives the sensation, which Bejar keeps—“Look out upon the myriad harbour”—of looking out upon a vast number arrayed before one. But a singular harbour—“myriad”—could mean there’s only one but it is constantly changing due to the life forms passing through it, no doubt. So “myriad” means “varied,” here.
The harbour, like the city, is always changing. Has always changed. And our relation to it changes too. Anyway, it was beautiful yesterday and today in the city, and this song's for that.
Look up for once.