New York Series: Bruce Springsteen ‘New York Serenade’

And when she turns, this boy'll be gone So long, sometimes you just gotta walk on

Any musician knows that changing genres and reinventing yourself is an incredibly difficult feat. While it may be easier to re-brand yourself early in your career, the lack of experience and intricate knowledge of a single genre, let alone a second one, creates even more barriers for a struggling artist to succeed. More often then not, there has to be a dramatic life change or independent catalyst which forces an artist to reconsider his style, and move on to something completely different. For a young Bruce Springsteen, walking through the streets of New York after dark in the early 1970’s was the necessary inspiration to shift away from the folk roots of his debut album, and develop the rugged, R&B inspired rock and roll style that continuously expanded as his career ascended.

The streets of Manhattan in the early 1970’s inspired countless songs. Many artists have attempted to capture the grit, fear, excitement, and mischief of a night on the town in what might as well have been a different city than today’s New York. In Bruce Springsteen’s ‘New York City Serenade,’ we get a glimpse at a young artist quietly observing what actually happens when the street lights turn on, and the reality of what the bottom can look like through a sad, but common, mix of lowlife characters.

New York Serenade’ wastes no time setting the mood of the night with what Springsteen views as the essential pair of late night regulars; a pimp and a prostitute. Their only goal is to go out and make money, no matter what it takes. They know the streets well, don’t mess around, and only aim for the big fish out on the town. Their existence is like that of many other’s in New York, a life set to make money not matter what the cost. As a songwriter, Springsteen places no judgments, but rather observes and takes note of their existence. He delves into their psyche to understand who they are and why they do what they do. He realizes the prostitutes won’t take the train because it would waste time, and thus money, and attempts to understand the central truths of their reality.

The gritty lives of the people of the night play a fundamental role in Springsteen’s musical style in ‘New York Serenade’. He draws from local jazzman on the street to create a jazz-infused R&B arrangement to truly capture the mood of what he felt while walking the streets. As a detached bystander from New Jersey, he is able to safely capture what he needs from the streets without getting sucked into the lifestyle. Springsteen is an artist who writes for the workingman, the underdogs, and the underbelly of society. He writes to humanize the “freaks” one might ignore while walking down the street, and aims to give a voice to those who are not doing as well as you are.

While today the streets of Manhattan are not openly filled with prostitutes and drug dealers (for the most part), the values of ‘New York Serenade’ hold true. Every person deserves a voice, even those who are down on their luck or forced to live on the streets due to mental impairments or other issues. Springsteen’s commitment to the underdog is constant throughout his vast career, and it would not be absurd to think he could easily write a follow-up to ‘New York Serenade’ while walking the streets of New York after one of his many upcoming Broadway shows.

‘New York Serenade’ Lyrics:

Billy, he’s down by the railroad tracks
Sittin’ low in the back seat of his Cadillac
Diamond Jackie, she’s so intact
And she falls so softly beneath him
Jackie’s heels are stacked, Billy’s got cleats on his boots
Together they’re gonna boogaloo down Broadway and come back home with the loot
It’s midnight in Manhattan, this is no time to get cute
It’s a mad dog’s promenade
So walk tall, or baby, don’t walk at all

Fish lady, fish lady, fish lady, she baits them tenement walls
She won’t take corner boys, ain’t got no money and they’re so easy
I said, “Hey baby, won’t you take my hand, walk with me down Broadway
Oh mama take my hand, and walk with me down Broadway, yeah
I’m a young man and I talk real loud, yeah baby, walk real proud for you
So shake it away, so shake away your street life
And hook up to the train
Oh, hook up to the night train
Hook it up, hook up to the, hook up to the train”
But I know that she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
No, she won’t take the train
She’s afraid them tracks are gonna slow her down
And when she turns, this boy’ll be gone
So long, sometimes you just gotta walk on, walk on

Hey vibes man, hey jazz man, oh play me your serenade
Any deeper blue and you’re playin’ in your grave
Save your notes, don’t spend ’em on the blues boy
Save your notes, don’t spend ’em on the darlin’ yearlin’ sharp boy
Straight for the church note ringin’, vibes man sting a trash can
Listen to your junk man
Ah, listen to your junk man
Listen to your junk man
Oh, listen to your junk man
He’s singin’, singin’, he’s singin’, singin’
He’s singin’, singin’
All dressed up in satin, walkin’ past the alley
Singin’, singin’, singin’, singin’
Singin’, singin’, singin’ yeah, singin’ yeah
(Singin’, singin’, singin’, singin’) (Oh yeah)
Uh uh uh uh uh, uh, oh yeah

Watch out for your junk man
Watch out for your junk man
Watch out for your junk man

Oh oh ah
Oh oh ah
Oh oh ah
Oh ah, oh ah

Watch out for your junk man

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