I can only project, but I'd always assumed that when Tom Waits recorded "I'll Take New York" for his 1987 album, Frank's Wild Years, the deliberately off-kilter, slightly nightmarish delivery of the song was purposely disoncerting to offset the somewhat over-the-top, lyrical pastiche that depicted New York City as a plush hotbed of Gershwin-scored glitz and champagne dreams. While waist-deep in the "Me Decade" of wealth and avarice, New York City in 1987 still had its fair share of strife, poverty and turmoil, a reality I always felt Waits' listing, eerie ode was alluding to. Again, however, this is just my own interpretation.
Not to sound too doomy-gloomy, but in 2014, I hear "I'll Take New York" in a completely different, albeit similarly resonant way. Where once it seemed to hint of the squalor, violence and desperation lurking just beneath the deception of the fabulous gotham as rhapsodized by Frank Sinatra and Bobby Short, it now feels like the theme of the this city's current incarnation, one once again seeped in economic imbalance and leglessly drunk on the promise of monied exclusivity. The couplets Waits croons with haunted aplomb now seem ripped right from real estate commercial boilerplate, while the frantic sax wails and wheezing accordion play out the demise of the city's soul and character.
But, y'know, maybe I'm just melodramatically projecing.