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Anatomy of a Mixed Tape, Track the Sixth

August 22, 2006

6. Manhattan Avenue—Nellie McKay

Nellie McKay - Get Away from Me - Manhattan Avenue

Nellie McKay is nothing if not multi-talented. On her debut double album Get Away from Me, Ms. McKay (pronounced McKai) leapfrogs effortlessly among varied genres from hip-hop (“Sari”) to torch ballad (“Manhattan Avenue”).

The song in question here is a languid, slow-moving, summery thing, a fine foil to an older song appearing later in this mixed tape. Ms. McKay doesn’t quite have the vocal chops that the later (or, depending on how you look at it, earlier) artist does, but she can certainly sing, and paint a scene—namely, Greenpoint, Brooklyn’s Manhattan Avenue, the main thoroughfare through a tightly knit Polish community not too far from my apartment, and off which several of my friends pay their rent.

Manhattan—the borough, not the avenue—always gets all the love in songs and movies; not so much Brooklyn, except, perhaps in hip-hop songs … but that’s not really the sort of Brooklyn I love.

Rather, the sort of Brooklyn I love is Ms. McKay’s version, a late-afternoon/early-evening stroll north up Manhattan Avenue towards the Pulaski Bridge, with the setting sun on the other side of the more-famous borough peeping along Greenpoint’s west–east facing side streets. The smells of Polish sausage and bacon, the pictures of the late Pope John Paul II still adorning shop windows, the old men shuffling along, the young hipsters happily arm-in-arm … me going to a Saturday night meeting.

Ms. McKay captures that here: the “scuzzy hue,” the streetlight, “chipping paint,” the “mugger and a child”—it’s a bit broke-down, but lovely, too. It’s lived-in, it’s well-loved … and Brooklyn at dusk, like Manhattan the borough, only less heralded, can feel impossibly romantic.

To wit:

Send a breeze
A pit bull’s yelp
A tender squeeze
A cry for help
Make it now
And make it fast
Such memories
Can never last
I long for the days
Music and mayhem
Mama’s a smilin’ friend
In the scuzzy hue of the sunlight
Manhattan Avenue

Lionel please
Watch o’er our door
The children tease
I beg for more
Chipping paint
The ceiling’s spent
Aw ain’t it great
Can’t make the rent
I long for the days
Kittens are meowing
Junkies are prowling
Deep in the jazzy hue of the streetlight
Manhattan Avenue

How wild it is
What strange a vice
That a mugger and a child should share the same paradise
Oh but dreams come true on
Manhattan Avenue

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