Monday, June 20, 2016

Roads/Streets: Bleecker Street

Jonatha Brooke: Bleecker Street (Simon & Garfunkel cover) [purchase]

Bleecker Street, the New York City East-to-West thoroughfare that gives this song its name - once known as a nexus of the American bohemian movement and now home to Marc Jacobs stores and an apparently still-hopping nightclub district - is unquestionably a touchstone of art and culture: home of CBGB and Cafe Wha?, where Hendrix, Dylan, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor began their careers, it is name-dropped in lyrics by Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Fred Neil, Iggy Pop, Paulo Nutini, Steely Dan, and the title of an opera which won its composer the Pulitzer Prize in music upon its release in 1955.

According to Wikipedia, is it also the home of Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum and the restaurant Woody Allen's character owned in the movie Sleeper (The Happy Carrot). More recently, it served as the inspiration and name for a line of bags from popular designer Coach. Pretty cool, for a single street.

I've never been to Bleecker Street, and to be fair, I'm not likely to have reason to do so any time soon, unless I suddenly decide I want to hang out at its upscale eateries, or ogle Alicia Keys as she walks out of her stately home in the Village. But I've lived this song, pulled from Simon & Garfunkel sleeper debut Wednesday Morning 3 A.M., where it stands as one of just four original songs from a duo whose career would go on to help define the street in the wake of The British Invasion.

Bleecker Street never charted, though I'd argue it's one of Simon's finest, simplest compositions, a love song to the down and out that chills the bones. But its the cover, by Jonatha Brooke, which we've chosen to share today. Brooke's version recaptures the sweet ache of the dissatisfied outsider that so typifies the work of this particular place and sound in the distance between her inimitable voice and its ringing, high-production contemporary production; it appears on Bleecker Street: Greenwich Village In The 60's, an appropriately titled "various artists" collection of tender tributes to the great songs first written, performed, and celebrated in and around Bleecker that comes highly recommended, with beauty galore from Ron Sexsmith, Suzanne Vega and John Cale, Loudon Wainwright, and others. I listen to the album often, but ultimately and inevitably come back to this cut for the way it gentrifies bohemia without aggression, even as it celebrates its past - and so it is ever thus, on street and in song.

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