Thinking of NY today: Empire State of Mind – Alicia Keys and Jay-Z

Three years ago I spent a week in New York which for me is the quintessence of a city and really a “state of mind”. I was fascinated by the “city that never sleeps”: daylight at midnight on Times Square, colorful, alive because of these people from all over the world; noisy and hectic, but also green, relaxed, alternative, creative in some of its neighborhoods.

In a way, New York is a symbol for America and modern, western civilization – and therefore it became the target of terrorist attacks ten years ago on September 11, 2001.

I stood there at Ground Zero three years ago and it looked like any other construction site. I thought to myself: What drives human beings to plan and carry through such an attack on the vital nerve of a city and its inhabitants?

You think you already know NY when you come there for the first time because so many movies tell its stories and feature its streets – and it really looks like a set of many American TV series.  Artists have celebrated New York’s special spirit in their songs – like Jay-Z and Alicia Keys in “Empire State of Mind” from the year 2009.

For this special day, I would like to present you the version by Alicia Keys at the piano which is shorter and calmer than the original. You can read the lyrics here.

She sings about the flair of the city and the dreams of its inhabitants – but also about the downside: social problem s, crime and violence on the streets:

“Grew up in a town that is famous as the place of movie scenes
Noise was always loud, there are sirens all around and the streets are mean.”

Prostitutes, drug dealers, crazy preachers – they all live here alongside school kids, old people and bankers.

„On the avenue, there ain’t never a curfew, ladies work so hard
Such a melting pot, on the corner selling rock, preachers pray to God“

The longing for life, justice and acknowledgement is everywhere.

„Some will sleep tonight with a hunger far more than an empty fridge“

There is one thing that unites them all:

„I got a pocketful of dreams
Baby, I’m from New York
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothing you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you“

The concrete jungle is a hot spot, but the stories of success that circulate nourish the dreams of those who haven’t got there yet. The skyscrapers are a symbol for human creativity and power and for megalomania at the same time.

That’s what makes NY so special to me: the tension between its extremes, concrete AND jungle, dream AND danger, the fragility of the dream that came to light on 9/11.

Ten years later – and the city is alive and vibrant. For us Europeans American patriotism sometimes is hard to understand. However, New York and the “Empire State of Mind” are an allegory for me, too:

Life is stronger than hatred and death

People of different nationalities and beliefs CAN live together in peace:

“One hand in the air for the big city,
Street lights, big dreams all looking pretty
No place in the world that can compare
Put your lighters in the air, everybody say yeah, yeah…”

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