There are so many things I love about the way you can communicate through recorded music now.
I cooked dinner for Kathelyne van den Berg on Wednesday in Amsterdam. Back in late October she went to the USA for the first time – visiting New York and later by train Washington DC. I was there, too, and we had a lot of fun.
My first visit to New York was only in 2003, when I went on basically a grown-up school trip. I was studying for my design Masters at Central St Martins College of Art in London, and our course director, the legendary Geoff Crooke, took a bunch of us out for a week to spend time meeting people he knew involved with design in the city. It was, obviously, amazing – one of those things that I know kinda changed my life, really. It kicked off what will probably be a life long fascination with the country, its creativity, design and culture. And I bought my first iPod, visiting an Apple Store for the first time (the one in SoHo). We all unpacked it on the plane home, intrigued – I’d picked up the 3rd generation one (with the glowing red buttons) just a few days after launch.
So when Kat mentioned it was going to be her first visit, I was trying to explain how I’d felt on that visit – the strange sense of being in somewhere completely new, that was also completely familiar. So much of New York for me is like being in Cagney and Lacey. Or Spiderman. Or in songs. Or, well, you know what I mean.
I’m a big Spotify user and back in October I actually created a music playlist for Kat, but somehow I was too shy to share it with her. But I admitted it the other night, and played it to her over dinner. The strange thing is, though I didn’t share it with her at the time, it became a big part of the playlist of my trip – which was a pretty epic experience involving four of America’s great cities – New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The reason why America never really needs to worry about struggling in future is that there isn’t another country in the world that has at least four distinct cities that all play really important roles – really individual roles. New York is, and probably always will be, the ultimate metropolis – it’s about money, creativity, doing the deal – and scale. Washington D.C. is where the politics play out. San Francisco is the creative, liberal, open, more laid-back city that has always reinvented itself, be it after gold rushes, earthquakes or tech crashes. And Los Angeles is the place where artistic, ambitious, expressive people go to launch themselves on an industrial scale.
America, like no other place on earth, has over the past century harnessed communications and media technology to bring itself to life – to focus a myth about itself. And that’s why it’s so amazing.
Anyway, here’s the running order for the Kathelyne NYC playlist – October 2012. It’s not just American music – some of it’s British music that for me evokes America, or stuff that makes me feel like a Brit, yet somehow comfortable in America. And there’s one that is just lovely to listen to as you look down at the choppy Atlantic Ocean (you have to guess which that one is). Of course, there’s so much that’s not here that could be. Anyway, here it is:
1. “An American Trilogy.” Elvis Presley
2. “New York State of Mind.” Billy Joel, off Piano Man
3. “Beat It.” Michael Jackson
4. “I Feel The Earth Move.” Carole King, off Tapestry
5. “So Far Away.” Carole King, off Tapestry
6. “Rhythm Nation.” Janet Jackson
7. “Every breath you take.” The Police
8. “Tiny Dancer.” Elton John, off Madman Across The Water
9. “Summer Wind.” Frank Sinatra
10. “Take Back Your Mink.” Vivian Blaine, from Guys and Dolls (1955)
11. “Sailing.” Christopher Cross
12. “Arthur’s Theme.” Christopher Cross
13. “New York State of Mind.” Barbra Streisand
14. “Sea Diver.” Mott The Hoople
15. “Annie’s Song.” John Denver
When I compiled this, I’d always imagined Kat with a window seat, listening to it at the point after departure from Amsterdam, once the plane was settled into cruise, and the drinks trolley was just emerging at the front of the cabin. For the Dutch, they’re probably somewhere over Northern England. For us Brits, it’s about the time you’re flying out over the last islands to the north west of Scotland. Before you break out into the Atlantic proper. Maybe she’ll play it next time, instead.
Posted on Sunday 10 February 2013.