This understated song from Natalie Merchant’s debut album Tigerlily was inspired by her first trip to New York as a 16 year old. She compares the sights and sounds of New York to a carnival. She claimed she was fascinated by the the residents’ unusual lifestyles, as she had grown up in the country.
Well, I’ve walked these streets
In a spectacle of wealth and poverty
In the diamond markets the scarlet welcome carpet
That they just rolled out for me
And I’ve walked these streets
In the madhouse asylum they can be
Where a wild-eyed misfit prophet
On a traffic island stopped and he raved of saving me
This 1995 song reached No 10 on the US billboard and 24 in Australia on the ARIA singles chart. I admire her lyrics here. The song is unassuming and meandering, and her modest disposition seems to only add to this quirky and unique atmosphere and effectively captures what it must been like for her to see NY as a kid for the first time.
Natalie grew up in rural Jamestown south of Buffalo in NY. She stated also about her first experience to NY that ‘I’d never seen people walking down the street eating before – that was a bizarre experience. Something else I’d never seen before were the gentlemen with the two-sided placards that hand out invitations to peep shows, but I never seemed to get one – they always picked the guys around me…. It’s not a car culture here. I like that: people have to rub against each other. I like to take the subway, I like to study people’s faces, try to imagine their stories.’ Natalie also recalled of her youth that “I was taken to the symphony a lot because my mother loved classical music….I never really had friends who sat around and listened to the stereo and said ‘hey, listen to this one’, so I’d never even heard of who Bob Dylan was until I was 18′.
Natalie Merchant has since release 7 solo albums since Tigerlily, but her biggest single success was with Carnival. Merchant was lead singer and primary lyricist for 10,000 Maniacs, joining in its infancy in 1981. In 1993 she announced that she was leaving the group, citing a lack of creative control over the music. Her last recording with the band, a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s and Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” at the 10,000 Maniacs MTV Unplugged performance. Interestingly In 1998, Merchant collaborated on the making of the Woody Guthrie tribute album Mermaid Avenue with Billy Bragg and Wilco. This was one of my favourite albums of the 90s and it will feature in this music library project.