Let’s celebrate New York, New York in pieces! Musical pieces! Jigsaw puzzle pieces!
The first song must be New York, New York of course!
What, you thought It’d be Old Blue Eyes’ New York New York? No worries, I won’t deprive you of Sinatra’s perhaps most famous New York song. But the original “New York, New York” is from Leonard Bernstein’s and Comden & Green’s classic musical “On the Town”. This recording is from the superb revival that graced Broadway last year.
No, that is not Godzilla or King Kong looming over the Manhattan skyline. It’s just my husband Ed in focus in the back while a section of the completed New York Cityscape Puzzle looms out front as a little teaser of what’s ahead. (But since Ed is looming large on the New Jersey side of Manhattan according to this picture, perhaps he represents Chris Christie? Perish the thought!) Let’s take a quick journey of how the puzzle, and simultaneously, how Manhattan came together over time.
Like the Manhattan bedrock, the puzzle begins with a relatively flat surface, which will over time see major skyscraping structures arise from its grounds.
After three or four years of it lying unopened and still wrapped in cellophane in the corner of our den, I finally pulled out the New York in 4D puzzle I had been intrigued about but allowed to remain unassembled for too long. It’s called a “4D” puzzle because in addition to building a three dimensional city landscape on top of a traditional jigsaw puzzle, you are supposed to erect each building piece in order they were built historically, hence in 4D, time being the fourth dimension.
But first more New York theme songs. After going old school Broadway, here about something more au courant: Jay Z’s (& Alicia Keys’) Empire State of Mind:
Watching the puzzle being put together is like watching the city of New York grow over time on the isle of Manhattan. Well kinda sorta, except for one crucial exception no buildings in the puzzle are torn down to make room for another, as in the real New York. Also, to make space for the building puzzle attachments, the map of Manhattan is stretched and shrunk where necessary, greatly exaggerating the relative sizes of the Financial District and Midtown, where most of the skyscrapers are, but reducing Soho, Chelsea as well as Harlem and Washington Heights to barely there afterthoughts (“That’s racist”, Ed quipped, semi seriously).
After putting together the approximately 640 piece puzzle base (see above), one must overlay the Manhattan island portion of the base with a foam layer duplicate on which the building pieces can be firmly erected.
Empire State of Mind? How about New York State of Mind… Can’t do this without Billy Joel:
This may just be my personal favorite “New York” song. So what the hey, I’ll kick in Barbra Streisand’s cover version too:
Alright, the next step that needs to be puzzled out is the individual buildings. First one must organize the building pieces in order of assembly, i.e. historical construction. And although numbers on the base of each building piece should make that easy breezy, sometimes those numbers are so tiny I could have really used a magnifying glass, especially for those structures that looked too much like several other structures that also have similarly shaped numerals on their base…
City Hall (1812) would be the first puzzle building inserted into foam Manhattan. Followed by Federal Hall (1842), the Brooklyn Bridge (1883) and the Statue of Liberty (1886).
The Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges soon followed suit in the first decade of the 20th century:
The Woolworth Building (1913 – center of pic) was the tallest building in the world until 1930. Grand Central Station (1913) can be seen far right:
We’re in the 1920s now. Thought I’d insert “I’ll Take Manhattan” here, but didn’t find any upbeat 1920’s style recording, only somnambulant lounge singer versions. Besides, if I’m strictly using “New York” songs, “Manhattan” is not “New York” (yes, yes, neither is Empire State… whatever! My blog, my playlist!). So I’ll switch gears and include Sting’s NYC centric Englishman in New York, which does have a certain jazzy, old-timey aesthetic after all:
1930 the Chrysler building (left and up of center) was the tallest building in the world for like a hot minute. (The Washington Bridge in the foreground arrived 1931)
1931 gave us the Empire State Building. The 102 story Big Ape attractor would rule the roost as tallest building in the world until 1971.
As more and more buildings are added to the growing skyline over the years, let’s find a way to combine the old with the new in New York song. A pop diva with major New York history recently made her contribution to the NYC songbook:
Madonna of course (why, who did you think I was talking about?).
Which brings me to the cast of the TV show Glee performing a wonderful mash-up of Madonna’s I Love New York and On the Town’s New York New York:
Pictured above in the center in a designated grey area are the buildings of Rockefeller Center (1933/35). Lower left by the “FDR Drive” is the United Nations Building (1950). And upper left you can spot Madison Square Garden (1968), that eyesore for which the beautiful and grand Pennsylvania Station was scandalously demolished in 1963.
Eventually we build our way into the 1970s.
Which brings us the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers (1971), and the landfill on which Battery Park City would be born.
New York in the 1970s might just be best represented by the already featured Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind, but for the 1980’s, how about Don Henley’s New York Minute:
That white structure to the right represents the Citicorp Center Building (1977).
Eventually we get to 2001, and the only time the puzzle instructs one to remove building pieces previously installed.
The empty squares in the puzzle will remain, as they do in real life, now reflecting pools and fountains in the 9/11 Memorial Park.
But life and building in New York goes on, including for example the Time Warner Building (2004) in Columbus Circle by Central Park (lower left up above, far right at right).
And eventually, by 2012, World Financial Towers 2, 3 and 4:
And 2013, 1 World Trade Center.
Okay, you don’t need to wait any longer, here is Old Blue Eyes, with the probably most popular New York recording: New York New York:
Actually, the song is really called “Theme from New York New York”…
You see, it’s the title song from the movie musical “New York New York”, directed by Martin Scorcese, and starring Robert de Niro and Liza Minelli…
And John Kander and Fred Ebb (who wrote the music for Cabaret and Chicago and many other musicals) wrote the title song for the movie for Liza Minnelli to sing….
The movie may not have been a box office success, but it was Liza’s original take on Theme from New York New York that I grew up with, many years before it became Frank Sinatra’s last Top 40, and perhaps most enduring, hit: