December 3, 2019

The New York street we all grew up on

Sesame Street is 50.

The Washington Post celebrates its Kennedy honours here.

While us Boomers weren’t the target market (by 20, I knew my alphabet), our kids were – and every generation thereafter.  But Sesame Street did teach me a lot about a particular version of New York – a working class street of brownstones, stoops, a mix of shops and homes, a mix of people.  This was not the suburbia of my neighbourhood or the rest of sit-com TV.

And while this version of New York was, well, nice, it was also edgier than even today’s version of the show, and it prepared me for a New York in the late 1970s and 80s that was anything but nice.  As the Post writer recollects:

On a recent afternoon’s binge, I watched one “Sesame” musical number from 1975 called “The Subway!” several times in a row. It’s funny and impressively clever — edgy, even, when compared with the show’s present-day tone. “You could lose your purse; or you might lose something worse, on the subway,” sang an old-lady Muppet, squeezed into a subway car with a trenchcoated Kermit the Frog, a testy Bert and too many others.

Sesame Street taught me the ABCs of an urbanity of which I had no experience.  And so, when I had the chance to experience it, I saw the city not just as some dangerous, undesirable, perverse world but as a place to which I had been given an introduction by a green frog and his friends  – even the underground world of The Subway.

*Here are the lyrics to The Subway:

[Intro: Old Lady (Beatnik)] Excuse me!
(Watch it, lady!)
Pardon me, sonny!

[Beatnik (Chorus)] Down below the street
Can you dig the steady beat?
It’s the subway!

[Bert (Chorus)] Moving right along
Hear the rhythm loud and strong
It’s the subway!

[Middle-Age Man] ‘Cause there isn’t any room in this town

[Betty Lou] They put all the trains down under the ground!

[Policeman (Chorus)] Buy a token now
For a ride that’s super-wow
On the subway!

[Bert] Excuse me!

[Young-ish Woman] You should say you’re sorry!

[Bert] Hi, Kermit

[Middle-Age Man] Squeezed inside the door

[Boy] There’s no room for any more!

[Both (Chorus)] On the subway!

[Beatnik] Hang onto the strap

[Young-ish Woman] Wonder where they hid the map?

On the subway!

[Betty Lou] If you’re in a hurry, take the express

[Kermit the Frog] It will go right by your local address

[Redhead (Chorus)] Swaying to and fro
It’s the only way to go
On the subway!

[Kermit the Frog (Chorus)] (Ohhhhhh)
My stop just went by!

[Betty Lou (Chorus)] (Ohhhhhh)
Say, your thumb is in my eye!

[Beatnik (Chorus)] (Ohhhhhh)
It’s so hot I could die!

Any way, every way, everywhere!

[Bert (Chorus)] Packed inside a train
It’s too crowded to complain
On the subway!

[Old Lady (Chorus)] You could lose your purse
Or you might lose something worse
On the subway!

[Beatnik] It’s the biggest travel bargain in town

[Young-ish Woman] The longest-running show underground!

[Middle-Age Man] Come on, step inside
You’ll get taken for a ride
On the subway!

[Kermit the Frog] Where’s that?

[Chorus] On the subway!

[Bridge: For some reason, some of them start dancing in pairs] [Betty Lou] If you’re in a hurry, take the express

[Kermit the Frog] It will go right by your local address

[Chorus] Buy a token now
For a ride that’s super-wow
On the subway!
On the subway! (On the subway!)
On the subway! (On the subway!)

[The subway stops and everyone exits, except for Bert and the Policeman]



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