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New York City Serenade: Why Won’t Bruce Play It In Europe?

Posted on 03 June 2013 by Caryn Rose (3)


First, there were the signs. There were just signs, but there were signs, at least one or two at shows, I think I saw as many as four or six at the recent Scandinavian run.

This is not new, this is not unusual, it’s not like the fine Springsteen fans of Europe just discovered the song. But there is a certain sense of urgency to hear it, whether people want to say it out loud, there is a thought that this might be the last chance to hear it.

There were discussions while we were in the queue. My learned colleague Mr. Radecki would explain that “Serenade” is a song that Bruce just can’t play off of a sign, it requires rehearsal. Well, so does MF “Wages of Sin” and that was clearly rehearsed within an inch of its life with no problem.

Then, people started to get creative. Balloons in Padova:

NYC Serenade request in Padova, photo by Sarah Jones

NYC Serenade request in Padova, photo by Sarah Jones

But nothing at all beats what was done tonight at Stadio San Siro in Milan. The entire back of the stadium transformed into a giant request for the song, along with the most astonishing profession of love and understanding for the man’s body of work. (No, that’s not a “Sherry Darling” reference, and I don’t mean to insult you but multiple people on Twitter thought that.)

I had been wondering this during the Scandinavian run, because Bruce has made himself enormously available to the fans this time out. Everyone who has gone to the hotel has gotten a photo or a handshake or an autograph. (If Bruce didn’t want any of that to happen, security is perfectly capable of escorting him out alternate entrances.) There have been requests and signs and notes and probably dozens if not hundreds of conversations with fans. There is no way that Bruce Springsteen is not aware of his European fans’ genuine fervor to hear “New York City Serenade” played live.

So why isn’t he playing it?

First things first. Let’s take a look at the facts on the ground: it’s not like “New York City Serenade” gets played a lot in the United States. Here is a helpful graph from Brucebase.

“New York City Serenade” has only been played SEVEN TIMES since the Bottom Line shows in 1975.

If you look at the dates:
2013-07-11 – ROME!

One of those performances was at the full WIESS album show at the Garden, which in my opinion makes it an outlier in this list because I seriously doubt we would have heard that song on that tour otherwise, so we’re down to six times. And if you look at the rest of the dates, there’s no real pattern or one thing you could point to definitively. Things like, the show after The Birthday Show in 99, the last show of the 03 tour, the second-to-last show at the first Reunion shows at CAA – when you start playing that game, the logic falls apart and starts to get a little dodgy and not based enough in facts. But just the sheer lack of prevalence can probably safely be attributed to the song’s complexity and that Bruce seemed to reserve it for special occasions.

All of that said, I would have expected to have heard it come out in Europe by now, and I remain perplexed that it does not. Until this afternoon, when I was marveling at the fan coordination in San Siro and rueing the fact that I had to cancel my trip to Italy, and I thought of this passage in Marc Dolan’s great Springsteen biography, Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock and Roll:

“…In ‘New York City Serenade,’…the narrator’s perpective becomes more overt as the verse go on. With each verse portrait, the young, out-of-town narrator is less a voyeur in relation to the Manhattan scene that he witnesses and more a participatn in its nightly interactions.

“Musically, the arrangement of ‘New York City Serenade’ captures this feeling exquisitely: Springsteen’s singing and guitar playing do not dominate the world that this track creates, as they did in ‘New York Song,’ but clearly respond to it. Given the song’s possible racial overtones, it’s interesting to note that the two musicians to whom Springsteen is primarily responding here are both African American: David Sancious, whose piano begins and ends the track and provides the grounding for its sonic world; and Clarence Clemons, whose saxophone enters this arrangement at the exact point in the second verse (Won’t you take my hand/Walk with me down Broadway) when Springsteen’s narrator begins to interact with that world’s inhabitants. Musically at least, the track seems to tell us that this is Sancious’s and Clemons’s world, not Springsteen’s.”

I don’t know why Bruce doesn’t play “Serenade” in Europe but I feel like this is close to some of it. I don’t know. I could be wrong. I think there is some truth there, some connection to Clarence that’s making him avoid it. Because it’s not being left out because of lack of rehearsal, because Bruce doesn’t know what “NYCS” means, because he only plays it in New York (which isn’t true anyway), because he somehow does not know what it means to the fans in Europe.

Your guess is as good as mine. And at this point, someone waiting outside the hotel somewhere should just ask, and find out.

Thanks as always to Brucebase for research and scholarship.
(If you want to know why it matters to get the soundchecks right: look at Brucebase from 20 years ago!)

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3 Responses to “New York City Serenade: Why Won’t Bruce Play It In Europe?”

  1. Laurence Ball says:

    Interesting and well researched. I’ve asked the same question over the years in respect of ‘The Price You Pay’, although this tour the signs have seemed to have dried up. Perhaps people have just given up hope? Although not played in Europe since 1981 was sound checked in Vienna in 2009. So must have been given some consideration? Guess its the closest we will get!

  2. Marc Dolan says:

    This tracks. Look at the songs he didn’t do live in 73 when Sancious was still stuck in Richmond.

    We know what these songs mean to fans, but there are only about two dozen songs (e.g., “Living Proof”) whose personal significance to Springsteen we actually know, from his own mouth. The rest is just educated guesses from geeks like us.

    I may have guessed more about what he does and doesn’t play on a given night than anybody else out there, but I freely confess that there are still some mysteries I cannot penetrate–#1 probably being why he did “The River” rather than “Roulette” at the MUSE concerts. I expect in a lot of those cases Springsteen may not consciously know either.

  3. Great post!

    The request in Padua was fantastic but unfortunately the ballon fly away before the show.