You Know What The Problem Is, Brucie? We Used To Make Dreams Out Of Things In This Country — Now We Just Dangle Prepositions Like It's Totally Obvious What Anyone Is Talking About

The other great thing about the Yankees' ALCS collapse is that we're basically in the clear from having to hear "Empire State of Mind" any time soon.

You know the song — it's the one where Jay-Z talks about all the cool stuff he remembers or patronizes in New York: Tribeca, Yankee Stadium, some McDonalds near Broadway, a "stash spot" at 560 State Street. And then of course there's that "feat. Alicia Keys" part. You know which part that is:

In New York!
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of!
There's nothing you can't do!
Now you're in New York!
These streets will make you feel brand new!
The lights will inspire you!
Let's hear it for New York! New York! New York!

It didn't take long for me to start parading around the apartment belting out this song, and it took even less time for Jen to demand that I stop, not only because it sounds terrible when I try to sing like Alicia Keys but also because she was disturbed that I would never actually tell her of what dreams were made.

"What do you mean?" I stop and ask her.

"Dreams are made of what?"

"It's just 'where dreams are made of' . . ."

"Of what though?"

It goes on like this for a while until I finally Google the lyrics — because lyric sites on the Internet are 100 percent accurate — and confirm it: "Concrete jungle where dreams are made of." (We've had this trouble with Googled lyrics before — one time, in the course of arguing the world's most important questions, I for some reason got stuck on the idea that "this sex is on fire" was way worse than "your sex is on fire" — something about the inherent arrogance of calling "this" sex flammable like you're some kind of coital arsonist; can't really remember the details beyond which to say that we eventually discovered that it happened to be a hotly debated topic; of course in the end everyone agrees the lyric is bad, regardless of whether a possessive or a demonstrative adjective is being used.)

"But made of what?" she demands. "Dreams need to be made of something . . ."

Now I suppose it's possible that Alicia Keys sings "Where dreams are made oh," but even if it is, it's a flawed line — the phrasing demands another vowel-ish syllable to play off the "do" in the following line (to make it sound like "aah" and "ooh"), and it's too lazy to use "oh" to fill it in. Besides, even if it is "oh," our ears want to hear "of" because that's linked to "made." That's how stuff like spoken language works.

I always loved these "feat. [blank]" parts of songs because they're always the most inspired parts of songs. You can see someone off on their own — maybe in the shower, maybe on a run somewhere, maybe waiting on a cold subway platform — sort of humming some line. Maybe it's accidentally stolen from somewhere, in part or in full, but it's always really inspired. And then they get into the studio and the magic happens.

I always picture that scene in Hustle & Flow where Terrence Howard is hassling Taraji P. Henson about singing with more feeling when she is laying down the "feat." line for "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp." I want to think that Jay-Z had to do the same thing with Alicia Keys, and when Alicia Keys let that "of" slip, maybe Jay-Z kind of shrugged and reasoned that the track still sounded good — even if it would make Philip B. Corbett cry.

But that part of the song still sticks out for me. It used to be that dreams were made of something. Actually, dreams were made on something, as in: "We are such stuff/As dreams are made on; and our little life/Is rounded with a sleep." (Apparently Humphrey Bogart made dreams of something in The Maltese Falcon — ever since then, dreams seem to be made of stuff.)

The Human League made dreams of stuff — love and adventure, cash to spend, love and affection, two or three friends. Carly Simon made dreams of stuff — slow and steady fires, your heart and soul's desire. Hillary Duff made dreams of stuff — somewhere she belongs and somebody to love. Even Eurythmics at least made dreams of "this," but at least "this" was something. And then we get to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, who are content to just let dreams hang there waiting for someone to ask "of what?"

The "feat. Alicia Keys" portion actually reminds me of a middle-school acrostic:

New York!
Everybody's favorite concrete jungle!
Where dreams are made of! There's nothing
You can't do!
Oh, now you're in New York!
Running these streets will make you feel brand new!
Krazy lights will inspire you — let's hear it for New York!

So as you settle into the sofa on Wednesday night to watch that big Cliff Lee-Tim Lincecum matchup (no sarcasm, either — that's a great matchup) you can rest easy knowing that Fox won't have to hit Jay-Z's tip jar one more time for one of those panoramic blimp shots of Yankee Stadium.

In New York — tiny things you can be happy of! The Yankees won't be there! No baseball in New York! New York! New York!

Posted: October 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Jukebox, Songwriting | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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