Since interviewers are always asking JC about it, I figured it might be time for me to explain “Baltimore Is the New Brooklyn” since I wrote it. Short answer, it’s about gentrification. People want to live in Manhattan, but end up in Brooklyn because the rent is cheaper, and when Brooklyn gets too pricey…
But what does this have to do with a Chicago soul band?
In December 2006, I was writing for TimeOut and Antonia Simigis, the music editor, took me to Schubas to see a band called Celebration.
They had an arty TV On the Radio vibe and I assumed they were Brooklynites, but Antonia told me they were from Baltimore. “I guess Baltimore is the new Brooklyn” quipped I, and started making connections in my head, thinking about how Charm City was ripe for artists and musicians to move in (there’s an art school, cheap rent, and it’s an easy drive to DC, Philly, NYC, etc). [I’m not here to pontificate on Dan Deacon and Wham City or debate the pros & cons of gentrification, or who belongs in a neighborhood; don’t shoot me, I’m only the bass player.]
I was on a real creative tear that month (that’s when “Want More What” dates from) and bashed out a quick GarageBand demo before splitting town for the holidays.
I’m from DC and had visited Baltimore a lot growing up, but definitely didn’t know the city well at all. The song was more about very broad notions and part of my creative burst involved loosening up my lyric writing, writing more abstractly without concern for external logic, just getting a flow of ideas. And using specific place names. Since I was also listening to a lot of Morphine (whose Mark Sandman had an amazing knack for paring down lyrics, mostly so that songs were easier to remember, or so he claimed), I used a lot of repetition.
I took a day trip to Baltimore with my parents and was pretty surprised at how much Little Italy reminded me of parts of Williamsburg. But I didn’t share my new jam with any of my friends because I felt a little weird about the lyrics maybe being perceived as a diss of my hometown. All that had to go by the wayside when I joined the band a few months later and Billy immediately singled out Baltimore as a “hit”. It was one of the first songs in our repertoire (along with Berry Please, Straight Lines, and Hold You Back) and was the finale of our debut show.
For a song that came from such a casual inspiration, I had to laugh when it got quoted in the New York Times.