Titus Andronicus’ song “In A Big City” is the first thing that’s ever made me wish I grew up in New Jersey rather than suburban New York. It’s only a minor distinction, really. Where I’m from in the Hudson Valley is not much different than Jersey. We’ve got the same nice stuff, more or less the same trashy stuff. I grew up around “guido” types; some of them are in my family. Snooki, the world’s most famous guidette, is from a place only about a half hour from my home town. But despite all this, Jersey has this huge cultural stigma, and if you think about where I’m from – if you ever do at all – it’s probably just about how pretty and quaint it is. (For the record, there are a lot of lovely places in Jersey too.)
“In A Big City” is about growing up in the shadow of New York City, and how living so close to this major cultural center shapes the way you think of yourself and where you’re actually from. It’s a very ambivalent tune, with Patrick Stickles singing about dreams coming true in one breath, and lamenting being just “a drop in a deluge of hipsters” a few moments later. I relate very strongly to the sentiment and perspective of the song, but it’s so steeped in Jersey-ness that I also feel a bit left out. If this song was written by someone from my hometown, it would have no right to sound so weary or so triumphant. There’s no stigma to overcome, no underdog spirit to embrace. This is what makes music about New Jersey seem so grand and mythic, from Springsteen and Bon Jovi on through artists like Ted Leo and Titus Andronicus today.
Stickles stares out at the Manhattan skyline from New Jersey at the end of the video for “In A Big City.” He looks a bit angry, and a bit wistful. He takes it in, like it’s a riddle to be solved. The city represents a challenge, and he’s ready for it. And that’s the song in a nutshell, really.