Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Dear New York, I hope you're doing well..."

We learned in class that pastoral literature is not restricted to only a rural landscape, but can also be seen in literature describing the urban lifestyle and how it helped shape the character. Specific themes in conventional pastoral literature many times include a feeling of nostalgia. The author portrays the simplified beauty of the environment, giving it a life-like quality. This can be applied to an urban setting in a similar way. Urban pastoralists can in turn construct a setting that shows off a few of the beautiful, unique aspects of the city. The artist's persona appreciates the rich culture of the city. A perfect example of an urban pastoral is " An Open Letter to NYC" by the Beastie Boys, in which they admire and are proud of the diversity that exists within the city. The city becomes a character that the Beastie Boys describe as resilient and welcoming. They reminisce their upbringing in the city as well as describe significant events that have occurred to them, adding to the intimate nature of the song. Despite its chaotic nature, the song helps establish the city under a unifying theme of diversity and acceptance, that adds to its classification as an "urban pastoral".

The major theme of this song is unity (how the city is chaotic at times, yet cohesive enough to be labelled "diverse"). The chorus itself helps to establish this diversity:

"Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten,
From the Battery to the top of Manhattan,
Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin,
Black, White, New York you make it happen" 

The Beastie Boys acknowledge the fact that a variety of cultures and ethnicities help form the New York "culture". The diversity described in the song also helps explain its pastoral nature. After gaining notoriety across the globe, they still value and appreciate the melting pot of cultures that is New York City. Another thing I picked up on in the song is that they describe all of these problems within the city, yet at the end of each verse, they thank the city for being strong and withstanding all of these internal issues. The city is personified in the song: the Beastie Boys make it known that the same melting pot that makes the city diverse also causes the city many problems, yet the city continues to be accepting and does not discriminate. It is almost like the city is a very generous character that is plagued by its own creation (the problems stemming from the diversity within) yet resists being any other way. The third verse portrays this beautifully:

"I see that you're still strong after all that's gone on, 
life long we dedicate this song,
Just a little something to show more respect,
to the city that blends and mends and tests" 

The city continues to allow for culture assimilation and tests the general public to see if we can "handle" it, and although our history has not proven that we can, the Beastie Boys are proud to live in a city that contains such diversity, regardless of the problems that stem from it. This all fits in with the songs pastoral classification because the Beastie Boys ultimately are thankful for the acceptance that their city has instilled in them. They have simplified the true nature of the city, glorified and personified it, and have described it as prestigious and resilient. The city is something the characters in the song truly respect. 


  1. The Beastie Boys certainly love their city of New York. This post brings up an interesting point about praising a city despite all of its problems. This fascinating post clearly states that the Beastie Boys are aware of New York City's flaws, but love it nonetheless. This type of unconditional love is rare for anyone to find, but for this song, I think it shows that flaws and drawbacks to a place are sometimes the things that draw us in. Sometimes, you like someone or something because of their strengths AND their weaknesses. The Beastie Boys are saying, "Sure, New York City may not be the cleanest or the safest place in the world, but it's OUR city and we love it the way that it is."

    Also, The Beastie Boys use diversity of ethnicities and cultures to define New York City, as if the urban setting and background of New York is made up of skyscrapers and architecture as well as the people that live there. And this appreciation for the urban setting and landscape through a deeper lens makes for another dimension in the urban pastoral medium.

  2. After reading this post and Jamie's post (titled "The Validity of the 'Urban Pastoral'"), I came to a coincidental realization of hip hop and poetry in this theme of the "Urban Pastoral". In poetry, it seems as if the beautified aspects of our physical environment are used to describe the tragedies that occur. On the other hand, in hip-hop music, the troublesome/"ugly" occurrences in songs which fall under this theme of "Urban Pastoral" are used to enlighten the beauty one sees in their environment. Both contemporary poetry and hip hop are placed underneath this theme, yet the path to which they go about achieving such a theme in their texts is drastically different/opposite.

    So my question would be if this realization can be broadened to numerous hip hop songs and poetry, or if I am extrapolating from these two posts. In my opinion, I believe the way hip hop achieves its classification as an "Urban Pastoral" CAN been seen in its use of "ugly" aspects to enlighten the beauty of the subject at hand. However, I feel that contemporary poetry might deviate from its concentration on the physical environment around us and not follow the generalization I made above.


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