One of the things that keeps coming to mind as preparations for our move gather steam is all the music I've listened to all through the time I've been living overseas. In these, the waning days of my expatriacy (is that a word? It or some variant ought to be), I find myself searching out the various songs of all these fourteen years or so. I hope you'll forgive me if over the next few weeks, we occasionally glance at one or two of them; they're an odd mix, I readily admit, and some I admire as much for the specific time and place they recall as for the music itself.
But not this one; I remain pretty crazed about the both song and its singers, "New York City Boy" by Pet Shop Boys. It came out just a few months after I stopped being one myself (An NYCB, that its, not a PSB), and the memory it carries isn't Manhattan, but rather Accra, the West African capital in which I suddenly found myself, a place almost as mad and entrancing to me as my former home is to the twink who's transported there in the video. He found Studio 54; I found great late-night jazz bars and local joints that played highlife music by the sea, long lazy days out at one of the beaches, afternoons of lobster kebabs and the terrific ice-cold local Star beer, and my own parties at my little white villa set in a garden full of bougainvillea and papaya trees.
To me this song is tied irretrievably to driving around the crazy streets of Accra, dusty and full of surprises, unpredictable flocks of tiny, hyperactive goats and peddlers selling everything from last month's Vanity Fair to giant forest snails (a local delicacy, albeit one I could never quite get into myself). It was my first car (in Manhattan, who needs one?), a beat-up old green Jeep with a black hardtop. For the first few weeks I wondered why sometimes people would duck aside as I pulled up at corners or outside one of the shops made from old shipping containers where I did my grocery shopping. Only after the dozenth or so time did I finally think to ask someone, and they told me that there were to most people's knowledge only two cars in town that looked like that - and the other one, identical albeit a great deal spiffier, belonged to a particularly deranged cousin of the country's then Leader for Life (who actually, in a step rare for Africa then and now, stepped down a year later, much to everyone's surprise; the cousin, however, continued to be a local menace). Until they got used to the white guy getting out of the Wrangler, people assumed it was Cousin o'Prez coming to cause trouble. When we would occasionally pass each other, coming or going somewhere on the Ring Road or in Black Star Square, he would honk and throw me a thumbs-up for no good reason.
And the song that was playing, very likely, was "New York City Boy." Oddly, it never made me feel nostalgic for the life I had left behind. Instead, it seemed the perfect soundtrack to the new one I had embarked on, and it still feels that way, fourteen years later. I won't be a New York City Boy - or any other kind, for that matter, given the years gone by - on our arrival back in the States, but I still relish the little thrill this song gives when it shifts into angel-chorus overdrive. PSB have it right: the deal is real, and you'll never have a bored day. One way or another, I don't think I ever have.