Song: "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters"
Writers: Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Album: Honky Château
Original Release: May 19, 1972
New York City was my landing spot in the late '90s after two amazing years in Japan. Moving there was actually one of the crazier decisions of my life. I'd never even visited before making the choice. It had a few important draws: I already had friends in the area so I wouldn't have to work too hard at building my social network. Also, the public transportation system is excellent which meant I could manage without a car. New York is also, of course, the performing arts capital of the world so as a young musician, the city had many adventures on offer.
At first, the novelty of a new place was exciting but the city definitely wore on me over time. For anyone who has never experienced it, reverse culture shock can be absolutely brutal, far worse than initial culture shock. There were horrible moments when I didn't feel I truly belonged in either place. And in many ways, I was culture shocking with New York at the same time - not fun. I probably would have been better off going home to Maryland to re-acclimate before heading off on the next adventure.
By the time we left the New York/New Jersey area four years later, I'd had more than enough. But you'll notice that in the previous sentence, I used we rather than I in the dependent clause. New York, you see, is where I met my wife. So while my stay in town was not always easy, it was essential.
No song in the world better encapsulates my own feelings about the big city than "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters." By the end, I hated the place. But the people who made up my life there were wonderful, my wife best of all. It wasn't a great place to live for me but it was the perfect place to fall in love.
There is a bit more to the song, of course. In time, the narrator finds his footing and a determination to make his own way. It is one of the more emotionally direct of Taupin's lyrics. Sir Elton is in top form, too. No pianist in the world gets so much out of a simple chord change.