washing windows on the Bowery at a quarter to four
cause he aint gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
The second line of this Beastie Boys couplet always made me smile, because I like Bob Dylan. The first line I could never really make sense of.
On a recent trip to NYC, I found myself on the Bowery in the lower east side, looking into a window that had some historically informative poster inside it called “Windows on the Bowery.” It just talked about how the Bowery used to be an important thoroughfare in early 20th century NYC, and it’s where people went to buy stuff, and a lot of cultures emerged there, etc. But it made me think about that Beastie Boys song again, “Johnny Ryall.” I figured “Windows on the Bowery” must have been the name of a movie, or a play (to be honest I wasn’t sure if it was “washing” or “watching”), or that windows must have had some significance or something to this particular NYC Manhattan street.
(It’s not like the Beastie Boys have ever had super accessible lyrics or anything, though. There’s a line in “Intergalactic” that goes “I got an A from Moe Dee for stickin’ to themes” which refers to the inlet of a record that Kool Moe Dee put out, this I think was in the late 80’s, where he had a “Rapper Report Card” and he graded other rappers on how good they were in various subjects. I forget most of them, I think it was like rhymes, flow, etc… IIRC he gave the Beastie Boys an F in every single category except for “stickin’ to themes,” where they got an A. I’d be mind blown if I ever met anyone else who knew what that lyric meant.)
Later, I found myself in NYC Queens at my grandparents’ house, both of whom grew up on the lower east side. They used to go shopping for sundries and goods and stuff in the Bowery marketplace during its heyday. I asked them what “Windows on the Bowery” could mean. They had no idea what I was talking about.
So eventually I just resorted to a lame internet search… actually, first I went to “genius.com” which is a song lyric website that lets people interpret/explain certain lyrics. I generally dislike this kind of thing because everyone interprets things their own way blah blah blah and having to read other people dissect lines and words from songs and what they refer to kind of makes me cringe, but here I was. And all they had written for that line was how people used to wash car windows on the Bowery way back when. That didn’t help much. (I did look up the lyrics to “Intergalactic,” and they had mentioned the Rapper Report Card, complete with picture. Turns out I remember it a little differently, but oh well. Check it out for yourself.)
So then I just googled the phrase “Windows on the Bowery.” And all I got were results from before those window signs went up about how they were going to start putting them up. So what is going on here? Was the person heading that campaign just a cheeky Beastie Boys fan who wanted to throw in a subtle little reference to musicians he liked in something he was working on? What is the significance of the phrase “Windows on the Bowery”????
Actually, I’m kinda happy that Google didn’t come up with any results. Now that basically all of recorded history is available to anybody whenever they want, there’s something kind of exotic about the mundane, non-accessible stuff. This can just live on as a mystery inside my head – I’ll never be able to explain this whole situation to anyone anyway. Party on, Windows on the Bowery. Party on, kupo…