Adjacent Anthems

Jul 14, 2017
Originally published on December 8, 2017 9:59 am

If you say you're from Dallas when you're really from Arlington, we've got a game for you. Jonathan Coulton sings songs about cities living in the shadow of nearby metropolises.

Chris Colfer: Fans, Fiction, And Fan Fiction

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. I'm Jonathan Coulton here with puzzle guru Art Chung. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(APPLAUSE)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thanks, Jonathan. Up next, Jonathan will play an anthem about people who say they're from Seattle when they're actually from Bellevue. Let's check in with our contestants, Natalie and Spencer. Natalie, on your 13th birthday, you talked to one of my favorite actors of all time, Harrison Ford. How was it? I want to know.

NATALIE SAVITS: Well, it was the most maybe embarrassing thing ever. And it was my birthday. And I was, like, at an Applebee's or Chili's, one of those. And my stepmother's brother-in-law handed me the cell phone and I just hear his voice on it. And my whole family is just staring at me. And I was just like, what am I supposed to say now?

EISENBERG: Yeah.

SAVITS: He was, like, pulling teeth trying to get me to talk. And, you know, that was just it. I had such a big crush, and then it was like, oh, he's a real person that I have nothing to say - anything to, you know?

EISENBERG: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: It happens all the time, Natalie.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Spencer, something you wrote about, Pop-Tarts, went semiviral on Reddit. How did that change your life?

SPENCER GAFFNEY: For the better, I'd like to think.

EISENBERG: Yeah?

GAFFNEY: So I spent a lot of time in the snack aisle in college - still do sometimes. But I discovered that unfrosted Pop-Tarts actually have 10 more calories than frosted Pop-Tarts, which completely blew my mind. But they add a little bit of extra pastry to the side of the unfrosted Pop-Tarts to make them feel more satisfying.

EISENBERG: You just blew open something, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFNEY: Yeah. Oh, yeah, it's big.

COULTON: Wow.

EISENBERG: Spencer, if you ever don't want to write novels, have you thought about just, like, really diving into undercover, like...

GAFFNEY: Yeah, investigative snack food journalism?

EISENBERG: That's what I - yeah, that's what I was going for.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFNEY: I've given it a lot of thought. I'm going to pursue this dream first, but that's the backup plan.

EISENBERG: OK, good to know. I like a plan B. Let's go to your next game where Jonathan Coulton has odes in different area codes. Jonathan, what is it about?

COULTON: Well, there are plenty of songs about big cities, but what about the less celebrated cities...

EISENBERG: True.

COULTON: ...That live in their shadows? We rewrote big-city anthems to be about smaller cities that are more or less close by. So buzz in and tell me the city that I'm singing about. And if you get that right, for a bonus point you can tell me the name of the original song.

EISENBERG: OK, Natalie, you won the last game, so you win this and you're in the final round. Spencer, you need to win this or you'll have to move to Old York. That's where they have an Apple store, but it actually sells apples. The subway is a horse and they have a great restaurant.

(LAUGHTER)

GAFFNEY: Sounds kind of quaint.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) OK, here we go.

COULTON: Here we go.

(Singing) Now you're in Jersey, concrete runways airplanes can land on. You can depend on Brick City's airport.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Spencer.

GAFFNEY: Newark.

COULTON: Newark is correct.

GAFFNEY: And then the original song was "I Love New York" (ph) or "New York: Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made Of" (ph). There's nothing...

COULTON: Are you just saying a bunch of words right now, Spencer?

GAFFNEY: It's a great song, but I forget which ones were the - I'm going to go with "I Love New York."

COULTON: That is not the name of the song. The name of the song is "Empire State Of Mind."

GAFFNEY: That makes a lot more sense.

COULTON: But you get the question right, so that's one point for you, Spencer.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: (Singing) Party in the city in a rental car, Buccaneers, Busch Gardens, Ybor cigar. See the estuary, bienvenido, ah, the St. Pete ferry.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL, LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Spencer.

GAFFNEY: Tampa.

COULTON: Tampa. That's right.

(APPLAUSE)

GAFFNEY: And the original song was "Miami"...

COULTON: Yeah, you got it.

GAFFNEY: ...Will Smith.

COULTON: Yeah, that's right.

EISENBERG: All right.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: I feel like we just tapped into really your knowledge base in that one question.

GAFFNEY: I love me some secondary cities.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: (Singing) All the little kids trying hard not to skid go tires rock, rubber rocks. The Good Year crew and LeBron James, too, go Devo rocks, Black Keys rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Spencer.

GAFFNEY: Akron rocks.

COULTON: Yeah, you got it. And the song?

GAFFNEY: "Cleveland Rocks."

COULTON: Yeah, you're killing it, Spencer.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: (Singing) Good morning Queen Anne's town. Every day I try not to drown, every night on the Chesapeake at the Naval Academy.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Spencer.

GAFFNEY: Annapolis.

COULTON: Annapolis is correct. Do you know the name of the song?

GAFFNEY: No, I'm sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Oh.

GAFFNEY: I'm sorry, everyone.

COULTON: This crowd is very disappointed with you.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: That was "Good Morning Baltimore" from "Hairspray."

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: From "Hairspray."

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Everybody's like, from "Hairspray," Spencer.

EISENBERG: Yeah, exactly. We like some of your knowledge, but very disappointed in other parts of you.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: (Singing) Well, come on, Sam Kinison's from here, you know. Well, come on, Richard Pryor's also from here, you know. Not much to say. But will it play in this place southwest of Chicago?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Spencer.

GAFFNEY: It's in Illinois.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Can you be more specific?

GAFFNEY: Skokie?

COULTON: That's a very good guess, but it is incorrect. Natalie, now's your chance to steal.

SAVITS: Fairfield. I don't even - I don't know. That's the name of a city.

COULTON: That is also incorrect. We were looking for Peoria.

SAVITS: Oh.

COULTON: Oh, Peoria.

EISENBERG: I know. I know.

COULTON: And that was "Sweet Home Chicago."

This is your last clue. (Singing) Here we used to be a coal mine town, good old P-A, anthracite. Now we're known as Dunder Mifflin's home. Electric City, shine the light. Young Joe Biden, won't you shine the light?

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

COULTON: Natalie.

SAVITS: Scranton.

COULTON: Oh, yeah.

(APPLAUSE)

COULTON: Do you know the song?

SAVITS: No.

COULTON: No. What is it, everybody?

SAVITS: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

COULTON: "Philadelphia Freedom" by Elton John. That's right.

SAVITS: Oh. OK (laughter).

COULTON: Art Chung, how did they do?

ART CHUNG: Spencer, you tied it up, so we're going to a quick Game 3. I'm going to give you a category, and you'll go back and forth naming things that fall into that category. The first contestant to mess up will be eliminated. Buzz in to answer first. Here's your category. Name Time magazine's Person of the Year from 2006 to 2016.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

CHUNG: Spencer, you're first.

GAFFNEY: Donald Trump.

CHUNG: Donald Trump is correct. Natalie?

SAVITS: Obama.

CHUNG: Barack Obama twice. Yes, that's correct. Spencer?

GAFFNEY: Was there one that was you, with, like, a mirror (laughter)?

CHUNG: You were the person of the year - that's right - in 2006. That is correct.

(APPLAUSE)

CHUNG: Natalie?

SAVITS: I'm going to say Hillary Clinton.

CHUNG: No, I'm sorry. That is incorrect. The other answers were Angela Merkel, Ben Bernanke, Ebola fighters, Pope Francis, the protester, Mark Zuckerberg and Vladimir Putin.

Natalie, we're sorry to see you go. Spencer, you're headed to the final round.

(SOUNDBITE OF L' ELEPHANT'S "TOM TOM CLUB") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.