As promised, first-time contributor came Kate came up with an outstanding piece which I highly recommend to everyone…
Hopper Paintings as Songs
Edward Hopper- an American icon. Known best for pieces like Automat and Nighthawks, Hopper did not simply create doodles, he curated detailed, specific depictions of American life- sometimes lonely and melancholy, but always beautiful. I’ve been studying his pieces these past few weeks, and I’ve noticed that for some, certain songs would come to my mind, all on their own. After much consideration, I have cultivated a list of 10 Hopper paintings and 10 coordinating songs that I associate with them; however, I want you to consider what you think, and perhaps make a mental playlist of your own.
The goal here is not to come across as a fake-woke art connoisseur or to flex my music taste; it’s to offer imagery for these songs, or, alternatively, offer a new story to the paintings. I suggest you play these songs while reading or analyzing the pieces themselves to enhance the experience.
- Automat- The Sad Cafe (The Eagles)
Say hello to the painting/song combo that inspired this entire adventure into the rest of Hopper’s gamut; Automat and “The Sad Cafe”. While we know the woman is at an automat thanks to the title, it’s easy to imagine her in a cafe, as I would like you to do in order to fully understand how “The Sad Cafe” applies. Both pieces of art discuss themes of loneliness, like many other combinations you’ll soon read about. The lyrics that I feel best fit Automat is, “We thought we could change this world/ With words like “love” and “freedom”/ We were part of the lonely crowd/ inside the Sad Cafe”. The song references loss of wide-eyed innocence, which isn’t hard to imagine the lady in the painting could be thinking about, considering her solemn expression.
- Cape Cod Morning- Light of A Clear Blue Morning (Dolly Parton)
“Light of A Clear Blue Morning” is a paean celebrating hope of the promise of a new day- a mood that is reflected in Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning. As you can see, lots of light is provided in the painting. The symbolism of light and dark is something Hopper often toys with, so it is helpful to consider this when analyzing his works. To put it simply, light=hope, happiness, life. Dark=loneliness, depression, longing. The light in this painting is shining directly on the woman’s face, so it might be correct to assume that this image is meant to give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, like “Light of A Clear Blue Morning” does. For example, look at this lyric; “It’s been a long dark night/ And I’ve been a waitin’ for the morning/ It’s been a long hard fight/ But I see a brand new day a dawning”. It’s a human universal to seek out hope and make it through the day, which may be why Hopper painted this in the first place, and it is definitely why I decided to pair the two works together.
- Room in New York- We All Fall in Love Sometimes (Elton John)
I’m not entirely sure why, but upon looking at this painting, I instantly imagined it to be a rainy day. This led me to my choice of song, “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” by Elton John, as its first lyric is, “Wise men say/ It looks like rain today”. Not to mention, both pieces share moody, somber tones. When I really looked at the piece, something caught my attention. Hopper knew that people would assume that a man and woman sharing a home together are married. So, what’s the point of painting a married couple when they are not even recognizing each other’s existence? To answer my own question, it seems he did this to demonstrate the fault in many relationships- estrangement. Elton John writes about a similar topic in “We All Fall in Love Sometimes” with the lyric, “We wrote it and I played it/ Something happened it’s so strange this feeling/ Naive notions that were childish/ Simple tunes that tried to hide it”. What’s more, the fact that the woman in Room in New York is playing a piano- John’s preferred instrument- makes the match of painting and song all the more perfect.
- Nighthawks- Heroes (David Bowie)
This song choice is one of the most unique because I chose it solely because of how iconic Nighthawks is. While though those depicted in the painting seem painfully average, their faces became American heroes- everyone knows Nighthawks. The extreme fame of a painting as seemingly simple as this with equally as basic looking characters let everyday Americans believe that even they could be heroes. This point is reflected in the lyrics, “We can be heroes just for one day/ We can be us just for one day”. This is the piece that launched Hopper into superfame, it made him a hero– exactly what Bowie sings about.
- Summer Evening- Jack and Diane (John Mellencamp)
“Jack and Diane” is a song that details the dramatic highs and lows of teenage life, and I like to think that Summer Evening has the same effect- it uses Hopper’s common motifs of dark/light and the theme of daily life, from the lens of teenagers. I always got summer vibes from “Jack and Diane”, so it felt most appropriate to pair it with Summer Evening. To be honest, picking just a few lines of lyric was very difficult because Hopper gives us a lot to work with and it is very to easy visualize these two characters as Jack and Diane themselves. With that said, I’ve concluded that the most potent lyric is, “Jack he sits back, collects his thoughts for a moment/ Scratches his head, and does his best James Dean/ Well, now then, there, Diane, we ought to run off to the city/ Diane says: ‘Baby, you ain’t missing nothing’”. Out of the entire song, this is the one part that I can actually imagine happening right in the painting, therefore, I’d say it is the most important lyric of the song in reference of Summer Evening.
- New York Restaurant- Scenes from an Italian Restaurant (Billy Joel)
Joel is a lyrical pundit- he paints a clear picture with his music, which was why I was so drawn to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and the story it told- and how it was so easy to pair with New York Restaurant. Again, Hopper gives us a lot to work with, as most of the people in the painting don’t have visible faces, and those who do are fairly expressionless. This isn’t to say they are miserable, and if we look at the lyrics from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, I think it would be valid to say that they could be perfectly content with life in that moment; “A bottle of white, a bottle of red/ Perhaps a bottle of rose instead/ We’ll get a table near the street/ In our old familiar place/ You and I, face to face”. The song continues to detail the history of Brenda and Eddie, their relationship, their fallout, and now, the reconnection. Two former young lovers meeting again, for old times sake, and nothing more. Art doesn’t always have to have some deep, metaphorical meaning- it can simply be enjoyed.
I think it is also important to note that Billy Joel himself is from New York City and often writes about the city. This is a very interesting instance of life imitating art, which is the entire point of this essay; to see how to vastly different mediums comment on extremely cognate topics in their own ways.
- Gas- Drive (Bobby McFerrin)
I’ll admit it- this essay is, on some level, just a tendentious attempt to get everyone- anyone– on the Bobby McFerrin train, as I believe he is grossly underrated in our current musical society. Though I could write a whole nother paper on McFerrin himself, this is not the time to preach. I digress.
A maladroit viewer of Gas may just suggest this is a man getting gas- however, if you’d like to give the painting a deeper connotation, you could suggest that the man is running away from something or somewhere. Why do I make this assumption? Hopper would take months or even years to deliberate exactly what he wanted to paint and how he wanted to do it- therefore, I’d say it is essential to study the symbolism in his pieces. For example, what may a gas station symbolize? Certainly not stationary living. This is why I associate “Drive” with Gas– specifically the lyric, “Gonna get in the car/ Drive away/ Drive so far/ No one’s gonna find me”. McFerrin sings about another theme Hopper often paints about- longing. Longing for love, change, or in this instance, escape. We could also talk about how this painting is purely symbolic, as it doesn’t even feature a car, perhaps to suggest that the man in the painting wants to escape, but doesn’t have the resources to do so? As always, it’s up to you to interpret what you think of art, which is why I love this piece so much.
- Early Sunday Morning- My Hometown (Bruce Springsteen)
When you think of the word hometown, do you think of the words “small”, “quiet”, or “boring”? I know I do. And while by no means do I think Early Sunday Morning itself fits those descriptors, the subject (an aged, seemingly vacant set of street-side stores) certainly does. This is the one painting I chose to feature that does not have any characters, so it was hard to find a song where the main subject is not a person, yet I prevailed with one of my favorites. I feel like I’ve seen this scene in so many places in and around my hometown that I simply had to write about “My Hometown” by Bruce Springsteen. A lyric that sticks out to me is, “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores/ Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more”. This is an (almost) completely accurate descriptor of what Hopper paints, so I was very pleased to again see life imitating art!
- Office in a Small City- The Day Before You Came (ABBA)
I’ll admit it- I’m an ABBA aficionado (you can blame Mamma Mia for that!) For that reason, I knew this playlist would not be complete without the hauntingly brilliant “The Day Before You Came”. It tells the tale of an average day of working person, that I predict to be in their 30s, telling us about how boring and simple their life was before their soulmate entered it. Now looking at Office in a Small City, we see a comparable story- an everyman with a likely basic job and a plain, maybe even bored, expression on his face. The part of “The Day Before You Came” that is most interesting in regards to Office in a Small City is, “I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day/ Without really knowing anything, I hid a part of me away/ At five I must have left, there’s no exception to the rule”. A dull, meaningless, 9-5 life…remind you of anyone? Maybe the man in the painting? Maybe someone you know? Maybe you?
- Girl at a Sewing Machine- Solitaire (Marina and the Diamonds)
Like most of Hopper’s characters, the woman fulfills a lonesome persona- however, I chose to see her as someone who is content with her loneliness- she’s keeping busy and appears healthy, who’s to say she doesn’t enjoy her independence? Thanks to Marina Diamandis’ vivid lyrics, it was not hard to imagine the “Solitaire” could’ve been written by Girl at the sewing machine. Let’s take a look: “I see buildings and bars from the window/ And I listen to the wind blow/ I see people and cars covered in gold/ And I’m happy to be on my own”. What’s unique about this song is that it’s the freshest on our little playlist here. I mention this because Hopper likely didn’t intend to serve us a happy, fulfilled, independent single woman, but by using other pieces of art (that were cultivated in a very different social climate) to build a story with, that’s what we got.
As you can tell, the stories told in Hopper’s paintings are exclusive to modern America; that’s what makes them so iconic. Far more famous painters from across the globe like Picasso and Dali could never paint the way Hopper could due to their lack of the American experience . What makes him so great is his ability to portray the everyman, aka the middle class, aka the 99%, aka most of America. He taught us the magic of seeing ourselves as art.
You may say these paintings or songs are outdated and irrelevant- that’s your prerogative. Speaking as a deconstructionist, the beauty of art is that you can give it any meaning you so desire, and I encourage you to do so.