Song 184: DeVotchKa, “Queen of the Surface Streets” (2003)

GwSok

A few years ago, in honor of Valentine’s Day, the Minneapolis weekly newspaper Southwest Journal asked a handful of singer-songwriters, including me, to name their favorite romantic song. I chose the DeVotchKa song “Queen of the Surface Streets,” which Lizzie has never let me forget, as she finds that distinction very strange. And yes, fair enough: this is not even close to the most romantic song ever. I was pretty into this song at the time, and I definitely overstated the case. (Luckily for all of us, the article is no longer online.)

I do think it’s pretty romantic, though: the guy working his ass off in the subway tunnel every day, only so he can catch a glimpse of a beautiful commuter. And I like how the difference between the two people is expressed in many ways, and how the contrast between the woman’s beautiful “surface streets” and the filthy underworld of the subway tunnels reflects a kind of beauty-and-the-beast divide between the two people.

And the lyrics play up this unrequited love with a sense of epic drama: “I’ll move these rocks for you, my love/I will tear them up out of the Earth.” And there are some nice parallels between the pair, like the lines “I will bend my spine ‘til it’s quitting time” and “I would live on the street/In a cardboard shack/Just to worship the feet/And the curve of your back.” His spine bends like it’s about to break, but her back curves. Everything about her is effortless, and everything about him is sweat, toil and work. And it’s all for her.

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