They sing about life in Amazon's shadow, and New Yorkers are listening
New York City is wondering what life will be like with Amazon in its midst. So when a Seattle folk singer traveled to the city to sing about life in Amazon’s shadow, New Yorkers were ready to listen.
When Jim Page is in Seattle, he busks on the street, or plays small gigs here and there. He draws inspiration from Woody Guthrie, who sang songs during the great depression.
When Page came to New York, he gave a concert in a townhouse on New York's Upper West Side. He sang a song that Guthrie might have sung, if he’d lived in Amazon’s time, in Amazon’s hometown.
“It starts out with homeless people living under a bridge somewhere, because that’s all over town, man,” Page said.
Lyrics excerpt from "Amazon"
We live in a boom town metropolis.
Surplus population and a throwaway terrain.
We hold up our heads as best as we are able.
Don’t want to die out here in this dangerous rain.
But Bezos has the money. He has all of that money.
A hundred billion dollars in his pants.
Way down in his pants.
Jessica Lurie is the saxophonist you can hear playing with Page, in the recording. She used to live in Seattle, too. She said she and Page have an old friend who was with Amazon since at its start.
When Amazon first launched, they loved the company. It offered an easy way to buy books inexpensively. But their appreciation faded as the company grew.
One night, Page took a bus downtown to see the Amazon spheres. And that's when the song "Amazon" came to him.
They built a shiny new temple to themselves downtown.
People genuflect as they pass.
Artificial sunlight and climate control
So they can colonize the jungle behind a pane of glass.
Amazon’s growth brought many jobs to Seattle. Many pay well. But the prosperity introduced tension, too, between those who could afford the rising cost of housing, and those who couldn’t.
Economic inequality in Seattle is really high. That’s according to census data. It’s as high as America’s inequality right before the Great Depression. That's when Woody Guthrie started busking on street corners.
On the subways of New York, people are divided about Amazon, and whether its benefits will outweigh its impact on Queens. “I personally like Amazon," Denise Reid told me. "So I don’t mind them coming. I just ordered my Michelle Obama book! I got it for $9!”
Another subway rider, Junior Maglori, was less impressed.
“The richest man in the world owns that corporation," he said. "And we’re still giving him tax dollars.”
Amazon offers convenience, but it sometimes comes at a cost ... for these musicians, too. On the one hand, it offers a chance to connect with fans.
“They may be on Amazon buying batteries for their flashlight, and they say, ‘Oh, I want to see if Jessica Lurie has a new CD,’” Lurie said.
But Lurie and Page both say Amazon doesn’t share enough of its profits with musicians.
“If we want to do something about it, we have to change the system or we’re toast,” said Page.
Lyrics excerpt from "Do Re Mi Revisited"
Now the mayor’s a liberal
The council is mixed. And there’s a socialist riding on board.
And they raised up the minimum to 15 an hour, that’s the least that the boss could afford.
So you’re sleeping on a cardboard mattress.
And your house on the hill is a tent.
And they could freeze all the prices right now
But you still couldn’t pay for the rent....
Seattle's a Garden of Eden.
It's a paradise at the end of its line.
So let's put it out with the curbside recycling,
And try to do better next time.
Sometimes, when people hear Jim Page busking at Folk Life in Seattle, they stop and listen. Other times, they don’t. But for one night in New York, he had all the attention in a room full of New Yorkers anxious to understand their future.