Come here, oh my star is fading
And I swerve out of control
And I swear, I waited and waited
I've got to get out of this hole
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Amsterdam's Red Light District
It has been stated that Chris Martin, Coldplay’s frontman, said in an interview that this song was named Amsterdam purely because that is where it was written and not for any other reasons connecting it to the city. However, it is certainly worth exploring both the lyrics of this song and the city in which its creator was inspired to put the words to paper.
"Amsterdam" featured on Coldplay’s second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head
, was released in 2002. The album won the Grammy Award for Best Alternative Music Album in 2003, and then won Record of the Year for "Clocks" at the 2004 Grammy Awards. These two awards were among others the band received for this album, demonstrating its great success. Between the years of 2002 and 2003, they toured their new album and visited five continents during that time. Many of the concerts showcased elaborate lighting and AV which were said to be reminiscent of one of U2’s tour, thus beginning the (now long withstanding) comparison between the two bands. The songs featured on A Rush of Blood to the Head
were described as having decadent melodies and contain themes of heartbreak, and that musically speaking, the band had a newfound confidence in comparison to their debut album, Parachutes
. Chris Martin described the songs as being reflective of new attitudes and that the lyrical theme of the album is that of urgency, "Perhaps there's a bit more urgency on some of these songs. And that's born from all the places we've been and the things we've experienced," Martin has explained, and also added that “the album's title means 'doing something on impulse.'"
Looking at the song alone, "Amsterdam" is no exception to the theme of time that was carried through the album, describing feeling trapped by the sense of waiting and lack of control. In the lines where he states, “But time is on your side, It's on your side now,” it brings to question whether he is telling himself this or speaking to another. Regardless, he goes on to say that time is no longer pushing and all consuming, bringing to mind that this is how it was making him feel. The sense of urgency comes from the panic felt by the weight of time. This song is one of desperation and despair but ultimately ends in freedom from this entrapment (described as being cut loose from the ropes). The line “I’d not be stuck here in this hole” if he had only waited, asks the question whether this was literal in terms of the place (Amsterdam) or rather figurative as an emotional hole. Or perhaps the “you” in the song could be seen as Amsterdam, allowing him the freedom to be released from the depths of his despair.
Koninginnedag in Amsterdam
(Thanks Massimo Catarinella)
Amsterdam is a very old city. The largest and the capital of the Netherlands, it was granted city rights in the early 1300s. It has therefore seen its fair share of pain and darkness through the years, particularly during the 19th century and later on through WWII. This caused the city to fall into a severe state of disrepair. A part of this dark history remains in the form of Anne Frank’s house. The house in which she and her family were hiding, along with the neighboring house, has been made in to a museum dedicated to her, her family and all those who suffered as a result of the Holocaust. The public can now walk in her footsteps and witness where she lived for just over two years, in the hidden rooms behind the bookshelf.
Another seedy thread to the harsher times requires a stroll around the notorious Red Light District (De Wallen). You've probably heard of the place, and everything you have heard is likely true. Criss-crossed by several canals, De Wallen is a series of ancient tiny streets surrounded by ancient buildings that lean in every direction, giving the place a quirky - and archaeologically bizarre - appeal. In those ancient buildings are many tiny shops with storefront windows illuminated with red lights, where mostly-naked women display their wares. Sex for sale. The entire world engages in this practice, Amsterdam just does it more blatantly, thoroughly... and legally. Keep moving and you'll probably pass several "coffee shops" where those in the know can order up a serving of pot. Marijuana. Cannabis. Funny cigarettes. You get the picture. Now, before you go launching yourself to the nearest airport to hop a flight and have some fun, realize that of the women working behind those windows, most don't want to be there and were forced by someone in control of them (a husband, a kidnapper), and that they keep bottles of petrol with them for protection, ready to set on fire any "john" who gets a little out of hand.
But upside from the underbelly, Amsterdam has the great little other
quirky things that you can take the kids to see, including the 140+/- music festivals and events each year. And let's not forget the canals. The city is famous for its network of canals. The Singel canal has encircled the city since the middle ages and served as a moat. It is now popular to take a tour along this stretch and see the stuff that almost no other touristy place boasts, such as "the houseboat with 100 cats!" It's true. It's a houseboat with what we presume an extravagant cat litter bill, and it's crawling with the critters. There's also the "Skinniest House in the World," part of the ornate canal houses that were built during the Dutch Golden Age, Singel Number 7 is skinnier than most at just 1m wide at its most slender.
Today's Amsterdam has been largely restored into one of the best European cities for International business and is the financial and business centre of the Netherlands. This is also reminiscent of its earlier days, when it was still a small fishing village in the 12th century, and became one of the most important ports during the Dutch Golden Age, thus leading it to become prominent in finance long before it bore the weight of such devastation in wartime.
And so perhaps Chris Martin was simply writing about the emotional journey he was on at the time of his stay in Amsterdam, but by looking at the city, we can’t help but question the influence a place such as this would have on him in bringing these thoughts to the surface. It was certainly enough for him to name the song after this colourful city. And if we look a bit deeper, perhaps this ever tolerant nature of this ever tolerant city is the "you" who at last sets him free.
~ Karen Blackwell
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