Jason Mendelson is a local musician with a very unique inspiration for his art: Washington's Metrorail and its many stations. He writes songs about pirates near the Waterfront station, whether the train stops at "National" or "Reagan," and neighborhood change in Tenleytown.
Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that Jason recently completed his goal of writing a song inspired by each of the 91 stations within the Metrorail system. Jason started the project, called MetroSongs, as a unique way of writing songs after moving to the region from Florida.
Six years later, he has produced eight albums' worth of original material. I was interested to know more, so I emailed Jason to ask a few questions about MetroSongs. Below are some of his explanations of the creating process and his inspirations.
One thing Jason talked about about was how he got onto writing songs centered around Metrorail stations:
MetroSongs started not as a concept but a song, National. Soon after moving here, some local friends informed me that "true locals" call the airport in Arlington "National," not "Reagan," for reasons partially political, but chiefly fiscal - the waste of money in the 2001 station renaming signage controversy. I thought there was probably an interesting story at every station if I just bothered to dig a little and do some homework. The pleasant surprise was that I was right. Even seemingly mundane locations turn out to have their own special character and history. A common misconception is that MetroSongs is about Metro. It isn't. It's about history, geography, and most importantly - people.
In turn, the lyrics to the verse go like this:
What’s in a name? $400,000
Who’s on the take? Signage installers
This is insane, National, National
Writing lyrics for some stations proved to be more difficult. I asked Jason about my closest Metrorail station, Waterfront. Although the area is rich in history (including some of the oldest rowhouses in the District), to most casual observers, it's just a residential neighborhood with a lot of modern apartment buildings.
How exactly did Jason find inspiration in these sort of areas?
Some of the stations made for challenging songs to write, so I often turned to fiction (...)
For example, a young lesbian couple that lives in the Waterfront neighborhood reached out to me after the first couple of albums had been released, offering to take my wife and I on a walking tour of the area for my research. They were super nice, knowledgeable, and we had a great time. As a tribute to their kindness, I made the lyrics a story about a pirate ship with an all-female crew invading the nearby DC Office of Tax & Revenue.
Here's a sample of the lyrics to Waterfront:
With the harbor ours no residents remain
the captain charges east storming right down Maine
to the grand facade where the booty waits
ours to plunder and no one's standing guard
Oh-oh-oh-oh... yo ho ho ho ho
Since I live right off of Maine Avenue, I'm hoping Jason's pirate scenario doesn't play out. Otherwise, I'll be having to look for a new apartment.
Joking aside, though, MetroSongs succeeds in this very way: the project makes it easy for residents to relate to the area surrounding any local Metrorail station in one way or another.
Some songs touch on issues topical to urbanism and other issues that GGWash contributors write about often. Tenleytown, for example, talks about redeveloping the area:
Don’t you tear that old house down, here in Tenleytown.
It’s defenseless and you’re so senseless
To tear that old house down.
Joe’s toy shop is down the street so we can get there on our feet,
Our house on Albemarle is not too far.
Everything we need is here, groceries and lots of beer,
We don’t even need to use our car.
Jason said he hoped that with the recent press, people pay the most attention to his most recent work:
I'm hoping to focus on Volumes 7 & 8, being the most recent. 7 especially, as its focus is collaborations with other artists. It's really all my great musician friends that have made MetroSongs what it is. I couldn't have done it without them. Another of the new songs I'm especially proud of is New Carrollton from Volume 8. It's the true story of... well, the Post tells it best. Since much of what I do is somewhat goofy or quirky, I like that this one kind of stands out as a straight-ahead pop song. And it's a true story!