Tenleytown Immortalized in Song

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Outsiders may like to label Tenleytown and its environs as staid, but these artists found enough inspiration to capture our little neighborhood in song. Sure, none of these songs are New York, New York, but we’ll take them for now.

Musician Jason Mendelson is in the midst of a five year project to record songs about the neighborhoods around each of Metro’s 91 stations – and yes, that includes Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. Thanks to a recent profile of Mendelson by Curbed DC, we were inspired to give Mendelson’s songs a listen. And they are surprisingly good, given the subject matter.

The bluegrass-inspired Tenleytown (Don’t Tear That Old House Down), which appeared on Volume Three of the Metro Songs project, may harken back to local opposition to the construction of the Tenleytown Metro or later the row of townhouses built behind it. However, as that was before our time, we’d like to think it could be reinterpreted to capture the (healthy?) tension between Tenleytown’s desire to preserve its history and to be hailed as a modern, walkable neighborhood. Mendelson literally sings the praises of having grocery, liquor, toy, and hardware stores all within walking distance. Other listeners aren’t quite as willing to reinterpret the song; several have taken to social media to opine that it perfectly captures the old trope that Tenleytown is synonymous with anti-development. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

The song Friendship Heights is a bit less nuanced – and yes, we recognize it may be a stretch to call any song about a Metro stop nuanced. The tune from Volume 4 of the collection homes in on our neighbor to the north’s reputation for high-end shopping and the excessive spending that takes place there. Fair warning – the song is catchy enough to get stuck in your head, and you may find yourself singing “it’s boring here in D.C., I need some retail therapy” at random intervals.

You can read more about Mendelson and Metro Songs in the Curbed DC piece, as well as a story WAMU did on the project in 2013.

Metro Songs made us wonder if our neighborhood had been immortalized elsewhere in song. After a quick search, we came across two other songs – from very different artists – that tip their hat to Tenleytown and Friendship Heights.

The Walkmen, a well-regarded indie rock band formed in 2000 by graduates of St. Albans School and Maret, pays homage to the neighborhood in the hard driving Tenley Town, off the 2006 album A Hundred Miles Off. The song, however, isn’t so much about Tenleytown itself, as it is about teen (over) indulgences in the neighborhood near where the band members went to school and grew up. In researching the song, which is admittedly far outside our usual genre, we came across one commenter who singled out Tenley Town as a tragically underrated track, writing “has any song ever made you want to bare knuckle box as much as tenley town does?!” Now, we’re not sure we’ve ever wanted to bare knuckle box, but in this context we interpret the comment as high praise.

Across the musical spectrum, local rapper Wale, who grew up in and around Northwest D.C., hit it big in the District’s music scene in 2006 with his go-go influenced tracks, signing a record deal with a major label just two years later. He’s gone on to be nominated for a Grammy and numerous BET awards. His track Friendship Heights is a nod to his roots as well as a play on words, focusing not on the neighborhood but on a relationship that doesn’t quite move from friends to romance.

We haven’t uncovered any other musical tributes to Tenleytown or its immediate neighbors, but we’ll keep looking. And if you know of one, share the details with us in the comments below or at tenleytowndc@gmail.com.

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