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'MetroSongs' Musician Makes Metro His Muse

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Shortly after moving to D.C. from Florida, singer-songwriter-musician Jason Mendelson set out to compose a song inspired by every station in Metro.
Rebecca Sheir
Shortly after moving to D.C. from Florida, singer-songwriter-musician Jason Mendelson set out to compose a song inspired by every station in Metro.

Inspiration can come from pretty much anywhere and anything. And for Virginia resident Jason Mendelson, his inspiration comes from something we here in the Capital Region know extremely well: the Metro system.

Mendelson moved from Florida to the D.C. area just a few years back. Mendelson is a longtime musician — he writes and sings songs, and plays a whole scad of instruments — and since 2011, he's been on a mission to compose a song inspired by each and every station in the Metro system.

Mendelson has just released the fourth volume of "MetroSongs." He wrote and recorded this one with his band, The Open Doors. It's called "Multi-Tracking," and features nine new tracks/stations, including "Minnesota Avenue," "Deanwood," "Brookland," and "Friendship Heights."

Mendelson says he was first inspired to write songs about Metro when he learned about the 1998 renaming controversy at Washington National Airport. That led to his very first song: "National."

"I thought that was a really interesting story," he says. "And as a new resident I wanted to learn things like that about the city's history. And then I thought, 'well, there's probably a story everywhere, if I just do the research.'"

Mendelson says his original plan was to do one album per Metro line, but "that was just ridiculous, because there's so many stations on any line. Plus, I wanted to write about whatever I wanted to write about. I didn't want to be constricted to writing about a certain line."

To get inspiration for each song, Mendelson says he does much more than just ride each line and stop at each station.

"It's really about the location and history of neighborhoods and characters — both real and fictional," he explains.

"Gallery Place" was a song inspired by an actual character. Mendelson once saw a homeless man in the station, "shouting all kinds of gibberish. But one of the things he said was, 'This is America: home of the brave, home of the homeless.' And that's the first line of the song."

The inspiration for another song, "Wheaton," comes from the Wheaton escalator's position as the longest in the Western Hemisphere, and second longest in the world.

"The ride takes about two minutes and 45 seconds," explains Mendelson. "And I thought it would be kind of neat to have an interactive song. So if you start the song on your headphones at the top of the escalator and ride down, it will end at the very bottom of the escalator."

Another distinctive thing about "MetroSongs" is the way each song doesn't just capture the essence of a different station; it captures a different genre of music. The songs range from jazz to folk to blues to pop. And some songs, like "Adams Morgan," combine different international flavors.

"There's a large Latino and Middle Eastern community [in Adams Morgan]," Mendelson says. "And so I did salsa with electric sitar for that song."

Mendelson says working on "MetroSongs" hasn't just taught him a lot about his adopted city. It's also caused the former Floridian to find surprises within himself.

"I can't believe I lived in one place for 30 years, and now I have this whole playground to explore!" says Mendelson. He and The Open Doors are now more than halfway through the Metro system; they have just 41 more stations to go.

"MetroSongs, Volume 4: Multi-Tracking" by Jason Mendelson and The Open Doors is out now.


[Music: "Ice Skating at the Archives" by Jason Mendelson from Metro Songs, Vol. 2: Party Train]

Photos: MetroSongs

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