Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Unsung Heroes of Transit System

Everyday, I take the New York City subway to work. It’s also not a secret that the New York City subway system is littered with street performers. Many of the performers are commissioned by the Music Under New York program that’s set up by the MTA. Some are commissioned by local churches to preach about the horrors that await you on judgment day. However, there are still plenty of performers who do it for the thrill. Sure they throw a hat in front of them and ask you to “donate,” but what’s a few cents to hear a seemingly poor person crank out some tunes on an electric guitar and amp accompanied by a beat on an iPod? And let’s not forget the group of individuals who enter a subway car with a bongo, start dancing, and are finished with enough time to not only impress you with their skill but ask for donations to their “youth group” before exiting the subway a station later. At times I’m impressed by the skill of some of these performers, and sometimes I’m appaled by it. However, there are three along my particular route that I feel deserve special mention. For (mostly) good and bad reason.

#3. The Boar

Is this his name? Probably not, but I gave it to him because he resembles…yup, you guessed it…a boar. I know; it’s terrible and offensive, but I’m gonna roll with it. He also rocks a pony tail similar to Randolph from Free Willy. Anyways, The Boar plays for the idealogical reason that I’ve come up with in my head: the thrill. He has no sign or plea, but sets up shop along a construction site and starts blasting the same 2 chords on an acoustic guitar that has many holes in it. In fact, I would not be surprised if this was a “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” kind of situation. So The Boar blasts a C chord followed by an G chord repeatedly. What’s better is that he tries to pull off making it seem like he’s performing "Master Exploder" So by now you may be asking “well what song is he playing? Is it an original piece?” And the answer to that is: I have no idea. I’m assuming it is because after listening to this gentlemen for months now, I am yet to understand a single lyric. I have come to the conclusion that he is not singing any words, but rather sounds like the result of someone plugging their nose, sticking out their tongue, and saying “ahhhhh.” I do want the best for him, and I hope he one DAY finds the words to SAY what he MAY be feeling inside. That should be his bridge.

#2 Luke Ryan

Luke is a guitarist that is commissioned in the MUNY program. He usually performs underneath Grand Central Terminal by the S train, and has more of a Southern twang sound. Unlike The Boar, however, Luke is actually not too bad. He breaks out a few smooth solos and accompanies them with some warm riffage. He also has CD’s available for purchase (I have not bought one…yet). What makes him so unique though is his character. For one, he looks like a combination of Rocco from The Boondock Saints with a biker vest and Mick Foley. Next, he has a sign with him at all times that reads “Too Weird To Live, Too Mean To Die.” I don’t know about you, but a guy that carries a (almost) Hunter S. Thompson quote with him must be, at the very least, intriguing. Not to mention the names of his songs being things like “Weasel Slapper.” Lastly, in between songs, Luke talks to the crowd with the same personality as the guy running the water shooting game at a carnival. I’m not talking about the dunking booth guy that purposely gets you pissed off so you spend more money. I’m talking about the water shooting guy that delivers compliments in a creepy voice and makes you wonder what exactly his intentions are (i.e. at a couple: “hey guy, c’mon and win a prize for your girlfriend. She’s got a backside that deserves one.”). When Luke talks to the crowd, especially to women who are appalled by him, it’s nothing short of hilarious. If you see him, he may offer you the opportunity to guess his weight for a nickel or partake in a conga line. Rock on, Luke.

# 1 The Apparition

I have seen him twice, maybe three times, but once I wanted to hear his music again and try to pin down what he sounds like, he was gone. TA (as he will be known for now) is the best musician I’ve heard in the subway system…ever. From what I remember of him, he wielded an acoustic guitar and had a very depressed tone in his music. Think Johnny Cash's version of "Hurtwith a voice between Mr. Cash and Sufjan Stevens. What makes his tale even better his that he would ONLY play music when facing a column! When turned around and facing people, he would simply stand there, but after a quick break he would turn back around, face steel, and break out into melody. As I said, I’ve only had the pleasure two or three times before he pulled a Keyser Soze and vanished. Believe me, if he comes back, I’ll be excited.

Where did you go???

1 comment:

  1. I've seen Luke at the Shuttle - like all of the Music Under NY musicians I've run into, he is very good. My favorite, though, is the 'Saw Lady'. I also see her at the Shuttle, in the afternoons. If you haven't seen her - she plays the musical saw, and she wears a t-shirt that advertises her website. In her blog she tells what happens when she plays in the subway -
    Did you ever see her?