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Monday, April 23, 2012


So I get on the Times Square shuttle and this guy is sitting there with an electronic piano taking up three seats and noodling extremely loudly. He was not a particularly good noodler either. If a cat had chased a
squirrel onto the keyboard it would have come closer to tuneful. He wasn't playing jazz music, where you can hit a bunch of wrong notes and claim you did it on purpose because you were trying to form a complicated dissonance. Plus he had a tip jar there and I thought: Jesus he should be paying ME to suffer through these non-musical stylings- At least make him swipe his metro card twice more for taking up three seats. I took a couple dollars out of his jar just to cover my expenses.

That early in the morning I just want to be left alone with my thoughts. After a little time alone with me, my thoughts tactfully find another place to be. After I wake up and trudge out of the train into the station, the Judy Collins lady is chirping away with her very thin, wan, nails-on-a-blackboard voice, which sends me into a sneezing fit. I've looked at her from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, I want to brain her with a golf umbrella.

Sometimes playing in the station is the blues singer dude, who is actually pretty good. His voice sounds like 30 yards of unpaved gravel, so it's hard to tell when he is actually singing and when his setting forth a snarky diatribe about how cheap we commuters are. He has an air of authenticity, and if you can see somebody's air you're probably standing too close. I'm not absolutely positive he is the real deal, since he is not skinny. I think to REALLY LIVE the blues, you have to have missed a meal once in a while. I wouldn't qualify since although I've missed a meal here and there, it can usually be attributed to bad aim.

Now and then there is a lady singing a capella REALLY loud. Today she was singing, “Killing Me Softly With Your Song,” which might have been true if only the homicide were quieter. If this annoying lady actually appears on the coroner’s report as my cause of death you heard it here first. The songs sound vaguely religious but it's hard to decipher it through her Island patois. My only experience with religious music is when we used to sing "Jesus Loves Me, Yes I Know" in Sunday School. How do I know Jesus loves me? 'Cause the Bible tells me so! All you have to do is read the Bible and Jesus will LOVE you! How many people would commit to that? You can have a zillion friends on Facebook who “like” you, but if they had a button for "love" they would run for the hills, no offense.

Jesus loves everyone the same amount, too, it’s very suspicious. It's like when you are a parent and you have to pretend you love all your children the same, when EVEN YOU have to admit that one of them is a complete mini-douche who should be on house arrest with an ankle bracelet. I want Jesus to love me less than, say, Mother Theresa, but more than, say, Hitler. That seems fair.

The street musician guy who wears a gold crown is an enigma. He plays an extraordinarily tinny-sounding guitar, and sings in an extraordinarily tinny-sounding voice. I guess it’s a Caribbean thing, the whole crown-wearing thing. I suppose he certainly could be the actual leader of a small island nation somewhere, somewhere where the subjects are too loyal to tell him he can’t sing, but he looks like he just took his family to Burger King. The kingdom also needs a new PA- the station announcer blaring, “THE NEXT TRAIN WILL DEPART FROM TRACK FOUR” had better tonal quality.

A real subway treat is the Ebony Hillbillies. These guys can really play. Energetic bluegrass music, even in the morning, can literally put a smile on your face. The fiddle player is so talented. The percussion guy plays the washboard, and he has the abs to prove it. Between him and the guy who plays washtub bass, their laundry has probably gone to shit, but check them out, these cats are a lot of fun.

This is not a musical act, at least yet, but I did see a small crowd gather around a housecat who was perched on top of a guy wearing a hat. I took a photo of him, and a lady yelled, “TIP HIM!” So I did and he almost fell right off. I quickly realized he meant a cash tip, but I had no idea whether I should tip the guy or the cat, or how much. The guy was just standing there doing nothing, but then again, so was the cat. The service wasn’t that great, since my dinner had not even arrived yet, not that I ordered one.

People kept coming up and paying the guy so they could take their photograph. I walked up and whispered to him that I wanted a piece of the action, for doing nothing. He told me to take a friggin’ walk. I patiently explained the situation to him, and he reluctantly issued an apology and struck a deal with me. In the end, he gave me twenty-five bucks and I kept my laser pointer in my pocket.

Incidentally, the term “bluegrass” music was popularized by the Blue Grass Boys, a band started by Bill Monroe in 1939. Once Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatts joined the band, its popularity took off, in some part due to Scruggs’ innovative three-finger picking style, which I sometimes use on my nose. What used to be called “hillbilly music” or “mountain music” now had an iconic sound, and enjoyed nationwide popularity. Monroe named his band after his home state of Kentucky, the “Blue Grass State.” Had Bill Monroe discovered bluegrass music while playing guitar on my lawn, it would have been known as “crabgrass music.”

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