Thursday, June 4, 2009

'Pick up my guitar and play...'

There are hundreds of musicians who play regularly in the New York Subway, and all of them have a story to tell.

From Monday, there’ll be one more.

June 8th is the one year anniversary of the day I quit my job, and 14th Street is the station I used to ride to every morning to go to work.

A hundred feet above my head, people will be going about their daily lives, but I’ll be starting a new musical journey underground.

I’m planning to play on the platform for a while to get a sense of what the city's buskers face every day and be able to tell their stories a little better. Then, for the price of a Metrocard, I’ll go wherever the music leads me; I’ll talk to the musicians it leads me to and I’ll introduce them to you.

I’ll do the same thing at a different station around the MTA map, at different times of the day, for forty-eight days.

Why 48? Well, I’m guessing that as it goes on, every day will feel like a year, so I figured I’d do one day for every year I've been around just to remind myself how good it is to be alive and able to do this.

The project is time-limited to give a sense of it being a snapshot of something vibrant that goes on constantly and will keep going after I stop. Just as we step on and off a train, who knows what we might miss at the next station? For that reason, where I begin each day will be pretty much random.

But playing at the stations is just a starting point; I’m doing this, first and foremost, to be doing something creative and be telling stories again, but also to spread the word about some of the remarkable musicians who - in most cases - make riders’ days a little brighter.

Hopefully I’ll come across a cross-section of performers, from those who are formally accredited by the MTA’s Music Under New York program, to those who freelance on the platforms.

No matter where we all come from, something has brought us to New York, and music is something that joins us all together - passengers and players alike.

And I never lose sight of the fact that while for me stepping through that turnstile is a choice, for many it's a necessity. This is how they feed their family. If just one thing comes across in this project, I hope it's the boundless respect I have for the people who do this every day.

If you bump into me in the Subway over the next three months, say hello. You’ll easily recognize me – I’ll likely be wearing a green Brooklyn Cyclones baseball cap and will have next to no money in my guitar case.

And please come back here and follow my journey. I’ll be posting under three topics: music, media and miscellany. But first and foremost, this will be about the people I meet under the city streets and the tales they tell.

You don’t have to read every day, but it might make sense from a narrative perspective if you were to hit the ‘Follow’ button in the sidebar, that way you won’t miss anything.

If you've any thoughts, questions or suggestions about what I'm doing, if you’d like me to add your local station to my list, or if you’ve seen a particularly good Subway performer that I should check out, please let me know.

I think it'll be an interesting ride.


  1. God bless, I'll be thinking about your journey and hoping it goes well. Yours is an interesting story. As a journalist here in the midwest, I can think of dozens of young journalists far more talented than myself who never got the chance that you did in your career. (not that there's anything wrong with it) Instead, they turned to freelancing, blogging, etc. and it's increasingly difficult to pick them out of a crowd of citizen journalists. Hope you'll keep them in mind during your summer of music.

  2. Marc,

    Thank you from another music lover. I'll be following your stories from here in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

    B. Nelson

  3. This sounds like an inspired journey. Best of luck.

  4. as a journalist and aspiring middle-aged guitarist, i wish you much luck and many great experiences on your tour of the underground. i'll be reading w/ great interest.

  5. Steve,
    Thinking more about your project.... I hope you take along a Flip video camera and make TV, too. Now that you're freed from print, you can tell the story in all media, eh? I'll be eager to hear these musicians. For what it's worth....

  6. Thanks all, for the encouragement. I'm as eager as you are to see how it turns out!

    Absolutely. I want to bring these stories to life as best I can.
    I've liberated the Flip I bought my daughter for Christmas and am trying it out.
    Also, there's an iPhone app called Speakeasy which creates pretty good quality MP3 files, where maybe the light isn't good enough for Flip.
    Thanks again.
    All the best;

  7. Steve, I know where you're coming from, and I admire your motivation to open your creativity and share it with us on your blog (as well as in the subways). I'm a long, long way away from you but I'll be rooting for you and watching for your posts.

    And I hope you are surprised at the generousity of NYC when you find more in your guitar case than you expected!

  8. This is such a great idea. The whole blog. I wish I would have discovered this blog at that time. It would have been so fun to follow you every day. I have always had a certain curiosity towards what the life of subway performers is like. I found your blog when I googled Thaly from 34th... After watching him play for about a month, and staring at him for the past weeks. I wondered how inappropriate it might be to walk up to him, not knowing what i'd say, or if my intentions could be misinterpreted... but somehow feeling I had to know this person's name. I finally got the guts to walk up to him and ask. :-)
    Now I find this blog. It is like a hidden treasure. I love it. So human, real.:-)

  9. You didn't play in Stage B

  10. err... thanks, but yr wrong.
    as i said, i played one gig with stage b. at the harp bar. i filled in for fletch on bass. it was owen, dessie, me and the lead singer whose name i can't remember. cheers.