Monday, June 22, 2009

'Shake all the trouble from your worried mind'

I've been writing the Beat Below The Street for a couple of weeks now, but today I finally found what might be the real beat - the sort of sound you hear all the way along a subway tunnel and you're just naturally drawn to find out where it's coming from.

As you get closer you find your body naturally falling into its rhythm.

At the end of this particular passageway is Mike Alaska, one high-energy, intense percussionist, who's a mass of tattoos, drumsticks, flailing limbs and smiles.

When I asked if I could take some video, he said: "Sure, just give me a moment to get set up" and he dived down onto the track to retrieve a stick that had escaped his grip during the last workout.

Originally from Austin, Texas, Mike says he's been playing in the Subway for about five months since coming to New York after "outstaying his welcome" in Canada. "I was slaying them up there, man. They loved me," he says.

But for now he's playing about four days a week on the Subway, and getting a reputation through playing at a number of stations - "the cops move me along from time to time" - I'd heard him last week at 59th St, but I was on a train and didn't get a chance to jump out and catch him.

If you ride through midtown at all, you'll have heard him. Or you will.

And he's about to go above-ground, big time. On July 2, he's playing the half-time show at the Liberty game at Madison Square Garden.

I asked if he played in a band as well as his subterranean activity, and he said he wasn't looking to do that right now, "But I need an agent or a manager real bad."

Anyone who might be able to help can contact Mike through his MySpace page, and in addition to mine, there's plenty of videos of him on YouTube, which you can search for.

This guy rocks.


I was in need of some musical inspiration today, so I - naturally - headed off to Queens.

Steinway village in the Ditmars area of Queens was originally developed as a company town for workers of the piano company. The station was opened in 1933.

And playing there was a hard sell. It wasn't so much that the acoustics were bad, they weren't, rather that of the hundred-fifty or so people who passed by while I played, most of them seemed incredulous that anyone would actually want to play there. But I did get a couple of smiles and the odd kind word. I played for about an hour and ten minutes and made two dollars. Running total is now $17.19.

I packed up after the kids across the platform started shining a laser pointer at me.

Today's songlist:

The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen
Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen
I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
You're The World To Me - David Gray
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Tracks Of My Tears - Smokey Robinson
Tumblin' Dice - Rolling Stones
Moondance - Van Morrison
You Love The Thunder - Jackson Browne
Peace Love and Understanding - Elvis Costello
Long Time Comin' - Bruce Springsteen
Every Breath You Take - The Police
You're Still Standing There - Steve Earle


My heart goes out to anyone hurt in the crash on the DC Metro today.


  1. You said: "most of them seemed incredulous that anyone would actually want to play there"

    You want to know why?
    You probably didn't know there was a shooting at that station and somebody got killed.

    All the best,

    Saw Lady

  2. Thanks, Natalia.
    I'd be really surprised if there was even one station in the entire MTA network where there hasn't been a shooting, stabbing or other serious crime.
    I like to always look for the best in people, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt. If you expect the worst that's often what you get.
    Have a good weekend.

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