Monday, August 10, 2009

'I ain't here on business, I'm only here for fun..'

Two important reality checks tonight.

I'm coming to the end of this 'temporary life' and it has given me a renewed respect and admiration for the people who do this every day for a living. They work hard and deserve any recognition and reward they can get.

I'm just an interloper, an observer. I have, for now, the relative comfort of doing this through choice, not through necessity. I'm the one - if you'll forgive the obvious pun - that's playing here.

Obviously I'll need to find some sort of job when this is done, but that's another story.

For now, though, I wanted to acknowledge all the folks I've come across who graciously took the time to talk with me, or let me record them or just listen as they went about their daily business.

Here's the other reality check. One of the things I realize as I meet musicians around the Subway is just how great technical players a lot of them are and no matter how hard I tried or worked, I could never be in their league.

Randy De Luca is one of those.

I've always loved how the Dobro sounds, and I've been a fan of Jerry Douglas since seeing him play a couple of times with Alison Krauss and on the Transatlantic Sessions, so it was great to come across Randy on the 116th platform this morning.

We talked briefly about how good the acoustics are at 116th and how there's a sympathetic crowd "when school's in session".

He said he also enjoyed playing at 72nd, where I'd just played the other day. "I make good money there, but it's more difficult to sit down on the platform," Randy says.

He told me about the Columbia radio station and its bluegrass show, The Moonshine Show, which until recently was hosted by Matt Winters, and he also recommended some other good players I should check out, like Bob Ickes and Andy Hall. (Isn't that clip just amazing..?)

Randy is originally from New York but his Dobro, which he plays in a G tuning, is quite new and from China. "I got some things to say about that," he says. He told me he doesn't play in a band outside, but prefers playing on the subway.

I listened to him for a couple of songs until my train came, and I left feeling good. And that's what it's all about.


So I was doing the four-station catch up today, hoping to right some wrongs. How'd it all work out?

At a couple of the stations, I realized today that the platforms are just too noisy to work without an amp. Maybe I was being overly optimistic before, but at both W4th and 34th, when the trains pull in, it's just deafening.

57th Street was perfect, though. Relatively quiet - although I think the recorded platform announcements might be even more incoherent than at Bleecker Street, if that's possible - and good, resonant acoustics. And because there's only one line that runs though it, there's a little more time between trains. I played longer than the four songs I'd planned, but it was a good groove and it paid off in the end.

I went back up to 116th to finish off, and as if as a sign that I should call it a day, I broke not one, but two strings on the fourth song. An Australian woman came over to me while I was playing and said: "I've no money for you, but can I use you in my podcast?" Best pickup line all week.

Heres' today's songs:

Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan
Badlands - Bruce Springsteen
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Lakes Of Pontchartrain - Paul Brady

Money in the case? Nope.

Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan
I Will Posess Your Heart - Death Cab For Cutie
Wonderwall - Oasis
Steve's Last Ramble - Steve Earle

Money in the case? Nope.

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
The River - Bruce Springsteen
Drift Away - Dobie Gray
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Knockin' On Heavens Door - Bob Dylan (reggae version)
Rosalita - Bruce Springsteen
The Promised Land - Bruce Springsteen

Money in the case? $6. (Running total $109.24)

People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello
I Know - Kim Richey

Money in the case? Nope.
Broken strings? Yep, two..

I did manage to record a BuskerCam at 57th Street. I figured if I was going to play a little more than I said I would, I should at least have fun. And this is one of my favorite songs to sing.

And here's my equivalent of the 'Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show' moment; Bruce on the BBC's "Old Grey Whistle Test' in 1978.

I wrote earlier about my friend who lent me 'Born To Run' when I was 16. I was swept up in the romanticism and language of this beautiful poetic music about a land far away; but what Springsteen was really all about didn't become clear to me until this night. After that, I never thought of rock and roll the same way.

As Jon Stewart put it a while back after seeing Bruce at Madison Square Garden: "Do you like joy?"... and sometimes it's just as simple as that.

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