Wednesday, August 12, 2009

'If I wander til I die, may I know whose hand I'm in..'

The final day.

This has really been a lot of fun, full of great characters, and at the same time, a sobering lesson in just how tough a life it is to make a living playing underground. There were days I'd come home exhausted after only playing for a couple of hours in the noise and the heat and the dust. Anyone who does this full-time and makes it work has my complete respect.

At the end of 48 days, I collected a total of $110.24 for the Robin Hood Foundation, which will be doubled up after I send them a check in the next few days.

There was a time in my previous life when I would earn about twice that in a day, and I know of people who make more than that in an hour. But those numbers are just measures of our usefulness at a particular point in time, not our true value.

Thank you to all my fellow New Yorkers who threw a dollar or some change in my case along the way. I'm glad I was able to move you to feel better, even for a couple of minutes. Please continue to support Subway musicians.

I don't pretend to have any talent at all, but I love music and I love to play. Some of the people I came across are just tremendous musicians and deserve wider recognition. There were times when I just wasn't able to communicate with the performers as well as I'd like, while some others - despite their public persona - didn't want to talk or allow me to film them. Every single day was always interesting. The cops and MTA officials I encountered along the way were overwhelmingly good-natured.

Part of the appeal of this was the idea of randomness; that by starting at a different station each day I would encounter music at different places across the city, and I tried as far as possible to get a good cross-section of neighborhoods. I was also keen that whatever I did should be time-limited, since busking has been going on long before I showed up and will continue long after I'm gone.

It's part of what keeps the city vibrant, and vital. You literally don't know what you're going to see around the next corner, or at the next station.

A couple of web sites that I came across very late in the day, are definitely worth checking out: The Busker's Handbook has a nice, witty approach to the subject, while Nick Broad's excellent Undercover NY is a wonderful near-encyclopedic reference covering performers in New York and cities everywhere. If you're at all interested in the artists who perform on the streets, I'd encourage you to take a look.

I'd also totally recommend "Subwayland", Randy Kennedy's collection of brilliant New York Times columns. While not specifically about music, it gives you a great insight into the sort of characters who inhabit the netherworld.

Thanks to everyone who emailed or commented on the posts. Your support was very much appreciated. Thanks also, particularly to my family, especially Mrs B, for their encouragement and patience while I was doing this. I know they're anxious to see what comes next. So am I.


Today was one of those days I was reminded of why I'm glad I live here. Nothing remarkable, just a realization that this is the greatest city in the world and anything is possible.


Even on the final day, there seemed to be music everywhere I turned. Outside the ferry terminal an acappella group called Select Blendz were serenading one of the security guards on her break.

Then when I was walking around Battery Park, I saw Andre Small and his friend, African drummers. Since it was drummers who jumped on my train that day and planted the seed of this idea in my head, I was happy that drummers happened to be the last performers I end up mentioning.


The station at Brooklyn Bridge is one of those that should be a lot more fun to play at than it actually is. There are plenty of tunnels and crosswalks, but the platform itself is busy and noisy and hot.

It was important for me to come here to finish, though, since I now consider myself a Brooklynite, and it's special being on the water and crossing the bridge. I walked across today after I played, and got caught in just an unremitting downpour - one of those where it's pointless running, since you're not going to get any wetter.

It was almost as if I needed a really long shower today...

Today's songlist:

Here Comes The Sun - Beatles
Bad Moon Rising - John Fogerty
Johnny Strikes Up The Band - Warren Zevon
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
Welfare Music - Bottle Rockets
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Keep On Rockin' In The Free World - Neil Young
Blood Brothers - Bruce Springsteen

I also played one additional song at two above-ground locations today; on the Staten Island Ferry and in Battery Park. The latter makes the last BuskerCam:

And here - finally - is Peter Bradley Adams, with his beautiful song about being out of place and at odds with a world that may have passed you by. There's something about this song that reaches down inside your soul, and I can't remotely hope to do it justice.

Thanks again for following the blog. I hope you've had as much fun reading it as I've had doing it.


  1. Hi Steve, Sorry to see your adventure come to a close. I have enjoyed following your observations and experiments this summer. It has opened my eyes to many of the artists around me here in Chicago. Surprising how beautiful things being done by talented people can meld into the background if you're walking to fast to your next appointment. Thanks for an interesting summer. Fred

  2. Congratulations on a job well done and congratulations on having the skill, nerve and spirit to even take it on. I look forward to continued reading.

  3. Thanks very much, both. Your support was very much appreciated!

  4. Hi Steve, I haven't been around the last couple of days but I knew you must be finishing around now. Brilliant project hon, and I'm so glad you are going to develop it out. Best thing since, well, naked analyst of the week I think. Truthfully, loved every blog. And gorgeous song to end on. Miss you all btw, J xx