Friday, January 25, 2008

Street Music

Some of the best live music I've ever heard has come from atop (or even beneath) the street. From my trip to New Orleans in October of 2003 where the best jazz I heard was the street musicians in Jackson Square to last night with the keyboardist/singer in Union Square subway station, I cannot walk by a street musician without stopping to listen.

Street music always seems to get to people, exponentially more than whatever noise is in their earbuds. I don't know if it's the power of live music -- which is undeniable, but a post for another time -- or the genuine surprise to be hearing something with such high quality juxtaposed so closely against the riffraff, but people actually stop and listen and typically enjoy what they hear, assuming what they hear is decent.

Watching by-standers' reactions is a testament to the power of music. I've seen grown men swell up at a solo violin in the tunnel between Times Square and Port Authority; I've seen (and been among those) gaggles of folk in business attire let trains pass by without them on it just to listen to another song in Union Square. I've had to swim through the masses gathered around anywhere the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble plays.

In a fast-paced world (and what is New York City but a world unto itself) where people are noticeably frustrated if they can't take the exact route -- step for step -- they feel is fasted to transfer from one train to the other (when there is no train waiting and the extra twelve steps isn't the difference between making it and missing it), it's amazing to watch that music can really get people to slow down and enjoy their lives for whatever brief moment.

I've bought a number of CDs from these street musicians over the years. They're never as good as the live thing, even the dixieland band that recorded their CD live in New Orleans to try to capture the live sensation. It isn't that the music isn't as good on CD, but the experience isn't. What makes it so amazing is the unexpected nature of it. It's the fact that you actually have to stop and listen and that, unlike headphones, the real band can't come with you wherever you go.

I never learn my lesson from the less-than-stellar CDs I buy; I still buy more. I really wish I could sit down with them and talk to them and say, "I'm a musician, too, and what you do is what I want to do. I want to see my musician physically change people instantly on a daily basis." (Of course, I'd like to get paid a little more for it than, y'know, nothing...) But I can't stop and have a conversation with these people, and I like them to know that I support what they do and I appreciate them. So the really good ones who don't have CDs for sale, I pop a dollar or two in their cases, give them a nod, and go on my way.

I usually follow these street concerts with silence; I turn off my own portable audio and just let myself hold on to the fleeting moments of the sounds I just heard.

And within minutes, I forget everything from the performance except the feeling of it. And then even that fades within hours. Until the next concert I stumble upon, of course.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Beethoven and Single Malt

Sometimes life throws little moments of perfection in with the hectic-ness of day-to-day living.

For me, it’s sitting on my sofa with my roommate sitting on the chair in the same room, ignoring everything around me, listening to Beethoven while reading the score, sipping a single malt scotch.

Following the future

Today, I followed future-me home.


I was on the subway when a man came on to the train and sat down right in front of me. For some reason I did not immediately understand, I was fascinated by this man and could not take my eyes off of him. Three stops later, this man pulled out his gloves. They were the identical gloves I wear. He put them on. One stops later still, he pulled out his hat. Again, the identical hat of mine. Then I looked down to find more similarities -- he was wearing the identical footwear.

Then I realized why I was inexplicably drawn to this man -- he is me. This was future me.

He even handled the annoying kid with the tennis racket (who almost hit him twice, by the way) in a similar way to how I imagined I would.

I was elated when he got off at my stop.

I decided I was going to follow him and see where future me took me. So I trailed -- a few people behind, never fewer than 8 feet between us.

He walked like I do -- with purpose and direction, obviously having already planned the exact route he was to take out of the station and home. He managed to sneak through cracks of people, successfully swimming upstream in spite of his taller-than-average build.

He got out at the northern most exit of the uptown 86th street stop. He walked north on Lexington -- and just kept walking. I wondered what the fates would bring me while following this man. Will he bring me by my ex-girlfriend's place? No -- she lives on 94th and we were on a local and then he would just go to 96th. As we continued to walk up, I kept thinking. Well, he got on at Union Square with me. Maybe he's a creature of habit -- he is me, after all -- and got on the first train to come and usually takes an express and gets off at 86th so he decided to, anyway. I know that's what I'd do!

I followed, still 5-to-10 feet behind, as we hit a red light at 89th street. I slowed my pace and looked into a shop window trying to make sure my following wasn't noticed. Hmm. Like me, a creature of habit, always going the same direction and taking the same route. But unlike me, stopping at a red light. I NEVER do that! I just go the direction the lights tell me...unless he lives between Lexington and 3rd...

We made it up to 90th street. He crossed and turned right. I turned right without crossing so I could still see him but not be right behind him. He kept walking.

Turns out future-me lives a block away from where present-me lives. He lives on 90th between 1st and 2nd.

For some reason, I got great comfort in the fact that future-me is so close to current-me.

Maybe I'll run into future-me again. Maybe I'll talk to future-me once.

But for now, I'll just fill in my own story and live vicariously through the picture of future-me I decide to paint. Just like the real future-me.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

And now presenting our special guest...

This is not the obligatory New Years' post. This is not a reflective post looking back at the year past -- mostly because I'd like to forget the first six months of it. I don't want to think about where I was a year ago, and I don't care to think how far I've come. I wake up every morning (well, it's morning somewhere when I wake up every day), I get out of bed willingly, and I do my thing. That's all I need to know...

This is a post about how great it is to be unexpected somewhere.

That's right; I'm human, and I'm a slight whore for attention. I don't do anything out of the ordinary to get it...most of the time. I mean, I am a performer by trade, but that isn't about attention.

So what do I do? I show up places unexpectedly. People who don't expect me are always happy to see me, with the notable exception of ex-girlfriends. (And even one of those was happy to unexpectedly see me once...)

Tonight, for example, I showed up at three different places where the people didn't expect me. I worked the crowd. And then I left and went on to the next. (Now, I hit Cancun after a 7:30 am flight...which means a 5 am wake-up...with a 2 am sleep, that means...hey! full night sleep!)

Even in my performance, I prefer to be a special guest to the headliner. (Okay -- it's been so long since I've been a headliner that I can't back that up...not even anecdotally.) But I have enjoyed my 'special guest' status as sitting in on one or two tunes here and there. I would like to play more often, and as a regular member of someone's band, but that's an entry for another day.

For now, I am going to enjoy the fact that I surprised people -- in a good way -- tonight, and now can get a few hours of sleep before I head off to a sunny and warm part of the world for a week...even if I'd secretly rather be back in New York.

Happy New Year. May you all find a 2008 calendar in your price range.