Monday, April 09, 2007

Taking it to the streets

The Washington Post conducted a little experiment for an article where they sent Joshua Bell, a renowned violinist, into a DC metro station to busk as an anonymous musician. I found it fascinating myself because I've made a lifelong hobby of supporting unknown musicians and it appealed to the wannabe sociologist in me.

I posted on it before I read the reactions and I have to say I was surprised at how irritating other people found the piece. Sure the experiment was flawed but having busked myself for the Lost Wandering Blues Band, I can say with some authority the conclusions, although contrived, weren't entirely invalid. Anyway, it reminded me of a golden moment in my life when I witnessed the ultimate subway musician's dream come true.

The story has to be put in context to understand the enormity of the experience. I was going to see my first Red Sox game at the Fenway. My friend Michael, who lives in Cambridge, and lives and breathes the Sox, had scored great tickets and since drinking is mandatory when you're going to see the game with an Irishman, we left early and took the T into town. Mike wanted to take me on a tour of the bars of historical reference to the friend we had in common.

We started out in the basement of the Pour House, moved on to the Linwood and ended up at some locals type Irish bar just outside the Fenway zone. We didn't make into the park until the 3rd inning. We had a pocket full of vodka nips so we could buy flat sodas instead of seven dollar Budweisers to go with our Fenway franks. Needless to say, I was pretty well knees up by the time the game was over.

On the way home, the T station was so full that you had to wait in line to get down the stairs. The station was packed ten across, all the way down to the platforms and the lines only moved intermittently every few minutes when the new trains arrived. Mike and I had made it into the station and were on the landing. In the back corner, was a really old black man, noodling around on an acoustic guitar. I heard someone ahead of me say he was there after every game. It was "his" corner.

He starting singing Lean on Me. Maybe it was because I was so drunk, but I had never heard a more beautiful cover of that song and by the time he got to the verse that everybody knows by heart, the crowd had gone silent -- just listening. I don't know what came over me. I sing like a crow and I never sing in public, but I joined in on that verse and by the time I got to the second note, so had every other single person in hearing range. Six hundred people spontaneously busted out with:
You just call on me brother if you need a friend.
We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you'll understand.
We all need somebody to lean on.

The old man finished the song and everybody clapped raucously. The mood of the crowd had changed. In those fleeting seconds, we had connected as fellow men instead of rivals for the next seat on the train. It was such a Woodstock moment; it gave me goosebumps. I worked my way back through the crowd and threw five bucks into the guy's case. Everybody within range threw in some paper. By the time I turned around, you couldn't see the bottom of it.

For real street muscians, it doesn't get better than that.

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