Last night I was leaving work and there was this singer/songwriter I remembered from the R train, years ago, doing a hack-job of Led Zeppelin covers. Now his ponytail is gray and greasy, and he’s got that hard-set thing in his face no botox ever would get out, not that he’s buying. And he gives me that look, the look the subway guys give working musicians, that says Fuck you, you sold out and I’m still free, here, with my dream and my music.
They tell me, these musicians, they make a great living there, underground..breathing metal-flecked putrid air, sucking it up, sweating it out in the summer sludge, with the little puffs of cool every time the car doors open. Not as tough as it was back in the pre-air-conditioned day, when it took a good month of frost before the impacted summer air became breathable. When playing the subways was like boot-camp and only the strong survived.
So the guy asks me how my gig was, whether I’m still playing with the same guitarist, and I try to be cool and distant and respectful and feel no bitterness in my pocket with the c-bill and then he breaks into Landslide, a tearjerker for sure, but not many shillers on this platform…a tough crowd, the 3 AM Times Square uptown 2 riders wrung dry from their shift. And I hear myself silently humming the harmony, all sweet and nice, even though I hate that Stevie Nicks and her hippy dresses.
And one of the waitresses from my gig comes up behind me—a new one, from Brixton, my old haunt in London—just as some hunched-over beggar-woman is coming up with that tilted-head thing, and the hand held out—she grabs me, says these people make fuck-all more than I do in a shift—and brings me back to reality.
The other night on PBS they showed that Central Park rally from 1982—the anti-nuke thing with all the hippies and people who had marched from everywhere to converge at this massive Woodstocky event with a political agenda, and I have to say it turned my stomach. I mean, I am all for world peace, and I might have even been there in my home-grown cotton slip, smoking dope with my schoolmates-- but what I can’t stand is people who walk up hills and then have to talk about it. People that walk 800 miles and want you to give them money. We all walk 800 miles maybe every fucking week, and we’re not barking in your face to give me some money because of course we don’t want to get blown up or because our friend has some disease and we want you to believe we’re a fucking martyr for walking of our own free will and not actually doing our frigging job. I wonder if these walkers use some of the raised money to buy themselves a Gatorade, or to stop at Whole Foods for an overpriced tofu salad. Fuck them all.
When I got home I was looking at this book of jazz photos and there’s this great shot of some famous horn player—a white guy this time… walking up this hill in LA that makes you swear it’s San Francisco. And the caption says the photographer knew he needed a fix, but he did the shoot anyway, walking up that hill, with his jacket over his arm, his shirtsleeves rolled up, ready…and if you look close it’s not the sun squint in his eyes it’s the whole sick cycle of fifths, with every other major 7th the needle.You can feel his song, the horn line underneath his breath, in black and white a song that says something like woke up this morning in someone else’s life….A real musician, like they don’t make them anymore. Walking up the goddam hill for the photographer.