Musicians in the subway are pretty common. I see them every day. Some are impressive, some not.
Last night I was leaving the gym after an especially tiring workout. My legs felt like rubber and I just didn’t feel like going down into the hot subway right away – so I caught an uptown M104 and rode it cross town and up to Columbus Circle where I caught the A train.
As I descended down to the platform, I heard singing. I thought it was a woman singing tunes by The Temptations. Often singers and performers will sing or play to backing tracks blasting from boom boxes or battery powered amps. They nearly always sing through a microphone of some sort. I usually listen for a minute and go through my usually critiques: Are they in tune and singing in the right key? Do they know the song? Is there anything different or unusual about their style?
There was something that captured my interest last night. As I looked across the platform to the other side I scanned the Friday night crowd to catch a glimpse. I couldn’t seem to find her – although I did seem to locate the direction of the sound in the large underground echo chamber that is the station at Columbus Circle.
As I looked closer I saw an old man sitting on the wooden benches, mouth moving in time to the music and I realized he was the source of the music. He completely blended in with the crowd. He sat in the bench spread legged with his hands on his knees and sang the tunes with the the background tracks.
He sang the tunes spot on and then riffed around the melody. When the tracks stopped he kept singing. He’d go right into the next song when it started. He had no microphone – so the vocal was all him. Just that old man sitting on the bench completely filling that huge underground space with the the power of his voice and his love of the music.
My train came and I left. My parting thought was how utterly natural he was. Genuine. No hype. No glitter. No effects.
Just an old man sitting on a bench doing what he was born to do.