Monday, April 9, 2007

Beauty vs. context vs. the bozos we live among

Joshua Bell busked at the L'Enfant Plaza Metro. Almost everybody ignored him. He made $32. Go read.

17 comments:

An Briosca Mor said...

I liked his comment on the $32 he made (which BTW didn't include the twenty thrown in by the one woman who knew who he was). He calculated that it worked out to $40 an hour, and he could make a living on that kind of money and wouldn't need to pay an agent. He probably should also consider that a wardrobe of sweatshirt and Nats hat would save on dry-cleaning bills, compared with his normal concert attire.

Someone posted a link to this on thesession.org, and one of the comments there was "Well, if they'd done this in the NYC subway, he wouldn't have been ignored." I don't know as I've made like two trips on the NYC subway in my life, but maybe Tes can comment on that. I think New York allows licensed buskers in the subway system, right? Whereas here busking is basically a no-no. Tangherlini had a proposal to start licensing buskers when he was interimly running Metro, but I think it got pooh-poohed by a lot of people (bozos that they are) and now he's working for Fenty so I think the busker plan is at best on the back burner, probably forgotten. People here are just not conditioned to expect or notice buskers in the subway. I know that other than the godawful sax player playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame at the top of the RFK Metro escalator, I never see any. And that guy is rightfully ignored.

Anonymous said...

Replying to 'an briosca mor':
There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog: www.SawLady.com/blog
She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.
Also, she would be the one to ask about the licensing thing.

T said...

Hmmm...I think in NYC we have a somewhat different situation, where there are so many buskers that it often seems like tourists are the biggest supporters, especially in subway stations, where the regulars are so damn sick of the same thing, evening after evening (I want to strangle Slide Guitar Man at the 8th Ave downtown entrance of the West 4th Street station!).

On the trains I think there might be a different story, where those who are doing impressive stuff like acrobatics on a moving train get the most attention and money--and kids are often involved in those performances. Ethnicity also plays a role, and I often see middle class black businesspeople pitching in for anything involving black youth.

That's all impression, though.

And I've never yet heard anyone busking playing Irish music. Occasionally old time, *always* Chinese erhu in certain stations, jazz, classical, etc.--but no Irish.

Rob said...

Ah -- that's interesting. Busking does demand quite a different style of performance practice from playing in a concert hall.

However, I'm inclined to think rush hour is a rough time for any busker, no matter how extroverted. You get exposed to more people, but everybody's in a hurry -- they might be thinking "whoa, that sounds like Joshua Bell" in passing, but they aren't in a state of being receptive to art. If you try to "work the crowd," you might get punched out.

I wonder how JB would have done if he'd been playing at the Navy Memorial at lunchtime?

Thanks to the proliferation of recorded music, the modern approach to any musical performance is to treat it as background. It's a depressing fact that most people simply aren't equipped to sit and listen with full attention to any piece of music, never mind a long complex piece of solo violin music. Again, some of those communters might have noticed the music and thought, "how nice," but as for giving it their full attention, that's just not something Americans are brought up to do. JB was working against long-term cultural and educational trends. Of course he was doomed.

Weingarten's going to do an online chat about the experiment at 1 to day on the Post website.

T said...

...not to mention it was *morning* rush hour, at L'Enfant. I wonder if the results would have been any different if he'd been at a station where people tend to be waiting for a train rather than getting off one.

An Briosca Mor said...

Re the "waiting for a train" idea: In DC, I don't think you could even attempt that, because the only place people wait for the train is on the platform, inside the farecard gates, and busking is not allowed inside the Metro system at all. If anyone tried to do this, I'm sure the station manager or the Metro police would shut them down post haste. (These are the people who arrested a kid for eating a french fry inside a station, remember?) This is why Weingarten had to choose a station that had an enclosed area that wasn't actually part of the station itself, e.g. L'Enfant Plaza.

I have in mind a counter-experiment. Some Monday night prior to the Nanny's session I'd like to set up Paganini to busk at the top of the Cleveland Park escalator. (Or perhaps on Tuesday before McGinty's at the Silver Spring Metro.) My hope would be that as he plays his own special brand of Celtic stylings, his pocket gets picked while a herd of feral cats uses his fiddle case as their own communal kitty litter box and a homeless wino snips off his ponytail to send to Locks of Love. He can't stop playing, though, because a huge crowd of admirers has surrounded him. The terrible sounds continue until he is sadly trampled by the orgasmic crowd. (Sadly for him, that is. Not for us.) Then Rebecca arrives to keen over his lifeless body, but before she can hit the high note she catches a chill from the April night air and is struck deaf and dumb, forced to seek out Diana for sign-language lessons and never to sing again. Then I would wander by and drop a worthless five punt note in his case, then head into Nanny's for a pint.

An Briosca Mor said...

PS Rob, Tes, Tina, Orion and Mary Duke adopt the cats, and they all live happily ever after.

Rob said...

A little wishful thinking there, eh John?

Appropos of nothing, my two favorite DC buskers are:

(1) The trumpet player who was at the Bethesda Metro for most of last year, who played with recorded backing music that was always in a different key from what he was playing in. I remember him doing "The Girl from Ipanema" a major third higher than his backing track, and another time he was playing the wheezy old Methodist hymn "How Great Thou Art" a fourth higher than his majestic organ accompaniment. And around Christmas I heard him do "Sleigh Ride," again a third off. It boggled the mind.

(2)A guy I saw once at the Farragut North Metro, playing electric guitar and singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand." His guitar had so much distortion on it you couldn't even hear what chords he was playing -- it sounded like static or explosions -- and he was toothlessly screaming the lyrics. "OH YEAH AH, TEH YOU SOMFIN (crashy crash crash) I FINK YOU UNDATAND." You could hear him all the way down to the bottom of the escalator. People were laughing at him. I gave him five bucks.

Rob said...

Oh, and go read Weingarten's chat.

Di said...

Don't I get a crappy role in all this! :-)

Rob said...

Ha, no kidding. Maybe you could arrange to have Pag arrested right before the orgasmic crowd tramples him. Or -- hey, MPD has contacts with DHS, right? You could have him sent to Guantanamo!

An Briosca Mor said...

Oh, Diana, I forgot to mention that when Rebecca comes to you for sign language lessons, you teach the signs to her all wrong. So that when she comes to a session and signs "Do you mind if I sit in for a few tunes on the fiddle?" it comes out as "Please smash my fiddle into little tiny bits." Does that put you in a happier place? If not, don't complain to me. Complain to Lorna!

An Briosca Mor said...

Oh, and you would get a cat too, Di.

Orion said...

Cats for everyone! John that's quite the "tail" you've spun. "Cosmic comeuppance for the merry wanksters." Rarely though does life exhibit such timing... alas.

T said...

We'd all have to train those feral cats out of their fiddle case toilet habits, though!

Di said...

I'll make sure to look up the sign for 'smithereens.' Is anyone ever going to give Nanny's one more try now that there's new ownership, etc?

Mike said...

I don't think I would have actually recognized him; indeed, I might have done something worse than just not recognizing him. I might have tossed in a buck and said something as grossly inordinate as "Dude, you're pretty good."