Subway serenade

“Brooklyn Bridge 5 minutes,” reads the neon green lettering of the digital sign at the 59th Street subway station near Hunter College. The two subway platforms, split by dual tracks, are littered with wet people, toting dripping umbrellas or bulky raincoats. Refined gentlemen in suits and punk kids in tight jeans with Mohawks and gauges descend the stairs to the downtown platform, only to be greeted by the stagnantly warm breeze created by the arrival of the uptown 6 train.

The soft strums of a guitar echo through the tunnel as the screech of the track subsides once the uptown train has left the station. In the center of the pyramid created by the two stairwells, stands a man of average build in a long, black raincoat with a light mahogany guitar in hand. The raincoat, buttoned tight around his torso, accentuates his slender frame. Written in black marker on masking tape, on the base of the guitar, is his name: Theo Eastwind.

He rocks back and forth, right foot in front, and strums a few more chords. He bends his head forward, chin to chest, and examines his fingertips intently as they work their way up the neck of the guitar. His head pops up as he opens his mouth to begin his croon.

“All around are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces. Bright and early for the daily races. Going nowhere. Going nowhere.”

He rocks his body, right foot to left, softly with the music. His dirty blond hair is piled in a curly mess atop his head. He has a mustache and goatee to match, but of all his features the most striking is, by far, his brilliant blue eyes.

He throws his head about, from side to side, as his eyes jump from face to face of the nameless strangers on the platform. No longer sheltered by umbrellas and soggy hoods, the faceless bodies become people who rush down the stairs to the long subway platform, where they reside for the moment, until they are whisked away to another far away location. Perhaps to their apartment downtown, or to dinner at a restaurant a few stops away.

But no matter where their final destination may be they are all here, now, in these brief few minutes, listening to the guitarist’s solemn song.

“Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow. No tomorrow. No tomorrow.”

He breaks from the rocking movements and begins to flit about, unbound by his guitar case or messenger bag which are propped against the off-white tile wall of the stairway. His sporadic dance movements and high energy contrast sharply with the solemn tone of the song and attract stares from further down the platform. He appears to be least thirty years old, but dances like a teenage boy alone in his room, away from the watchful eyes of complete strangers. He doesn’t seem to care about embarrassing himself, or how he appears in public.  For Theo, the subway is his comfort zone.

Some do their best to ignore him, tuning into iPods or games on their phones. Others take passing glances before ultimately writing him off as another crazy person who plays in the subway for money. A few people make their way toward the open, welcoming messenger bag and drop a dollar or two inside, for his trouble. He whispers a breathless “thank you” between beats and continues.

“And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad. The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had. I find it hard to tell you. I find it hard to take. When people run in circles it’s a very, very mad world.”

“Mad world,” he continues softly, before he lets a raspy, rocker tone from the pit of his stomach escape.

“It’s a mad world! A mad world! A Mad, mad, mad woooorld.”

Shortly after he finishes the last syllable the downtown 6 train sweeps into the station, muffling his voice. The few who stood with their backs to the train — eyes focused steadily on his movements — turn and rush onto the train in a sea of people.

In mere seconds the platform is cleared, empty, save for one or two stragglers who sprint toward the closing train doors, barely making the cut. Some peer out from windows of the train to catch one last glimpse of the subway rock star, before continuing on with their plans for the Wednesday night, likely forgetting all about Theo’s mad world.

He is left alone on the platform as the train speeds away, and stops to plug his ears with his fingers and let out a hollowed yelp as the screech of the track reaches nails-on-chalkboard proportions.

After the noise subsides, he looks up to evaluate his audience. A few 20-somethings chattering about their weekend plans make their way down the stairs and stop several paces away. He lets out a sigh and looks away, relinquishing his grasp on his guitar so that it hangs loosely in front of him from the strap over his left shoulder. Moseying back to his belongings he rummages through his bag for a water bottle and takes a few big swigs.

Slowly, but surely, more people filter onto the platform. Content with the size of the crowd, he tosses the water bottle into this bag and starts anew.

“All around are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces. Bright and early for the daily races. Going nowhere. Going nowhere.”

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3 thoughts on “Subway serenade

  1. Theo is a NYC legend and the King of the underground. Check out his 10 rules of subway
    Artistry and know your rights about busking @
    http://CITYLORE.org
    Good accurate artical:) He looks comfortable where others are not, sharing himself and his music on a subway platform. Affirming the first amendment.
    And the Dancing is weird but you can’t stop looking at’m) lol…
    Fun Fact! Theo began busking the subway in
    1995!

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