Going home from The Daily Show taping on Tues (7/15), I came across yet another subway musician. This time, it was a black woman sitting on a single speaker which pumped karaoke music from her portable CD player. Her garb and metal push-cart gave her an air of the homeless.
Her voice was incredible, singing a powerful blues song. Heartfelt, loud, piercing. I wanted to drop $20 into her hand then and there. I would hire that voice to be in The Color Purple or Smoky Joe’s Cafe. Or at least dress her in black and put her in front of a 3-piece jazz band to wail the night away.
I got a clenching feeling in my chest. Why isn’t she making the big bucks? Why doesn’t she have at least a record deal or a band to accompany her? It scares me to think that such talent goes unrewarded, and that there are many other talented people in addition to her who might not be “succeeding” in the biz. I don’t know her story – I’d like to learn the background behind many of the musicians who stake out their mini-stages down in the hot, airless tunnels of the subway system – and I don’t know if she sings for money or practice or what.
I also fear that this city (indeed, life itself) promises many things but has no room for all the talent it contains. It doesn’t take just talent and guts. It takes business sense, a desire to compromise and work with other people, and the patience to understand that lightning might strike you any day…but it also might not. You might find yourself at the age of 70 never quite accomplishing what you set out to do when you were 20.
So, if you see me singing over on 42nd street station (near the 1 train) singing showtunes, know that it wasn’t for lack of talent…maybe for a lack of something else.