CALLING B.S. ON YOUR “ART”

Commuters traversing the Lexington Passage of Grand Central Station are serenaded daily by a rotating lineup of musicians. It’s not typical busker fare–folkie spiders who haven’t bothered to download the tabulations for any music recorded after Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush; Guatemalans with cheap woodwind instruments miraculously worsening the love theme from Titanic which I guess must be the Guatemalan national anthem; three ancient black guys harmonizing to “Under the Boardwalk”; a crazy lady shuffling through your train car in plastic bag shoes, and singing church songs at the top of her papery lungs.

Instead, as you weave and strong-arm your way through the train station to be the first in line for whatever, your selfish quest for efficiency might be accompanied by some bluegrass music or a pretty cello solo bouncing off the tiled walls. If you aren’t too wrapped up in your Blackberry (Crackberry is more like it!) you might even pause for a moment and think about how lucky you are to live/work/txt in here.

I usually get to hear whatever musical selections the Metro North Railroad Endowment for the Arts has decided to schedule because the performers are stationed directly across the corridor from the spot where I procure espresso, tea and muffinery. So, if you’re listening MNREA, please believe me when I say you really need to fire the guy who plays along to Johnny Cash CDs.

I’m not sure if it was some kind of committee oversight or a flawed but well-meaning initiative to introduce elderly musicians into the busker rotation, but this guy is a total dud. He doesn’t have the fire! I watched him for about ten minutes, during which he sat on a low stool looking bored, while a Johnny Cash CD played from a small, trebly boombox. He wasn’t even singing along! Occasionally, usually when a large crowd of people happened to be passing by, he would give the guitar one feeble strum or burp out an off-key attempt at the tail end of a verse–”…him diiiiie.” Other than that, nothing. Just a fat guy in a cowboy hat, listening to music very loudly in a public space. Under normal conditions, he would be fined for creating a public nuisance. Here, however, he was an “artist.”

I did feel it was important to try and understand this guy, even as I prayed for his dismissal. Whenever I see him perform, it’s late afternoon; that perfect 3:48pm moment that drags you, bored, from your office chair to get a coffee you don’t need. Maybe the old, fat cowboy treats his job as most people treat theirs. When he punches in, he’s playing those Johnny Cash songs, and singing with even more conviction than Mr. Cash himself. Maybe he’s even turning the backing track way down because, hell, he doesn’t need it. But this is a day job and, well, people often get distracted at work. Most drift over to Facebook, or start instant messaging their pals. Maybe they’re sifting through the latest online pet videos. By the end of the day, their productivity has slowed down so much they only have work documents on their computer so they can quickly alt-tab to them when a superior walks by. Really, this is not that much different than the Johnny Cash sing-along artist giving a half-assed show of musicianship when a large group passes. Then it’s back to business as usual: the business of doing very little and counting down the hours until yoga class.

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