Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Sublime in the Subway

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sublime in the Subway

I had some business downtown this morning, so I was off far earlier than I usually leave to drive to work. Parking downtown is far more difficult and expensive than it is at my suburban workplace (where our office park has a free dedicated parking lot), so Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk (who works in the Loop) and I went down on the El.

As it turned out, my business downtown didn't take long to wrap up, so I was headed home (without Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk, who stayed down to work or do something equally silly) about 10:30. I must've just missed a northbound train at the Lake Street Red Line station, as it took several minutes for the next one to come. But while I was waiting, something very unusual was taking place.

I'd been standing on a fairly crowded platform for a couple of minutes when all of a sudden someone started singing "Over the Rainbow." I didn't immediately see the singer, and although one can often find busking musicians in the El, the fact that it sounded to be a capella made me initially think someone was just goofing. But the singing continued, and it didn't take me too long to spot an older man standing a ways down on the other side of the platform. From "over the Rainbow," he segued into "Mona Lisa." He had a strong but very sweet voice, which was very effectively displayed by the melodic pop he was choosing to place in his repertoire.

It was also during "Mona Lisa" that I started to notice just how quiet it had become in the subway station. There's always some noise with all the people coming and going, so it wasn't absolutely silent, but all ongoing conversation had ended, no one was talking on a cell phone, and there wasn't much more jostling and moving around than was necessary. Yet, although everyone was clearly listening, very few people were overtly acknowledging the singer. Even if people went over to put some money in his collection, they didn't do much more than walk over, drop the money in, and step away. It was so quiet, though, that when one person dropped in a couple of coins, even at 25 or 30 feet, I could hear the coins land (how else could I have known that they were coins rather than bills?). And even the heavy metal kid in the AC/DC T-shirt went over to slip him something.

The northbound train was taking its time in getting there, so I heard a few more songs, as well. He sang "Chain Gang," which immediately brought to mind the similarity of his voice to Sam Cooke's. They each had the paradox of gravity and seriousness leavened with a certain weightlessness. "Moon River" followed, and he was singing "What a Wonderful World" as the subway finally arrived. You never know the details of another person's situation, but this man certainly seemed to have far too beautiful a voice to simply sing in the subway for tips. I've since been told that he's been seen down there at various stations from time to time, so what I experienced is not that unusual. I'm sure he has his own circumstances and reasons for doing this, but whatever his story, he certainly brightened my morning.


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