Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York

By Susie J. Tanenbaum | Go to book overview

1
Setting Up

January 14, 1992, 5:30 P.M., 59th Street and Lexington Avenue BMT Platform

It was rush hour and the trains were delayed. A virtual sea of people waited on the platform, but an oasis had formed around Trinidadian steel drummer Michael Gabriel and his partner Roland. With riders peering over both of his shoulders, Michael nimbly tapped the surfaces inside his fifty-gallon silver pan. Roland, who wore a large Rastafarian cap, sat on a milk crate and with a single drumstick he thumped the bottom of a white plastic construction bucket that jutted out between his legs.

I stood next to a white-haired woman in a crisp pink raincoat. "When I was expectin' my daughter," she commented to me in a melodic accent, "the musicians in my town were practicing through the night for Carnival. They were playing calypso like this and, when my daughter came out, she had the music in her blood!"

I asked her what she thought of subway music.

"It makes the waiting easier," she said. "Sometimes I don't realize I'm waiting an hour for the train!

"We need it. What do they say? Music soothes the savage breast? It's soothing. It's relaxing. I think of sandpaper on wood. Smoothes the rough edges. We need music. It's like water. Like waves on a sea. Music is a blessing.

-11-

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Underground Harmonies: Music and Politics in the Subways of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page ii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction - Venturing Down 1
  • Part 1 - Making Music Underground 9
  • 1 - Setting Up 11
  • 2 - The Beat Goes On: History 27
  • 3 - The Partners: Subway Musicians and Their Audiences 48
  • 4 - Boundaries and Bridges: Relationships in Public Space 97
  • Part II - Seeking Harmony Kunderground 123
  • 5 - Music under New York: Official Sponsorship 125
  • 6 - Sounds and Silence: Regulating Subway Music 148
  • 7 - Walking the Beat: Transit Police 170
  • 8 - Music on the Job: Subway Workers 185
  • 9 - Prospects for Change 209
  • Appendix 1 - Subway Homelessness 227
  • Appendix 2 - New York Street Music 234
  • Notes 241
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 263
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