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Cory Doctorow

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Today's Lesson

I was dreading this day, but not exactly for the same reasons why most music fans were dreading today.

My usual route to work runs right through the Staples Center neighborhood, so with all of the barricading and pilgrimage-ing going on this morning, I knew the little light rail train would be stuffed like Kielbasa with people and would likely be stopped and started at some cop's whim.

So, I tried a different way into Hollywood today.  I even left a little bit early knowing the mass of people that, like me, were also trying to avoid the melee.  I wound up driving all of the way into Union Station in downtown LA, then taking the Red Line into Hollywood.  The closest I came to the chaos was passing through the 7th street station where crowds were trying to catch the Blue Line south about seven blocks to the Staples Center.

I barely made it to work on time.  So much for planning.

The crowds outside of Graumann's Chinese, which were dwindling day by day, were back to being as swelled as they were the first weekday after Michael Jackson's death.  TV news vans were parked along Hollywood Blvd hoping to catch the right fan in the right frame of mind to say just the right thing at the right time.

I was just hoping for a quick walk to a fast lunch.

My time on the Blvd. did not end when it usually does -- circumstances kept me there a little more than an hour longer.  And while I made the best of my extra time there, I suspect someone else far above my pay grade was arranging the circumstances today.

While it is fairly rare, there are occasions when folks will board a light rail train, crack open a guitar and strum a few tunes for, essentially, a captive audience.  Hats or bags are passed with the hopes that some on that particular rail car have been paying attention and might spare a buck or two.  Now, until a five piece heavy metal band carts their gear onto a rail car and plays a rockin' set, I could not be bothered with listening to these players and was ever so thankful to have a functioning iPod on me. 

The musician on the Red Line headed back to Union Station this evening had one such musician on it.  The man was somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 years old and walked (or shuffled - it's hard to tell on the train) with a noticeable hunch.  He flipped his ballcap over and onto the floor of the car, flipped his guitar around and proceeded to sing, play and deliver patter in between each of the songs he performed.  When he finished his two songs, he walked to the other end of the car and proceeded to do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way.

At best, in the 20 minute ride, the man probably made around $5.  At the end of the line, he swung his guitar around his back, grabbed his cart and pushed it out with seemingly effortless grace, as if he were just grateful for the chance to play, sing and make a few dollars.

This, everyone, is really what it means to be a musician.  From everyone to Michael Jackson, who could have danced, played and sang to billions all at once, to this old man fighting his frailties to perform for 15 people in a Red Line car at 7 pm on a Tuesday night, anyone who wants to be considered a musician must be willing to put themselves out there on whatever passes for a stage and pour themselves out for all to see.

Rest now, Mr. Jackson.  We'll do what we can to continue 'til we see you again.

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