The other night, I met up with Pascal, Lauren and Dawn Landes
down at the Mercury Lounge after Dawn's set with Lauren sitting in on a cover of one of Pascal's songs. I was bummed that I'd missed it, but it's hard to be in four places at once and I barely managed to be in the two that I made.
On the way home, we were approached by a guy named Darryl on the F train platform near the First Avenue end of the station. Darryl was sporting a twelve string and wanted to play Dawn a tune because she had her two guitars slung over her shoulders. We were all a little wary at first, but he had a good smile and a manic enthusiasm that was less scary than inviting, so we turned to listen. He broke into a version of Neil Young's Don't Let It Bring You Down, jazzy in his vocal arrangement, but slow and sweet. At the chorus, Dawn, Lauren and Pascal joined him, not quite matching up as they sang the familiar melody as opposed to his variation. The potential was there for a clash of tastes and egos, a fight to see whose version would prevail, but when Dawn Landes, and Lauren and Pascal Balthrop start singing together, all merging traffic yields to the Eldorado in the center lane and besides, Darryl is a generous busker.
Darryl started another tune and asked the ladies to sing along. We smiled because he was strumming Dream a Little Dream, which is a favorite of Lauren's and no invitation is needed when that song starts. Heads turned on the platform and curious looks emerged on the faces of weary New Yorkers as it seemed like something magical was about to happen right in front of us all; but, just as the tune was starting, an A train arrived--a little too early for once, and traveling on the wrong track; we moved to get on.
For a moment it seemed like the moment was over, but time stretched and Darryl hopped on this redirected A train and decided to take a ride with us for a while. Clearly, nothing was going the way it was supposed to, but we were all getting where we were meant to go.
On the train, Darryl explained that there is no black and there is no white when music is playing and a guy standing by the door nodded and said, "that's right" and the look in his eyes, shy but engaged, watching but hesitant to participate was the look of a man hungry to hear something positive and grateful it landed there in the car with him. Darryl turned his guitar over and showed us the photos on the flip side, a picture of John Lennon, a picture of Darryl when he was a boy with his guitar and a picture of Darryl with Ronald Reagan.
Some guitars have more stories to tell than others.
We hopped off at Jay Street to catch the F and Darryl tried to get Dawn to play his guitar, but she demurred, having already played her set at the Mercury Lounge. She told Pascal to play and he started strumming Tell The Stars, the song Dawn had covered earlier. Lauren pulled out the percussion egg she's had in her coat pocket since she bought it a few weeks ago and Dawn, Lauren and I sang the background vocals.
And an entire train station stopped, listened and broke in to applause when the tune was done. Now, I've heard Tell The Stars performed a few times and I'm sorry I missed the duet at Mercury Lounge, but I think that performance, waiting for the train to Carroll Street down below the city that doesn't sleep in the borough we call home may just have been definitive.
When the F train finally arrived, we all hugged Darryl goodbye and went home for the night. As Pascal, Lauren and I got off the car (Dawn had already exited), I handed a guy who had been watching the whole thing from Darryl's first approach to our exit, the postcard for the upcoming show at Joe's
and he looked at me gratefully and said, "thank you . . . " as if the question to "Who was that masked man?" had finally been answered