I descended the stairs into the subway station at Union Square after a long, if uneventful, day of errands, music, and work. My feet were aching and I had switched my mind to “autopilot” for the ride home, which I hoped would be short. I was absentmindedly digging in my purse for my notebook; I’m a compulsive list maker, and I figured I’d sketch out the next day’s schedule while on the subway.
That’s when I heard the music. Now, it’s not unusual to hear music in the New York City subway. It is a bit unusual, however, to hear really good music in the New York City subway. A sweet and gravelly female voice caught my ear and I walked closer, making my way through the crowd of people who had gathered to listen. The crowd was a cross-section of the city itself, filled with New York night-shifters of all ages and colors. I tossed some money in the open guitar case and took a flier. The band was called The Bill Murray Experience.
The members of the band all looked to be in their early 20s and they were playing blues and jazz standards. Backed by bass, banjo and guitar, the singer was also playing the washboard; her time was excellent, she was dead in tune, and most of all, she was performing with a palpable sense of joy. In fact, everyone in the band was swinging hard, and they all seemed to be having a great time. (Below: a YouTube clip of The Bill Murray Experience busking in Washington Square Park this summer.)
It takes something pretty special to make a crowd of tired, homeward-bound New Yorkers stop and pay attention, which is exactly what the Bill Murray Experience did. We all stood and listened to tunes like “St. Louis Blues” and “Shine,” totally engaged in the present moment. The Bill Murray Experience transformed the Union Square subway station into a 1920s-era speakeasy of sorts. Their exuberance was a reminder that the music of life is everywhere and that great beauty lives in the ordinary. So much for “autopilot.”
As a compulsive list-maker, I’ve added another item to my list of “Things I Love About New York”: on the most unremarkable of days, just when I least expect it, New York can provide a moment of Total. Consciousness. So I got that goin’ for me…which is nice.