Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Toothless and the Subway Preachers

Every day I take the subway to get to work. I drive or walk to the station, then I squeeze into a crowded subway car. Some stations have musicians busking for cash, and others have... street preachers!

Years ago, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority banished street preachers from subway stations, because people were irritated by these screaming luantics, who seemed to have no sense and no care that some people's ears were hurting from hearing their echoing, loud, and annoying voices.

The Subway authority welcomes musical performers, and has strict rules on volume -- nobody is allowed to be louder than the PA system, because people need to hear that for safety instructions.

Some street preachers figured out a clever way to get around the ban, though. They applied for musical performance permits, and entered the subway with guitars in hand. Unfortunately, for music lovers, none of these people seemed to know how to play their guitars, or at least could not play an actual song on them. These street preachers in musician's wool, would literally just strum one or two chords, and preach, although, thankfully, they maintained a volume that was tolerable. Many street preachers still do this today, and recently I met an interesting character.

I call him Toothless. Toothless is an older Afro-American man, with greying hair and a children's size guitar. Yes, he has no teeth. He plays the blues really well, and can belt out a soulful, rousing tenor voice. His voice is really awesome... but sadly, he never uses it much. He has kind of a crazy look to his face, and literally just sits there, strumming random chords on the guitar, and saying "priase the lord" over and over and over again. I sat there for an extended period while a disabled train forced my car to stay in the station for an extra 10 minutes. Toothless started out with a real great blues song, "Oooooooh, Lord, what shall I dooooo? Ooooooooh Lord, what shall I dooooooooo? Lord I'm so down, I don't know whaaaaaaat to do!"

His voice is somewhere between Winonie Harris and Bullmoose Jackson, and he really plays his tiny guitar like a pro, but he only does it for about a verse or two, then he breaks out into just preaching the same few sentences over and over again. Part of me wants to tell him to go away, but the few times he belts out that voice makes me want to coach him and cultivate that talent so he can draw more donations from the crowd.

Even as a non-believer, I'd love to give him some advice and see if he tries it out. I really want to hear him sing the blues. I've thought about talking to him, and giving him an idea, like taking a psalm from the Bible, and just turning it into the lyrics of a blues song -- many great lamentations are found in the Bible, and in fact, many blues singers have used the Bible as a source for song lyrics. He could just take a few verses, and set them to Blues music, and Bang, he can mix blues with street preaching in a way that could be unique and creative.

Yeah -- I would like to do that, even though I'm an atheist and can't stand preachers. I think the guy has talent that just needs to be focussed. He seems dazed and confused the way he is now.

Too many people who want to preach on the streets or in the subway have no talent for it. That's what's really annoying. People like Jed Smock, the great grandfather of modern confrontational street preaching is largely an untalented man who figured that just screaming and ranting to get attention from people got him an audience. Sure -- if you act like a maniac, many people will watch you, in the same way that people watch a crazy drunken person -- they watch them to avoid them, or to make sure that they do not get too close and have to call the police for help.

If street preachers are going to get music permits to play in subways and parks, they should at least have some talent, first. I mean, they should at least be able to play a few songs competently. Nothing is worse than a person who gets a permit to perform in a public place, who has no musical intentions whatsoever. I remember one Street Preacher guy who just had a Karaoke box, and he'd stand there and sing Gospel songs. At least he sang and carried a tune, for crying out loud. Nowadays, we get people who don't even try to sing. They just blatantly use the musicians' permit to street preach to something that is barely music. The city only gives out so many permits, and these losers are taking permits away from actual talented musicians who really play good music. Some of the actual musicians, whose permits are being taken by shill street preacher musicians, need the money that comes from handouts.

I heard that some preachers in New York have taken street-preaching to new levels of infamy. They are actually boarding the subway cars in small groups of 3-to-6 people, and when the doors close and the train starts moving, they stand up and start the fire-and-brimstone screaming. Reports are athat these people are pretty much hated by New Yorks's subway riders, and the police have been unable to identify them and prevent them from breaking the subways's rules (it's against the rules to yell in a subway car or create a scene), because they all get off at the next stop, and board a different train.

It wouldn't be so bad if these street preachers had a sense of personal space and respect for people's ears. The screaching of the train's wheels and the clackety-clack noise of the tracks is irritating enough. To have a bunch of people start jumping up and down, screaming and trying to be louder than the noise of the train, can literally create hell in a subway car.


Jason said...

A few years ago I heard a radio report about a large group of Baptists who had taken it upon themselves to convert the Jews, because they love the Jews and don't want them to go to hell. A response from a Jewish leader was something like, "We'd like a little less love and a little more respect."

Tell me about it.

TiradeFaction said...

I hate to rely on public transportation myself, I prefer independent transportation (my own car) to get to point A to B.

GamingAsshole said...

Public transportation in California is okay, but it is nothing like what they have in Europe or even in places like Utah. I still use it though.

Pocket Nerd said...

Some street preachers figured out a clever way to get around the ban, though. They applied for musical performance permits, and entered the subway with guitars in hand.

The Liars for Jesus strike again. Why are the people who claim to be the sole authorized guardians of public morality are so often amoral creeps?

David W. Irish said...

I'd assume it's because when you're battling the armies of Satan, it's okay to lie to them, (because they're just evil, after all) especially if it helps you with promoting Christianity.