My first showtime was last summer. I was on the subway and a bunch of young dudes got on and said, “Showtime, folks, showtime.” They cleared a space and started blasting music and did a breakdancing routine up and down the subway car. My thought, that very first time, was “Let’s not hate this.”
There were good reasons not to hate. Number 1: don’t I appreciate the performing arts? I carry around my guitar case, I’m trying to do my thing. I gotta root for some kids making a buck by breakdancing. Opposing them would make me feel like a Republican. Reason number 2: ya know, maybe it’s hip. Maybe they’re on to something. I read about previous New Yorks, New Yorks that had the Limelight and CBGB, Keith Harring’s graffitti, Basquiat walking around somewhere. My experience of New York has not really approached that kind of disco in the Wild West. Even when I play gigs, my nighttime world is pretty logistical: where to park, where to load in, which door I gotta use, which form I gotta fill out to get paid. It doesn’t really feel like a Blondie music video, exactly. So the first time a bunch of kids took over my subway car to breakdance, I tried to be receptive.
But times have changed. The breakdance invasions have gotten more frequent. You could say I’ve made an attitude adjustment. There are days now when I get 2 different “Showtime, folks” on the same trip. And I no longer strive to say “Let’s not hate this.” I’ve dropped my pretense. I hate it now.
The reason is that they take the subway car hostage. They ask everyone to move, and you just gotta deal with the music and the moves and wait for it to be over. That’s the part I hate. Sitting there, captive, trying not to be interrupted from whatever I was reading or thinking or not thinking.
But I say to myself, what about me and my band? Maybe I’m just like these kids and their breakdancing. We’re both trying to make it, right? Maybe someday I’ll be on a subway car, forcing people to listen to me play “Eruption” on a practice amp. Maybe I should say “There but for the grace of God go I” and try to love showtime.
But when I put myself out there—when I take the guitar out of the case—I never force anyone to listen who doesn’t want to. When I hand out flyers on street corners, I don’t talk trash to the people who say stuff worse than “No thanks.” I think that’s just part of it, if you want people to care about your thing. I’ve gotten 1 or 2 absolutely shitty write-ups on the interent, 1 or 2 total take-downs, but I haven’t gone on killing sprees. I’ve watched Rockwood Music Hall clear out within 30 seconds of my band’s first song, watched an entire room of people say “Yeah, no” when I start playing. I’ve shoveled my car out of the snow to play gigs where the promoter lies and there’s no sound and no one comes and everything sucks.
And when I wake up the next day, my first thought is not “How can I force people to listen to my stuff no matter how uncomfortable it is for them?” That is not my comeback strategy. Instead, I try to write songs that people will just love. I go back for more guitar lessons. I talk to the band about what we gotta do next. I try to get us all on the metronome a little tighter, try to get some better clothes, try to do some more pushups, try to learn some new chords, whatever it takes. All of this is why I feel entitled to hate showtime when I get ambushed on the subway. I don’t want to be forced to dig it.
But there was this one time. I was on an N a month or 2 ago, and a dude got on wearing headphones, standing near me at the end of the train car. He started slamdancing violently, lunging forward over and over again, in a way that let everyone know “This guy has a thing.” It was like he was headbanging from the waist. It might have been Tourette’s—I don’t know. It was intense. People looked at each other and the vibe going around was “For this 1 second we are all not jaded.” We gave Tourette’s some space.
The doors shut, the train started moving, and then, from the other end of the car, we heard “OK folks, showtime, showtime.” Near me, people’s eyes got wide. Tourette’s was in his own world, rocking back and forth. If the showtime kids were about to do what they normally do—which is get in everyone’s space—there was no telling what we were in for. It could be anything.
The showtime kids started blasting their music, and Tourette’s got this look on his face that said “Oh, fuck, nice, yes, awesome, fuck.” He started slamdancing even harder, now in time with the showtime music. And the showtime kids started their routine, but they didn’t really come all the way down the car, because it had become Tourette’s zone. They let him do his thing. Tourette’s was going wild, grinning like he was in total rapture, and I looked at him and thought “OK, let’s not hate this.”