When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

17 April 2005

Sunday in the Park with Chows

Today was one of those picture-perfect spring afternoons in New York City. The thermometer was flirting with a reading of 80 degrees, and there wasn't a cloud to be seen; everyone in Manhattan, it seemed, was staggering out of their apartments in shirtsleeves and sunglasses in search of sunlight and fresh air.

Carrie and I got our collective act together and headed out to the Washington Square Park dog run with Chow Bella and Chow Fun. We bought some bottled water at a newsstand on the way to the park, and settled in at the run for a lovely afternoon soaking up some rays.

In nice weather like this, Washington Square Park attracts buskers; a few of these guys even go to the trouble of getting permits for amplified music. As we approached the dog run, we noted that, right by the statue of Alexander Lyman Holley, one of these intrepid fellows had set up shop.

Now, I have tremendous respect and admiration for *anyone* who puts himself out there in front of the public as a performer, but I have to tell you that this guy was Not Making It for us in a deep and structural way... he seemed to be intent on proving that the entire Klassic Rock FM radio canon could be played by a rhythm guitarist (with a beatbox, no less) and as he segued from David Bowie's "Heroes" into "Sympathy for the Devil," complete with faux-Mick vocal tics, we edged to the far end of the dog run and tried to ignore it.

It was a nice day, and the music was a minor annoyance... though when he trotted out "Hotel California" and started improvising around it vocally in a minor key, I did entertain fantasies of asking him what his average hourly take was, then offering a 20% premium over that if he would just shut the fuck up and go home. Deeply uncharitable of me, but there you have it.

The afternoon wore on, and we got hungry. We moved out of the dog run to a bench in the shade, and while I sat with the dogs Carrie walked over to Mamoun's to get us falafel-and-hummus sandwiches and soft drinks.

Gradually, it penetrated my consciousness that Klassic Rock Guy had gone away, and been replaced by another hopeful busker. This new guy, however, was infinitely more interesting, musically speaking. He was performing a mix of covers and originals. The covers were tasteful (I heard him do a very credible version of Hendrix's "Little Wing") and as for the original stuff, his singer-songwriter chops were just impeccable. His delivery was soulful and jazz-inflected, his lyrics, confessional and sincere; he reminded me just a little bit (in a good way!) of Jeff Buckley.

The longer I listened, the more I liked it. The New Guy, as I thought of him in attitudes of blessed relief, was a damn sight better than acts that I'd paid good money to see in New York clubs, and he was giving it away... in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell, he was just playin' real good for free.

I mentally doubled the buck I had been planning to toss in his case on the way home, then upped it to five. Finally, as he was taking a brief breather between songs, I walked over and, noticing that he had self-produced EPs for sale, bought one and expressed my appreciation for what he was doing.

Naturally, in this Digital Era, the man has a web site. His name is dorian, and his site, in a clever musical allusion, is thedorianmode.com. If you'd like to hear some of his original music, he plays around NYC from time to time (notably at The Bitter End), and there are some tasty MP3 samples on his site.

Even though I don't know the man, "Pretending It's Not Happening" [MP3] has a definite autobiographical feel, and one of his songs, "New York Winter," [MP3] thoroughly kicked my ass, reminiscing as it does about
Walkin’ through the slush to catch an "A" train
Thinking back to those buildings before the planes
Like I said, it was a perfect spring afternoon. I got some sunshine (I'm mildly burned, actually; being one of the Whitest People Ever, that happens to me quickly) ate some good falafel, and heard some great new music.

Do yourself a favor - check dorian's site out.

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