Washingtonians are Philistines

Toby sent me a phenomenal article that appeared in last Sunday's Post. It's quite long, but I recommend you read the entire thing and watch the videos that accompany it. Basically, The Washington Post hired one of the greatest living classical violinists, a virtuoso named Joshua Bell, to play above the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station. This grand social experiment exposed the uselessness of having Metro performers and the soulless drudgery of working for the federal government.

So here you have a genius playing mind-boggingly difficult songs only feet away from you. This is an experience that some people would probably kill for. And almost no one stopped. He was ignored. What does it say about the Metro's stupid plan to feature musicians if one of the greatest living musicians is being brushed off. If we're ignoring Joshua Bell, what are we going to do to the John Mayer clone clumsily picking at his acoustic guitar?

In the interests of full disclosure, I should note that I would probably walk right on past Mr. Bell too. Why? Well, I admit that I don't exactly have the best ear for phenomenal music. I mean, I listen to Avril Lavigne. I say it's ironic, but I'm perilously close to crossing that line. Liking her music for real is pretty shameful. (Her new album drops next week, yo. Hey! Hey! You! You! I don't like your girlfriend! I actually tried buying the Japanese version of this for my new ringtone last week. Thank God for technical difficulties.)

The other reason I'd walk right on by is that Washington gives its citizens cancer of the soul where the daily grind and death by paper cut slights and inconveniences make it impossible to appreciate anything. I thought that was just me. But this Post article seems to imply otherwise. It's everyone. I mean, check out those videos. The commuters look like cows going to the slaughter. Not even a virtuoso can brighten their day. Yeah, D.C. is awesome like that.


  1. I probably would not have recognized him, or the pieces, but if he was good, I would have noted that and stopped.

    Many metro musicians are crap, but I have been snapped out of my commute by them. The most memorable is a blues guitarist that plays(ed?) at Courthouse metro. I was on my way to work, the entire way thinking about how much I hated my job, dreaded it, hated Washington, and was generally lonely and miserable. I had seen the guy there many times, and even made eye contact and smiles. On this particular day, he was playing a bluesy rendition of a hymn my grandmother used to always sing around the house. Memories of her started to flood my mind. I'm not terribly religous, but the beauty of the song made me wish that the big JC himself was around, because I needed a shot of encouragement on this dreadful Monday. I got to my desk 5 minutes later, and it took awhile to stop the tears. 36 yo guy, what a sap, why I am here? Why do I put up with this life in this place? That day I resolved that in time, things have to change, step by step. Got ahold of myself and got to work- conference call starting...

  2. I feel confident saying I would have noticed and appreciated him.

    I am this confident because I was at Metro Center before the Wiz/Cavs game on Friday night, being assaulted by some idiot playing bad spirituals on a trumpet, which a tone-deaf lady sang the words through a bullhorn.

    In that moment, I was hoping that some citizen had taken the overturned gun ban to heart, and would stop by with a now-legal firearm to do the city a service...

    Bad music is awful for everyone. Good music at least can be ignored if you're not in the mood.

    Still I would rather the tax dollars go to hire a guy with a broom, rather than a guy with a violin.

  3. "Tall and handsome, he's got a Donny Osmond-like dose of the cutes, and, onstage, cute elides into hott."

    Gene Weingarten must have a man-crush. Two Ts in "hott?" That's no joke.

  4. Could never have happened in New York. Subway musicians here regularly attract crowds.

  5. Funny; I just read Gene's article and the first thing I did was to come here to see what you had to say about it.

  6. I would have walked right by the guy just like everyone else. I mean, I get that he's an unrivaled genius and everything, but I have zero interest in the sort of music he plays.

    If they somehow managed to resurrect Zappa and put him in L'Enfant Plaza, well, that's a different story.

    So I guess I'm a philistine too.

  7. I usually have my iPod on so I ignore the world. It's the only way I can make it to work sane.

  8. There is a great response to the Joshua Bell article by a NYC subway musician in her blog: www.SawLady.com/blog
    She interprets the situation differently from the Washington Post reporters... I thought you might find it interesting.

  9. There's an old blind guy that plays spanish guitar at Pentagon City... he's pretty damn good. I generally avoid the bums in DC like they have the plague, but I usually toss a couple bucks in this guy's case, I figure at least he's doing something useful with his time.

  10. lincolnparkerApril 09, 2007

    Is it just me, or shouldn't this make DC, like, more endearing?

    I mean honestly, we're just trying to get to work. Do we need to be chastised for not stopping to listen to the violin guy?

    My guess is that folks would have stopped and listened if he was on a sidewalk in Wichita.

  11. Seconded. New York buskers draw regular crowds, especially if they're really good, really weird, really cool, or all of the above. But whether or not you stop for a busker does depend somewhat on what you're into. In NY I'll pass that John Mayer clone without a second glance, but I'll always stop for the breakdancing mime.

  12. I'm in absolute tears here.

    I'd like to think I would have at least stopped for violin music. I'm not sure I would have recognized him, but I am dying inside (one, for having one of those govvie jobs) for having missed his playing.

  13. Screw this guy. If he's world famous, he should be a little less insecure about his craft.

  14. I only tip accordion players, the real street instrument.

    Rusty, I'm usually one of your supporters, but seriously, Avril? Yeah, she is hot in an underage mall girl way, but her latest song is such cookie cutter pop for the Proles that it's insulting. She makes Gwen Steffani look like a virtuoso.

  15. But she's a motherfucking princess!


  16. rusty rusty rusty, you would have okay with liking avril a few years ago. i admit i went as her for halloween my freshman year. [cheapest.costume.ever.] but seriously? after the hey!hey!you!you! song how can you still admit to liking something like that? how vomitocious.

  17. I tend to think the only people who stop for NYC buskers are tourists. I'm sure plenty of tourists would have stopped for him by Gallery Place or Metro Center.

    I wouldn't have stopped because on my way too and from work I am too depressed about work to stop and appreciate anything. Things would be totally different if he were playing down at the mall on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

  18. It is too too easy to make too much of this whole experiment. Sure some people are Philisitnes, and some aren't - that's true everywhere. Weingarten makes the comparison with great art - but music is very different - I can enjoy the music as I pass by the musician -- I don't have to stop and watch him play. I know that part of L'Enfant, and I am sure the people on the excalators got a good earful long before they were in sight of Bell. And why is it such a sin to not stop and stare (at music) because I have to be somewhere? (I am sure not everyone was rushing to their govt office drone jobs - some of them must have been off to help the poor at HUD or where ever.) Put Joshua Bell in Faragut Square at lunchtime (if spring ever comes back) and watch him draw acrowd (and probably take in more than $32).

  19. AnonymousMay 13, 2007

    I read the Washington Post article this morning and absolutely loved it. As a violinist, I found the actions described in the article disappointing to a high degree, yet unfortunately not surprising. Having seen Joshua Bell perform long ago, I found it painful to imagine what a once-in-a-lifetime treat I had missed by not being at L'Enfant Plaza that morning, being able to stand yards away while listening to the Bach Chaconne (which, as described, is *beyond* difficult) and after the "performance," interact with Bell, ask him the million questions I would have had at the moment (why are you here? are we being watched? is that actually your Strad? what is going on?), and hopefully get his autograph.

    Ironically, I wanted to write my own post on my website about the outcomes of that experiment which I still find frustrating and even a bit maddening. Being around DC for 7 years now, I have formed my own negative opinions about this place, but as it turns out, many people share my distaste. (A quick glance at craigslist.org can verify this.) After doing a web search about the article and "hating DC," Google brought me here!

    Anyway, know that I largely share your opinion. Of course, as always, the fault lies mainly with the *system* (i.e., the atmosphere that DC produces) rather than the individuals themselves. I'm sure some sophisticated, intelligent, artistic, and unselfish people walked past Bell. Perhaps they just *appear* to be indifferent and/or self-important.

    Although I feel the experiment was flawed, certainly none of the experimental outcomes did anything to *reverse* my already negative opinion of DC.