Minstrel Pain | Letters | Chicago Reader

Minstrel Pain 

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Dear editors:

I always thrill to the writerly stylings of the sly and handsome Neal Pollack, who I would call a friend, and who in the May 14 Reader argues that CTA president Frank Kruesi has better things to do than crack down on street musicians in the subway. He may have a point. But I would submit that Neal also has better things to do than attempting to characterize this nonissue as a free-speech crusade, as much as I love music--particularly good music--in spaces public and private, and here's why: most of the music performed by street musicians is criminal.

I mean, bad. Really, really bad. For five years I commuted daily to the busker-ridden Grand Avenue stop. There, after a long, crummy day, while waiting interminably for the crowded train home, nobody ever asked me or anybody else in the station if we needed some dubious guitarist's interpretation of "Tears in Heaven," "Uptown Girl," "Material Girl," "My Girl," or "Wonderful World." For what it's worth, I didn't.

OK, so nobody played "Material Girl." It could happen.

Street musicians add a definite sort of texture to the city, even those who are excruciatingly awful, and that is why they should have 100 percent free rein--of the streets. As in surface streets. Where people can stop and listen, tip them (or not), break-dance, or run in horror as they see fit. But there is no reason why Billy Bragg impersonators should have license to inflict their art upon unwilling victims with no way to escape it--especially if it sends people fleeing in agony from a cash-strapped CTA that is more than capable of repelling customers all by itself.

The point is certainly well-taken that Kruesi could focus more attention on making the bewilderingly lousy Red Line perform in a semitimely fashion. But should he ever succeed in doing so, one definite bonus for this rider would be the opportunity to actually board a train before the minstrel du jour breaks into his disco remix of "American Pie."

I like that song. But you get my meaning.

Ted Allen



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