Thursday, January 03, 2008
I recently unearthed a treasure given to me by a friend a few years ago -- a CD called "The Ticket" by Ron Raffel, a subway musician most New York commuters have seen at least once on the F train platform at 14th Street, where he's always bashing out songs on a beaten-up acoustic. He was recently featured in a documentary called "Downtown Locals," a scrap of which is featured on this YouTube clip. As the accompanying text explains:
Ronnie came to New York thirty years ago, leaving behind a house, a girlfriend, and a day job to pursue a career in music. Instead this led to a ten-year heroin addiction and life on the streets, eventually bringing him underground. DOWNTOWN LOCALS documents the unbreakable cycle between drug use and dependency, which makes a livelihood elsewhere impossible.
All that hardship is self-evident when you see Ron: stringy-haired, toothless and almost skeletally thin, he looks like Keith Richards without the money. But he's also animated by a preternatural rock'n'roll force, a pure, shamanistic spirit that's totally riveting, not least because it's a little bit scary to behold, in the desperate way he squeezes every note he sings like it's the last one his throat will cough up and hammers chords out of his guitar like he's working out some major demons. I once overheard him tell a guy he used to be in a band in the 1970s called Earth, but I've never been able to find any evidence of that band online. In any case, he's a local treasure, the sort of grizzled vagabond troubadour you don't typically think of as existing in our glossy Starbuckian information age. But there he is, every single day, bashing away, singing his broken heart out. Sometimes I catch just a glimpse of him as my train stops at 14th Street. When the doors open, a few stray notes drift in, that familiar wail over the roar of the trains. I don't even have to look, I can envision the way he stands upright with his foot launched forward, his face looking skyward, totally immersed. Listen to the closing chords of "I'm Just One of the People" for a undiluted taste of what Ron Raffel is all about. The dude is for real, a bona fide driftwood singer.
Love Got Its Own Way - Ron Raffel
If It's Gotta Be Like This - Ron Raffel
I'm Just One of the People - Ron Raffel
Paint Me Blue - Ron Raffel
[LEARN MORE ABOUT RON RAFFEL AND BUY HIS CD HERE]
["DOWNTOWN LOCALS" ON MYSPACE]
Posted by Lefty at 3:43 PM