Thursday, January 03, 2008

Raffel Ticket

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




Anonymous said...

Very cool. I love learning about these people in the subway I see often but don't know anything about. Lots of talent out there.
At the 14th street subway I often see the 'Saw Lady' - in her blog ( she tells a lot about different people she sees in the subway when she plays her musical saw there. Now I will look for Ron.
Happy 2008!

Anonymous said...

I went to high school with Ronnie in Baltimore. He rode a Triumph 650 and sang in a high band called "Luicifer's Mother" and then in the early 70's a band called "Riff Raff". He was a troubled soul with a passion for music. He could sit down and play classical piano and then play the blues on a harmonic. I have not seen or heard from him in over 35 years.

Matthew said...

I don't know if you still read this blog, but if you see this, I would love to get a copy of Ron Raffel's album "The Ticket." I played it incessantly for years and then I scratched it, and there was no easy way to buy another except to try to find Ron, which I never managed to do.