The Sweet Music of New York's Streets and Subways
Sounds that I never expected to hear. Plus recs for Oobah Butler on Amazon, Tommy McNamara on talking, and Claire Salinda on surfing.
I was in New York City this week for my last big comedy show of the year. It’s hard to believe that 2024 is almost here. It’s also hard to believe how many musical experiences I had over the course of 4 days.
I don’t mean going to an actual concert or a Broadway show. I mean the kind of music that can only be produced spontaneously.
One night, heading back from a dinner near my brother’s apartment, I settled in for a long train ride uptown. One stop in, a very, very drunk man got on the train and sat next to me. At first, I tensed up and got ready to move out of danger. But then it became clear this man cared about only one thing and it was listening to the music on his bluetooth earbuds. I’m not sure exactly what song he was rocking out to, but I know without a doubt that he was INTO IT. Every other lyric, he would yell out a slurred couple of words.
“HERRRRE WE GOIN NOW!”, “IT’S GOIN!”, or “YEAH YEAH LET’S GO!”
A drunk man shouting his favorite song lyrics on the subway is nothing new or remarkable. It certainly wouldn’t merit a Bright Spots mention, except that this man elevated the genre to a whole new level by keeping the drum beat by banging the back of his head again the side of the train.
He did not seem to be in any pain. I don’t think he was causing any permanent injury. But he was keeping the tempo with his skull against metal. And he was doing it vigorously enough that one of his earbuds repeatedly flew out of his ear. Each time it happened, he would scramble to look for it and be unable to find it. One of the rest of us in the subway car would point at it on the ground and he would give that person a giant drunk smile, make a fist and give them a pound, pick up the earbud, and continue using his cranium as a metronome.
It was a beautiful moment that frankly should be used in a commercial for the MTA.
Other musical moments of note:
After my comedy show, as I was catching up with friends outside the theater, a dance crew walked down the street carrying a full wireless PA system, set it up on the sidewalk, and started dance battling.
I got a ride from a cab driver who insisted on showing me photos of his favorite slices of pizza on his phone while driving. At one point, it switched to a video of an animated slice of pizza singing and he said “don’t worry about that.”
I was walking through NYU’s campus kind of late at night when I realized a guy was following me. Or at least I thought he was. I sped up and tried to avoid contact until I realize that he, much like my subway friend, was also extremely drunk. But this was a college student who was loudly and emotionally singing Radiohead’s “Creep.” Nothing like being scared of someone only to discover that they are on the verge of tears while singing “I’m a weirdo” into the cold night wind.
As you can tell, it was a great visit. Love New York City. Love music. Love pizza. Five stars all around.
My projects and upcoming events:
PODCAST: How to Be a Better Human (TED/PRX)- This was the final episode of Season 3! A conversation with one of my favorite people on the planet, 101-year-old (about to turn 102) world champion swimmer Maurine Kornfeld. Listen here
This week’s list
Oobah Butler is an English filmmaker and author who thrives on breaking the rules. He first became famous for The Shed at Dulwich, a fake restaurant he created as a way of exploring how far he could manipulate TripAdvisor reviews, that eventually became the #1 rated restaurant in London, despite not existing. He’s done of ton of experiments using lookalikes. He infiltrated Paris Fashion Week. But his newest project is both hilarious and profound. He’s bringing attention to the way gig economy workers are treated by running an elaborate fraud against Amazon and documenting the whole thing. If you’re in the UK, you can watch the whole thing.
Tommy McNamara’s comedy songs always make me laugh. I love how he throws himself 100% into the music. His funny, self-deprecating charm comes across so clearly. He’s one of those performers that you just want to spend time with. He’s got a new special out and here’s a very silly song from it: I’m Too Drunk to Talk to You
Claire Salinda is a writer who also helps run the Surfrider Foundation and works as a coach with INTRSXTN Surf, a collective of Black women and WOC surfers. Where surfing can sometimes be an exclusionary and intimidating world, Claire is working to make it more open. She’s also sharing what she finds most meaningful about spending time out in the waves. This week she wrote a moving, lyrical essay for the LA Times: I have lived the most beautiful lives and died the most beautiful deaths
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That's it for this week. Thanks for reading! Please share Bright Spots with anyone you think might enjoy it.
Hitting send with the bones of my cranium,
This has been Bright Spots, a newsletter.
…wait, who are you?
I'm Chris Duffy, a comedian, TV writer, podcast host, and both a former fifth grade teacher and a former fifth grade student. I’m currently writing a nonfiction book about humor for Doubleday.