Reading’s for chumps. Listen to this MP3 of today’s story.
The last tones of “My Girl” fade into echoes down the Blue Line tunnel. The crowd cheers.
Three men in Santa’s hats cluster around a microphone. A guitar case is open at their feet, body full of cash. A guitar line starts.
It’s a dense beat, tambourine chaser. A vocal joins in, soon to be followed by all three. It’s “The Little Drummer Boy,” that tale of a manger hanger-on whose best and only offering to the world was a song.
Three CTA street performer permits are clipped to the lid of the guitar case full of singles, change and fives. Rum-pa-pa-pum.
The men and women of the Jackson Street stop look on. Some laugh and talk over the music. Some are entranced. Others hold up thin rectangles to record the spectacle for the Internet.
The three men in Santa hats don’t look like they mind how the audience takes their song. They don’t look like they notice much of anything. Yes, their eyes flit around, always aware and always cautious, but they’re deep in the song. Their harmonies have tucked them in; they’re nestled inside.
This is their offering to this world on this eve of Christmas or, in more honest terms, earlier in the month.
They’re singing to all of us at this crossroads. They are singing to the shirt and tie types, the young thug-looking ones headed north for tattoos and leather or south for flat-brimmed baseball caps and Beats by Dre. They sing to the moms, to the grandmas, to the old men scruffling around for the relevance they once had.
They’re singing to the little kidlings gripping their parents’ winter-gloved hands. They’re singing to the executives, the workers, the high, the low, the off-to-the-side.
They’re singing under tile and blue embellishments, under the surface of the street, under the taste of it all and their song goes to all because it’s going to Chicago. This is their gift to give.
And it’s to us.
Shall I play for you? Pa-rum-pa-pa-pum. On my drum.
They’ll later turn back into old men, their grace and swagger flittered away with the song. They’ll later cut a song short as a southbound train rumbles up.
One of the men will lean into the microphone, raspy voice trying to cut over the noise of commuters hurrying on and off the Forest Park-bound Blue.
“Thank you very much,” he’ll say. “We are The Real Connection. You can find us on the Internet, on YouTube, on ChicagoStreetMusicians.org.”
He’ll look around at the audience, now turned back into commuters headed around for their day.
“God bless you very much,” he’ll say.
But that won’t happen yet. Right now, they go into the most gorgeous harmony I’ve heard in years.
Merry Christmas from 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.