#919: Duet

April 25th, 2018

I had seen the old man with the detergent bottle foot before, but the woman was new.

The woman was young, white and pretty in a way I find pretty — brunettes with guitars still slay me. Her voice was good too, clear and ringing over trains, bells and post-work crowdmutters. It rang through Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” through Elton John’s “Your Song,” through the most charming, pert version of Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” I’ve ever had privilege to set ears on.

The old man, as mention, I’d seen before. He was old, black and charming in the way I find charming. He was a street musician I had watched work the tunnels. His gimmick and contraption was the one-man band apparatus he had built for himself out of garbage — plastic pop bottles stuffed with pennies until they turn maraca, a long wooden spoon packing-taped to his left foot, a detergent bottle on his right one.

I had even written a story about him before, a one-sentence experimental piece that didn’t quite land but that I’m still proud of in my secret hours. I spent 492 pretentious, rambling words to get to one crystal point: I was taken aback both by the beauty of his percussion and by the purity with which he seemed to enjoy it. He seemed enraptured making music alone a year ago as Loyola commuter students failed to realize the caliber of artist they had just walked by.

A year ago, he seemed enraptured alone. A few weeks ago, he seemed positively giddy to have accompaniment.

I don’t know how the pair met, and wasn’t about to ask them to stop their concert for backstory.

I’d lie if I said they entranced the audience. Chicago was and remains a fickle beast, especially after 5 when home, dinner and bad network police procedurals await. But people watched. People recorded it on their phones. And after each pop song re-created and rebuilt buy a man strapped with garbage maracas and a woman with a guitar and a clear, ringing voice, more and more people stopped to clap and cheer. The man’s cup filled.

Another encounter on a train

Another secret of music

Men who dance

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You are currently reading #919: Duet by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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