Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Flashback: The subway singer

(Readers note: the guy who types Euro Like Me has skipped town, so the Blog Drone 2000XdW will be posting a few of his old journal entries for him. I'd like to dedicate this one to Stacy, wherever she may be....)

March 1, 2004

Two weeks before Christmas, Adinah and I were swimming upstream against a tide of Manhattanism in the Thirty-Fourth Street F station. She was asleep and strapped into the stroller, I was on foot and on edge. Somehow through the crush of people, I heard some street musicians flirting with the beginning of a tune I thought I recognized. Let’s stop and listen, I thought.

The singer was a pretty black girl—twenty-two maybe, long straight hair, wearing jeans, a sweater, black suspenders, and a smile as big as Brandy’s. She was working a tough crowd. Hardly anyone had stopped to listen to her, but she was thanking everyone within hearing range anyway. Upbeat and invulnerable, she paced the dank concrete floor of the station, and started into Christina Aguilera’s “You Are Beautiful.”

The casual reader will be aware of this song—a stoopidly catchy teen power ballad allegedly about being freakish—and may, as I do, believe that it sounds sorta perverse (and patronizing) coming out of the mouth of a tiny millionaire and former Mouskateer who is currently working a look best described as skank `ho at a piercing convention. Coming from a Barbie doll diva who has simply changed her style while she continues to broadcast the blur of melisma and kiddy-porn music critics call “teen pop,” “You Are Beautiful” is less a hymn to non-conformity than a rationalization of Xtina’s latest makeover. I’m saying.

But the subway singer crooned it defiantly at the indifferent mass rushing by her, as if she was singing it to herself, a mantra she repeated to keep herself warm. She was weaving gold out of garbage, until “You Are Beautiful” was.

I pulled the stroller over, unzipped her day-glo pink snowsuit a little and woke Adinah. I wanted her to see this strong black heroine singing her heart out. I thought, “This is what I want Adinah to remember about New York and her time here.” The poetry of the scene—the frenzy of the crowd, the unrequited tenderness in the singer’s voice, the faint light in Adinah’s waking eyes—everything fused together. Then the cast of characters got transposed and I was singing to Adinah,

“ ‘Cuz you are beautiful
In every single way.”

I love this city and I love the life I’m living and I love this little girl and all the beauty that seems to just blossom around her.

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