As busking territory goes, real estate doesn’t get any more prime than the L train platform at Bedford Avenue: sometimes there’s more than one act playing there. You can tell who got there first by who’s playing closest to the Bedford Avenue exit. Last night, a little after 8, there was an enjoyably energetic blues duo – guitar and banjo – who never told the crowd who they were, but might call themselves Up We Go – playing boisterous versions of stuff like St. James Infirmary and Fool’s Paradise. They cut out at about half past the hour, right around when Walter Ego showed up.
Now there’s two kinds of buskers. Some of them are really good, because they’re always playing. The other kind – memorably chronicled by Robin Aigner in her classic The Mediocre Busker – simply won’t grow anymore, and probably shouldn’t be doing this.
Walter Ego is the the first kind. Some things he’ll tell you:
1) He wasn’t the first Walter Ego (the first was a ventriloquist’s dummy), but he is the first human one (there are several others, most recently a goth songwriter from New Brunswick with a Dostoyevsky fixation).
2) His club gigs are theatrical, with props and lots of audience participation, something that translates to his busking. Most recently, a handful of kids on the subway hired him to make up a song on the spot, using their lyrics: apparently it was a success.
3) He was a mainstay of the Banjo Jim’s scene; with that club tragically having bitten the dust, he and several others who called that place home have moved a little further west, to Otto’s Shrunken Head.
His songs are funny, and full of puns. It was nasty and muggy outside, and just as nasty down in the subway, but he fought off the heat, shifting around restlessly, projecting with more of an uneasy rasp than he typically would than if he didn’t have to sing and play his guitar over the trains’ rumble and squealing brakes. The catchiest and most tongue-in-cheek song he played was a bouncy, bluesy pop song called Don’t Take Advice from Me. Another darkly comedic one was a country song, The Magician, told from the point of view of a killjoy, “a magician who makes magic disappear.” The two darkest ones were I Am the Glass, and another possibly called Down the Hole, both instances where he took a metaphor and stretched it to its logical, cruel extreme. Some of his songs, like The Immorality Detection Machine, and Two Kinds of People, have a political edge, but in a general rather than specific way (you can picture your least favorite rightwing nut in either of these and they’ll make perfect sense). By half past nine, there were fewer trains and consequently fewer refreshing blasts of air from the Brooklyn-bound side, so it was time to call it a night. Walter Ego has some dates coming up at Otto’s; watch this space.