Thursday, March 27, 2008

Play an Accordion, Go to Jail

That old bumper sticker, which I'm sure was meant to be funny, always kind of bugged me.

Probably because I've always secretly liked the accordion. Sure, in unskilled hands, it's one of the few sounds in the world that makes a continuous loop of Air Supply and Christopher Cross seem like a refreshing alternative. But like its fellow air-and-finger-driven instrument the bagpipe, in the right hands it can make some of the most beautiful, traditional music out there, able to stir up emotion and bygone memories and imagery of the days of yore.

Or sometimes total ire, to the point that you wish accordion players would, indeed, be jailed.

I was squished on to the exceptionally crowded Métro ligne 9 last night trying to listen to Kanye drop some knowledge, when at some point I heard what I thought was an unfamiliar sample. "What the hell? Is that musette?" I know Mr. West recently sampled from the French by cribbing some Daft Punk for "Stronger," but what the hell was this dissonant accordion sample?

Turns out the accordion I was hearing wasn't from my iPod, but some guy at the other end of the car, playing for a hopeful (but rarely ever materializing) handful of change.

I normally don't mind this. Busking, I feel, is a fine tradition, earning a bit of spare change by entertaining passers by, showing off a bit of light in an otherwise cruel, dark world. I often throw a few centimes to sidewalk buskers in Paris or pence to the ones in the tube stations in London - a lot of whom are damn good.

But when you invade the enclosed capsule of hard working people's commutes, you're crossing the line. Already in close quarters with people sporting various levels of BO, booze breath, week-old-ashtray breath and worse, the last thing any commuter needs is someone taking up twice as much space and making ten times as much noise. It's simply poor form to try and have a captive audience like that.

I don't care how good you are at the accordion. If you're busking on a Métro car, all you're getting from me is a dirty look, and possibly the finger if I have enough room around me to raise my arm.

This is a much gentler response than I would have given five years ago. On an early morning RER train, my Australian buddies and I were headed to Versailles. I wasn't happy to be up that early. One of them had a screaming hangover. But the train ride was comfortable and smooth, smooth enough to nap (or in Tony's case, sleep it off). Until some bastard with an accordion and a little paper cup had to get on.

After five minutes, I couldn't take it. I stood up, started yelling at the guy - yelling things that at the time I didn't think were racist (but were). Somehow, my French got really convincing when I was angry and yelling, "Get the fuck out of here, you dirty Gyppo. Why don't you go get a real job instead of bothering these poor people? Go on now! Fuck off!"

I immediately felt bad after saying that, especially when he skulked off at the next stop shortly following my outburst. But I felt excused because the RER passengers broke out in applause. Feeling OK about that, I wound up doing the same thing to an accordion-playing boy somewhere around the Queensway stop in London the following week. He was probably no more than 11 years old, but - again - that didn't stop me from yelling at him, and the other passengers from cheering.

I'm older, and I think wiser now. Being relatively broke on the US dollar in a euro world, I can't imagine how rough it might be for someone who doesn't even have a proper job, working papers, et cetera. And while I think they are crossing the boundaries of respect by trying to peddle their music onboard the Métro, I have to take the high road and not get in their faces about it.

But until then, I have my outlet, and I can at least write about one of the greatest scourges of the Paris commute: The accordion-wielding GypsyRomani.

Still beats the hell out of driving, though.

1 comment:

  1. Woah, had no idea Paris has Romi (Gypsies), too. There are about half million in Serbia, and are very common in the city. Accordions? Definetly. They are popular as performers on Serbian weddings, and have left influence on Yugoslavian culture. Can't say that they annoyed me on the Metro car, because Mr Spoiled Parisman, we don't have Metro cars but busses where everyone is packed like a can of sardines. :)