By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
He noticed me spying on him, and, as an evasion, when the train came to its next stop, he ran the length of the platform and ducked into the last car. I felt foolish, but I wanted to know why he only played when people couldn't hear him. I ran after him, slipped into a seat and tried to look inconspicuous. After the doors closed he approached and peered at me through cloudy plastic lenses.
"Are you following me?"
"Well, yes." Then, I had to ask: "Why do you only play when the train is moving?"
He was relieved I wasn't a cop, but also disappointed — he thought I might be a spotter for a film crew. He didn't mind explaining: It's illegal, he said, to play music in the L.A. subway. You might think the First Amendment would have something to say about it, but the police tell him that the MTA is a private company and can make its own rules. So he was a musician who made sure he couldn't be overheard, except by those within earshot. This was truly an underground musician.
We got off the train when we reached the Lankershim station. I bought him a hot dog; he told me his story. Gary Bruner is 47 years old, and he's been making his way as a street musician for most of the past 10 years. He plays what he calls classic rock — a lot of Beatles mixed in with America and Jethro Tull, Jackson Brown and Dan Fogelberg. "That music has stood the test of time," he said.
Bruner started working the Promenade in Santa Monica, but all the other players were amplified, and besides, there were "too many rules." For the past three years, he's worked the crowds outside Staples Center as they come and go from sports events and concerts and conventions. But on days when the arena is quiet, he still has to make the $30 he needs for a bed downtown, and he knows the subway is the best place to find an audience. When things really hit bottom, he heads down to the train.
It's a dicey game. Police patrol the platforms, and even when Bruner is able to dodge them, citizens will sometimes blow the whistle on him. "There's always some guy," Bruner said, "maybe his wife ran out on him with a musician, he'll rat on me."
It was a telling statement, revealing not so much a sense of persecution — Bruner seems to be his own toughest critic — but his sense of identity. Some might regard him as a street person or a panhandler, but Bruner sees himself as a musician, seeking an audience, plying his trade. "I hate being panhandled, and I certainly don't want to be classified among 'em," he said with conviction. "I never ask for change. I only say thank you, never please."
Bruner looks back fondly on what apparently were the good old days, when he used to play frat parties in Westwood. "Drunk frat kids love live music," he said sagely. But in the near future, at least, he knows his prospects are limited. "I'm available for parties; unfortunately I don't have a pager or a number where I can be reached."
But Bruner doesn't spend much time lamenting his circumstances. There's the hotel bill to be paid, and rush-hour crowds to work. We leave the bright afternoon sun and ride the escalator down into the fluorescent gloom. Musicians are a feature of subways the world over, but Bruner will be the only troubadour on the L.A. Metro tonight.
The train arrives. Bruner steps on, unlimbers his guitar and drops his cap on the floor in front of him. As we hurtle underneath the hills toward Hollywood, Bruner strums vigorously, making his way down the center aisle, pushing his hat ahead of him with one toe. His voice is lost in the squeal of the wheels long before he reaches the end of the car.
THERE WAS A LONG LINE OF LONG faces in front of the Santa Monica Museum of Art last Friday night. Artist types waiting to hear the famous critic Dave Hickey on painter Alfred Jensen had just found out that the lecture was sold out.
Inside, every chair was filled with young, enthusiastic art students or older, established Los Angeles artists and art dealers. Nothing in between. Most likely the ä lecture was a class assignment. Coeds clutched their notebooks tightly against their chests in anticipation of the art guru and author of Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy. Bad rock & roll music played against the backdrop of Jensen's formidable psychedelic paintings. The event looked like an indoor Dead concert sans the liquor and drugs. And much more polite. "Is this a safe distance?" one earnest fan asked the guards who stood before each painting.
A young, perky girl in a pink vinyl coat, with a glowing complexion and one tasteful diamond piercing asked if the single seat beside me was taken. Her name was Rubi, with an i, she told me when I asked the obvious question, "Are you an art student?"
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