Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We've all become accordion men

The elderly man totters onto the subway lugging a suitcase and an old accordion that looks like it might have seen service in Evita's day. He plops the flimsy luggage down, sits on it and unceremoniously begins to play. He eeks out wheezy, rushed versions of well known classical pieces, his knees opening and closing to accommodate the Slinky-like movements of the floppy instrument.

"Quien quiere; quien puede," he says, requesting donations rather unobtrusively for a street performer. ("Whoever wants; whoever can.")

The long wisps of his comb-over begin to come loose as his head lolls over accordion, his grimy fingers mechanically manipulating the blackened keys. After a few hasty numbers, he rises.

"Disculpen las molestias. Muy amable." ("Pardon the bother. Very kind.") And with that, he passes the hat and makes his way to the next car after receiving only a few scant donations.

It struck me that these days journalists are a little like these subway performers, catering to a semi-captive audience, practicing our skills for free (on the Internet) and hoping that someone will kick some money our way. And the audience enjoys it. It enriches the travel experience, but money's tight right now. You're good and all, but sorry.

When we get up and go, they'll miss us for a little while, but they'll get along. And besides, there will always be some of us entering the subway car, offering something for nothing, because perhaps our art – our writing and interviewing – is less for them and more to satisfy our own needs and feelings of responsibility.

Yet I'll add this bit, almost like a coda, which I read in the comments of a column about humanity in journalism:

"We do it to help people, to share information, to give people knowledge. To break people’s hearts and open them again, open them up to new things, new ideas." -- Amy Segreti


Emily Moberly said...

i just got caught up on your blog ... I LOVE the post about child labor. Those photos are amazing!!! And I totally know what you mean about it being different to do a story in a country that's not your own. Way to go!!! Keep it up... I love reading you stuff!!!

Amy Segreti said...

I love this so much. I view journalism as a vocation, also - as a purpose, a life purpose. Thank you for sharing your observations of the accordion player - truly exquisite.