Sympathetic Nuances

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January 25, 2013 by ehempstead

As I was looking for a post to talk about–preferably something about interviews, so as to keep it relevant to the classwork–I luckily found this story on the front page of the New York Times. Titled ‘In the Subways, A Voice to Stir the Soul’, it is a feature piece by Kia Gregory about Geechee Dan, a seventy-two year old man who performs on the subways of Harlem.

The story starts with a set piece, opening the reader into the subway systems full of Dan’s soon-to-be listeners. Dan himself is described, readying himself for his performance. Gregory name drops some lyrics and songs, and I have to wonder (being unfamiliar with the nuances of the choices) why she chose to name these particular ones. She mentions “his smooth tenor”, which is good since those reading who are interested in music might want to know that basic bit of information. And, luckily, a video is present in the sidebar, which is a near-necessary supplement.

He remained seated with his arthritis, but he occasionally rocked from side to side, and shuffled his feet.

The above quote is a definite way to garner sympathy for our featured personage. I know I ‘aww’d’ as one is most likely meant to, as I’m sure many people have dealt with the subject of age in their lives and families. While this surely sounds cynical and manipulative of me to mention, you can’t deny that it’s a media trick that works. It’s the sort of thing that would surely be mentioned in a fictional story, as well.

Gregory spends some time on the reactions of those listeners, reassuring the reader that this is a positive story, and then goes to the meat of the feature using the incomparably obvious “And so, his singular story.”

Now, I said a positive story, but it does have its sadness, including the quote “You couldn’t get no poorer than we was.” The description of his living place, Tin Top Alley, is referenced to a blues song. He worked picking cotton and other crops, but cotton is mentioned singularly early on. Anyone reading this, and then looking at the picture of the obviously black Dan, would understand the history involved in that reference implicitly.

We get through to his music, and the end reminds the reader to check out his subway gig, posting the time and place. That’s good, because surely if one is in the area, the article has most likely convinced its reader to go listen at the very least. If I was to head through this subway, at least, I would have my tip ready.


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