Rating: 4 stars (Spotlight Review)
It had been a long day in NYC and the hard part was still yet to come: the commute home. Swept along in a tide of people, I was propelled into a densely packed Penn Station to stand among other tired, sweaty and downtrodden.
Of course, as is often the case, the MTA gods had not seen fit to allow a seamless escape to our respective suburban sliver of the American Dream and trains were delayed; but, as they say, when one door closes another opens. On this day, that door would be musical entertainment, featuring the melodic duo Heth and Jed Weinstein.
Though the Weinstein’s music is similar to a style I enjoy, it contains enough subtle differences that prevent them from being written off as another clone band. I remember standing on the sidelines taking them in like I would any other subway act, but for the first time in my many years as difficult-to-impress New Yorker, this act made an impression. Not only had their music de-stressed me, but it left me wanting more—I bought a CD and signed up for their email list.
More than three years later I am thrilled to see that not only do thousands of other people see the same promise in the Weinstein brothers as I do, but someone was smart enough to do something about it. In the form of their first book, Buskers: The On-the-Streets, In-the-Trains, Off-the-Grid Memoir of Two New York City Street Musicians, the brothers Weinstein provide an inside look at being a busker—how they got there and what it takes to stay.
In memoir style, Heth and Jed take the reader back to their rocky childhood in the suburbs of New Jersey. Children of divorce and a mostly absent father, the brothers found ways to pass the time and make a buck: in the form of petty crime and low end drug dealing.
Luckily their love for music far outweighed any thoughts of becoming career criminals and the Weinstein brothers began pursuing their dream.
While on the outs with Jed over unsettled band issues and frustrated with the ever-elusive record deal, Heth needed a new way to get their music to the masses and so he began playing in the subways. Once he realized that his efforts might actually be lucrative, Heth approached his brother about joining him, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As the boys found out, taking your act to the streets is only half the battle, being tough enough to stay there is another story. In addition to needing nerves of steel to expose yourself and your craft to one of the toughest crowds in the nation, you also need balls of steel to find the strength to fight for and hold on to your turf.
With more than 40,000 emails and a legion of devoted fans, Heth and Jed have braved bitter winters, suffered through unbearable heat and even took on one of the most dangerous gangs on the east coast in pursuit of their dream.
Despite this being a book review, Jed and Heth Weinstein aren’t looking for kudos on their prose, tone or plotline. Buskers is more an affirmation of all they have endured to get where they are. Since nothing was getting handed to them, they took it upon themselves to make their own destiny.
The Weinstein’s are proof that sometimes you don’t need big business to reach the people—although it probably would’ve been just a bit warmer in winter.
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Soft Skull Press; NONE edition (June 7, 2011)