Saturday, August 15, 2015

Enigma in an alley

     If you look down enough alleys in Chicago, you will eventually see a cellist in a bowler hat. 
     I know this is true, based on personal experience. Friday evening at the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival, going on this weekend in Rogers Park, I was doing something utterly mundane: trying to help my younger son find a bathroom. We were proceeding up Glenwood Avenue, when I heard the distinctive sound of cello, turned my head to the left, and saw this tableau.
     When you are confronted with something enigmatic, you can do one of two things. You can either keep going about your business, accepting the gift of its mystery. Or you can investigate, plunge into the thicket, push aside the leaves of the puzzle and try to find the truth within. The former is probably the better path for a life imbued with tantalizing possibility and, even, magic. Had I kept walking, i would forever wonder, and never know when I might glance inside a parking garage and see someone juggling, or hear the flute coming from within a ComEd service vault.  
     But given my personality, and the demands of my trade, I usually take the latter route. My thinking at the moment is, if I don't find out now, I'll never know. I wordlessly handed my glass of watermelon lemonade to my son and went over and approached the man in the derby hat.

     Ryan P. Carney. From St. Charles. Indiana University grad. Plays bass with the folk group, Antony and the Tramps. Opened for Spoon at Taste of Chicago last year, carried by WXRT. Was playing in the alley at that moment for the very prosaic reason that he needed to warm up before Antony and the Tramps went onstage. 
     Of course. Thank you. It all made perfect sense. Which is why, afterward, I was a little sorry I asked. Not to take anything away from Ryan Carney: he was politeness itself. But the truth can be overrated. It's a human desire to want to know the story behind a situation. The explanation falls short of the delightful possibility. You break open a seashell, looking for the source of the swooshing sea, and all you find in your palm are shards of broken shell. 


  1. Despite the somewhat disappointing outcome of your conversation, the unexpected sound and sight of a musician rehearsing in an alley still adds a touch of magic to a day.

  2. It's still different.

  3. For some reason the link on Antony and the Tramps leads to one of your Hammered and Nailed columns. Entertaining re-read, but I'm not catching the relation to this post.

  4. Great photo and an interesting story. You never know what you'll discover in these situations, and that's worth asking the questions. I love this kind of stuff.

  5. "Plays bass with the folk group. "Antony and the Tramps." Yet he was warming up on a cello.

    Care to explain.

    That you might have "forever wondered" is an interesting conceit, but the possibilities seem limited, Banished to the alley because the wife is cello averse? Prefers the outdoor acoustic?

    Tom Evans

    1. I guess he was playing the cello that night. Or maybe the bass was on stage and the cello easier to drag into the alley. Should I ask him?

    2. He plays both w the band, but it appears that bass is his main. He's playing the cello like a bass player would. Acoustic strings need more warming up than electric ones, and with the heat the tuning would be all over the place. So a warm up is necessary, and the alley was probably quieter w more room. Cellos need lots of space.

  6. amazing, Nikki, you have a trained musical eye as well as ear

  7. "Shards of broken shell," hell. Great little story, and good for you for unearthing it.

    IU has long had a reputation for having the best music school of any state university in the U.S. Good to know that hasn't changed.

  8. I hope you remain delighted by this little vignette, Neil. It's a wonderful photo -- and I know his great-aunts!


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