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  • JOE CROW RYAN: It's very important to be able to

  • exercise indifference to anything if you're going to

  • enjoy your stay in Brooklyn.

  • And we know you're not all from here.

  • And that's OK.

  • We're famous for that.

  • Thank you.

  • [WHISTLING]

  • JUSTIN REMER: In 2007, I saw Joe playing at his stop at the

  • Metropolitan G train stop, and he pretty much said to me, in

  • not so many words, that he was homeless.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: A lot of the songs I sing don't come from

  • me personally.

  • They're characters who are singing the song.

  • But it comes from my understanding of truth.

  • JUSTIN REMER: He's doing something that's so totally

  • his own that it catches your attention.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: And I always thought that somehow, poverty

  • was a virtue.

  • So being in a level of performance that's not

  • particularly remunerative, I do make barely

  • enough to get by.

  • But that somehow suits my temperament.

  • If there is a will of God, if there is a "supposed to be,"

  • what you're doing right now, what I'm doing right now is

  • what I'm supposed to be doing.

  • STATION ATTENDANT: Gentleman with the baggage, you need to

  • come over here.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: A voice from above.

  • Are there any requests?

  • Hi, I'm Joe Crow Ryan.

  • I'm a busker in New York City, and a performer in general.

  • Train solo!

  • NARRATOR: Joe Crow Ryan, born Joseph W. Ryan, came into this

  • world on August 6th, 1955.

  • He hails from 183rd Street in the Bronx.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: My mom died when I was 13.

  • And when I was 15, we moved to Rockland County.

  • I started playing guitar a little bit and totally sucked.

  • Then I got another guitar while I was in high school,

  • and I wrote my first song.

  • I wrote a love song for my girlfriend, and she begged me,

  • please don't play that in front of people.

  • Not because it was a horrible song, but because I didn't

  • realize I was just inept and inadequate as a

  • performer at the time.

  • But guitar, I played it a little bit for a long enough

  • time that I eventually became competent.

  • Yeah, I'd always like the odd-ball performers because

  • nobody else really cared for them.

  • They were weird.

  • And I liked it a lot and tried to get my friends to listen,

  • and nobody was really impressed with that.

  • But, I guess it formed me as being a

  • different kind of musician.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: Oh, my gosh.

  • Jobs in my life.

  • Well, my first real job was before we

  • moved out of the Bronx.

  • I was a delivery boy for a drug store.

  • I worked at about four Friendly Ice Cream stores.

  • And I've worked in a couple of nursing homes and a good

  • handful of hospitals as a nurse assistant.

  • Well, I liked working in the hospital because it was a nice

  • thing to do for people.

  • They needed help.

  • Again, it's, you know, person to person, and it's

  • also kind of macho.

  • Like I don't think that Arnold Schwarzenegger has ever wiped

  • poop off anybody's butt.

  • I don't think he's ever cleaned a homeless lady in an

  • emergency room.

  • I'd worked there for about four years, this North Shore

  • University Hospital.

  • And then, they came to us one day and said, we're going to

  • have a new personnel program called re-engineering.

  • What I heard was re-engineering.

  • The first thought was, I'm not a machine, OK.

  • And then I noticed that even though the insurance companies

  • weren't paying for the day before surgery and

  • establishing the healing milieu, they would pay for end

  • of life extension.

  • So I noticed this, and I mentioned

  • it to the head nurse.

  • I said, you know, 26 to 32 are all people who should be dead.

  • You know, it's their time.

  • That just is weird, isn't it?

  • It's not right.

  • She said, well, yeah, it's kind of--

  • that is funny.

  • But then the next day, the head nurse of all head nurses

  • in the hospital called me to her office and in essence

  • said, well, maybe you should take a month off.

  • So I let that pass, and I talked with the psychiatric

  • nurse, and she wanted to prescribe medicine for me

  • right away.

  • I said, I don't need medicine.

  • Let's talk.

  • So we got into the idea of stages of life, end stage of

  • life, and also got into the idea of re-engineering.

  • Because that did bother me, and I explained to her that

  • I'm not a machine.

  • I'm a human.

  • And she said, but it's just a word.

  • And I said, but it means something.

  • And then I asked her, I said, have you

  • ever read Kurt Vonnegut?

  • And she said, no, what does that have to do with anything?

  • And I said, you know--

  • I'm done with jobs.

  • Jobs are done with me.

  • Who would hire me?

  • If somebody wanted to hire me, they could come over to me and

  • tell me, "Joe Crow, I would like to hire you." I'm not

  • gonna go out to a stranger and say, "Hi, I'm pretending to be

  • somebody who you'd like to hire, and I'm pretending

  • you're somebody I would like to work for." That's not it.

  • It works out because otherwise, I'd be a nurse.

  • But the outcome of this experience

  • was, I became homeless.

  • NARRATOR: From April to September of 2007, Joe was

  • left homeless and slept in both Prospect Park and the

  • Brooklyn subways.

  • [SINGING "WILL THE CIRCLE BE UNBROKEN"]

  • JUSTIN REMER: In 2007, I saw Joe playing at his stop at the

  • Metropolitan G train stop.

  • And I was talking to him, and he pretty much said to me, in

  • not so many words, that he was homeless.

  • The apartment that he'd been living in, he couldn't afford

  • to stay in anymore, so he didn't have anywhere to go.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: And Justin was there one night, and I asked

  • if he had a couch.

  • JUSTIN REMER: I decided to give him a couch to crash on

  • for a time.

  • And the place that he had been working with, he had had a

  • conflict with them, and basically, it ended in a

  • pay-off, which wound up being enough for him to actually pay

  • rent at my apartment for five months.

  • And one of my other roommates moved out right at that time,

  • so Joe moved in.

  • And we've been roommates since then.

  • So, five years as my roommate.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: I was talking with a young woman at Project

  • Parlor recently.

  • She loves Doctor Zhivago.

  • And we were talking a little bit about Doctor Zhivago.

  • And she said, oh yeah, I have a copy of it.

  • I watch it every year.

  • And I said, oh, I saw that in the movie theater.

  • And I thought, oh, yeah, I am older than you, aren't I?

  • JUSTIN REMER: But don't feel too bad because I felt the

  • same way talking about Total Recall, the original, the

  • other day, so we're both old.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: Yeah.

  • [LAUGHTER]

  • JUSTIN REMER: Joe is just the kind of guy.

  • He's a ham.

  • Like he's always playing music.

  • He's always telling his stories.

  • So if you're in the apartment, Joe is there, giving you his

  • Joe Crow goodness.

  • [SINGING]

  • JUSTIN REMER: It became the kind of thing where me and my

  • roommates would say to teach other, like, it's a shame.

  • Joe really needs to be documented, like we need to

  • have Joe Crow on CD or something.

  • [SINGING]

  • JUSTIN REMER: And apparently, we must've been thinking at

  • the same time as another friend of ours, named Michael

  • Campbell, who had said to Joe, "Joe, I'm getting you in the

  • studio, and I'm gonna record you."

  • [SINGING "DID YOU PUT A SPELL ON ME?"]

  • JUSTIN REMER: And Michael recorded Joe.

  • In one day, he knocked out like 25 songs, I wanna say?

  • So, what we did is, one of my other friends Doug, who plays

  • in my band, he went to the subway, and he started

  • recording Joe on the subway.

  • And we also started recording his shows at the sidewalk.

  • And we started to mix them all up, and the CDs are a mixture

  • of that studio stuff that Michael did, live shows that

  • we got, and also, just Joe playing in the subway, which

  • is kind of Joe in his element.

  • [SINGING "DID YOU PUT A SPELL ON ME?"]

  • JUSTIN REMER: And Joe gave it to me and was like, what do

  • you think, do you wanna help me put this out?

  • And I listened to it, and I thought it was great.

  • NARRATOR: Joe Crow Ryan and Justin Remer are currently

  • working on their third album, which is titled This Machine

  • Kills Purists, Volume Three, Part One, No More Ironing.

  • It is currently scheduled to be released

  • in the fall of 2012.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: By the way, tonight's subway busk--

  • I am Joe Crow Ryan, I should mention.

  • I'm Joe Crow Ryan.

  • Tonight's Sunday busk is in celebration of the release of

  • a single, a digital single.

  • And I have free download slips for that.

  • If you'd like to hear the song, "My Arrest."

  • It might be a little while yet to the next train, so I'll

  • proceed to play "My Arrest." We'll take

  • questions after the song.

  • Whether there are questions or not, we'll take them.

  • JUSTIN REMER: So, the day before May Day, we had about

  • bunch of cops bust down our door.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: About five or six plainclothes warrant

  • detectives came into our apartment and woke us up.

  • JUSTIN REMER: Like they didn't ask to come in.

  • We were asleep.

  • It was like 6:00 in the morning.

  • They bust down our door.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: I think these guys were all intelligence,

  • NYPD intelligence assigned to warrants for this maneuver.

  • JUSTIN REMER: They rouse us all out of bed.

  • They round us up in the living room, and then they start

  • reading through warrants, and then they're like,

  • is Joseph Ryan here?

  • And then he's like, I'm Joseph Ryan.

  • And they're like, OK, well we're here for you.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: I said, well look, I knew--

  • I thought I was going to be going to

  • Schermerhorn Jail for 24 hours.

  • That's what I thought was gonna happen.

  • And they put me in handcuffs, got me into the car.

  • And the first thing they started asking was about my

  • roommate Zach.

  • So he said, well, is he doing anything for May Day?

  • I said, I don't think so.

  • They said, well isn't he one of those Occupieds?

  • Isn't he gonna be at an Occupy event?

  • I said, no, Zach is not in Occupy, which he's not.

  • It turns out, he doesn't even like Occupy on Facebook.

  • JUSTIN REMER: And then, meanwhile, they took my

  • roommate off to another room, the one who'd been arrested

  • before, to interrogate him about May Day.

  • So that was why they were there.

  • But the reason they claim they were there was for this

  • five-year-old open beer ticket.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: Like I had drunk beer outside in 2007,

  • and I stopped drinking in September 28th, 2007.

  • And I haven't drunk alcohol since.

  • Thank you.

  • JUSTIN REMER: And that's the thing, is that when Joe moved

  • into my apartment, he gave up booze.

  • And he's actually stayed sober without a program, which is

  • kind of an achievement.

  • JOE CROW RYAN: So, Ray Kelly had no idea I was, A, alive,

  • B, living here.

  • If I had $50 to pay for the summonses--

  • didn't matter to him, all he wanted--

  • and I'll tell you, this Ray Kelly, and you

  • tell me if I'm wrong.

  • You just wanted your intelligence people to get

  • into the houses of the six people who were arrested at

  • this party that was escalated into a riot.