Fred Gillen Jr.

Fuel for the Revolution

This is my blog. I started it back in 1998 when the term "blog" was new and I'd certainly never heard of it. At the time I didn't know I was blogging, I just wanted to post some non- edited pieces I'd written in my notebooks. I do not revise or censor this material in any way. Please feel free to email me through the "contact" page on this site if you have anything to say about what you read here.


Matt Turk and I have been playing in the NYC subways as part of the Music Under New York (MUNY) program. We had to submit a CD, be selected to audition, and then be selected for inclusion. about 200 artists submitted for the 20 available slots. Everybody who plays down there is great at what they do, and we are honored to be a part of the program.

Generally speaking the NYPD officers we've encountered have been in our corner. We have a case full of money and I think they keep an eye out, give us thumbs up when they like the music or even drop a buck in the case. There have been times when things have gone down and suspects have been apprehended in the station when we're playing, mostly pretty minor situations. We haven't seen any big crimes go down or big bad guys get caught, but there have been minor situations. It is my feeling that generally the police officers pride themselves on being able to do their difficult job in as invisible and transparent a way as possible. They want people to feel safe and I think they mainly make people feel safe by keeping things "normal." They catch a lot of bad guys without any of us seeing or noticing, which is no small feat. They keep things cool and diffuse a lot of sticky situations. They are "part of the neighborhood" in the subways, so to speak. We've played in stations where it was obvious there was some tension and trouble brewing and the cops have never asked us to stop playing and they've never seemed anything but ok with us being there, and I've always felt pretty sure that if it was unsafe they'd tell us so and try to get us out of harm's way if possible. (and I'd be grateful for the heads up.) They seem to have our backs and yet stay totally out of our way. One time some police officers asked to see our credential and they were extremely polite about it and then just said thanks and carry on. Mostly the cops, both NYPD and MTA, are friendly and try to blend in to the neighborhood, while keeping an eye on things. Overall the cops have really earned my respect and trust.

We recently, in the thick of the holiday season, set up to play, as scheduled, at the 50th Street Rockefeller Center Station, on the mezzanine level. We figured it would be a good, busy time to play that station. We were a few songs in when a cop came and told us we had to shut down. When Matt presented our credential she wouldn't read it and he had to read it to her. She said she didn't care and that we had to shut down and that amplification was illegal in all NYC subway stations. (We had just, on our way there, passed a blues singer, a Jazz group, and a Native American musician all using the same amps we use at other locations.) In the end Matt was told that we could play without the amps, leave, or she'd arrest and fine us. That station was too loud to sing for three hours in without a microphone so we left. When we asked why we had to shut down we were told they were "checking bags." When pressed she explained that the police were searching passengers bags randomly. She also told us that our permit to play at that location and time didn't matter because if there was "police business" the police could override that and make us leave, and that we were only allowed there in the first place by the "courtesy of the police" and didn't have a "right" to be there. She was impolite, inflexible, dismissive, and treated us like we were committing a crime and she was letting us go.

It cost me $25 in train & subway fare and parking to be there. I had authorization from the Metropolitan Transit Authority to be there. We are a part of the cultural landscape of New York. (Generally 20 to 30 tourists photograph us per 3 hour set, because we are such a part of the New York City they want to show to the people back home.) When I got home I looked up the codes for subway performers in and out of the MUNY program. Amplification is absolutely legal in any of the mezzanine areas MUNY schedules us at. (the few exceptions to this are in the MUNY handbook and Matt and I avoid those locations anyway because we'd blow our voices out...) So the statement that "it is illegal to amplify anywhere in the subways" was false. The statement that the police could shut us down if there was "official police business" was true and normally we'd have no problem complying with whatever the police told us to do because like I said before they are clearly and thankfully in our corner. So what remains is a question:

Do we want to live in a society where randomly searching tourists bags constitutes "normal police business" and where that type of search overrides our civil rights? This type of search is done under the philosophy that fear keeps society safe. This is a new para-military style of policing. It is disrespectful to the NYPD. It is disrespectful to New Yorkers going about their business. It is disrespectful to tourists and those tourists go home and tell their families that New York City must not be safe because they are searching people's bags. We subway performers are a part of the cultural landscape of New York and what this cop was telling us, in essence, was that in order to effectively keep NY safe the police needed to remove the cultural lanscape so that they could have a clean, empty area to police. This is unacceptable, unnecessary, and most of all a great disrespect to the many NYPD officers we run into every day who keep the city, INCLUDING its cultural landscape, safe so we can all enjoy the New York we've come to love, not a police state. This is the New York that most of the cops also love and take pride in. To ask our local police to be the goons of Homeland Security is an outrage and a disgrace to their honorable badges. The government expects us to believe that searching people's bags at Rockefeller Center is keeping us "safe from terrorists." It looks a whole lot to me like putting on a show.

Thursday, December 27th 2007

 04/29/2023     Last Thoughts on Covid
 03/14/2023     March 2023
 03/14/2023     BLM, Covid, ALM
 02/8/2023     Fitting In
 12/4/2022     Addiction
 11/4/2022     Small Talk
 10/3/2022     Every Bullet
 10/3/2022     Order and Chaos
 07/20/2022     Childbirth
 06/6/2022     Breakup Songs
 05/26/2022     Thoughts and Prayers
 05/26/2022     Pro
 05/26/2022     Guns and Capitalism
 04/30/2022     World Religions
 02/14/2022     Spotify
 06/26/2021     Civil Disobedience for Climate Justice Verses the Power of Song
 05/28/2021     Art work IS work!
 05/24/2021     Healthcare
 12/28/2020     Inauguration Day
 11/6/2020     Facebook Community Standards
 11/3/2020     Masks, Red Arrows, and Entitlement
 07/29/2020     Stella Immanuel
 05/8/2020     Respect the Elders
 03/24/2020     Buddha, Jesus, Patriarchy, President
 03/21/2020     Covid 19 Virus Days
 09/13/2019     9/11
 05/13/2019     Look to the Kids
 07/4/2018     Independence Day 2018
 05/20/2018     Abortion and Guns
 05/2/2018     Civil Disobedience
 12/1/2017     Price of Progress
 01/28/2017     Prayer for America
 05/27/2014     "Free" music
 12/30/2013     Happy New Year
 09/26/2013     Ignorant Bliss
 11/29/2012     Gillen & Turk 2008 Opening for Todd Rungren
 08/27/2012     Shallow Money Trench
 06/22/2012     Crazy Horse
 05/9/2012     Talk
 01/19/2012     Freedom
 12/31/2011     Happy New Year
 12/13/2011     Men of Business
 11/19/2011     WAR
 11/18/2011     Earth And Spirit
 10/10/2011     Occupy Wall Street
 10/6/2011     Independence
 09/20/2011     Anger and Love
 09/6/2011     You Can't Have Everything
 09/1/2011     The Instruments
 08/30/2011     Fathers
 08/2/2011     On Being An Artist
 05/11/2011     Speaking The Truth
 04/25/2011     Tuning the lead vocal
 03/17/2011     Instilling Values
 01/14/2011     The Current Music Business
 11/5/2010     Even The Air
 10/19/2010     Rednecks, Racism, This-ism, that-ism
 09/8/2010     9/11
 07/18/2010     Being Ecumenical
 07/6/2010     Dust
 06/30/2010     Gay Rights/ Marriage
 03/11/2010     The heart
 03/11/2010     Culture
 01/5/2010     Coats
 12/11/2009     Pete Seeger
 12/2/2009     Environmental Protest Songs
 10/5/2009     Adam & Eve
 06/18/2009     The World Rolls Along
 06/11/2009     Clearwater
 06/10/2009     The World Rolls Along
 06/10/2009     War Machine
 06/9/2009     alternative media
 06/9/2009     alternative media
 05/14/2008     God
 02/24/2008     broke
 02/11/2008     HOPE MACHINE
 01/6/2008     Dennis Kucinich
==>12/27/2007     NYPD
 10/4/2007     Mitakuye Oyasin
 05/21/2007     The Past
 04/15/2007     Kurt Vonnegut, Indian Point
 10/8/2006     God
 06/26/2006     From the Pe Sla -the heart of the heart of Lakota sacred land -the Black Hills of South Dakota
 06/5/2006     Mowing The Lawn
 03/24/2006     Gone Gone Gone
 02/25/2006     grace
 09/26/2005     Sky To Mountain
 09/22/2005     Love
 09/14/2005     Look Down
 04/19/2005     April 2005
 01/27/2005     Poverty
 01/11/2005     Grace
 12/3/2004     Standing Up 2
 12/1/2004     Tired
 11/29/2004     Standing Up
 11/29/2004     Mercy
 09/18/2004     Beaten
 08/7/2004     Half Full
 07/16/2004     Hallelujia!
 07/16/2004     Battered Feathers
 03/14/2004     gifts
 03/1/2004     Ancestors
 03/1/2004     A Prayer
 12/24/2003     "The Bomb"
 05/16/2003     Safe
 05/16/2003     Satan
 05/5/2003     Faith, Hope, Love
 03/10/2003     Tatoo
 02/11/2003     Folk Music is alive and well!
 01/13/2003     Revolution
 01/2/2003     January 2003
 11/17/2002     FEAR
 11/9/2002     Election Day
 10/30/2002     Election Day
 10/14/2002     Checkpoint Charlie
 06/17/2002     Revolution
 06/3/2002     Gold
 06/3/2002     WAGE LOVE!
 06/3/2002     Mercy
 06/3/2002     New World Order?
 04/4/2002     Real?
 04/4/2002     Billboards
 04/4/2002     Faith
 03/22/2002     Living into the 21st century
 03/22/2002     Comfort
 03/22/2002     Barren Ground
 03/22/2002     Dreams
 03/14/2002     March 11, 2002
 02/25/2002     Germany
 12/14/2001     NOW
 09/19/2001     September 11, 2001
 08/6/2001     #5 Taking Responsibility
 07/12/2001     Television
 06/11/2001     #3: Sprawl
 05/16/2001     #2
 05/16/2001     #1

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