A sound wafts down the corridor under 14th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, greeting passengers getting on and off the L, F, and red line trains. Caught in swatches at first, it slowly becomes familiar, a melody heard a thousand times before. Recognition clicks as the source comes into view: it’s an old Beatles tune, sung in a slightly nasal tenor reminiscent of the young John Lennon. When speaking, however, Zack Heru’s voice is a scratchy baritone.
“I’m here to be seen, to be spotted. It’s an advertisement,” the Beatles busker says. “Too many talented people die unnoticed, like apples on a tree.” A tall, lean black man with a small afro, Heru plays guitar and sings next to an old sign for ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ 52 years old, he’s been busking since 2001, coming down here from White Plains, NY on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and performing from noon till 5 p.m. He says he has no other job.
“If you’re a musician, that’s what you’ve got to do, if that’s what the Lord’s given you.” Buskers, he claims, “Roam around wherever they can lay their hat.” He’s laid his hat in this spot because of its “nice flow of people, not too crowded or congested, not too noisy.” Though he doesn’t have a permit, Heru says he’s never had any trouble with the police, the MTA, or with other subway musicians.
“There’s an unspoken policy among buskers over spots. We don’t knock heads.” Heru’s chosen to cover the Beatles because of their music’s fame and popularity. “Folks recognize the songs right away, usually within two measures. And they go through here really fast.”
Lining the wall alongside him are the different volumes of Heru’s written work ‘The Black Cosmic Spiritual Mother (The Voice Within),’ which Heru writes, prints, and binds himself.
“I’m the best writer in the world. Just nobody knows it yet.” Heru’s written three of these books so far and says he’s in the middle of the fourth. He claims that they’re based on 21 years of studying philosophy and cosmology. The chapters—which he says he writes “unconsciously” in 45 minutes to an hour—have titles like ‘Wholistic Health,’ ‘African Education,’ and ‘The Science of Black Cosmology.’ He compares working on them to his singing and playing.
“When people hear a Beatles song, all these emotions are triggered. It’s the same thing with a writer or artist.”
Tags: 14th street union square, Beatles Busker, featured, focus, NYC Busking, Red Line Subway, The Black Cosmic Spiritual Mother, today, White Plains NY, Zack Heru