I’ve got no idea what the troubadour is actually singing, but what I’m hearing is a whole lot of yearning.
Although he’s been playing these subway stations for months, his image — and that of the entire crowd — suggests a kind of Huck Finn vagrancy, just passing through. His songs ought to be played at a Mississippi Delta crossroads, or by a campfire, or on the porch of a log cabin in the days of yore.
He evokes a distant time and place, but he inhabits a subterranean world of cold lights, dripping pipes, and scurrying rats. He may be yearning for a transient lifestyle, but he’s settled in New York City. The crowd has probably chosen to move to New York too, but the way they dress and the way they respond to the music declares that they are also yearning. Exactly what they are yearning for isn’t clear; the important thing is that it is removed from all the hipster irony, from the disposable cosmopolitanism, from the bustle and heave of city life. They are yearning for wherever the authenticity, the transcendence can be found. As long as they can get there without changing trains again.