Busking 101

A lifetime ago, i wrote two short pieces for a magazine about my many years busking. I don’t remember the magazine, but i found the articles the other day. Enjoy.

Playing For Change

Though I’m not old now, I was far, FAR younger then.

When I first strapped on a guitar and stood in the street; when I first played for people without invitation.

Through a marked lack of activity in my life I had decided that I would endeavour to do what those before me had tried; I would play for change. Not the social, political or emotional kind that Dylan and Baez had sung of, but the monetary kind. Gold and silver. Preferably the former.

I aspired to play the greats, the songs others wouldn’t dare touch whilst on the busk; Sondheim, Bernstein, Rachmaninoff, Zappa and Minogue. The best.

Instead, I hit the street with a couple of Dylan covers and hoped that the gods of busking would forgive me.

My guitar had no name. I had never felt inspired to bequeath it a title and neither had the manufacturer it seemed. It held no label, no moniker or ever saw itself fit to bear title and in that it was my perfect musical companion. It sounded like a collection of broken instruments and when you left it in a room on its own sometimes, just sometimes, you could  hear it scream.  Tuning it was a thankless task and we had both agreed to not labour the point. It knew the same songs that I knew, played them with as little talent as I did and thought itself as unworthy of merit or encouragement.

We were ready.

A fine air of  contentment had fallen over the city, brought on by ebullient days and I hoped that this sensation would be passed to me. The perfect spot was found, allowing all those who would pass by a clear view of my mortified, trembling form. The space around me would allow my voice; my broken, faltering voice air to breathe, boom and reach out to the pity in those who scurried by me.

I strapped my anonymous accomplice over my shoulder and raised a clammy hand, bringing it down firm and hard on the strings and as a lump that could choke a large horse rose in my throat it brought with it a voice.

And whatever happened after that didn’t matter.

It was MY voice.


We’re Always Open.

The coins changed as much as the people did. The mercurial stream of the city that flowed in front of me shifted itself constantly, portraying a city in flux; a society that changed its favours as much as the people that lived within it. I tried to keep my eyes to the ground and play whatever they needed. I had long since figured that I  was just there to provide the background music to their sometimes weary steps as they marched from day to day.

I made enough kids dance, enough teenagers mope, enough mothers scowl, enough pretty women sing and enough old mares sigh to write a book. I sang enough songs to bankrupt ipod. I took enough insults to sink a ship. I saw enough life to make me sick from experience.

I saw peoples last days.

Mrs. Croft, who ran letters between office blocks in the city, her five year old son, Christopher in tow dropped an envelope in my case on her last day. They had paused many a moment to dance, sing and talk as they skipped on by and when I opened that envelope I found it full of coins they had been saving for me. I still have that envelope. If financial necessity hadnt prompted the matter I would still have the twenty dollar note that Marcus dropped into my ever open guitar case on his last day at the bank.

If the rumbling of the stomach hadnt forced my hand, I would still have the roll of five cent coins wrapped in sheet music the beautiful, young cellist gave me.

That one I miss the most.

Still, the case never closed. No hands wandered into it to deprive you of your hard earned change and there was something unspoken between yourself and those who shared the curb. The payphone was opposite me most days and the dealers, scroungers and street kids would sit around you as they waited for their call. They would mind your case, bum your fags, offer their own when you were low, share their bottles, jokes and failings and not once, in all the time they buzzed around me, not once did they ever ask for a cent.

Of course, things change.

Of course.

The street changed. The city changed. Flux.

You cant play the same songs forever.

But while you can?

Make sure your case is always open.


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