Thursday, December 17, 2009
Busking like a mad elf....
I posted a quote not too long ago on Facebook. Something about how an artist must do art, a poet must write and a musician must make music if they are ever to be at peace with themselves. Many of the comments seemed to say that music or art made them feel peaceful. Funny how every person brings what is from their context, the experience into comments. The same can be said about art so it was really interesting for me and instructive. I took the quote to mean that there is something in artists that compels them to create, and when they aren’t they will go through new interests, friends, experiences unknowingly looking to express that drive. I know from personal experience. When you take the commitment to hear the muse, as it were, you notice the world differently. You feel things others don’t and when you suppress or make excuses you can literally splinter and succumb to emotional and mental turmoil and destructive behaviors. Again, personal experience.
So seeing how every person read something different into that quote got me thinking about the art experience from the observer’s view. We look at a painting, watch a movie or attend a concert and come away with such disparate takes. I know at my performances people will say things about songs or whatever that I have no clue what they are talking about. I just listen. I just say thank you. Because ultimately I think most artists want an audience of one or many to “feel” something. Most times I don’t know where some lyrics or a melody is going but I trust it. I am not at all clever or trained enough to intentionally do this or that—i.e., manipulate what I want a listener to feel or think. Not at all. Even so all of my musical training and experience comes together and connects with a deeper source and intelligence. That collaboration is remarkable and never lets me get prideful.
When I’m not on the road I try to busk (street playing for coin) at our Las Cruces Grower’s Market. It has been going on for decades every Saturday and Wednesday. I have busked in many cities and I remember when I first started busking with the Native American Flute in 2004 I was shit. I would hide in the doorways wanting so much to make a sound I couldn’t yet. Being a lifelong musician I knew it would eventually come and it scared me to play it in public. I routinely do things that really terrify deeply. Of course I’m now completely confident playing. What I’m confident about is not that I’ll get all the notes right—that is no guarantee—but that I can communicate what I’m feeling. One of the coolest things I notice is that when people walk by me, sometimes even before that realize it’s a real person playing, they change. Their pace all of a sudden slows. Their stride gets longer; they close their eyes and put their head back to let the sun hit it. It is wonderful to see that. When they realize it is me playing they get embarrassed like someone caught dancing when they don’t know someone is watching. I love it.
People are more cautious with their purses. They clutch them a little closer. Usually they walk by, pause then turn around to open their wallets or purses and toss money in my case. Or they send their kids to do it. No matter what I am playing I stop and say thank you to the kids. I want their early experiences with musicians to be a positive one. People at our Famer’s Market aren’t afraid of musicians they way some other cities are. When I play my Hang I end up answering the same questions a couple hundred times. It gets exhausting but I’ve learned to be patient. Days when I’m not feeling patient, aching with arthritis, depressed, angry etc. I don’t bring the Hang. Still the number question is do I make my own instruments. I seriously don’t know what that it about but other musicians tell me it happens to them.
I am so grateful that I can actually make money busking. It is not for the sensitive or moody. You encounter thousands of people in a several hour period. No exaggeration. You must put up with cranky vendors, asshole cops, know it alls, transients eyeing your tip case, asshole Mariachis…(can’t figure that one out yet), competitive performers who set up way to close to you, people not respecting your time, music, personal space, dogs who steal the candy you set out for the kids or piss on your case….
If you can’t take that all in stride and still smile at absolutely everyone, expect the really creepy ones, you should not be out there. I can make friends with anyone and usually do. I try to play short, entertaining songs because you only have them for a few seconds. People take so many photos and videos of me playing I wonder where they all end up? I’ve been learning Christmas songs on the Native Flute which is not that easy. Cross fingering, half and micro holing not to mention every flute maker is different in the fingering and notes you can reach. I set up with my Roland Mobile Cube, a clip on mic, my cd’s, tip case, candy and my post cards which is all a small hassle to transport but worth it. Lately I’ve come to rely on the income of it all and usually sell out of CDs. There are a few hagglers…geez. Don’t make me get out my taser…haha. You will be interrupted, dissed and overlooked but you will also learn so much about how people experience live street music and musicians. Most of all you will be doing exactly what you, as a musician, are meant to be doing. It may not be a concert hall but it is real. You know the renowned violinist Joshua Bell went busking with his Stradivarius in the New York subways as an experience. He got completely and actively ignored for the most part. Jeff Buckley was so freaked out by his stratospheric success that he cancelled a tour and went busking and playing solo in coffee houses. Same thing. Everything you do that scares you will make you stronger. Believe me. I was playing last Saturday and a woman asked which was the best CD for her to buy. I mentioned the various songs. She wasn’t impressed. I mentioned the various awards they received then. She looked at me like I was purple with orange spots, rather incredulously. She said are you telling me you’ve won awards? I said yes, a few here and there. She said well then what the hell are you doing playing here for dollar bills? I said I was really enjoying myself.
Merry Christmas and thank you for your support and allowing me to live simply, create music and support myself all while really loving what I do.
Here’s a video for What Child is This from Winter Colors.