Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: An Essay On Self Mands For The Busker

A mand, according to psychologist B.F. Skinner, is a form of verbal behavior that is controlled by deprivation. Example #1: Asking for water when you are thirsty. Example #2: Opening the door when you hear a loud knock. Example #3: Playing yet another song when someone in your audience gives you the thumbs up.

Traditionally, the New Year is the time for people to make New Year's resolutions, self mands so to speak. All of you buskers, especially need to partake in this annual ritual. Here are some New Year's self mands for my fellow buskers:

  • I resolve to continually recognize that nothing is permanent.

Not my job; not my relationships; not my health. When I used to coach soccer I coined the phrase, A team is only as strong as the season is long. This phrase, to me, is pragmatic to all things in life.

  • I resolve to continually write new songs.

It does not matter that writing songs is really hard work for me. When I busk I strive to play only original compositions, and in doing so, my particular renditions of my own particular songs, are never up for comparison to others' covers.

  • I resolve to continually change my venues.

Spring and Summer days are great for busking – Autumn and Winter are not. To keep up my playing and singing skills, and my repartee with an audience, I need to get inside gigs for Winter. I do have a few coffee houses in which I have ample opportunities to thrum, and I ought to do so on a regular basis.

  • I resolve to continually go on buskations.

Buskations are the best! They can be bad (see my August 14th, A Bruno Buskation: An Essay On The Joys Of Rustic Busking,) and they can be bang-up (see my October 24th,The Bag Lady And The Busker: An Essay On Social Strata). Bad or bang-up, this Spring/Summer I plan on a few buskations to Banff, Alberta!

And to close, a last 2010 toast to you, buskers:

May all your troubles last as long as your New Year's resolutions!

(Joey Adams)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Fixx For Hollis: An Essay On Running And Readership And Busking

Alas Hollis, I acquiesce. It seems during any holiday breaks I rationalize (tell a rash of lies) to myself that I've nothing immediate to write about. And then followers like yourself rightfully state that my blog is blank and therefore, disappointing. Checking out my bog vexillology and seeing hits from Tunisia and Bulgaria in the last couple days, my blank blog is disappointing for me too. And so to Hollis and other company I've let down as of late, I do apologize for the vagaries of my blog entries.

Whilst on a most tristful morning run over the prairie sastruga (the weather was – 26 degrees), I did decide just moments ago, what to write to rid the pout on my face. Enough of this navel-gazing.

In 1977 Jim Fixx wrote The Complete Book of Running and he, unwittingly, changed my life. I was living in the tournament capital of Canada, Kamloops, British Columbia and began my daily runs through the most famous McArthur Island Park. Running worked for me. I quit smoking, lost weight, and became super fit. I was running chain in the bush for Noranda Mines at Goldstream north of Revelstoke, then for Trans Mountain Pipe Lines in the Coquihalla Canyon near Hope. I loved working in the B.C. Bush!

Later in life I landed a job teaching high school English in Regina, Saskatchewan, and kept on running. I used to run a minimum of five miles a day, Monday through Friday, take Saturday off, then run ten miles on Sunday.

While at work I was able to intertwine my profession with my obsession. I received a salary while designing and delivering an educational running programme for young offenders in a custody facility. Each weekday morning for seven years, twelve young offenders and two staff, self included, ran around the three mile shoreline of Wascana Lake.

In this past decade, for one reason or another, my fervor for running has waned. I have developed into a fair weather runner; I still run, just not as much. In Summer I try to run every day; in Fall I reduce my schedule to three runs per week, in Winter I mostly lift weights (I never, never run indoors), in Spring I pick up running again.

Running, indeed, has been a positive addiction in my life. It has kept me fit without noticeable infirm. It has kept hale and hardy, and ready for the vigor of busking come Spring again.

The Complete Book of Running by Jim Fixx has kept me in a thirty-four year burst of keen delight.

Now, Hollis, are you happy? Have I inspired you as Jim Fixx inspired me?

I should mention that Jim Fixx died in a ditch in Vermont of heart attack during his daily 10 mile run -- he was at 52 years of age.

Here is a love song for you buskers with a heart ache:


Verse 1

[C] One day [Am] some day

[Dm] We’ll be [G] together again.

[C] One day [Am] some day

[Dm] I could [G] make it up to you

[C] Maybe [Am] you’ll see

[Dm] I can [G] make your dreams come true …



[F] [QUARTER BEATS] I can’t really blame you when you finally told me

[G] That I’d have to go

[F] I can’t really blame you when you finally told me

[G] That you’d told me so.

Verse 2

[C] One day [Am] some day

[Dm] We’ll be [G] together again.

[C] Maybe [Am] you’ll believe

[Dm] I realize [G] what you meant to me.

C Am Dm G [fingers to one strum C]

That’s what she said to me [x2]

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Where You Are Is Where It's At: An Essay On Carpe Diem, Zen, Existentialism, Phenomenology, And Busking

Fernie Alpine Resort is in the Canadian Rockies and Mission Ridge Winter Park is in the Canadian Praires. Where you are is where it's at – is an axiom of downhill skiing. I drive eight hours to ski in the mountains at Fernie a couple times a season; but rarely do I drive the forty minutes to ski in the valley at Mission! Mission is where I am and therefore, following the axiom, should be where it's at.

This ought to be a lesson for me, and it is (sort of) when I apply this axiom to other areas of my life. In order to do this I must first reflect on some notions of Carpe Diem, Zen, Existentialism, and Phenomenology.

I first learned about Carpe Diem when I was an English major in university. Carpe Diem at that time meant to me grasp the day. Later in other studies it took on seize the day. Today, most Latin scholars would interpret Carpe diem as literally, pluck the day (as in the fruit of the day), or more simply, enjoy the day. All these notions, however, mean the same thing. Enjoy, seize, grasp the moments when they happen. Do not dwell, do not rationalize, just kick the ball when it comes to you. The longer you linger on any opportunity, the less likely you are to enjoy or appreciate it.

I first happened upon Zen in my favorite read, The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Robert and his son, along with a couple of friends in Easy Rider fashion, hit the road on their motorcycles, traveling some of the northern states. The book, however, is much more of a travelogue. It's about the meshing of East and West philosophy as it relates to quality and the world of work. The more I read about Zen the more I realize it is not a religion (never mind one of the major world religions as it is often defined), for it is without a congregation and without dogma. In the world of Zen one simply appreciates life, moment by moment by moment.

The notion of Existentialism has a place on this same plane of thinking. Moments of existentialism arrive when we sometimes come to grips with the reality that our lives are just really, our lives, and that we exist only within them. Our quest for the values of life comes from the notions we have managed to gather within ourselves. What we as individuals decide to value will give meaning to our lives, give validity to our existence.

Phenomenology is to very much appreciate the synchronizations of life from a very first person point of view. To recognize phenomenology is to link together certain external experiences and then attach positive meanings to these experiences. Phenomenology relies on quite a strange ability, one that can connect people to places and to things.

Carpe Diem, Zen, Existentialism, and Phenomenology are all moment-to-moment recognitions and if one has an awareness and an ability to attach these moments together, these moments will most certainly enhance one's existence, improve one's life, so to speak.

And all of the above is true in the world of busking. Here are some soliloquys to keep your busking self in check:

  • I must never be a bastion of contentment, seemingly happy in my polished program of guitar replication day in and day out.

  • Each corner, each park, each storefront I busk is but a bivouac, a temporary encampment until I busk elsewhere.

  • Each time someone approaches and says something to me is to be considered another dram of someone else's life to be savoured.

  • All busk stations are ecotones, transition areas between entertainment and enterprise.

  • Any move up the block that I contemplate is but a finger snap, a fillip away, and therefore, can be done on a dime.

  • The majority of my customers gloze what is really going on in their lives.

  • Only I can control my kismet.

  • My memories oft are hazed through romantic nostalgia, a distant mirage to where I can never return.

  • Improving my life does not demand a sea change – I just need an awareness to recognize and appreciate each and every moment.

  • Peace only exists because there is sturm and drang in my life.

To be comfortable in one's own skin is quite a life accomplishment. And strumming and singing on a public sidewalk with an open guitar case is offering your skin to the world, exposing your warts moment by busking moment.

Fellow buskers, where you are is where it's at – so pay attention!

When I was young my friends and I used to go down the line, stopping at all the bars along the way. Here is a song I wrote about what might have happened:

Hotel d'Paris (de Paree)


Am D Am (X whenever)

Am C E E7


[Am] My love for [D]Carol[Am]ine

[Am]At Hotel [D]de Pa[Am]ree

[Am]My love for [C]sweet Carol[E]ine

[E]Is greater than in[E7]finity

(V 1)

[Am]Goin’ [D]down the [Amline

[Am]To see my [D]sweet [Am]Caroline

[AmAt Hotel [D]de [Am]Paree

[Am]She’s still singing [D]in my [Am]dreams


Am D Am

Once upon a time

Am D Am

Goin’ down the line

Am D Am

I met my sweet Caroline

Am D Am

Singing at Hotel de Paree


(V 3)

Am D Am

Goin’ down the line

Am D Am

To see my sweet Caroline

Am D Am

Hopin’ she’ll be mine

Am D Am

And leave Hotel de Paree


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cars Are People Too: An Essay On The Value of Sports Cars And Station Wagons In The Work Place

Cars are people too!

Years ago when my children were part of the boarder community (both skate and snow) I saw this logo on a t-shirt in a skateboard shop in Kamloops, British Columbia. Cars are people too never left my brain and I'll employ this car personification for an essay on guitar/banjitar busking.

In the world of work, there are sports cars and station wagons, and how people motor about at work very much determines their car personas.

Workers who use their place of employ as a bully pulpit, are sports cars. Sports cars love to expound their political personal preferences at every opportunity, be it in the lobby or the lunch room, even the lavatory. As a result of such chatty behaviors, sports cars often have loads of quality repartee.

Then there are those workers who behave in just the opposite manner; these people are station wagons, bastions who are rather fortified with regard to any personal disclosures whatsoever. Station wagons are very chary when expressing either personal or professional opinions. Station wagons will unload only the little luggage necessary to keep socially appropriate within the confines of their employ.

Sports car employees can be both beatific and narcissistic. They like to stay shiny and polished and look good. And oftentimes this sport car beauty can be more than skin deep, having the working abilities to scintillate and perform brilliantly; whereas station wagons oftentimes can be dowdy and frumpy.

Sports cars are always pert and flexuous and have the abs and curves to prove it. Sports cars consider work as a junket, a place where one can seek and find a disproportionate amount of pleasure holding court at every possible occasion. Station wagons, on the other hand, can be somewhat earthy and ordinary, even groundling-like in nature.

Sports cars can be capricious, multitasking on impulses and whims; whereas station wagons are the market martinets, staying rigid and pedantic.

Traveling most work worlds will reveal that there are exciting high roads of visibility and bland low roads of little renown. And always, there will be those middle roads of steady misadventure. If the work place is steady and the employees of that workplace solid, one will find that whatever road one takes to get the job done will, in fact, get the job done!

As for me and my world of busking, I consider myself a sedan. As a sedan, a busker must be bimotorous, able to change from sports car to station wagon behavior on a dime – performing with brilliance one moment, then having to roll up the mat and move up the street to another location on some authoritarian whim.

Buskers also have to be sedan-like banausic, realizing work for what it is – work! Buskers, for the most part, believe hitting the street is a practical way for make a living, just a utilitarian endeavor to support oneself in family, hobby, or habit.

Unlike regular workplace types, buskers are able to recognize the demarcations between sports cars and station wagons. In this regard, buskers must behave like sedans; they must be eclectic enough to adapt for the pitch at hand. Only sedans can pretend to be sports cars. The transformation from a sedan to a sports car may be just a pin stripe on a suit, or a coiffure from a salon instead of the barber shop.

To pursue a long and quality work life as a busker, one must definitely be a sedan. I suspect that most workers are, indeed, sedans, because sedans are malleable and sports cars and station wagons are not.

If Cars are people too -- people, too, are cars. And like most quality car lots, quality work places need a variety of models, including the sports cars and station wagons.

I wrote this song in memory of a green 1958 Chevrolet Del Ray my dad drove in the early sixties.


[C Am F G (x3) then C vamp]


I am [C]dreaming we are [Am]driving [F]away, [G]away

I am [C]dreaming we are [Am]driving [F]away, [G]away

I am [C]dreaming we are [Am]driving [F]away, [G]away

[C]In my [Am]’58 [F]Chevro[G]let Del [C]Ray


[C]My tractor tire [Am]do in [F]Brylcream [G]blue

[C]My cool white [Am]shades, my [F]faded [G]jeans

[C]Black Cat [Am]smokes [F]tucked in my t-shirt [G]sleeve

[C]The top rolled [Am]down, just [F]feel the [G]breeze.



C Am F G

We’ll drive to the beach buy some fries and some shakes

C Am F G

We’ll stretch out on the sand for that California bake

C Am F G

We’ll turn up the tunes on my car radio

C Am F G

We’ll twist under the moonbeams until it’s time to go



C Am F G

I am back to pumping gas … and dreaming every day

C Am F- G

I am dreaming we are driving away, away

C Am F- G

I am dreaming we are driving away away

C Am F G C

In my ’58 Chevrolet Del Ray

[X 2]

[C Am F G (x3) then C vamp]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Hirsute Of Happiness: An Essay On Busking And Beardom

Movember -- the month of the moustache. The portmanteau of moustache and November. As a show of support, most of the male staff members at my school are growing moustaches and beards for the international rally for Cancer research, research especially for those children with cancer and for the prevention of prostate cancer in men. The hairied results are socially positive – Everybody likes the moustache! And these are the types of moustaches and beards our Movember men are sporting. There are men with Anchors, having a beard styled along the jaw line along with a pencil moustache, and actually resembling an anchor. A couple of the guys have gangsta and sport Raps, manicured moustaches and thin lined beards. Others have Goatees and Van Dykes. Quite a number have the Lincolnic chin curtains just like Honest Abe's. Some of the fellows have opted for the Mutton Chops; one has a Fu Manchu, and another has a Handlebar. None have Leprechauns or Klingons (see The Irish Rovers and Star Trek).

Applying these Movember moments to yet another argy-bargy on the art of busking, here are some whiskerings to keep in mind:

  • Moustaches and beards are auxiliaries that cost nothing to grow and little effort to harvest.

  • Castaway moustaches and beards are for the canaille, not for buskers.

  • Moustaches and beards are cathartic – no more blades.

  • Moustaches and beards cosmeticize the real ugly busker.

  • Moustaches and beards signal a dalliance with the foot-loose and fancy-free.

  • Moustaches and beards are never demode; they are always trendy.

  • Moustaches and beards are not for fops.

  • Moustaches and beards represent free thinking, not indolence.

  • Moustaches and beards are not stigmatic; they are sweet.

  • Movember is a la mode.

  • Movember is hip and mod.

Brother buskers, next Movember be happy -- be hirsute.

Britt, one of our female staff members, jokingly proclaimed that we Movember men look like 70's porn stars! (See her picture atop her cast of porn stars.) In celebration of my own porn star past, I wrote this song:

Ice Cream Dreams

C Leafing yellowed

D Photographs

C Flipping pages

D Through my past

C From misty – rainbow

D Rings of gold

C Do shades of time and

D Dreams unfold [4x]

Verse 1

G A golden beach

D A blue green sea

C Hand in hand

Em We walked the sand

G Laughed and kissed

D In summer winds

C Whispered words

Em Of Harlequin


G Are you being

D Are you being

C Are you being

Em Lonely there

G In ice cream dreams

D And endless fun

C Ice Cream dreams

Em And bubblegum

Verse 2

G Danced around

D Those midnight fires

C Sang each other

Em Lullabies

G Wicked moons

D On silver waves

C Hand in hand

Em We walked the sand



C Rock Hudson

D Doris Day

C Mickey Mantle

D Cassius Clay

C Emma Peel

D Paladin

C Hand in hand

D We walked the sand [4x]


Photos by William Wright

Friday, November 12, 2010

To Live Is To Suffer: An Essay On Staying Alive

One Friday afternoon we were busking on the south east corner of the luxuriant Victoria Park in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, situated right across the street from the Saskatchewan Hotel (the Sask). This is the corner for the celebrity watch, where the frenzied residents of Regina have been known to gather for hours in the hope of catching a glimpse, and better yet, a polaroid snap of persons such as Queen Elizabeth, George W. Bush, Bob Dylan, all of which who stay at the Sask whenever they're scheduled for events in Regina. Baron, on his cajon box, and I, on my Alabama banjitar, were there to catch some coins. It was sunny; it was windy; it was busy. The Rolling Stones were in town, though not yet a sign of Mick or Keith.

Victoria Park was a buzz of people. Aside from those who were hoping to gaze at some stardom, others there were picnicking, feeding bread crumbs to the pigeons, minding their children at the playground. On the diagonal paths there were troops of gentlemen in business suits marching briskly while gesticulating to one another, and at the same time singular ladies dressed to the nines, ambling by in their clomping heels, while discreet couples cuddled and whispering to one another on the benches not quite hidden amongst the chaparral.

And then along came Eric, chuckling as he grabbed one of our shakers from my banjitar case, and giving it a joggle while he did a very funny bump and grind.

I'm just a movin' and shakin'. I'm seventy years old and am reflecting life as it comes. I'm embracing new experiences, not shying away from anything, I'm grabbing new moments and I'm staying alive! he said.

Seventy. That is the age when the hair is thin and gray, the skin wrinkled and saggy, the arteries stiff, and the libido soft. Eric did not look nor act his age. Rather, he looked to be closer to middle -aged, with his sun bleached hair, white Whistler t-shirt, and olive green hiking shorts, doing a dance and jam in his sand colored sandals with a couple of buskers. The process of aging happens and Eric, so far, had seemed to escape it. What was his anti-aging secret? An elixir he found? A drink from the Fountain of Youth?

After our busk Eric joined me for a coffee. I had my usual Americano Decaf and Eric had an espresso.

Liquids ought to be enjoyed in drams, he said. While sipping our javas, Eric shared the secrets he employed to optimize his natural longevity. He began by stating that Old Age never did affright him, but losing his mind and mobility always did. Eric, at one point, realized that his life had been asunder, his misspent youth being an Augean stable of too much drink and too little dance. It took a Spartan attitude, but from that point of release, Eric denied himself of alcohol forever after.

A beatific smile spread across his face as he reminisced. Before he spent thirty years as a college counselor he used to travel everywhere as an elite player on elite hockey teams, shooting pucks in practically every big rink the Prairie landscape had to offer – Winnipeg, Flin Flon, Brandon, Regina, Saskatoon, and Swift Current. And he used to travel west to ski Fernie, Big White, Silver Star, Apex Alpine, Sunshine, and Lake Louise. No longer the scoring iceman, Eric said he still skied the mountains a couple times each winter, and had lately taken up to being a skip on a curling team.

It pays to be fastidious, he said. I pay particular attention to everything I do. I am developing an ability to focus, and that, my friend, is what I believe to be the key to happiness. I used to spend hours fossicking my dresser drawers for stuff I thought I'd had, but had long ago given away or tossed away or might have even just misplaced. Now I know exactly what I have and where it's at. And that has proved to make my life just so much more enjoyable.

Gimracks I toss away. Since the kids have left I've really little use for them. I guess I used to keep those baubles and knicknacks for the kids until I realized they had absolutely no value to them. I used to imagine them saying after I had passed on, I wonder why he kept this junk and after saying this I imagined they, too, just tossing them away.

I work part-time contracts. I have a half-dozen or so clients from the Mental Health Clinic. I do my best to help keep them out of trouble. Without care and compassion and guidance, all my clients have a tendency to run afoul of the law or get themselves committed to the Psych ward. These guys keep me on my toes.

According to Freud, love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness. I'm still working but I must be looking for love in all the wrong places, he stated. And with an exiting giggle, Eric was gone, off to meet some clients I supposed.

I thought it funny that he mentioned Freud. You can take the boy out of the counseling, but you can't take the counseling out of the boy, I guess. And I also guess that I'd like to be like Eric, in the faint hope of staying my infirm until my very last gasp.

To anti-age is to understand that youth and middle-age and old age are all an interlace, a paralleled blur along our continuums of life. So as not to distinguish the states of age, one must always be malleable, having the constant capacity to adapt and find enjoyment in a never ending adaption. Being a medico of music, I can accommodate myself in this regard. I shall stay as long as possible in our seven member community service band (Grand Trunk Troubadours), our coffee house trio (Friday Harbor), and our busking duo (Seahorse).

In none of these bands do any of the members navel – gaze. Perhaps if any of us had the time, we would indulge, but as it stands, performing is always a rush and we are always on zoom time.

Moving to the right along the life continuum (we in the West tend to measure our days and years from left to right on a horizontal plane) one should never be purblind to the facts of sometimes escaping into adventures far from the status quo. If busking is to be the quarry of my life adventure, then taking every opportunity to busk should be the object of my pursuit, should indeed be my pursuit of happiness.

To live is to suffer is the skinny of Zen. To live and not suffer is to be torpor. And to be torpor is deadening – and to be making a sea change is staying alive.

Here is a song that I wrote in a Walter Mitty moment:


[Am]Some days I wanna [D]do like [Am]Dangerman

[Am]Fun in the [D]sun on the [Am]Riviera, man

[Am]Suave and debon[D]air, [Am]undercover [D]ladies man

[Mute]And just [Am]shoot my [Em]troubles [Am]away.


[Em]I sometimes [D]think [C]my imagin[Em]ation

[Em]I sometimes [D]think [C]my imagin[Em]ation

[Em]I sometimes [D]think [C]my imagin[Em]ation

[G]Is the [Am]model, the [C]model for the [Em]nation (for complete annihilation)

Am D Am

Some days I wanna do like Steve McQueen

Am D Am

Cool and cruel on that movie screen

Am D Am D

Ride shotgun with Yul, blaze to Boot Hill

Mute Am Em Am

And just shoot my troubles away.


Am D Am

Some days I wanna do like the President

Am D Am

Cruise the clear blue sky in Air Force One

Am D Am D

Protect the planet, police everyone

Mute Am Em Am

And just shoot my troubles away.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Monogamy With My Mahogany: An Essay On Simplicity

My first one had been battered by another player. He was a poet, slim, hybearded, and actually sold his original poems for a living. I knew him in his early years before he became famous, those years when he would stand on the street corner peddling his wall paper poetry. It was always the short verse, usually his haiku, that he orationed with enthusiasm. Too bad that same enthusiasm never ventured to his playmate. Instead, he battered her, eventually giving her to me because it was the convenient thing to do at the time. I, too, was a poet and he liked some of my stuff. But it was really because of her, that I learned to play, and I knew the whole time I would never forsake her as did he. Our relationship lasted just a year, until an acquaintance, another poetician, stole her away one hot summer evening.

My second one I met by chance in a music shop. Those days I would oft avert every day strife, languidly strolling the songbook aisles of the music shops on junket Saturday mornings. And in one bright moment there she was, flexuous, blue, and beatific! It was love at first sight! Strangely though, it was never meant to be. My lust for her outward appearance was but a deception, and within a couple years slowly realized she was, and always would be, a six stringer. By mutual agreement she returned to the musical place from whence she came.

And since then I've doubled my pleasure and doubled my fun. My latest being a dreadnought with plenty of style, cherry sides, cedar top, mahogany neck, and a gorgeous resonance that bellows big rich and rounded sounds whenever I strum anywhere along any her twelve strings!

She was introduced her to me by my colleague, Kent. She was just one of his seven concubines, never mistreated, but never really favored either. Needless to say our beginnings together were somewhat amoral, but the more I touched her, the more I liked her, and the more I liked her, the more addicted I became to her, and the more immoral my fantasies. Nothing about her resembled her antecessors.

Cap-a-pie she has become my sole mate. Whenever together I dress for the occasion, hatless, in a crisp white shirt, faded blue jeans, upon either work boots or sandals. On a busk we are forever in complicity, guileful, continually setting up our ambuscade of street music surprise. The more times I busk with her, the more in apotheosis I revere her. Stroking her strings has become my daily intoxicate – this is my simple, simple pleasure.

[photograph courtesy of William Wright]

Behavioral counseling often poses/offers three questions for clients:

Who am I? What have I been doing? Where am I going?

I wrote this following song in response.



D A Em

[Em]Hey hey I'm [C]going, I'm [Am]going some[Em]where

[D]I[A] don't know [Em]where

[Em]I'm not going [C]back, no I'm [Am]not going [Em]there

[D]ne[A]ver [Em]again [X2]

Em C Am Em D A Em

Hey hey I'm going, I'm going somewhere

I don't know where

Em C Am Em

I've been in chains and I've served my time

D A Em

never again [X2]

C Am Em D A Em

Hey hey I'm going, I'm going somewhere

I don't know where

Em C Am Em

I've been in arms, been a soldier at war

D A Em

never again [X2]

[instrumental and humming]

Em C Am Em D A Em

Em C Am Em D A Em

D A Em

Em C Am Em D A Em

Hey hey I'm going, I'm going somewhere

I don't know where

Em C Am Em

I've been in love, had my heart broke enough

D A Em

never again [X2 & FADE]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Bag Lady and the Busker: An Essay on Social Strata

Photography courtesy of William Wright

Christina stumbled out of the Cimmerian shadows. It was 7:30 P.M. and we were busking on a luminous tract just off Government Street, a picturesque roadway situated in the downtown district of Victoria. Government Street is an unwrinkled postcard of billowing patriot flags, flower baskets hanging from lamp posts, giant concrete flower pots hugging the curbs, pubs, dance clubs, theaters, and coffee shops. The shop window displays along Government Street are a European spectacle of English woollens, Irish lace, and Scottish tartans, and every now and then, the anomalous mercantile of First Nations fashions and jewelry.

Singing Summer Wine, a 60's song by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, is when Christiina came along. Christina was a bag lady, complete with a shopping cart full of bags, bottles, and cans. Moving directly beside us, right between Baron and myself, Christina joined us in song. When we sang Ian Tyson's Someday Soon it could have been Ian's sweet Sylvia joining us with her vocals. She didn't know the words to The Weight by Robbie Robertson, but Christina hummed along anyway.

Christina was scruffy. A soiled yellow bandanna was tied loosely around her head, the strands of mousy nut-brown hair still hanging over her drooping eyes. In another life her face might have been pretty, but her smirk and distinctive beer breath made it difficult to venerate. As if in uniform, she wore a small tight cotton t-shirt tucked into her tight fitting rayon pants, both of which might have been a crisp white at one time. Had it not been for Christina pushing her shopping shopping cart of belongings, she may have passed, on first glance, as a commonplace worker just off the late shift a laundry mat, a bakery, or a fast food kitchen.

After we sang The Weight, Christina went back to her cart, dug around a bit for some coin, then tossed nineteen cents, a dime and nine pennies into my guitar case. She told of us of how her husband had stolen her last beer, and then she sat down on the curb and cried. A lady passing by stopped, chatted with Christina, and handed her ten dollars on the promise that Christina would use it to buy food.

Beer is food, isn't it
, Christina stated once the lady had walked out of sight.

Baron and I played a few more tunes before rolling up our mat and moving along, mainly to get away from Christina. For Christina, now, had decided to join us, her cart parked beside her, between Baron and myself. All the passers by, I am guessing, were believing the three of us to be a sort of busking trio, shopping cart filled with clothes, bottles, and cans included.

Imagine that! A busker worried that the people passing by may think he is nothing but a cadge!(Knowing what I know about the public status of both buskers and bag ladies, it very well could have been that the people passing may not have wanted to be bracketed with either one!)

At the time I was embarrassed – today I am ashamed that I was embarrassed! Christina, if ever you are reading this, here is a song I wrote just for you, and what might have been had we met elsewhere, an alternate history perhaps, a middle class misadventure -- in a downtown office on Government Street.

And, dear readers, on a social strata I did believe, in those musical moments, Christina to be beneath me – oh how could I have been so benighted! The epiphany of this essay is ironic, strange, and funny. It is ironic in the sense that I, a lowly busker, had somehow socially risen above a paying customer in the apparition of a bag lady. It is strange in the surreal sense that a bag lady stumbled out of the shadows to enlighten my life. And funny – our judgment of others is really a rather focused projection of ourselves. A social stratum is a social psychological stratum, nothing more, nothing less. To dare compare Christina's worth to my worth is not to imagine us being on even ground. We were, and still are, on even ground. I was to her as she was to me, nothing more, nothing less. Have a good night, Christina, wherever you may be!


[chorus – hum only]

[F]I only go to work so I can take another look at sweet [Em]Christina

[F]And every time she passes by she’s sure to always act the perfect [Em]stranger (stranger)

[F]That’s okay because tomorrow we’ll be together [Em]forever

[G]In my dreams


[F]Ooooooh sweet [Em]Christina (3x)

[G]In my dreams

[F Em]
With wanton eyes I stare each day at every move she makes my sweet Christina

[F Em]

And every day she gives her raven hair a flick I know she knows I see her

[F Em]

But that’s okay because tomorrow we’ll be together forever


In my dreams


[BRIDGE]accented singular down strokes --Female singer for verse 3

[F Em]

I only go to work so he can see me

[F Em]

But I’m so shy when he’s nearby I act the perfect stranger

[F Em]

That’s okay because tomorrow we'll be together forever


In my dreams

Saturday, October 16, 2010

These Boots are Made for Working: An Essay on TV Cowboys and Busking

A trio of portly cigar puffing gentlemen wearing light summer suits and very dark sunglasses strutted past -- one of which returned, and tossed a fin into my guitar case.

Nice boots, he said.

Nice boots indeed. Rocky - Techno Ride Billings Saddle cowboy boots, seahorse emerald in color. I had purchased these extraordinary work boots an hour previous, used, from a downtown cobbler.

Photography courtesy of William Wright

I was saving these particular boots for a costume party, stated the cobbler, but I guess you can have them for thirty-five dollars.

Sold! I replied.

And I'll re-sole them for you, he said.

We had arrived! Attired in our Western costumes, I in my white cowboy hat bought at Value Village, and my brand new used cowboy boots, and Baron wearing his snappy camel Western shirt and red neckerchief, it was the perfect day for busking in Bastian Square, Victoria, BC. At the top of the Square was a Beatle tribute band, the Sutcliffs. She loves you ya, ya, ya screamed down the corridor. Between the top and bottom of the square there were artists selling paintings, oil and watercolor, bearded merchants in flowing robes peddling knitted scarves and carved jewelry, and a garden market bursting with fresh greens and many other colored pieces of produce. At the base of Bastian Square are two fancy restaurants, both situated on Wharf Street, each having crowds of pedestrians forever in que for the coveted outdoor seating, no doubt attracted by the delectable scent of fishes and steaks sizzling on the outdoor grills. Already served customers could be seen sipping red wine, talking on cell phones, typing on laptops, and some just reading regular softcovers.

Just across Wharf Street the honkings of the tug boats zipping up and down the harbor were barely audible, the squawks of the diving and dipping seagulls piercing, as the people continuously became more congested into Bastian Square.

I had been to Victoria, British Columbia, several times over the last few years and for some notion had developed a yen to be one of the buskers along the causeway of the Victoria Inner Harbor.

This yen that I had was undoubtedly prompted by my watching television westerns in the fifties and sixties. Westerns, then, had a couple of prevalent themes; one being that a stranger comes to town, and the other being, a lone rider leaves town on his horse for yet another adventure elsewhere. I suppose these themes are really one and the same, especially if one reckons that the stranger coming to town is that same fellow that rode out from the other town.

Two westerns especially come to mind: Have Gun Will Travel and The Deputy. The lead character in Have Gun Will Travel was Paladin, a suave gunslinger whose home base was a San Francisco hotel. At the start of every episode Paladin, so nattily attired, would receive a telegram from someone requesting his professional hired gun services. Paladin’s business card read Have Gun Will Travel. And just before the theme music, we’d be watching Paladin, now dressed in all black, riding his horse to somewhere to save the day.

The Deputy had Henry Fonda, a U.S. Marshal, ride into town every week to recruit a young man, Clay, who ran a general store along with his young and pretty wife. Clay’s wife always begged him not to go, but every episode Clay would become The Deputy.

Cripes! Who wouldn’t want to be like these guys! Riding in, riding out, an adventure here, another adventure there. Who would not want to be likened to Paladin and Clay? At the start of each television story the mood was set as normal but mundane. Then that situation would change! Bummmbedumdum Dummmmm! The music changed and the next scene the cowboys would set out.

I had imagined that being a busker would have that kind of a life, carefree and confident, ready to handle a situation to help some distressed soul who lives elsewhere. A busker could go anywhere, could just follow the sun so to speak, and when the warmth of the sun lowered in late October, early November, a busker would have made enough coin to mozy on elsewhere, perhaps becoming a drifting busker of sorts along the cities and towns of anywhere warm, the Mediterranean Sea coast even. The life of a busker could be even more exciting than that of a television cowboy. Afterall,fifties and sixties tv cowboys were stuck in black and white; polarized. As a busker I could imagine my life being filled with technicolor.

I made an email contact with the Victoria Harbor Authority and we were invited to come out to audition. Regina is a twenty hour road trip to Victoria, a rather arduous journey, even for a wannabe cowboy. However, a representative of the Harbor Authority agreed that a video would be sufficient. We made the video and mailed it right away.

However, the Harbor Authority wanted causeway entertainers as early as May, and because we could not leave Regina until the end of June, it was suggested we drop by the Harbor office when we arrived and an attempt would be made to find us a spot. This was enough of a go-ahead for us to saddle up and ride West.

We made arrangements to rent a small house within twenty minutes walking distance to downtown Victoria. This was to be our home from June 28th until July 14th. Even though all performances on the harbor are unplugged, Baron and I packed a couple of microphones and a battery powered amplifier, in the hope we would have opportunity to do some busking elsewhere. Our music gear consisted of a djembe, a set of bongos, my twelve string guitar, and two binders containing our seventy-eight song playlist. We also had a roll-out slat rug on which to set up and create our street performing space.

Driving from Regina to Victoria we made two overnight stops, one in Bassano, a small dusty cowboy town in the Alberta foothills, and Kamloops, a modern cowboy city of a hundred thousand people situated in the heart of the British Columbia interior.Leaving Kamloops, we drove fours along the Coquihalla Highway to the coastal village of Tsawwassen to board the ferry.While waiting in the line at Tsawwassen to board the ferry, two twenty-something, slim and unshaven fellows, Geoff and Banning, wearing pirate hats stomped by, one playing guitar, the other holding a video camera. In passing conversation they introduced themselves and inform us they had just returned from a beach in the British Columbia Shuswap. They were marching down the ferry line to add some cheer for the people waiting to board. After showing them our music equipment they invited us to jam with them once all of us were on board the ferry.

And we did jam with them. Just off to the side of the entrance to the cafeteria, for an hour we entertained ourselves and anyone who would listen, Banning and I on guitar, Baron on the bongos, and Geoff, singing and operating the video camera. This hour increased my enthusiasm for our coming summer busk. After the jam we said goodbye to Banning who was returning to his radio job in Tofino, and to Geoff who was off to South America for some scuba diving.

We did some sight seeing the rest of the crossing. From Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is like a taste of the Mediterranean Sea right off the Canadian Pacific coast. It is a many island paradise.

Arriving in Swartz Bay we drove down island right into Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. The 350,000 people residing in Victoria enjoy the purportedly best weather in Canada. It is a marvelous city, especially the downtown and inner harbor areas. Cruise ships arrive almost daily from different parts of the world, most of which having two thousand voyagers descending the planks to wander the inner harbor and the downtown shops in Victoria. Along the inner harbor these tourists will pass by xylophone, accordion, drum players, and of course, guitarists. They’ll pass by performers who are juggling fire while riding unicycles; they'll pass by wood carvers, craft and jewelry makers, and caricature artists. And when these tourists leave the inner harbor for an evening walk downtown, they’ll see Darth Fiddler frantically playing his violin, and just up street they’ll have an opportunity join the circle of fans clapping for a very talented Marimba troupe. Walking anywhere along Government Street and all the connecting side routes, tourists will be offered many a song and dance by at least a dozen buskers on guitars, violins, and a variety of horns. And at least one of the street musicians will be playing a sitar.

Over the next while Baron and I would be counting on these tourist voyagers to drop some coins into our busk pot.

I put together a song of my favorite television cowboys, the lyrics of which I remember as they were originally sung. Pull on your cowboy boots --




[G]He dreams of [Em]horses

[G]He dreams of [Em]Texas

[G]He watches [Em]Lone Star on his[D] TV

[C]And only that[Em] Indian

[C]On that test [EM]pattern

[C]Hears him [Em]sing these cowboy [D7]songs.



Back when the West was very young

There lived a man named Masterson

He wore a cane and derby hat

They called him Bat, Bat Masterson …


[Verse 2]


Who was the tall dark stranger there?

Maverick is the name

Ridin’ the trail to who knows where

Luck is his companion

Gamblin’ is his game …

Cheyenne, Cheyenne

Where will you be traveling tonight?

Lonely man, Cheyenne …


[Verse 3]


Have gun will travel reads the card of a man

A knight without armor in a savage land

His fast gun for hire in the calling wind

A soldier of fortune is the man called

Paladin …

[Verse 4]


Sugarfoot, Sugarfoot

Easy lopin’ cattle ropin’

Sugarfoot …

Wyatt Earp, Wyatt Earp

Brave, courageous, and bold

Long live his fame and long live his story

And long may his story be told


[Verse 5]


Dumdedadumdedadumdedadum Bonanza!


Happy trails to you

Until we meet again


Monday, October 11, 2010

The Darkness of the Shirts on my Back: An Essay on Positive Addiction

Mid-day at the Fredrick Hill Mall. The brilliance of Oskna Ka-asasteki, the bronzed giant buffalo, shone under the Autumn rays of the old gold sun; two banners emblazoned upon twin towers, depicting one hundred years of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, shone far into the robin's egg sky. Eddies of orange and yellow leaves intermittently danced to our tunes, the waltzes and maxixes of the kappellmeister breezes swirling along the grey and red brick walkway. We chose an auspicious spot for our busk station among the specialty shops of smoke and magazines, chocolate and ice cream, and comics. Two outdoor patios were on either side of us, our nostrils assailed by the congeries of a Punjabi restaurant specializing in tandori chicken, mixed with that of a pizzaria specializing in beer. We were set up right beside the goth shop, Madame Yes Dark Fashion.
Sipping our drams of Americano decaf between songs, the burley and always affable Gary Bresch, a fellow well known for his repartee, approached us.
Child, I enjoyed your last blog except for one thing, he said.
What's that? I replied.
Buskers don't wear expensive hats! Check out the Sally Ann shops and Value Village. You'll see the hats that buskers wear, he said.
I bought my cowboy hat at Value Village, I replied.
But you bought your derby there, he stated as he pointed his finger right at Madame Yes Dark Fashion.
I remind the reader that I am but a faux busker – my real money income is from my full-time high school guidance counsellor job, my part-time university instructor job, and my private downtown counselling practice. Because of my middle class privilege I have some wherewith to spend money on my image. In my last essay I wrote about hats (the one Gary was referring to) ; this time I am going to write about my other addiction – buying black shirts at Madame Yes Dark Fashion.
It was thirty-six years ago this month that 700 runners responded to a questionnaire William Glasser, a psychologist, had published in the October 74 issue of Runner's World magazine. From the responses, of which 75% professed to be addicted to running, Glasser became convinced that running was the most basic solitary survival activity, and that it produced a sense of confidence more effectively than any other form of physical exercise. Glasser then wrote the book, Positive Addiction, the theme being that positive addictions could strengthen and make lives more meaningful.
The skinny of Positive Addiction is simple. Suppose a person has an addiction to a particular activity that is generally and socially regarded as being negative. An example: When a person gets into the habit of being frequently intoxicated, and this drinking is causing negative effects on either family life or work life, this would be considered a negative addiction. Another example: If a person is frequently spending a significant amount of a paycheck at the local casino, and this spending behavior is causing delinquency in paying bills elsewhere, especially for rent, groceries, and family activities, this, too is generally regarded as being a negative addiction.
Now suppose these same people, the drinker and the gambler, by design, take up an activity that is generally and socially regarded as being positive, violin playing, picture taking, weight lifting, even running being some examples. Glasser proposed that any person who became so hooked and entrenched in a positive activity by way of continued practice and study, in so doing that person's negative addiction would eventually dissipate, therefore freeing up more time for the person to indulge in the new positive and addictive activity.
And just where am I going with this? To my world of busking, of course!
Before I was a busker I was a band member. My very first band was Sherry and the Shades. Sherry and the Shades consisted of a lead guitar player, a bass player, a keyboard player, a drummer, and five singers. I was one of the singers. We mostly performed sixties and seventies rock and roll covers. One of the other singers and myself practiced daily, and the band rehearsed weekly. Sherry and the Shades made the rounds for a couple or three years, ever nascent to our final fifteen minutes of fame, being the featured band on a real live television show at Christmastime.
That was my Sherry and the Shades past; presently I am a member of three bands, the Grand Trunk Troubadours, Friday Harbor, and Seahorse.
The Grand Trunk Troubadours (GTT) is a community service band that meets every Thursday evening for either a gig or a rehearsal. Our gigs are always in hospitals or retirement community homes. Mostly we perform for free, though sometimes honorariums are offered and graciously received. The GTT is so named from our original meeting place. All of the original members of the GTT were students in vocal training at the University of Regina Music Conservatory on College Avenue in Regina SK. College Avenue was formerly 16th Avenue, formally the street of the Grand Trunk Railway Station. The Grand Trunk Troubadours is seven years strong and still has three of its original members.
Friday Harbor is a coffee house folk band. Friday Harbor was named after the location of a marine biology station in Washington, U.S.A. My daughter used to work there in summers when she was a student at the University of Victoria. My Tuesday nights are reserved for Friday Harbor.
Seahorse is the name of our busking band. Seahorse was the hurried name we submitted for our busking permit in Victoria BC. Seahorse has just two permanent members, my eldest son, Baron, on hand drums, and myself, on either twelve string or banjitar. Oftentimes, we have guest performers on our busks. Summers are reserved for Seahorse.
Previous to my band memberships I did not have a drinking problem; I did not have a drugging problem; I did not have a gambling problem. Ever since I joined a band I have had an addiction problem – buying black shirts!
In all of the bands of which I've been a part since and including Sherry and the Shades, black shirts have been the only dress heuristic, and adhesion to this black-shirted policy has always been shared by all of our band members. In Sherry and the Shades all band members wore black shirts and donned sunglasses. In the GTT we wear either black or white shirts and jeans. Most everyone wears the black. In Friday Harbor we wear either black or white with jeans – mostly black. And in Seahorse, we usually choose the blacks. The two exceptions to our blackness is when the temperature is hot or humid, or when I play only the banjitar.

[My shirt pictures are courtesy of William Wright - check out his photoblog]

All of these shirts were purchased from the ever enchanting Susan, owner and manager of Madame Yes Dark Fashion.

Even though I am but a faux busker, I am quite aware of the real buskers in my community. Guys like Rye, a full-time guitar and harmonica busker, and Desmond, a first rate fiddler busker are Saturday fixtures at the local farmers' market. Both these buskers are familiar strangers so to speak; we acknowledge one another, have the occasional chat, and that is that.
Another of my familiar strangers is Randy. Randy's modus operandi is betwixt a busker and a cadge; he is a picker, and for years, has been wandering about the back alleys of downtown Regina. This is the song I wrote about my familiar stranger, Randy. Feel free to use it on any of your busks.

[Am]Strolling down these smelly [G]alleys
[F]Pop and beer cans in my [E]hand
[Am]Digging for buried treas[G]ure
[F]In other people's [E]litter
[E]I'm a [Am]picker.

[Am]Shop next for [G]free at the [F]Sally[E]Ann
[Am]Eat at the soup [G]kitchen when[F]ever I [E]can
[Am]So just leave me … [E]leave me ...[Am]be
Am G F E
Rummage each day through these back alley bins
Am G F E
Come sun-up tomorrow you'll see me again
Am E Am
So just leave me … leave me … be
Am G F E
I'm just pickin' garbage I'm not pickin' your brain
Am G F E
I'm minding my business wish you'd do the same
Am E Am
So just leave me … leave me … be
Am G F E
Drifted away from my chores on the farm
Am G F E
Took the country by train and then joined the marines
Am E Am
So just leave me … leave me … be
Ok, Gary, I am addicted (positively) to buying expensive hats and shirts but so what! Charles De Gaulle just about said, You start out giving your hat … then your shirt … and finally your soul. I once gave away a cowboy hat to my GTT band mate, Bill; and I have donated scads of shirts to Salvation Army Thrift Shops.
As for my soul – every time I busk, I give a piece of it away.