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.

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