Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Canines and Coins: A Shaggy-Dog Essay on Busking with Bowwow

Yesterday. The sky was bright and the tunes were cheery, and on my morning ramble about the outdoor plaza, I tossed a coin into the fiddle case of a winter busker. The passers by were very scattered and the temperature was just above the freezing mark. Though he was bundled for the cold with his toque, parka, and snow pants, I couldn’t help but notice his red and white mittens beside him on the stones, and his mutt, a Chocolate Labrador, asleep at his feet.

Just what is with this age-old covenant between humans and dogs? Could it be that the bond between master and dog is stronger than any that exists between humans? Could it be for protection or emotional security? Personally, I have never owned a dog, but some of my best friends have had best friends who were dogs. No, I am not referring to the imaginary hound havens of Rin Tin Tin and Lassie and the Littlest Hobo; I am referring to the real Fidos and Towsers of my past, at least as real as my romantically nostalgic memory allows.

I remember Patches, who belonged to my friend, Brian Smith. Or it could be that Brian belonged to Patches. Brian’s dad owned the Massey Ferguson dealership in our town, and Patches spent endless hours snoozing by the front entrance of the shop. Sometimes when it rained, Patches would move inside to snooze. Patches was a patched black and white terrier. Patches never barked, just yipped a bit when rudely awakened. Everyone in our town knew Patches.

I remember Mac, the golden brown slobbery St. Bernard that walked my buddy Ricky Percival to school each and every one of the 200 school days of the year. Mac, the giant, would waddle alongside Ricky, and then lay in slumber on the sidewalk at the edge of the school yard waiting for Ricky’s return at recess and lunchtime and end of the school day. Like Patches, everyone in our town knew Mac.

And I remember Sandy, the sandy-colored Cocker Spaniel, who belonged to my best friend, Brent Hopfner. Unlike Patches and Mac, Sandy endlessly scrambled about following his master, Brent, on hikes, bottle hunts, and just generally hanging out.

Reminiscing, Patches behaved more like a cat than a dog. I suppose a stranger walking into the Massey Ferguson shop and seeing Patches would have cause to be wary, but strangers were very few and far between in our village.

Certainly not then, but curiously now, as I remember Mac, mountains and brandy barrels come to mind. And with little effort I can even hear yodeling songs across the cliffs.

And I remember Sandy, jumping up and down, chasing sticks, his ham-like tongue lolling out his panting and wide open mouth, his bright-eyed nary-a-care manner, loving every minute of anytime his master would venture him attention.

Over the years I have seen many a dog and busker together, and the partnership they project is dependent upon whether the master is a tony or a troglodyte. (Buskers regarded by the masses as troglodyte transfer that same condition to their dogs -- the people passing assuming these canine mates to be curs, mongrels, and fleabags.) Whether they be high-brow or low-brow, such busker-bowwow pairings always present a sylvan lifestyle, representing a rustic and idyllic presence amidst the urban hustle and bustle. Buskers with their canines are always closer to ragtag than riches, and this hardly goes unnoticed amongst their shopping middle class consumers.

By busker design, this performing partnership between human and dog can be a kind of stratagem, a mercenary maneuver to attract that hound-loving segment of the consumer population and, as well, for personal reasons:

-to draw the focus away from the ineptitude of the busker over to Bowser

-to attract children who always want to pet the dog

-to attract phatic chats from parents of these children, and then coin, of course

-to act as a heater for a chilled busker

-to act as audience on a sparse consumer day

-to attract the sympathy coin for the pouting pooch

-to offer protection and companionship and unconditional love

I guess in the big scheme of things we are indeed, featherless creatures who love furry companions. It is certainly well documented that our best friends can be dogs. And for those who have as best friends, dogs, it must be psychologically comforting to have four feet trotting in front or alongside or meandering and sniffing behind them.

To close, I guess it is rather sad that an arrogant blogging buskologist can only imagine the true gladdens of a wagging tail and a wet nose ... ruff ruff.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Project Mercury: An Essay On A Bar Band Experience

1961-1962. Yuri Gagarin was the first man into space. He was a Soviet. Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom, and John Glenn soon follow. They were Americans, members of Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States.

. The Mercury Café in Regina opens its doors. Outside on the roof there is a silver rocket. Inside there is décor of the 60’s, complete with paintings of rockets and astronauts mounted on the walls. The café colors are mainly red and silver, similar to many of the diners in the 1960’s.

The Mercury menu is deliciously 1961 -- Big fat juicy beef burgers with dill pickles cut in half, sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, plates of big fat fries with the right amount of crunch, and big thick chocolate milkshakes with thick straws in silver mugs.

It is Christmas Eve and I am woolgathering our gig debut at the Mercury Café. Each Friday night at 9:30 the Mercury Café converts into a bar. We played there from 9:30 ‘til 11:30 a couple of Fridays ago. As of late it has been bitterly cold in my marshmallow buskingdom of the Canadian Winter Wonderland, and so I booked an indoor gig at the Mercury Café.

Whenever I play indoors with just one or two other musicians, I do so under the nickname, Friday Harbor. (Friday Harbor is named after an American sea station where my daughter, Natika, had studied). This particular Friday Harbor was a boy-band scrabble: Hoe Down Eric with his fiddle, Surfer Nick with his acoustic, Bongo Baron with his cajon, and my thrumming self with the twelve-string. Nick and I prepared the song list from 60’s folk and rock charts, Johnny Cash to Bobby Dylan to Ian Tyson, and a dozen or so folk originals. We were hoping to appeal to the Mercury barflies, erroneously thinking they would be of the 60's zeitgeist ilk.

Performing at the Mercury Café was the tramontane of busking. As a practicing Buskologist I can state with authority: Milquetoast musicians do not busk; and only buskers who sea change into meshuggeners prosper on the bar stage. We galumphed into the Mercury Cafe at 9:30 in the evening, with zeroth being the number of times we had played in a bar. In daytime, the Mercury Café is a Cathedral area conversazione, filled with the chatter of university students, philosophers, and neo-beatniks. Come nighttime on Fridays, the Mercury Café transforms into a parley romance of guzzling, guffawing, and flirting.

The patrons in the parlour that night were noisy, yet gracious (they clapped after each of our forty some songs), and the Mercury staff was awesome (a special thank-you to Mikayla and Mike for their continuous all eve encouragement). Our Friday Harbor gig proved to be a worthwhile emprise, all of us hoping to replicate the performance sometime in the New Year.

Back to busking. In spite of the bitter weather, my frequent buskmate, Trent Leggott of Trent’s Guitar Studio, and I have decided to duo-banjitar busk for some social cause during this Christmastime. I am thinking, of course, for maybe the Canadian Mental Health Association, or the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, or SEARCH, or Phoenix Residential Society, or the Carmichael Outreach Center.

And to all buskers and consumers in every buskingdom on the planet …


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Come And Trip It : An Essay On The Light Fantastic

Come, and trip it as ye go,

On the light fantastick toe.

John Milton (1645)

When I was younger I travelled light. As an emerging adult I was on survey crews doing pipeline work in Western Canada (West Coast Transmission, Trans Mountain, and TransCanada in the North West Territories, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba). Those days I worked seven days a week, sunup ‘til sundown, until the contract was completed, then go to wherever I wanted and wait for the next call. And when that call came, I’d stuff a week supply of clothes into my duffle bag and drive my beat up Datsun station wagon or fly Air Canada to Calgary or Edmonton or Kamloops.

I didn’t own property; I didn’t have a wife; I didn’t have kids; I had only myself. I wore only blue jeans and tee shirts and hiking boots. In winter I wore a sewer coat and in summer a jean jacket. I ate either at diners or out of a can. I had no anchors; I was rudderless; it was glorious.

Then the stuff came. Pretty soon I had a wife, kids, a steady job, and then property. I bought a reliable car to drive on family vacations. I wore dress slacks, collared shirts, and sports jackets to work. I shopped at the supermarket on a regular basis. No more beckoning telephone calls. I was grounded; I had a compass; with nary a regret I sold my soul to the company store.

And now, metaphorically, I’m reclaiming my youth. My kids have grown and gone. My working persona wears blue jeans, collared shirts, and work boots. My dwelling is a downtown two-bedroom apartment. I drive a used Ford van. I’m a busker.

As a busker, I’ve discovered the lighter I travel the more joy I experience. When I first began to busk I was not aware of this, and chose to be encumbered with a music stand and sheet music. This over-preparedness proved to be inconvenient and clunky, especially when a breeze came along. Paper clips were very necessary to keep everything contained.

At long last I’m able to trip on the light fantastic toe. Now when I busk I take only my banjitar and case. I thrum original tunes and make up new riffs as I go along. My buskpot is simply my banjitar case and that is that. Rarely do I sing and I never take requests. Busking in such light and simple fashion makes my sidewalk life so very, very easy and pleasant.

However, I could not have appreciated this simplicity had I not the intimate knowledge of workplace and recreational complexities. In my middleclass workplace I am crisp and professional and my income is more than substantial. But there is a trade-off. I have to endure meetings, meetings, and more meetings. With those meetings came paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. With that paperwork there is an accountability in the form of more meetings and paperwork. This is corporate bureaucracy at its finest.

All of this I can compare to my musical recreations. I’m one of the founders of the eight member band, The Grand Trunk Troubadours (the GTT). On the road we have amps, microphones, microphone stands, music stands, sheet music, and sound checks. We have protocols surrounding our playlist, our personal song choices, our start and end times, our venues. This, too, is bureaucracy.

Both in office and on stage, the degree bureaucracy is directly related to the number of players involved. However, such bureaucracy need not be pejorative. With professional people in best practice there needs to be accountability in order to ascertain certain progresses of the endeavor. We write smart goals for the office; we write play-lists for the stage.

I love my work and I love my band, even though both are rather Aesopian in their natures. To an outsider, the office looks terribly inviting. Office workers are cut and clean and push pencils. Being a scrivener seems better than being a digger of ditches. And to audience members, those on stage seem ever smiling, ever sweating, everywhere an oyster. Being an entertainer seems better than being a scrivener.

Having entry into the residency of either scrivener or entertainer, offers valuable insight into the political behaviors of the member drones and their agendas. Often such epiphanies prove to be transmogrifications. Both the workings in office and stage are usually steady as she goes in wonderful synchronicity. However, parts can crack, control centers can crash, and mechanical members can run amok. To reiterate, I love my work and I love my band. To jettison either or both will no doubt offer certain autonomy of effort and freedom. This, however, is totally at the discretion of the self. Such a decision could easily translate into more effort (working harder) and less freedom (working longer). With busking, this is hardly the case.

For me each busking day begins with lifting weights at the local gym, followed by an American Decaf at the coffee shop nearest my next pitch. Under the sun I am dressed in my tee and my blue jeans, sometimes wearing sunglasses, always wearing ankle laced work boots. For me each busking day is a dream of strum and thrum to the hundreds of passers by from the Chaucerian sidewalk parade. Every buskingdom is a day filled with chat chat and chuckles.

Busking gives me carte blanche travel with Annie Oakley tickets to boot. Also, fortunately for me, busking is but a bivouac from which to pitch my musical wares, an opportunity to bask freely beneath bright and sunny foreign skies; an opportunity to distance myself far and away from the carceral surround of tiny windows in office towers, the moil of meetings and microphones, the scratching of papers and playlists.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two Thumbs Down: An Essay On Brrr Busking

November 22nd. It is warm for the season but not for busking. I decided to busk on 13th Avenue and take advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures (plus 4 degrees C). My pitch was a lambent portion of the parking lot near the Safeway west entrance and in front of the adjacent bagel shop. I bundled myself in my high visibility orange Helly Hanson ski parka, and deposited hand warmers in the hip pockets. These warmers, I thought, would keep my frailing fingers toasty. My plan was a simple one: Strum for a minute, squeeze the hand warmers, strum for a minute, squeeze the hand warmers, strum squeeze, strum squeeze, and so on.

For a few minutes it worked, but by my fifth one-minute set, my plucking thumb was achingly frozen. Without a thumb, strumming sucks.

Though it was cold and dark and my thumb was numb, a couple of customers made my busking evening sweet. First up was a familiar stranger, Janice the pan-handler. Janice is thirtyish and asks for spare change all around the downtown Regina. Even in such regard she is bubbly; she is pretty; she is gracious; she is momentarily fun to be around.

Chatting with Janice, she always tells her story. She shares space, a rented apartment, with four other people, none of whom have regular employment. Her job is to pan-handle all day long. She has a thirteen year old boy whom she hasn’t seen for twelve years. She has a three month old daughter who has just been taken away by Social Services. Janice always mentions that she’d been drug free for over a year. And lately she’s always stating that she been handing out resumes to many, many places. She is doing this, she says, because she really wants to regain custody of her children, but just for the weekends. Of course, from a buskologist point of view, Janice’s story of repine tends to gloze over her present afflictions.

I’ve chatted with Janice on Broad Street, on Victoria Avenue, on Scarth Street, on 13th Avenue; these streets and avenues make up the borderlines of her pan-handling territory. My guess is that Janice resides somewhere near its centre and orbulates this working area on a twice or thrice daily routine.

On this particular evening, Janice, dressed cap-a-pie, had a blue toque pulled down over her forehead, her torso wrapped in a long brown woolen parka, and high black Arctic boots laced on her feet. She had just one complaint – her fingers were cold! (I gave her my 99 cent gloves I’d just purchased at a dollar store.)

Ironically, this same evening, one of my favorite people, Carole Eaton, Executive Director of Phoenix Residential Society, stopped and chatted. When I first met Carole, we were attending a Reality Therapy (RT) conference held at the Regina Inn. The founder of Reality Therapy, Dr. William Glasser, was the keynote. I remember his address. Dr. Glasser analyzed in RT fashion, the main characters from the movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, which was currently playing in the theatres at that time. Employing my Sherlock inductive reasoning skills, the year would have been 1994. (Carole, by your own admission I know you’re reading this blog, and so please correct me if I’m wrong, as my memory is often hazed by romantic nostalgia.) Carole Stewart is both a practitioner and instructor of Reality Therapy; she is also a university instructor in the Department of Psychology. Carole Stewart’s professional generosity and brilliance is quite in contrast to the collected view of her dim and purblind colleagues seated in the Chamber of Commerce.

The Phoenix Residential Society is a registered and highly reputable care-giving agency that provides an array of programs for the needy – people as Janice the pan-handler. The Phoenix Society has specific programs to accommodate people just like Janice: Phoenix House (a group home), PALS (a supported apartment living program), and Westview (a residential treatment program for those clinically assigned with the Dual Diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse). The Phoenix Residential Society has more programs than I’ve mentioned, but it is these three especially for which I am most familiar.

Carole Eaton and her staff provide more than just room and board in peoples’ Lonesome towns. Carole and her staff are the laborers digging ditches for those in despair; Carole and her staff are the sailors scrubbing decks and setting sails for those whose hope is far beyond the horizon; Carole and her staff are the unsung saviors for many who wander the streets.

For reasons whatever, Janice is not a consumer of the Phoenix Society services. Because the Saskatchewan winter is not conducive to a pan-handling lifestyle, I can predict that before summertime arrives, Janice will have deteriorated in both her social demeanor and her personal health. Staying in Saskatchewan, she will suffer loss of hale, fade away into a sickness of sorts. To survive she will have to head west, first to Calgary (where she’ll find it uninviting), then on to Vancouver (where she could perish on East Hastings) or Victoria (where, given the politics and climate, she could last a considerably longtime).

Oh, so woe is me -- my cold and aching thumb. It is here that an asterisk is necessary.

* My thumbless winter busking could very well mean plying my trade two thumbs down on my penny whistle.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Nom de Plume: An Essay on Doppelganger Distinction

Thinking of a stage or performance name? Just what’s in a name, anyway?

Sometimes names can comical.

When I was growing up there were several families of Lebanese ancestry in our community, whose surname was Gader. In one of the Gader families there was an Alligator (Ali Gader). When I was in university a friend of mine named his first born, Just an ol’ bean (Justin Noel Bean). When I was a swimming instructor at the YMCA I once taught a kid whose father’s full name was Oscar Plosker.

Sometimes names can be commercial.

Throughout the 60’s Marion Morrison continually would shoot ‘em up to save the American Dream, most oftentimes as a cowboy, sometimes as a soldier. The Duke's stage name was John Wayne. Richard Starkey’s drumbeats changed the planetary music scene. His stage name was Ringo Starr. Robert Zimmerman walked folk music into the American forefront. His bully pulpit name was Bobby Dylan.

A nom de plume is usually employed by authors to either disguise or distance themselves from their writings. When pseudonyms are employed by actors, it is usually for distinction, and so it is the same with bands.

Just the other day Trent, a frequent buskmate, and I were woolgathering some imaginary band names. Within minutes we had the colorfully connoted, Roy G. Biv, and its spin-off, Refraction. (Roy G. Biv is the mnemonic for remembering the order of the bent refraction of colors that is the poetry in all rainbows: red, orange, blue, and green, indigo, violet.) Trent is the lead guitarist in a band called Random Groove. As for me and mentioned several times in previous blogs, I’m in a few bands, The Grand Trunk Troubadours, Friday Harbor, and Seahorse.

I am thinking that most musicians, who choose to play in bands, have constantly churning in their psyche, a vast wordrobe of imaginary nicknames.

A musician friend of mine, Brian King, was the lead singer in the whilom Winnipeg band, Billboard Heroes. He is currently singing in a Vancouver Beatle tribute band called The Bickertons (they squabble lots). Brian has for years, in his head, been carrying around the imaginary perfect band name which he literally picked off the ground one day and proclaimed, Fancy Gumbox!

Trent and I are planning very soon to hit the road with an Indian Drum Group called The Kawacatoose Boys. The Kawacatoose Boys originate from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. The Kawacatoose First Nation is named after its first chief, Kawacatoose, who was considered lean in physical stature. This sidequest callithump of gigs we’re planning in collaboration with The Kawacatoose Boys is to be called The Lean Man Tour.

What’s in a name?

Well mount up, Pilgrim, and take a listen ... Riding with a pseudonym under your saddle gives you a galloping opportunity to freely express and explore your doppelgangerness, in a persona that can be fashionably disguised and very distinct from your normal and sometimes boring sorry self.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Lest We Forget: A Poppy Day Essay On Skinny Expressions

I am thinking of getting a tattoo. A tattoo, I think, will add grit and mystery to my busking persona. I’ve got my banjitar; I’ve got my playlist; I’ve got my buskspots; I need a tattoo.

The first tattoo I ever saw was on my Dad’s left bicep. It was a portrait, a head shot, of a girl donning a sailor cap. The name, Norma, was printed beneath – My mom's name is Marlene. All my friends and anyone I knew who ever saw that tattoo were impressed. My Dad had guns for biceps, no doubt resulting from the heavy lifting in a Macdonalds Consolidated warehouse where he had labored for thirty years.

My Dad left the village of Vanguard, Saskatchewan, Canada, to join the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. Overseas, my sailor Dad, got his tattoo while on drunken shore leave at the Port of Barcelona. My Dad served as an Ordinary Seaman on the anti-submarine war ships, the HMCS Restigouche (Destroyer), the HMCS Antigonish (Frigate), and the HMCS Aggasiz (Corvette). Basically, his emerging adult years were spent chasing German submarines in the North Atlantic. My Dad returned home with a war chest of medals.

After the war his namesake nephew, Jackie, too, needed a tattoo, just like his Uncle Jack’s. Instead of getting a Norma, he chose Mickey Mouse. Jackie was fifteen years old. Jackie flexed this tattoo on his left bicep until he was 72 years old. At 72 his newest girlfriend did not like men with tattoos and so Jackie snuffed out Mickey with three laser treatments. Jackie is alive and well at 78, but Mickey Mouse no longer hangs on his arm.

And I know exactly the tattoo I want and where I want it. The very first time I had to officially identify my busking-self, I used the name Seahorse. I am thinking I’ll have a larger-than- life seahorse inked on my left side, starting with the head on my shoulder and ending with the tail on my left bicep. Like Norma, my seahorse will be donning a sailor cap.

I can easily imagine the perceived mystery and grit of being one who is tattooed. I shall represent that sense of alterity that many of us so desire. Being tattooed I shall no longer be just another button-down busker pounding out tunes in the parking lots. A tattoo shall surely enhance that ever present busker charisma. A tattoo demonstrates one who is doughty, not pouty. And finally, I can finally be that desired doppelganger of me, myself, and I.

Today is Remembrance Day. When I was a kid we used to call it Poppy Day. My Dad’s pop (George Child, my Grandfather) is buried in the Veterans’ section in the Regina Cemetery. I never met my Grandfather. He died in 1931 when my Dad was just ten years old. I’ve seen pictures though, one where he is on horseback and armed with a rifle, when he was a cavalryman of the British Dragoons in the First World War.

Fittingly, my Pop, Jack Child, is buried in the village from where he went off to war, Vanguard, Saskatchewan, Canada. Beneath a sketched sailor cap on my Dad’s headstone it reads:

Home is the sailor, home from sea.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Lights. Camera. Action! An Essay On Buskology And Action Research

Brrr! Pie-a-cap, I’m standing in my brown work boots, wearing lined blue-jeans, a knee-length, split-leather black coat, and red cotton gloves with the fingers cut out (for frailing on my banjitar). I’m strumming in the only area that is lamp-lit during the dark supper hour at the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway Avenue in Regina, Saskatchewan. My fingers are frozen.

The weather is brisk but so is my business. The consumer parade of shoppers, for whatever reasons, are very generous this evening. My first two consumers each toss a fin into my banjitar case – this is a first, having the first money into my buskpot being two five dollar bills! It’s the usual crowd of shoppers that is contributing to my cause. Always there are people who stop and compliment me on my banjo playing. Always there are those who are curious of what exactly is a buskologist. And always, there are the excited and laughing little ones delivering coins from their parents to toss into my case.

Conceding to the cold, I phone my ever reliable buskmate, Baron, to drive over and rescue me from this hyperboreal buskapade. When he arrives we decide to go over to the Mercury Café to count my coin and order some food. I must mention that I’ve munched lots of time at the Mercury Café and the food there is delicious. The Mercury Cafe is an old-style diner, serving burgers and fries and nachos and milkshakes in the 50’s and 60’s food fashion. The décor shows off old signs from those bygone days of Coca-Cola ads, and a picture of the original Safeway store across the avenue, complete with 50’s style model cars and trucks parked in the shopping lot – which is coincidentally one of my favorite buskingdoms.

As we munch I am discussing with Baron on the reasons I made so much money tonight! It could be because I was strumming there in the chilly weather and people wanted to warm me with their generosity. It could be that it was payday for lots of folk, being the last Friday of the month. It could be that I was brightly illuminated beneath the main lamp post of the parking lot. And it could be all of the above, which brings me to my title, Lights. Camera. Action!

Lights. Shine a light on anything and that thing becomes noticeable. One of the simplest ways to draw attention to something is to shine a light on it. Me, standing alone and iridescent, strumming in a dark parking lot, is a literal interpretation. Metaphorically shining a light is most always a ploy for a product or purpose, more/less funding, the value/waste of a particular convention, the intent/discrepancy of the practice.

Metaphorically shining a light is always politically based, therefore, personally biased. Some people are forever lobbying for something, and the practical tactic is to shine a light wherever there is the concern. Shining a light forces people with power to become accountable, encourages debate on policy, makes things that are thick, thin enough for at least a translucent public view.

Whatever one does in this life, with intents selfless or selfish, altruistically or greedily, benevolent or malicious, having a light shine on it is good. The pursuit of truth is a worthy endeavor, to actually see truth can be life-changing.

Camera. We are all of us in someone else's lens, in either a public or private eye. What we do or say is always being scrutinized by somebody, be that person a stranger or a confident. We are ever being monitored while at home, while at work, while at play. In anyone’s rolling film of life, first impressions are continuously conveyed or redeemed.

It is difficult to keep private. Not many of us want to work in the backrooms of libraries, nor keep the watch from the garret at island lighthouses. We are featherless, gregarious creatures who just want to get along in a community of sorts. Most of us congregate into cities (this is not an epiphany); few us want to get rustic. In the city all of us are on public display for significant periods of our day. In country life, too, we are public, though our viewing public is in fewer numbers than it is in the burbs.

In the camera, we ought to watch our step. If we step out of line we are crucified; if we stay in line we are fine. Marching to the beats of most of the other drummers produces the ordinary; marching to a different beat can produce the extraordinary. And then again, the more extraordinary one becomes, the more visible, the more illuminated one becomes.

Action. Without action there would be no lights and no camera. Lights and cameras have little importance and little meaning without action. Action is more than a snapshot of intent. Action is more than a puzzling smile. Action is putting things into motion. To act accordingly is to do accordingly. Things are only done when action has taken place. Doing nothing never works. Creative procrastination is a strategy by which most issues/problems/concerns will eventually go away, but doing nothing never will work when it comes to the act of fixing things. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Any change, slight or significant, is usually better than no change.

Action takes stamina. Action is adventurous. Action means moving from here to there; here being real; there being imaginary. Action is pragmatic. Theory is abstract. Action is sensory. Theory is insensate. As opposite as these seem, these two, action and theory can act in harmony, symbiotically and synergistically.

When theory heightens action, and action deepens theory, this is known as Action Research.

Action Research is both pragmatic and abstract, both sensory and theory. Action Research is an idea which one can apply to improve a particular practice, usually somewhere in Academia. However, from my banausic buskologist perspective, all buskers ought to apply Action Research to their artifice of busking.

Action Research always starts with a conundrum or a concern. Faced with a conundrum or concern, the action researcher will go through a series of phases (reflecting, planning, acting, observing) called the Action Research Cycle. In the Action Research Cycle, reflecting, planning, acting, and observing go around and around and around.

To illustrate this cycle, I shall offer some busking examples. One of the concerns which all buskers face is that of monetary gain. How can buskers maximize their monetary intake?

A busker, reflecting on this concern, would have to consider his/her inventory of both technical and tactical skills. How well do I have to play this particular instrument (guitar, banjitar, pennywhistle, whatever)? And once this is accomplished to the degree of the busker’s personal satisfaction, the next question to consider would be, Just where is it that should I be busking?

Remember, fellow buskers, the action research cycle I am presenting is mainly for a mercenary purpose, all other benefits will be abstract and therefore, ancillary. (I could easily argue that these other ancillary benefits, i.e., joy and freedom, are really not ancillary, but are integral to our buskingdoms, but that is for another ship to sail.)

Following these questions a busker must do some real planning. This plan could suggest practice, practice, practice for instrument proficiency. And this plan could also mean checking out various venues at varied times. When is the downtown mall the busiest with people out shopping? Do I want to busk indoors or outdoors? Do I prefer the sidewalk, the park, or the parking lot. Am I a summer, fair weather, or seasonal busker? Do I prefer the security of my established buskingdoms or the excitement of buskations? Do I prefer the cockcrow or owlhoot? Do I prefer the dawn sun or gloaming moonlight? You must also plan your busking persona. Do I go as myself? Or do I don my duck costume?

Next, the busker must act. A busker has to get out there and busk. The best practice for a busker is to practice while busking. Whenever I practice I always just go busking, or whenever I go busking I always practice. No matter if I make a lot or very little money, it is more than what I’ll make at home, practicing on the couch in my apartment. Practice ear candies, practice concertos. Practice riffs, practice songs, practice sets.

Observing is easy. How many people are passing by? How many people are stopping to chat? Am I getting flak? Am I getting praise? What is their demeanor? And what is my demeanor? When I count my coins, how much have I made? Know this, fellow buskers. The more people you meet, the more money you make. Our sales are solely determined by volume and numbers. It’s all in the baseball stats. The more swings you take, the more doors you knock, the times you play, the more money you’ll make.

Near the end of the day, over an Americano Decaf, reflecting whether or not you accomplished what you needed to on that day is essential. Did you do your best? Did you experience joy? Did you experience a few laughs? And the most important, for this particular Action Research, Did you make a dollar?

And then you begin again. Reflecting (what worked or what didn't work?), planning (same ol' or new strategy?), acting (new look or new places?), observing (noted this or that?). These phases of Action Research are never démodé and ever go round and round and round on the research carousel. I’m not suggesting that buskers abdicate whatever they’re doing that works for them; I am only suggesting that if something isn’t working, if things are not so copacetic as they could be, that employing action research can be helpful.

For a busker, Action Research could be life-defining and even life-altering, though we know that most busks rarely fit neatly into whatever strategem we've decided (and that is precisely why they are referred to as buskapades).

But so what. Fellow buskers, with a little imagination and a big resolve, even when confined within disjointed circumstances … we can uprise from pauperism to plummy!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

'Lo and Behold: An Essay on Curb Appeal

Any buskologist worth his salt ‘n pepper hair will tell you that Curb Appeal equals Sex Appeal, and that, as Sophia Loren said, is 50% what you’ve got and 50% what people think you’ve got. If indeed, this is the case, then one ought to be cognizant of showing potential consumers what we’ve got. And then of course having those potential consumers imagine what else we’ve got.

Think about this. On each of our buskingdoms, generally, the first thing people notice is audible, the strums of our instrument, be it a banjitar, a guitar, mandolin or whatever. The second thing, people notice is our physical frock, be it formal, informal, a suit, a jacket, a t-shirt. Based upon these two things, sound and attire, potential buyers passing by will make a split decision whether or not to contribute to our wares. Practice, practice, practice makes for perfect instrumentation, but one needs no practice for perfect dress.

Our apparel must be appealing to attract customers. To determine what we wear means simply to decide what image we want to project. If we want to attract children, we ought to be campy, sing children’s songs and dress in outlandish fashion, donning our clown and duck costumes. If we want to attract an older customer, we need to button-down, sing covers, dress crisply, and behave conservatively.

Of course, the best image a busker can project is the one with which the busker is most comfortable. For me, my alter ego busking persona is not too distant from my regular other self. In the non-busking segments of my life I tend to wear black long-sleeved collared gothic western shirts (purchased from Madame Yes), blue jeans, and shiny polished work boots, while my busking self is frocked with white long-sleeved collared designer shirts (purchased from Colin O'Brian Man's Shoppe), blue jeans, and shiny polished work boots.

Lately I’ve just decided to change my busking costume to accommodate the cold. (After all, there is no bad weather; there is only bad dress.) I’ve been wearing a thick grey tam, a knee length black split leather coat, lined blue jeans, and warm boots. Attempting to keep my fingers warm for frailing, I’ve cut out with scissors, the fingers and thumbs of some ordinary red cotton gloves. I can only describe this Autumn attired look as a 60’s British invader who is forever asking with outstretched strums, Please, sir, I want some more. I’ve been on a half dozen outings dressed in this garb and so far it has proved buskworthy.

I am told that my summer busking attire projects the image of a seasoned folk singer, one who is breezy but articulate, someone who enjoys freedom rather than a fancy office, someone who has decided upon a life of simplicity instead of one that is corporate and complicated. I suppose that I could be considered to those passersby as the main protagonist in the literary Bildungstroman tradition. (None of this is necessarily true, but nonetheless such projected charisma has proved prosperous for me.)

I am thinking what Sophia Loren was describing in her famous 50% what you’ve got and 50% what people think you’ve got is being labeled lately as Erotic Capital (see Sociologist, Catherine Hakim). Others would refer to this projected adventure as being honey money. We buskers, rather than stroll down that projected that sexy lane of seduction and solicitation, ought to assay our alter egos as projections of our Psychological Capital. To me, capital that is psychological sounds not as tawdry, and connotes not as much sleaze as that referred to as erotic.

Those marching in my Chaucerian Parade for this week:

  • And yet again … another person parks her shopping cart beside me and smokingly insists that if I really want the money, I ought to return her cart for the coin deposit.
  • A very wasted pan-handler with slurred speech insists that I give him and his pan-handling staggering partner a couple bucks for a coffee. Feeling somewhat generous, I had him a toonie. Within minutes he’s back and in my face demanding five or six dollars. Attempting to ignore him, I keep strumming my banjitar. Eventually he leaves giving me a farewell scowl and the finger.
  • And they’re back! Just when I am packing it in, the friendly father of last week’s dancing daughter, tosses four dollars into my buskpot. Last week when he did this, I decided to play until his taxi came. Today is different. My hands are really cold.
  • My competition is fifty feet across the way, right in front of the liquor store, playing sweet tunes on his guitar. Approximately thirty minutes into my busk, he closes his case, hops on his bicycle, and rides over to visit me. He throws five dollars into my banjitar case. I’m stunned. It is Dillon, a former student of mine, who became a busker because I was a busker!

'Lo and behold, fellow buskers, because we are synchronously the masters and servants of our buskingdoms, we need to be cognizant in projecting both our wordrobes ... and our wardrobes.