Saturday, March 26, 2011

The New Critic Minstrel: An Essay On Self And Social Conscience

minstrel [n]
      1. a lyric poet

      2. a musician

      3. a servant (from Old French menestral)

social conscience [n]

An individualistic understanding of a greater good, and the belief there is an intimate bond among individuals, those both familiar and unfamiliar to one another, that benefits all of us in a collectivistic fashion.

I am very proud and very pleased to be posting a new sponsor, Canadian Mental Health Association (Saskatchewan Division), on the header of this blog. (Look to the left and just up from where you are right now reading.) There have been moments (years) in my banausic past that have forced me to be somewhat benighted in others' circumstance and misfortune. I, as a middle-class misadventurer, am slowly awakening to the seemingly random inequities in and around my own neighborhood, never mind on the rest of the planet. It is through busking, where I hope to do my part to help others less fortunate than I.

There is an archetypal wisdom stretched among us, though to which, sometimes as a crowd, we seem socially unconscious. Though we are evolutionary wired for such survival techniques, being the superior species of the animal kingdom, we often fail to utilize this collective wisdom. Contrarily, lesser creatures, when they are moving in crowds, mostly make wise decisions.

Take for example clouds of bats, murders of crows, gangs of elk, or schools of fishes. These creatures have the uncanny knack of responding to even the faintest signals of danger. A few leaders of these groups register the information, while the rest of the crowd members react and follow accordingly. The advantage for such group spontaneity is obviously positive. It allows the group members to act as one, to move fast, and survive.

But being human, we have the capability to rationalize away our common sense. Rather than react positively as one, we constantly jockey for position, constantly seek for competitive advantages, and forever attempting to fit in and be recognized. Our wanting-to-win attitude clearly puts our individualistic interests far ahead than that of our community interest. Rather than worry about the external dangers that may effect our communities, we tend to focus on our worrisome selves and our specific place of power in the crowd. In short, we mostly choose competition over cooperation.

Fellow buskers, we can do our parts for our communities. It is we who have the capacity to positively impact our social notions onto others through our voices and our connections. It is most fortunate that where we live we have a right to speak freely, and we can therefore sing about whatever we want. Think about this: Where better place to connect with people than on our street pitches.

In Psychology, often the persons perceived to have the least amount of power have the most. I believe this is definitely true with buskers. To many of the pedestrians passing by, it is obvious from their perspectives, that buskers are positioned at a social strata lower than they. But so what. We, buskers, know the power of song, and whoever stops to listen to our songs will realize how powerful we really can be, especially if we sometime sing songs of social commitment, justice, and conscience.

Typically, having a social conscience means having passionate concerns such as poverty, racism, environmental issues, and the like. And so starting today (as you read in my introduction) I'll be busking for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

Founded in 1950, The Canadian Mental Health Association (Saskatchewan Division) Inc. is a volunteer-based organization which supports and promotes the rights of persons with mental illness to maximize their full potential; and promotes and enhances the mental health and well-being of all members of the community.

Come this Summer busking, I plan to mostly pack along my banjitar and sing mostly original material, sprinkled with 10 traditional and popular folk covers:

  1. Tom Dooley (Kingston Trio)

  2. Where Have All the Flowers Gone? (Kingston Trio – written by Pete Seeger)

  3. Worried Man Blues (Kingston Trio)

  4. If I Had a Hammer (Peter, Paul, and Mary – written by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger)

  5. Blowing in the Wind (Peter, Paul, and Mary – written by Bob Dylan)

  6. Don't Think Twice It's Alright (Peter, Paul, and Mary – written by Bob Dylan)

  7. The Universal Soldier (Buffy St. Marie)

  8. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down (The Band – written by Robbie Robertson)

  9. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (buskers, Mic Christopher & Glen Hansard – written by Bob Dylan)

  10. Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show – written by Bob Dylan)

Spring is here and I am sharpening my banjitar. Very soon I'll be playing my bit part for others, too, to have the opportunity -- to sing in the sunshine and laugh everyday!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Faux Buskers And Folk Bands: An Essay On Social Commitment

Faux Busker (n) fo busk'/ er

Definitions: 1. One for whom busking is an avocation

          1. One who busks for diversion

          2. One who does not have to sing for one's supper

Real buskers, I certainly do consider you worthy to busk for social causes; however, I just know that in order to survive, one ought to take care of #1 before ever considering being a sounding voice for others more desperate. The message in today's blog is directed more to faux buskers because they do not have to sing for their supper (see definition #3). Faux buskers can spend a significant portion of their between-busking times reflecting in divergent and creative song writing for concrete and abstract causes, homelessness and world peace for examples. I've also included folk band members because generally speaking, if ever a busker were to join a band, it would be a folk band; generally speaking, if ever a busker came from a band, it would have been a folk band.

In Psychology, when one is generally speaking it is generally true; when one is specifically speaking, general truths are proven not to be true. For example, generally speaking, if people choose to live a healthy lifestyle, they'll live longer. Specifically speaking, I had a smokin' uncle who puffed a pack of cigarettes every day for over fifty years, drank rye whiskey for breakfast, ate only fried meat and boiled potatoes, and lived to be 96 years old. (Each of us has such a relative!)

Back to social commitment. Folk bands usually employ traditional melodies to speak on particular topics. Typical folk bands often address social and political issues, such as work, war, world and public opinion. Set lists of folk bands are often about life that exists, existed, or about to exist. In a line, I am referring to those ethical ideologies or theories that faux buskers or folk bands should be obliged to act upon in order to benefit their communities and even societies at large.

Some Psychology candies to crunch:

  • Faux buskers and folk bands can effect and influence societal views in every performance. Faux buskers and folk bands need not necessarily be ambuscades for reform, but rather minstrel reminders of how the world ought to be.

  • Neither faux buskers nor folk bands need to be the apotheosis for revolution and reform; we are but strummers and thrummers, the human hummers of what is really going on.

  • Because faux buskers and folk bands have lots of opportunities for bully pulpit performances, they can most certainly be the Paladins and champions of particular and passionate causes.

  • Folk songs can be the vicarious experiences of those who've suffered for the benefit of others, a shared experience made powerful through the lyric and melody of world rights and wrongs.

  • Faux buskers, in their wanderlust, experience change, and can therefore sing praises of change.

Faux buskers and band members, I do not mean that one or all of us ought to continually ululate songs of despair and world crises on our street corner pitches and during our night club performances.

I just know what all of us know –

There's a lot of spilth happening on this planet, and someone ought to be singing about it!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fame: An Essay On My Fifteen Minutes

Just last Wednesday (March 9, 2011), the following picture of my long-time bandmate, Judy Musleh, and myself appeared in our local paper, the Regina Leader-Post
(Roy Antal/photographer).

And here is the accompanying article on our band, The Grand Trunk Troubadours.

Regina's 'community-service band'



The Grand Trunk Troubadours aren't your average band.

"It's not like on a Friday, I'm phoning a couple band members to go partying," said 59-year-old band member Neil Child.

The band is comprised of eight musicians who play at local retirement homes and hospitals, like the Wascana Rehabilitation Centre.

They get together in September each year, practise on Thursdays for a month, and start playing gigs each Thursday from October until midJune.

"We set up in a common area, do sound check and give 'er," said Child, who has done "hundreds of gigs."

"We're not professional musicians," he said. "It's self-serving and it's what we give to the community."

The "community-service band" got started eight years ago. Child said they mainly play 1960s rock and '60s to '90s folk music.

It wasn't always smooth sailing for the band. The first few years were "nerve-racking," said Child.

"You don't know what to expect," he said. "You don't know how to behave or what to say to the crowd."

Child said the first while was spent begging for gigs, but now lots of places are approaching the band to play for their clients. Child said the band is booked right up and the work they do benefits both parties.

"It's very self-serving," he said. "But at the same time, they appreciate it."

Child, a guidance councillor at Cochrane High School by day, sings and plays a 12-string guitar and banjitar, a type of banjo with six strings (a regular banjo has four or five).

The band has vocalists, fiddlers, hand and box drummers and guitar players.

Child said he has received lots of praise and the calls for performances keep coming in. He said people line up after "concerts" and tell the band they're awesome.

"Nobody has ever said we sucked," said Child with a laugh.

"It is altruistic in a sense," he added. "But it is also very selfish of me to be able to do this. I am in a band and I can play whatever songs I want and I can go wherever I want, whenever I want."

© Copyright (c) The Regina Leader-Post

*Fellow buskers, it is with a kind of conscious awkward oblivion (referring to world crises, especially in Libya and Japan at the moment), and a blushed humility that I am writing my blog entry for this week. *

Immediately following this Wednesday morning edition, I've had praise from friends in the music community, former and present colleagues at work, and other folks just wanting to book our band. (We have even been contracted for a Fall television production!)

And so, fellow buskers, a reminder that during your off season, such gigs as described above, can be fillips of joy and stimulation to many shut-ins, seniors, and selves on Wint'ry nights. Performing in such venues (retirement communities and hospitals) is a constant reminder that life is ephemeral, the lesson being, fellow buskers -- Make music while you can!

Thank-you, Taylor Shire, for such a well-written and well-received newspaper article.
And thank-you, Taylor Shire & Roy Antal, for giving me my fifteen minutes!

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes
(Andy Warhol). In my mostly middle-class and misadventure world, I was last Wednesday, famous for fifteen minutes.

Many people die with their music still in them (Oliver Wendell Homes) ...

I hope not to be one of them!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Will You Step Into My Parlor: An Essay On The Spider And The Fly

Will you step into my parlor? said the spider to the fly
(Mary Howitt).

In Buskingdom I ask you: Are you a spider or a fly?

By far the most the simple approach to answer this question is to imagine the busker to be the spider and the customer to be the fly. The buskers would be spiders because they set up their rather stationary sidewalk pitches as ambuscades of surprise and attack. But this is not necessarily true.

To offer any qualitative answer to such a question demands a more complex and dualistic understanding of self and world, and to appreciate one's self in a world in which all things are seamlessly connected with one another. To do this, we must also believe that both the spider and the fly, in fact, galvanize each other, spark one another into action, into life.

All of us live in a world cadence, a rhythmic flow of sound and dance, participating in a symbiotic relationship between performer and audience, between spider and fly. We are all of us in Yin and Yang, constantly changing, having our opposites counteract one another, balance and turn into each other; day and night; hot and cold; north and south; up and down, inside and outside; spider and fly.

For the sake of contention and for your philosophic palates, allow me to offer some candies both sweet and sour on which to crunch.

Here is the first candy, and one that is sour:

Yuuuk! Eight legged creepy crawly arachnids. Swarming sticky yicky houseflies. Squash that spider! Swat that fly! Neither the spider nor the fly should affright, for neither the spider nor the fly are moral or immoral. With circumspection, the spider and the fly are just necessary adversaries to one other, and in fact, can intoxicate each other with both enthusiasm and frenzy.

And here is a sweet:

We are all of us spider and fly in the sense that we can gloze over our necessary need for one another; take for example, the ever smiling busker, another example, the ever condescending customer.

Another sweet:

We are all of us spider and fly, will-o'-the wisps for one another, the busker being a light of joy on a mundane day, the customer a light of joy on a busking lull day.

And another sour:

Moiling day to day, we are all of us spider and fly, being continuously hoisted by our own petards of capitalism and convention. Continually, we spin our abstract webs of greed, wealth, and status, until eventually we are caught in our own constructs of consumerism. New wheels, over mortgaged house, mundane job, are just three such examples.

And yet another sour:

We are all of us spider and fly, quite aware of our confinement, yet we still crawl or swarm about this blue orb of ours, seeking self-designed concerts of pleasure, and suffering other-designed moments of panic and grief.

Whenever I have taught first year Psychology classes, I have always posed to the students the question: Are you the prisoner or the product of your experiences?

Are you a spider or a fly? Is the question, perhaps, that I ought to have been asking.

And the sweet and sour answer?

We are what we are when we choose to be. And whether we be spider or fly, the song and dance of each is just another opus, another random composition of sorts created by who knows who ... Finis.