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!


  1. Another great post Neil!

  2. Banjita..a..a..r .................
    away!!! Go Neil.

  3. Hey Neil, thanks again for the reference! I'm thinking of doing some busking this summer; you should consider writing a post about how a rookie busker can get started. I thought you might be interested to know that the chorus of 'Wagon Wheel' was written by Bob Dylan, but the choruses were written by OCMS. Cheers

  4. Great playlist Neil. Big fan of the OCMS because of your recommendation. Thank you!