Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nietzsche is Pietzsche but Sartre is Smartre and Sumer is Icument In: An Essay on Lhu-de Sing Cuc-cu!

Fellow buskers, I shall explain my snappy title! Before I was a busker I was a teacher of English Literature and being so, such phrases of wit and humor as expressed by the wraiths above would always jump out at me whilst I was woolgathering!

The 19th Century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, I’ve always liked and I know why:

His name seems similar to mine – it’s a simple as that!

My name is Neil Fredrick; his name is Friedrich Nietzsche.

As for the 20th Century French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, I’ve really no connection; he was really, really smart!

And Sumer is Icumen In is from the English Middle Ages, that same time from whence cumen, 14th Century English writer, Geoffrey Chaucer, from whence cumen my Chaucerian Parade (which shall begin in the very next paragraph). I just love the Sumer is Icumen In: Lhu-de Sing Cuc-cu! Fellow buskers, this is we – as Summer is coming in: Loud, we cuckoos sing!

Not only does busking provide for me a pot of coins, it more importantly provides a parade of metaphorically rich characters very necessary for my blog!

***Fellow buskers, if ever you have tales and characters from your own Chaucerian Parades that you would like to share with the world -- (at last count this blog is read in 102 countries), please send them to:

Thank you! (And no attachments, please.)

And here is my Chaucerian Parade of characters from this last week of parking lot busking:

  • · The cool cat wearing the cool shades while still seated in his Chevrolet Cavalier commanding me, Play! Then I’ll give you some money!
  • · The strung-out beery who kept insisting that I go over to his place and tune his twelve-string guitar!
  • · The cadge who wanted me to fix the bridge on his banjo.
  • · The tittuping hippy, hippy lass who wandered over to say hello and If I had some money I’d give you some.
  • · The young and eloquent, Josh Allen, the first person to whom I’ve given my blog business card!
  • · Do you take drive-through? asked a laughing man who pulled in really too close for comfort and tossed two toonies into my banjitar case from his driver’s window!
  • · The rapscallion who grabbed my banjitar stating, I gotta play this thing!
  • · The Jesus Freak who used to be a busker clown in Vancouver, Canada.
  • · No, thank you! said the very generous lady in response to my usual and perfunctory, Thank you, Ma’am.
  • · You’d better have a permit for that! firmly stated the municipal police officer who actually stopped to issue this warning and shake his finger ... in the midst of his hot pursuit of a shoplifter who within seconds of this verbal and visual threat, he wrestled to the pavement and handcuffed!

And a few Psychology Candies to crunch on -- from Nietzsche, Sartre, and Chaucer:

  • · Without music, life would be a mistake (Nietzsche).
  • · All those who were dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music (Nietzche).
  • · If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company (Sartre).
  • · There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk (Sartre).
  • · The lyf so short, the craft to long to lerne, the’ assay so hard, so sharp the conqueryinge (Chaucer).

Sumer is Icumen In: Lhu-de sing Cuc-cu!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Call Me Brother, Bro': An Essay On The Brother & Sister Hoods In Buskingdom

Cadges, canaille, beggars, bums, rabble, riffraff. Call them what you will – but in my buskingdom contiguity, they are my brothers and sisters (in the psychological sense). This I know because more often than not they refer to me as brother or bro.

Such a revelation began with Christina, my very first consumer on my buskation in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (see my blog entry, The Bag Lady and the Busker: An Essay on Social Strata, October 24th. 2010). Christina my very first customer, and my very first sister, was a boozey bag lady who gave me her last nineteen cents when I played Summer Wine.

There you go, brother, she said. I wish I had more but I don't.

Yesterday while busking for just one hour in the Safeway parking lot, a ne'er do well wearing a soiled bandana beneath his Yankees ball cap, and knee high holey socks complete with worn sandals asked,

Brother, will ya watch my bike? I'm just goin' in for a sec. (He tossed me four dollars on his return!)

On this same busk, another of that ilk stated,

I'd give you some money, bro, if I had some.

Hey brother, can you lend me five bucks? Jokingly said another of the rabble as he waddled past.

And what is the Psychology of Reasoning that prompts such familiar salutations? The answer is socially simple. When these supposedly and self-defined lower strata types see and hear me strumming my banjitar in the middle of some parking lot, they most certainly identify with me more than they identify with the shoppers heading to-and-fro the mall marts and shops.

And when I think about it, even some of my friends refer to buskers as beggars with guitars. Alas, and so is the thinking, I suppose, of my cap-in-hand brothers and sisters! After all, we basically share the same spaces, those places where the crowds are most likely to gather. And are all of us gathered in these exact same spaces for the exact same reason: that is, to solicit money from prospective patrons.

Not to further besmirth our sistas and bros', but if we want to distinguish ourselves as buskers, rather than as beggars, we need to be active and forever cognizant in order to change the mindset of our prospective coin providing clients. Changing our shared spaces from beggarhoods to buskingdoms is as easy as SPICE , at least according to K. Dutton, author of Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art & Science of Changing Minds.

Here is the SPICE of the matter:

  • Simplicity. Keep your practiced tunes short and sharp. People will always recognize quality when they hear it.
  • Perceived self-interest (of the client). Like I always say, moving from selfish to selfless will produce qualitative and quantitative results. There must be a perceived benefit to the benefactor, and that ought to be an entertainment of quality.
  • Incongruity. Surprise people – dress for the musical performance. Clean and crisp costume alone will distinguish buskers from beggars.
  • Confidence. The more confident we are the better we perform. Keep that chin up and pretend you are playing for a crowd of two or three hundred (which you really are, it is just that the crowd members are dispersed over time).
  • Empathy. Look people in the eye, nodding to them when they nod to you, and a stating a verbal thanks, man or thanks, ma'am when they toss coins your way.

Fellow buskers, here is the skinny on the reality state of cadges, canaille, beggars, bums, rabble, and riffraff within our physical realms. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration most recently issued some alarming findings from the surveyed evidence of 45 million Americans, one of great significance being that approximately one in five adults suffer from some form of mental illness.

For we buskers who often share the same spaces and times as others who are visibly less fortunate, we continually need to remind ourselves that we are all brothers and sisters that should be sharing the same golden rays under that busking sun, and that we ought to treat such brothers and sisters with a dignity and a fashion and a worth that we would have others treat onto us –

It is as simple as that.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

From Shadow Suite To Sunshine Sweet: Another Essay On The Art And Science Of Busking

I was discovered at my latest and most frequent buskingdom, the Extra Foods parking lot on Broadway. It was a glorious busking day, warm and windless. I was busking solo, just thrumming random tunes on my banjitar.

Would you like to play at our annual Spring Scavenger Hunt? asked a delightful Dianne, whose business card read Executive Assistant – Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan. Admittedly, rather than the draw of my sweet rhythms; it was the lure of the Canadian Mental Health Association sign that charmed Dianne to be next to me. And the following Saturday I recruited my usual buskmate, Baron, and we entertained (and were entertained) for a couple of hours at the society's annual scavenger fund raiser.

[See picture from left to right:

Scavengineer Osh, self, Bongero Baron, Chef-d'oeuvre Peter]

It was the perfect Saturday for a busk. Fat sizzling bronzed wieners. Raw white onions. Bright yellow mustard. We were set up at the event vanguard, right beside the barbecue and the unflappable Peter, the volunteer chef who grilled his gourmet tube steaks the entire duration of the scavenger hunt.

Over a dozen teams of four members each chased after 25 quarried items strategically scattered around the city of Regina, Saskatchewan. Each team was allowed one vehicle, one camera, and three hours to complete its quest. This was not a tin-pot operation, as there were prizes galore for the hoi polloi who had participated ( including Baron and self who were given designer t-shirts, ice-cold drinks and those gourmet hot dogs, of course!).

In the beginning and long ago, Baron and I started played together in Shadow Suite, a band put together strictly for the free entertainment of people having a mental illness. One of our original members, Dee, who was an awesome vocalist and guitarist and from the mental health community, just couldn't keep her act together long enough to play in public. At one point when we were finalizing our play list, she popped dozens of pills, only to be rescued by Baron, who dialed 911, the act of which saved her life. Last we heard, D was getting married and moving to Alberta.

Another time we had another guitarist, Jay, lined up. But Jay was all talk and never a show. And over the years we've had a variety of musicians express interest, but they too, for the most part have been no-shows.

Here is the skinny from my perspective. Tapping band players from the mental health talent pool is truly an endurance test. The three principal qualities necessary for such ambitious and well intentioned band managers are: patience, patience, patience. Alas, but I am a failed Buddhist, too hyper to practice any of the said virtues. But I can serve in another way – busking!

Busking does demand patience, but not necessarily as its principal agent. Here are some Psychological Candies to crunch on for the art and science of any successful buskingdom:

  • Stay in the crowd. Buskers have to always put themselves out there, but do so among the daylight and nighttime crowds. This is a safety issue. I've been in dark places among scant populations and it can get dangerous.
  • Train yourself to associate busking with pleasure. When it is sunny and windless, busking is always more fun than work. Drizzmal days produce parsimonious people and sunny days produce munificent people. In good weather, more people are prone to stop and chat and express genuine interest and goodwill in your entertaining endeavor.

  • Take a break. I've gotten into the celebrated habit of sitting on the curb and savoring an American decaf at least a couple of times on a busk. Ahh such a simple treat!

  • Get physically fit. It takes stamina to busk and the fitter you are, the better you'll be.

  • Think selfless, not selfish. This is most important! Moving so along that pschologically linear thinking path will always produce rich results. Successful busking is self-expression, not self-promotion.

Being discovered by Dianne that afternoon in the Extra Foods parking lot was just another zenith resulting from the synchronicity and phenomenology of life. Similarly, I was once busking at the Cathedral Arts Street Festival and was there, too, discovered and signed to play at a Dragon Boat Festival.

Generally speaking, doing anything always begets doing another thing.

And in a line – Busking here begets busking there!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In The Land Of The Blind: An Essay On The Player King Of The Parking Lots

'Neath a warm mid-day sun and cloudless sky, Baron and I were busking in a shopping mall parking lot, visible to all the people shopping at Extra Foods and to the majority of people buying booze from the liquor store. And then the ne'er-do-well happened by. Cap-a-pie he was rumpled, wrinkled, and smelly. His black cap was crooked on his head, and he had fresh spots of mustard around his unshaved face (probably squirted from hot dog he’d purchased from ladies selling dogs and drinks for a toonie in front of the grocery store). He wore a filthy dark coat partly closed with a couple of middle buttons, and his too-long dirty and baggy pants covered his worn out black and white sneakers.

Watch this guy, I said to Baron, who was playing on his cajon. He’s going to grab our coin. If he makes a move, just kick the case out of his reach. There is no way we’re going to have some punch out right here in the middle of this parking lot.

And sure enough this freeloader wandered over to us, stood within a yardstick from our pitch, and gave us a momentary sneer. He was so close we could smell his breath as he wheezed and mumbled something (derogatory I'd imagined), after which he turned and staggered back to his business of pan-handling in front of the liquor store. Within minutes some staff from the liquor had again shoo'd him away from their entrance, and then he glared again at us.

I know he’s coming over here to grab our money, so get ready, I whispered to Baron. Sure enough. He stumbled back to our pitch, leaned right in toward the two of us, almost losing his balance … then tossed some change into our buskpot!

This was Projective Psychology at its finest. And here I thought I was conceitedly above stereotyping and classism. Rather than being a bandit, this cadge was a brother!

Busking in a parking lot is certainly lucrative both in coin and in the study of human behaviors. Empirical evidence has taught me that in a shopping mall parking lot there are fundamentally three groups of people: the shoppers, the staff, and the solicitors.

Shoppers are continuously arriving and departing. They drive up in cars and trucks and motorcycles. They ride in on bicycles. And some just walk in. A few of them toss coins as they enter the lot, and many toss their coins as they exit.

Staff members from the shopping mall seem to be always milling about. They are helping customers unload groceries from carts to cars. They are sweeping the sidewalks and they are picking litter off the pavement. And some are shooing away the pan-handlers.

Solicitors, too, are ever present. Rain or shine, there are always people selling hot dogs and drinks for local sports teams or school bands heading to Europe. And there are always people plying for money in front of the liquor store. Sometimes there are guitar buskers, and oftentimes there are pan-handlers. Very few are like me. I quite enjoy being in the centre of the parking lot, as I’ve always enjoyed the rich conversations of grocery shoppers who seem very willing to fling coins my way. (On a busy day, every two minutes coins are tossed into my banjitar case – when the time between coins extends beyond five minutes, I usually roll up the mat and move on.)

Here are a few Psychological Candies to crunch from my buskapades in parking lots:

  • Be among those who make you smile. I always smile at people who give me money. And I cannot help but smile with my beggar brothers in solicitation, those canaille and cadge neighbors with whom I often share the same spaces and crowds.
  • Value what you do. It’s not beneath me to busk in front of a liquor store – I've just never done it (yet). Simply, I quite enjoy the richness of conversations and coins elsewhere; parks, sidewalks, and mall parking lots.
  • Find purpose. I busk, not only for myself, but for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA Saskatchewan Division). Such busking really is a win, win, win situation. I’m happy getting paid to practice my banjitar playing. The people passing by are happy getting bargain entertainment. And the CMHA is happy to receive my donations.

Busking is really a bask in sunny and simple pleasures. In my busking alterity, frailing random riffs on my banjitar in the middle of a shopping mall parking lot I am, for that hour or so, the self- crowned monarch of my buskingdom. Compared with the hundreds of passers-by, I am the best banjitar player on the pavement. (Sure, I know there are better pickers out there, but they are not in my parking lot, and if they were, they’d be but one in a thousand amid the pedestrian traffic.)

Comparing my status with the mall staff, some have expressed they would rather do what I do than what they are presently doing. (I do know that buskers represent a certain charismatic and romanticized wanderlust of a life that most people only dream about.)

And comparing myself with the other solicitors in the same general area, I am regarded, not only as a brother, but as an apotheosis of sorts – though I could be delusional in this regard! I do know, from my busking experiences, that I am perceived as being more approachable to chit-chat than those in their work suits walking briskly and importantly down the business sidewalks or across the pavement of the shopping malls.

And to embiggen my status as parking lot busker …

In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king (Erasmus, 1510).

In my buskingdom, I am truly the player king of the parking lot!