Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Fair Weather Busker: An Essay On Phatic Chit Chat

Some weather we’re havin’ huh?

Hey buddy, how’s it goin’?

Have a nice day, hey.

A simple nod of the head.

A simple wave of the hand.

Whether we are standing at cross-walks or bus stops, whether we are at our workplaces or at our places of recreation, such phatic phrases are common among familiar strangers. (Familiar strangers are those people you expect to see and briefly greet in a frequently attended familiar setting.)

Such clich├ęd phrases and gestures are examples of time worn communication strategies usually referred to as small talk, or in Psychological terms, Phatic Expression. And such is our strategy of we gregarious creatures who cannot bear to be cut off too long from our fellowships, even if we really have nothing of importance to say. Phatic expression has the performance functioning social task to determine and establish the mood of another fellow being for potential affability.

Even when little words are spoken aloud, and little actions gesticulated, relationships and things become a little different, unless there is a startling and real response. The delivery of a weather comment to another person usually results with an in-kind response. For example:

Some weather we’re havin’ huh? often has a response similar to Ya, you got that right, enough is enough.

Should the response be more involved and lengthy (for example, Ya, you got that right. I was just on the phone with my brother who lives in Texas, he works in oil down there, been there for the past eight years or so, he says that … and so on), speaks more for the condition of the respondent, rather than the chit chat issue of the weather.

Generally, all of the above is the social law of phatic chit chat. This is not the case for phatic expressions with buskers. For buskers, common chit chat oftentimes leads into significant and mercenary discussions.

Due to the nature of the busking business, whether taking place on a sidewalk or in a parking lot, the performers and audience members have a very brief but reciprocal and ever susceptible relationship with one another.

Sometimes this relationship means sharing a laugh (lots of people have come up and told me funny stories about themselves). Sometimes it means an offer of gratitude (always from the performer, oftentimes from the consumer). Sometimes consumers confide (on every busk someone has confided that he/she used to play guitar, banjo, whatever). Sometimes the performer becomes a mentor (to the people that ask if I would them teach guitar or banjo I always give an impromptu lesson, usually a G-strum, then refer them elsewhere for instruction).

In sales the customer is always right. This is ought to be the same motto for those selling their songs and strums and peddling their wares on the street. When approached by a customer, be nice. When a customer asks for whatever (perhaps a song request), comply if you can; if you cannot, politely decline and give explanation (I always decline – I play only originals and politely say so).

I am not suggesting the performer be subservient or sycophantic to the consumer. I am not suggesting the performer disregard personal philosophy and practice for the sake of greed. I am suggesting that buskers are performance based vendors, and being vendors means being in business. And from a very mercenary stance, the business of busking is to get as much coin as possible over a limited time on a certain space.

When it comes to busking:

Nothing personal -- business is business but …it pays to be nice.

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