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.


  1. Great piece this week Neil!!! Probably my favorite so far. Looking forward to more, Keep em coming... I enjoy my weekly appointments with your blog.


  2. Waiting for an update on the tattoo contemplation too.