Saturday, March 24, 2012


There is a callithump of buskers pretending to be cowboys. Though most of these street slickers are dime-store, there are some that are the real McCoys. As for me, my cowboy credentials are solid. One lazy afternoon beneath a smalt-blue sky in the summer sun of 1964, I became a bona fide cowboy.

My friend, Corky, who had ridden his horse into town, showed up at my doorstep.

“You can ride Blackie, if I can ride your new bike,” he bartered.

Right there we made a temporary trade. I hopped on Blackie, the chestnut Clydesdale with the feathered hoofs, and he jumped on my red CCM Glider with silver fenders covering the 28” wheels.

On the Notekeu Creek Bridge, about a mile from town, on this a warm and windless perfect summer day, the action began. Corky rode my bike across the bridge, whereas, I stopped short because of the rifle fire. Floating on the creek beneath the bridge were four friends, Shane, Lash, Flip, and O'Toole, smoking cigarettes and shooting frogs and birds along the creek bank with their 22 caliber rifles. They were aboard the Snail, a found rowboat they had refurbished and painted for just such a summer day of rowing and smoking and shooting.

Being horseback on that bridge just as they were floating underneath proved too enticing to pass up for the four sailors on the Notekeu. The first couple shots were meant to scare the horse. However, the final shot, fired just as the boat rocked, completely by accident, hit my right shoulder. I felt the thud, looked at my back, and the blood began to pour. I jumped off the horse and swore at my friends.

“He’s fakin’ it,” said one of them.

I turned so they could see the blood.

A mad fury proceeded. The boys scrambled to get ashore to come to my rescue. Since we were about a mile from town, Lash bolted across the fields to get the paddy wagon, the affectionate nickname for his delivery panel truck. (His parents owned a grocery store and he was supposed to be delivering groceries that day.)

The boys loaded me into the paddy wagon, and Lash drove to the hospital. At the hospital, Nurse Dorothy (Percival) waited by my side until the doctor from Herbert arrived. On the operating table the doctor had me roll onto my belly and commanded me to grab the bed post. He drilled a hole through my shoulder blade, and with a long set of forceps, tried several times to get hold of the bullet. I'm going to reach just one more time, Neil, and if I can't get it, we'll have to take you by ambulance to Swift Current, stated the doctor. He then gave one last pinched attempt and voila! He got it!

I spent considerable days of my summer vacation in hospital. Those days they were worried about lead poisoning.

The headline in the Swift Current Sun read:


Like I said, my cowboy credentials are solid. Getting shot while on horseback has earned me the bragging rights of being a bona fide cowboy. I’ve earned my keep. I claim entitlement to don the cowboy hat and pull on the boots, and strum on the sidewalk.

I do have other cowboy credentials:

I’ve been on a cattle drive. When I was ten or so years old I was recruited by a couple of real cowboys, Vern Anderson and Albert Gader, to help drive forty head of cattle three miles from one pasture to another. That time I was afoot.

When I was sixteen years of age I rode across Turkey Track Ranch on my 80 CC Suzuki motorcycle, en route to a rodeo in Herbert. I got a flat and a couple of real range cowboys, Percy and Bob Ostrander, patched my motorcycle tire.

As a young man employed as a Field Office Checker with the Department of Highways, I took board and room for a few weeks with Ranger Charlie at the Ranger Station in the West Block of Cyprus Hills Provincial Park.

As a middle-aged busker I strolled up and down the concrete linings of the mean streets in Victoria, British Columbia, as a singing cowboy. Cap-a-pie my costume was a white cowboy hat, fringed shirt, and green leather topped Rocky boots. To coin a new term, I was a real buskeroo.

And just what does it take to be a real buskeroo? That is besides taking a bullet while on horseback!

I’m thinking it could very well be determined by where your place of origin. Saskatchewan locales such as Hallonquist, Cadillac, Val Marie, Mankota, and Maple Creek are definitely considered to be in Cowboy Country. Places even further west like Pincher Creek, Alberta and Merrit, British Columbia are among the hundreds of famous cowboy communities.

It could be your galloping play list. Yodeling the wistful likes of Don’t Fence Me In, Ghost Riders in the Sky, They Call the Wind Maria, and Someday Soon, will have your consumers surely welcome you as a real buskeroo, just as they did Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy.

The notion of being a cowboy has been in the busking business for a long while. Whenever you climb into the busking saddle, get ready for the ride. And whenever you're strumming under the stetson, you'd best adhere to the Code of the Buskeroo:

-Live each day with courage. Stay fit, eat healthy, and present your sidewalk self with authority and confidence.

-Take pride in your work. Strum and sing like you really mean it.

-Know where to draw the line. Adhere to the demarcations and sound boundaries of other buskers when setting up your buskingdoms.

-Ride for the brand. When you begrime yourself, you begrime all of us.

-Every trail has some puddles. Every day is a new ride, and some rides are hard to thole. Every sun-up, however, gives opportunity for redemption.

Buskeroos, the sky is our roof and the sidewalk is our saddle. We are solitudinarian strummers in a consumer world. Besides ourselves, the only real villains we'll meet along the trail are the hectors and the weather. Whether your busking mesas be 'neath the morning sun or the midnight moon, remember that any cowboy can carry a tune – the trouble comes when he tries to unload it.

Buskeroos … Happy frails to you!

Monday, March 19, 2012

When Irish Eyes are Smiling: An Essay on a Morn in Spring

St. Patrick’s Day. It was the top of the morning and the fuzzy sun was making a feeble attempt to shine through the bisque colored sky. I decided my luck-of-the-Irish tog to be the usual martinet of very polished black books, Vegas blue jeans, a starchy long-sleeved white shirt, and in sycophantic fashion, I donned a green and white tam to entreat any of the hoi polloi who claimed even but a dram of Irish in their blood.

Here are some footers from my Chaucerian Parade on St. Paddy’s Day - none of them claimed to be Irish!

Is it okay if we take your picture with me? asked a juicy colleen. (Forgive my middle-age lechery.) I must confess I quite enjoyed the momentary canoodle as her female companion began clicking the camera, while we posed. And for whatever narcissistic reasons, I seem to bask in these Kodak moments of monetary reward and imagined celebrity.

A zaftig cyclist clothed in Amish fashion, hood-over-the-head, long black skirt, plain light top, states matter-of-factly that I ought to join musical forces with some busking guitarist at some liquor store. That way, you’ll not have split the income, she sniped, her head turned back toward me while she peddled away.

A non-versant hector, a middle-aged fat guy wearing torn and soiled sweats and a New York Yankees cap just stood and disconcertingly stared. Eventually, while shaking his head in what seemed to be disgust, he walked away.

An older gentleman, tall and distinguished, asked to play my banjitar. I’ve been playing banjo for thirty years, he says. I allowed him some strums of some undecipherable chords for about a minute. Not as easy as it looks, he said (with a smile).

Two dressed alike little girls ask if they can give me money, after which their dad gives me even more money.

An elderly lady and her middle-age daughter did a jig on the sidewalk to my thrumming.

A little boy, five years old perhaps, bounced to my tunes while his mother, who was in a laughing fit, dragged him to the car.

A man wrapped in denim shirt and jeans, complete with cowboy boots and hat, stopped to chat about his guitar and banjo collection.

To close, just a wee bit o’ Irish blarney and comfort for you buskers, Bartley and Bradan and Sean and Seamus, and Shannon and Sinead and Molly and Maeve, when you're green with envy of those flamboyant folks who are to be tossin’ greenery in your direction:

If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at who He gives it to!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Schtick Two: An Essay on Navel-Gazing

It was shirt-sleeve weather and the snow was melting into puddles. In our buskingdom we were basking in the warm sunshine at the front entrance of the Value Village Mall. B beat on his bongos and I frailed on my banjitar. Come any time after twelve o’clock because that’s when we’re busy, stated the mall manager, Shaun. He was right. Just after lunchtime on a Saturday and umpteen shoppers were tossing coins into my case.

This day, B and I were wearing matching black toques. Somehow, wearing a toque makes a busker look like … a busker. My last few outings my black toque, white turtleneck, knee-length split leather black coat, and work boots have been my wardrobe. My wordrobe has always been about me, me, me. In fact, I was contemplating another title for this blog entry: My Hero: Another Essay About Me, Myself, and I.

I was reminded about my narcissistic navel-gazing self while at the Regina Teachers Convention, the very day before we set up for our Value Village busk. Though the keynote confident, articulate, and funny, her speech did have a glaring weakness – She, as I, suffers from I’m-the-hero-in-every-story-I-tell Syndrome. And I knew this even before she entered the stage. Our programme brochure stated that others wanted to hear about her life story.

When I read such words in her thumbnail (knowing that it is really a short, short bio given by the keynote, to the person who is to introduce the keynote), I knew there would be a speech fraught with a descriptive humble background, and her words would polished to present a contest in humility compared to the critical mass seated in her audience. I was right. She grew up in a single-parent household, her dad was a Volkswagon mechanic, and she was ridiculed by her school mates. Both her dad and mom had been married three times and she always knew she was a talker. Enough of her ... back to me, me, me.

My last entry I wrote about schtick, and how I am all about schtick, especially when it comes down to busking. All that is fine, but I knew that it would need another blog entry to make my other descriptors for whom the street is not a bivouac, but a place of habitation. And if matters could be worse, these street folk have got only a whimper for a voice. It is for these types that I shall write today.

For these who are the consumers of the mental health agencies. Just scroll down the left side of my blog header and you’ll see the agencies to which I’m referring: CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION, SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY OF SASKATCHEWAN, PHOENIX RESIDENTIAL SOCIETY, SEARCH.

What you see is what you get. Street and sidewalk panners have no time to present schtick, they are too occupied with survival. Here are three such examples -- all three in blue jeans.

Martin, in his fifties, stands close by oftentimes when I’m busking at Extra Foods. He has long blond hair, long blond beard, dressed in a green parka in winter, and a blue jean jacket in summer. Always he is in blue-jeans. His shoes are scruffy and he walks with a limp. He just stands there asking everyone passing for spare change. He looks like a very scruffy Jesus.

Whenever I walk over to Scarth Street to busk, around the corner on Victoria Avenue is Bob. Bob comes out only in summer. His garb is always blue-jeans and jean jacket. With his long white hair and long white beard and outstretched palm he looks like Santa on a panning vacation.

And then there is Allen. He never talks or smiles; he just continually cruises back and forth among the Radisson Plaza, the Ramada, and Regina Inn, stopping only to pick cigarette butts. When he pans, it is only for smokes. Sometimes he wears a cowboy hat. He is usually dressed in a denim jacket overtop a western shirt. He is always in blue jeans and cowboy boots. His gait is noticeable from afar because of his long stride. He looks like Mr. Truck, a character off those Keep on Truckin' posters from the 70's.

I could go on but it’s not necessary. My point is simply that as a faux busker I am but an artifice, whereas, the people I’ve just highlighted present really who they are, presenting the opposite of schtick. As a faux busker I’m continually experimenting ways to make my consumers happy. Panners are just trying to make themselves happy.

In a Psychological sense, these panners and scroungers would represent the counterpatterns to the regular workaday consumers. Most consumers, when going shopping for example, present themselves in ways that appear to be okay. Generally speaking, they get somewhat spruced up because they are going out and about in public. Most panners on the other hand, do not have the capacity to look spruced, and rather than going, they are stationary. For panners, any type of schtick would be the tramontane of maintaining a daily sustenance.

One could simply think such street people could easily transmogrify into regular commercially- conformed werewolves, like the cluttered majority rest of us. One could simply think that perhaps they could get bitten by some client-centered counselor, and finally discover that they’ve always had the power within to transform to our majority values.

Or perhaps not. Generally, those who wander the sidewalks plying for our hard-earned spare change or our tailor-made cigarettes with their palms up, are the marginalized consumers of agencies who specialize in the treatment of clients with mental health issues. Pan-handlers, rather than pandering schtick, are presenting their real McCoy selves.

Fellow buskers, I need not remind you that there is a bright line between you who can play and sing, and those ostracized others who have only the capacity to beg. The demarcation between busker and beggar is quite like a polarization between those having the mental abilities to reflect and introspect about capital and corporate manners, and those have-nots who have not the mental ability to do so.

Fellow buskers, to finish this blog geared toward me, myself, and I, join me in this weekend wordrobe of plaudits to the dedicated agencies (such as those on my blog header) and their staffs (i.e., Lin & David, Anita & Jackie, Carole & Ann Marie, Nikolina & Lionel) who effect sea-changes in either their disparate consumers or the general public, or both.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Plato, Pirsig, and Phaedrus: An Essay on Schtick

The Naked Cowboy. Pierre St. Pierre. Darth Fiddler. These buskers have schtick. Attired in their signature costumes, these street artists have been successfully busking their wares to world consumers for years. The Naked Cowboy, clad only in his cowboy hat, cowboy boots, and swinger briefs, strums in Times Square to the throngs in New York, U.S.A. Pierre St. Pierre, the automaton virtuoso accordionist entertains the ruck of summer millions on the streets in Paris. Darth Fiddler, the black-frocked former evil-space commander-turned-street violinist, plays his fiddle to the crushes off the cruise ships whilst they shop in downtown Victoria, Canada.

Just how am I to gain such busking stature and notoriety?

As a buskologist, I am continually reflecting my current busking status, and to answer such a question, not unlike Plato and Pirsig before me, I shall rely on Phaedrus as my guide.

Ah Phaedrus! For Plato he was the perfect interlocutor for Plato the protagonist in several dialogues and debates (The Phaedrus, 37.0 B.C). For Robert Pirsig, Phaedrus was his ever present shadow, representing a healthy past self (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, 1974). Phaedrus, for me, shall be my introspective classical self-versus my current romantic self, in a short debate on dressing for buskingdom.

Self: I’ve always been a cowboy fan and my wardrobe is filled with Jim Cuddy shirts. My green leather cowboy boots I wore busking on the streets of Victoria are still a hit wherever I go. On the big screen some of heroes have been cowboys: Gary Cooper (High Noon), John Wayne (True Grit), Gregory Peck (The Stalking Moon), Burt Lancaster (The Professionals), Steve McQueen (Tom Horn, The Magnificent Seven), Tom Selleck (Quigley Down Under). And for as long as I remember I've been an Ian Tyson fan.

Phaedrus: Yes, yes, you’ve always been a cowboy fan. What boy hasn’t been a cowboy fan – in his pubescence! And your wardrobe is not filled with Jim Cuddy shirts. All your shirts are the blackest Goth with signature skulls and were bought at Madame Yes, which is NOT a cowboy shop. Those movies you’ve mentioned are classics, loved by everyone who has seen them. But none of those cowboy stars are singers, never mind buskers. (Check out Gene Autry and Roy Rogers -- they were singing cowboys!) Finally, just because you've liked Ian Tyson all these years doesn’t mean everyone likes Ian Tyson. I’m thinking the folk duo Ian & Sylvia were more famous than the ride-into-the-dust-and-despair cowboyographer, Ian. Besides, a cowboy is not a cowboy without the hat. Do you even own a cowboy hat?

Self: No, I don’t own a cowboy hat, but I can always buy one.

Phaedrus: Have you ever priced a cowboy hat? Anyone can purchase one of those straw cowboy hats found in dime and thrift shop bins for a couple bucks. Or better yet, you get one for free when you buy a case of pilsner with a branded garden cowboy hats stuffed inside the beer case. The bottom line is you get what you pay for. If you want a real cowboy hat, you best git along little dogey, and visit a Western Outfitter and part with mucho dinero, amigo.

Self: But I was thinking the cowboy persona would look good, especially when frailing my banjitar.

Phaedrus: Your thinking is BAD. And your cowboy persona combined with your banjitar frailing can only transmogrify to a hillbilly BAD look. If you really want to be a singing cowboy, then make your gigging schtick an indoor Western Theatre of sorts. Pick some duster songs, don the denim, and pluck your twelve-string. With your money earned you can even buy two cowboy hats, one white, and one black.

Self: I do have tam, bowler, and derby hats in my closet; however, when wearing any of them, I believe I present a rather prim, perhaps even stiff impression.

Phaedrus: Nonsense. Those beanies are perfect for busking. With considerable thought you purchased that black and white checker derby at Madame Yes (Regina). The same goes for that green and white checker tam you purchased at Polo Park (Winnipeg). The silver tam was a thoughtful gift. The lasting impression you in particular, leave in the minds of your consumers is not your headwear, rather it is your banjitar playing! Do I need remind you when you used to wear your white cowboy hat and busk with your twelve-string? Do you remember your success? (I’m using the word success in a sarcastic manner). Your business has literally multiplied ten-fold since busking with your banjitar. Even in previous blogs you’ve written frequently that when thrumming a guitar, you are next to being invisible, being just another Bobby Dylan wannabee.

Self: Okay. So if I don a tam or bowler or derby that I have stored on the upper shelf of my closet, what shall I choose for the rest of my garb.

Phaedrus: Just as you’ve always worn as of late. A long-sleeved crisp collared white shirt, faded jeans, and workboots. You’ve got the look, man! You’re instrumentation is adequate; you’ve got the gift of the gab; people love chatting with you! When busking, stick with your current signature wardrobe and play only the banjitar.

Meanwhile back at the ranch take heed, Pilgrim:

As you mosey off into the sunsets of your buskingdoms, just as sure as the concrete cowboys are yodeling yipee yipee kiyaay – you’ll be counting your coin!

Here is Braylon's Red Sombrero, an original song for your busking pleasure:

Introduction & [BRIDGE]: string 1 open, then trigger finger on fret #1, followed by ring finger on fret #3, followed by trigger finger on fret #1, then open again. Repeat same action on string 2.

Following this, strum Em in a Mexican fashion. Then quietly strum Am as you sing the lyrics.


The south winds are always blowing up the coast of California

And I always tie my chin-strip to hold down my red sombrero


Braylon is a player in a mariachi band

He wears a red sombrero that is famous throughout the land


One day in Tihuana Braylon woke from his siesta

To see a sweet chiquita dancing for his pleasure


Then after many sasparillas Braylon tossed his red sombrero

In drunken celebration to the sun


One morning I was busking on the sands of Venice Beach

There came a gift from Heaven from the sky right to my feet


It was the very red sombrero that Braylon had made famous

And the reason that I know this is I recognized the letters ...

Stitched inside the brim of my hat from Heaven


The south winds are always blowing up the coast of California

And I always tie my chin-strap to hold down my red sombrero