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


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