Sunday, April 29, 2012


University exams are over.  I’ve completed my marking.  I’m ready (again) to straddle the sward and sidewalk beneath the western sky, and write.

However, I must admit there are days I would just love to roll out of bed and present my scruffy unkempt self for the entire world to see.  There are days I would just love to snarl back at those passers-by who snarl at me.  There are days I would just love to state, uncensored and exactly, what is on my mind.  There are days I would love to present my Shadow.

The Shadow, according to Carl Jung, is the unknown dark side of our personality.  The theory of the Shadow is a metaphorical means of conveying a prominent role played by our unconscious. Too bad (sometimes) that expressing the dark side of our personality while busking is not a way to make coin, nor is it ever a positive way to serve ourselves (and others), as we suffer through our existence.
Especially whilst on a busk, we really need to be on the bright side of our personality.  For example, busking in my cowboy persona conveys a prominent and positive role because of my conscious design; meanwhile back at the ranch, my unconscious darker shadow is kept out of sight and mind in the corral.

Do you sometimes feel you are just running in place and not moving forward? Run down and exhausted? Frustrated from your regular sidewalk routine?  Do you sometimes decide that this whole romantic notion of being a busker is really meaningless, save for the money?  Me too!  And so to combat such negativity, I’ve decided to ride the high trail by creating a busker manifesto.

No, I’m not thinking of sorts like The Communist Manifesto (by Karl Marx), or the Bible and the Ten Commandments (by God).  I am thinking, simply, of a public declaration of busking policy, intention, opinion, and motive.  My manifesto shall consist of only three foci: Focus on Delivery, Focus on Quality, and Focus on the Sunny Side.

Focus on Delivery:
Busking, really, is all about artifice.  Present the busker you want to be.  If you want to be a folk singer, deliberately mess your hair, keep some whiskers.  Rather than button down, hang loose.  Wear white T’s and faded jeans.  Me and Bobby McGee and other dulcet tunes will fare better than the dreary Eve of Destruction types. 

Focus on Quality:
Practice, practice, practice makes perfect.  Present only your perfect songs.  Fewer quality songs will embigger your performance, compared to no matter how many songs in progress.  People recognize quality (Robert Pirsig).  Playing just a few songs that are well rehearsed, of which the tempos can be changed at random, of which you can look about and appreciate your consumers while thrumming, is far better and much cleaner than galumphing through a clunky and cluttered display of several songs clipped to a musical stand.

Focus on the Sunny Side:
When busking, we are, in a real sense, brigands of the buskerhood.  No, we’re not highwaymen; we are simply sidewalk minstrels, street light people, representing all those following our songsteps.  Generally, if we present happiness, our consumers will respond in kind.  Nobody likes grumpiness.  Grumpy people give nothing.

If I’ve the discipline to follow my three-foci qualitative manifesto, I know that my buskapades shall be quantitatively enhanced (clink, clinkety clink).

And now for my Chaucerian Parade of characters for this past week:
The ladies who work at Shoppers.  I love you.  I’ve established my presence to the point that I just have to tap on the window glass, to grab your attention and approving nods for me to busk.  And you brighten my day with your comments and chuckles when you visit me on your smoke breaks!
 MickNoticing my sign in support of the Schizpophrenia Society, Mick told me his brother had schizophrenia and committed suicide at 23 years of age.  Mick donated five dollars to the cause. 

Anita and Jackie of the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, and Peter, their chief cook and bottle washer.  You’ve accomplished yet another fun and money successful (annual) Scavenger Hunt, of which I was honored to be the parking lot banjitar player.  You really do make a difference.
Mister middle-aged cowpoke.  He just grinned and tossed a ten dollar bill into my guitar case!  This was within a minute of my setting up – proof that my cowboy creds are convincing!
The silver-haired lady with the silver glasses who told me one of her childhood memories. This is her story:  I remember singing when I was little.  I would sit along near the top of the staircase in the evenings, while my mom served the men who were downstairs at the supper table – they had finished threshing for the day.  (I was much too shy to go down and join them.) ‘Get that girl to sing,’ one of the men would always say, and then I would sing a song or two from the stairs.  After my songs and when the men were gone, there would always be a coin at every plate.  After she told me this story, the silver lady tossed a couple toonies into my guitar case.
My new best friend, Tyler.  Tyler gave me a brand new MHT 3X BEAVER BLEND COWBOY HAT!  This hat certainly confirms my aforementioned cowboy credentials, and helps me suppress my Shadow self.

When your busking routine has become perfunctory, this is the time for growth, time for development.  Rather than let the daily grind of busking get you down, attempt to keep each busk joyful, a personal commitment to maintaining performance growth.  Doing so, will add energy and flow to your busking day – to your life, in fact.    And remember that presenting your unconscious dark-sided self is always easier than presenting your positive conscious self. Hard work beats talent not working hard – every time.

Back to the hat – my new MHT 3XS BEAVER BLEND.  My cowboy persona is now positively complete, and my notion to don such a studly Stetson is, do I daresay -- JUSTIFIED.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


It was warm and windless and not a cloud in the smalty sky. It seemed the perfect day for a busk. With manager Shawn’s permission, early Saturday afternoon my favorite bongocero, (Baron) and myself, set up at the glass entrance to Value Village. We decided upon an hour of musical variance, alternating tempos, sometimes led by the unique Baron beats, other times led by my thrums. The moods of our pieces varied from accelerando to allargando, from blue tones to boogie-woogies.

As a soi-distant buskologist, while on a busk I take special interest in each of my consumers, and feel compelled to describe some of the more interesting marchers-by in our weekly Chaucerian Parade:

Tattoo Brian and zaftig, Chris: Tattoo Brian rode his skate board, while Chris trotted alongside. Brian had his cap on sideways, continually flexed his biceps wearing a muscle shirt, baggy jeans, and skate shoes. Zaftig Chris was quite scantily clad, wearing a very revealing halter top (I didn't notice the color) and short, short, tight, tight cut-off jeans, and green crocs.

We’re looking for a preacher to marry us. Do you know one? Brian asked.

The security officer: One week ago this same pale and chain-smoking, lanky security officer attempted to move me to no avail (I had permission) from another buskspot. Today he was off duty, but still in his Metro gray and grungy uniform. He smiled at us.

Hello again, he said.

The wasted loud-mouth lady: An unkempt wobbling lady almost hit us while riding her bicycle.

Watch my bike, please, she said as she leaned it against the glass! On her return she yelled, Where’s my bike! You were supposed to watch my f#%*ing bike!

Right where you left it, ma’am, I replied as I pointed, with my guitar, to where her bicycle was still leaning against the glass.

The Chinese Mason: A tall Chinese with a certain duende, wearing a beige-vanilla three piece suit stopped to chat. I couldn't help but notice his navy blue, gold trim Masonic tie tack, the square, compass, and letter G. (I thought at first it to be a brummagem; now I know better!)

I very much like your music, he said while extending his arm for a hand-shake. I have no money on me but I do have some gift coupons for my restaurant. Is four enough? he asked as he tossed them into my guitar case.

That same Saturday evening Baron and I decided to treat our ever supportive friends, Brad and Hollis, for some Chinese take-out. We, of course, would use the coupons given by the Chinese Mason.

Seated in the outdoor garden patio of Ms. Fortune’s Flowers of China, we dined on Jill Yim Ha, Gee Gee Gai, Ma Po Bean Cake, and Squid. (All agreed our small banquet to be exotically delicious!)

But then came the Fortune Cookies, brought directly to our table by the Chinese Mason. He introduced himself as Mr. Chang!

I have a fortune cookie for each of you, he said as he passed one to each of us in turn. Our cookies represent the four famous flowers of China. Sometimes these are called “the flowers of the four seasons”, he explained. Each of the cookies was wrapped in a motif representing each of the flowers.

The Orchid, the symbol of Spring, he presented to Baron. The Lotus, symbol of Summer, he presented to Hollis. To Brad he presented the Chrysanthemum, the symbol of Autumn, and the symbol of Winter, the Plum Blossom, he presented to me.

Thank-you so very much for dining at my restaurant. It was such a joy to have served you, said Mr. Chang. Enjoy your fortunes!

We each read our fortunes aloud in the same order Mr. Chang had given them. Baron’s Orchid Spring was first: Beware the girls in Bloom—They burst to seduce you.

Hollis read his Summer Lotus: Beware the blue dragonflies, yellow butterflies and bumble bees—They swirl in summer wine.

Then Brad read his Chrysanthemum Autumn: Beware the many colors in the breeze--The hunter seeks its prey.

And last, I read my Plum Blossom Winter: Beware those clad in fake fur—They come to chill the night.

To close, fellow buskers, keep in mind that:

Each of us inherits a culture, with all its written and unwritten rules, and lives in a story written for a fortune cookie.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Bildungsroman of Busking: An Argy-Bargy on Meritocracy

Dear readers,

Allow me some phatic confessions. Yesterday it was drizzmal; today it is snow. I am at my laptop thinking it is time for another argy-bargy on the art of busking.

I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, (not) a pirate, a poet, a pawn and (not) a king. I’ve been a painter, a packer, a pool cleaner, a prison guard, a pump jockey, and a professor – for all of which I’ve been paid. And now I’m a part-time busker. Other jobs, but not beginning with the letter P, for which I’ve been paid have included: swamper, surveyor, apprentice lineman, customer service representative, framer, swimming instructor, and one that is most memorable, working on the green chain. All of these occupations I have loved, and all have added joy to my life. You might say I am a textbook study in Psychology and in Literature when I profess that I am the sum, rather than the prisoner, of my occupational experiences.

My love of busking is but a continuation of my bildungsroman.

Rick Lewis (BREAK A RULE. Com) has stated that busking is the most honorable form of business because … the product and service is generously given to any passer-by, and the customer is free to give back exactly what has been received in value.

I like this. Lewis is one who knows that the art of busking requires a demanding skill base. Fellow buskers, this we know. To be successful buskers we must be proficient in marketing (some of us are strummers, some of us are statues, some of us don duck costumes); we must be proficient in branding (I’ve decided to be a cowboy as of late and my pun is intended); and we must be proficient in theatre (to dare act in public the way we do).

Fellow buskers, we also know that there are some passers-by who consider us beggars, rather than as professional street entertainers. I suppose the alterity of busking could be compared to some sense of beggarhood, but I doubt these particular sidewalk pedestrians give thought that, unlike beggars and cadges and panners, those of us who lack the skills don’t last. These potential consumers do not give thought that we can neither hide nor fake what we do. These pedestrians do not give thought that if we do not show up for work and provide our direct values to others, we do not get paid. I doubt that most of our passers-by are subject to these same tangibly built-in work ethics. I doubt that most of these passers-by are not even close to operating at the scrutiny and the meritocracy that we buskers present at each of our street corner and sidewalk buskingdoms. It is as simple as that.

As buskers we also provide a slew of cultural intangibles. I’m thinking the sunshine spontaneity of the vis-à-vis interactions among strangers, the laughter and the moments of respect that regularly occur between busker and consumer.

Factoid: 130 countries are represented by the readership of this blog. To date this includes four countries significant to the recent Arab Spring: Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria.


Buskers, we are at once both culturally anachronistic and avant-garde. We will always represent the times of economic past, present, and future. Literally, we are Aesopian characters portraying a certain mercantile innocence, whilst secretly demonstrating the changing economical ethics of the planet!

Friday, April 6, 2012

GOLDEN RULES: An Essay on Behaviors in the Buskerhood

'Tis drizzmal again today and rather than weather the strum in the flesh, I shall present my martinet buskologist view of how we ought to be behave, whether we are or not, actually strumming in the rain.

For us to flourish as beings, some Golden Rules of behavior have been established: What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others (Confucianism, 500 B.C.), Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss (Taoism, 4th Century B.C.), Do unto others what you would have them do unto you (Christianity, 1st Century), As you think of yourself, so think of others (Sikhism, 15th Century).

For us to flourish as buskers, we must model and exhibit such positive behaviors. We must rule our buskingdoms with grace and wisdom! We must royally abide by these so golden inspired unofficial proclamations:


I’ve been thrumming on the streets long enough to know that being an ambassador for the buskerhood means being clean and licit. Check out the local bylaws. If an official paper permit or pin is necessary to strum on the sidewalk, then get it. Permits usually cost around 10 dollars a season, and can always be obtained through city hall. Also, with permit or not, be sure to seek permission/blessing from the vendors within the closest proximity of your chose busk spot. That vendor is to be your neighbor, not your adversary. Last, steer clear of buskers that are dirty and disorderly. I am not dissing other buskers when I state that on every one of my buskingdoms, I’ve been witness to others professing to be buskers who are really cadges and dregs and drunken scoundrels. Not in any regard is there ever a need to be bracketed among them.


Keep a respectful distance from other buskers on the same street. A good rule of thrum is to have no more than two buskers on any particular block. A glut of buskers on a block is madedoine of musical misery for both pedestrians and merchants. Also be respectful of the space directly in the pedestrian flow of traffic. Be conspicuous only by tune or by costume, not by being a roadblock. One ought to be respectful of audible space, too. Avoid amplification – Always go unplugged. Both your pedestrian consumers and your friendly vendorhood will appreciate this.


No matter the size or type of donation, make sure your consumer knows that you are grateful. Most of the times, it is money, gift certificates, coupons. Sometimes it is only chit-chat and smiles. Whatever treasures your consumers offer, realize them to be gifts, and cherish each of those joyful moments accordingly.

Fellow buskers, by nature we are not members of any formal caucus. We do, however, display distinctly caucus-like chevrons with our guitars, our harpoons, our fiddles, and our banjitars. Whenever we are on a busk, we are always representative of the bigger entity, our buskerhood, and each of us is an ambassador for the goodwill and preservation of that buskerhood.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gimme Five: An Essay on Motivational Rules of Thrum

I do not feel like going busking today. The fundamental enjoyment of just being on a busk keeps me motivated – most of the time. There are days like today, I confess, that the very idea of grabbing my banjitar and footing to my buskingdom is more enervating than energizing. As a buskologist, I feel compelled to share some not-so-secret heuristics, some rules of thrum to stay buskingly inspired for myself ... and my busking readers.

The first rule of thrum is to Look Within.

Why do you busk? If it’s for sustenance, then busking is your job and your busking success depends upon your work ethic. There is a direct correlation between the number of hours you spend strumming on the sidewalk and the number of coins and bills tossed into your buskpot.

If your busking provides sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows everything, then any of your buskapades is simply a recreational activity. Your hobby mood will depend mainly upon the weather, and then significantly on the nods and phatic chats of your consumers.

Just remind yourself of why you busk, then send yourself packing.

The second rule of thrum is to Challenge Yourself.

Are you playing the same ‘ol same ‘ol on every busk? If so, you need to change. The more you change your tune, the more change you shall receive. It is always easier to strum the same playlist busk after busk, but to stay motivated you need to expand. On every busk I start with the same original tunes, but during lulls I look to my cheat sheet of new tunes, and practice one or two of those at these down time opportunities.

The third rule of thrum is to Know What You Love. Ask yourself what kind of busk do you look forward to, and then go do it. Some days I really look forward to playing in the parking lot at Extra Foods, especially on Family Day. On Family Day lots of children show up with their parents and more kids always means more coins.

Lately I’ve really looked forward to my hebdomadal busks at Value Village, strumming my twelve-string every Saturday just after lunchtime. My buskspot is right at the front doors, cornered in sunshine, positioned to receive the smiles of all patrons entering and exiting the mall.

Think Positive is the fourth rule of thrum. Upbeat thoughts lead to upbeat strums and zippy rhythms. Melancholy connotes misery, and misery will promote only miserly consumers. A few minor chords are okay, but only as dramatic relief, so to speak.

And the last rule of thrum is to Join Forces. Ordinarily, I love the solitude control aspect of busking, not having to compromise on setup times on song lists. However, sometimes someone will waltz into your buskingdom and ask to play alongside you. When this happens, seize the moment and enjoy.

If your kismet is to busk … then make it so with these high five carpe diem rules of thrum.

And of course, though today be drizzmal with a bisque sky and a cool breeze, after this introspective and inspirational essay I feel the self-mand to just jump off the couch and gallumph excitedly to my Sunday afternoon buskingdom! Ahhh, but alas ... APRIL FOOLS' DAY!