Sunday, January 27, 2013


We don’t need no stinking badges was a line first delivered in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), again in Blazing Saddles (1974), and several times since and in between. We don’t need no stinking badges has become one of the most famous laugh lines of the Western World.

I am thinking that the NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION (NRA) could very soon be adopting We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges as its newest slogan because … The NRA believes that all law abiding citizens have the right to own and bear arms; and has just recently called for a surge of gun-carrying good guys (this is a quotation) to save the hoi polloi of America.

***Of course, there are many people who disagree with the NRA prescription.  See Peyton Tremont in the above picture, age 7, who is among the hundreds of people marching on Washington who want guns banned.***

Since its inception, the NRA has lobbied politicians on all levels for their members’ rights to own and carry guns.  Also, since its inception, politicians on all levels have lobbied for the NRA dollars, Mitt Romney and John Kerry being among the recent few.

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the NRA, blames media, video games, courts, mental illness for violent gun-related crimes, which include the recent school shootings.  Wayne LaPierre is lobbying American politicians for an active mental illness database.  To quote Wayne LaPierre, We have no national database of these lunatics.

Fact:  Congress has banned usage of the word lunatic in all federal laws.  However being Canadian, I can write that it is Wayne LaPierre who is the lunatic.

Fact: 4% to 5% of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness (Dr. Dilip Jeste, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurosciences).

Fact: 95% of violent crimes are committed by other members of the population.

Fact:  The strongest predictors of violent crimes:  those with a past history of violence, those addicted to drugs or alcohol, and those disenfranchised due to their socioeconomic environment (the ilk of homelessness, poverty).

Fact: Male youths (including fortunate sons) add to the risk of being violent offenders.

Fact:  The NRA’s Board of Directors is 87% male and 93% white.  Some prominent current members are Tom Selleck (I’m surprised), Ted Nugent (on record as being a Barack Obama hater), Oliver North (America’s real John Wayne), and Robert Brown (founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune, a magazine used to recruit mercenaries for wars around the planet).

Fact: The NRA endorsed Mitt Romney, the Republican choice for president, stated, I will do all in my power to defend and protect the right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.

Fact: The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a bully-pulpit organization that is losing its firepower. The NRA is an egoistic organization that has decided to make the mentally ill the scapegoat of its lunacy simply because the mentally ill are vulnerable and easy victims.  

Fact: People with mental illness are in a continuous battle with invisible enemies, the disease itself, and the stigmatic social perception.

And the last FACT:  If the members of the NRA insist that all law abiding American citizens have the right to own and bear arms then … the NRA should be speaking on behalf of the mentally ill, since most of these people are, in fact, law abiding citizens, rather than subjecting them to a disgusting inspissate draconian plot.


(On my last busk with my didgeridoo in balmy minus 7 degree weather, Brad, an avid reader and critic of this blog, suggested that I write on the National Rifle Association and its political thunder that blames people with mental illnesses for all the gun violence in America.  And this I’ve done – with an angry pen.)

Sunday, January 20, 2013


I reside on the sixth floor of a downtown high-rise.  It is minus 25 degrees and I’m looking down onto the street from my kitchen window.  Again today I am waxing philosophical because again today … I am not going busking!

The street I am looking down upon (no pun intended) is Victoria Avenue, a busker’s paradise.  Right next door to where I live is the very hip, Crave Kitchen and Wine Bar.  Right next to Crave is the traditional Golf’s Steak House.  Across the intersection is the busy, busy Atlantis Coffee.  And next door to that, the brand new Flip Eatery and Drink, and next to that, purportedly the best pizza in town, Copper Kettle Gourmet Pizza.  Just a block down and still on Victoria Avenue is the elegant Radisson Plaza Hotel Saskatchewan, and across from it, Regina’s jewel, Victoria Park.

Crave has an emerging adult to middle-age cliental; Golf’s has a middle-age to senior consumer; Atlantis has a mix; Flip has a the thirty-something patrons; Copper Kettle caters to everyone; the benches in Victoria Park care not in the least who sit upon them – entire families throughout the day, the downtown office drones at lunchtime, the druggies in the evening.

One would think that given the setting where I live, that the busking would be simple.  And it is.  But, as we buskers know, busking can often be simple but never easy (and easy and simple are certainly not synonyms).  Getting to any of these buskspots is a simple saunter up the sidewalk.  Playing at any of these buskspots demands playing for a purpose, a mercenary focus, and of course, public singing.
The most difficult aspect of busking is public singing.  

Here are some tips on overcoming the anxiety of singing on the sidewalk, for the public passers-by:

Know what you are going to sing. Keep in mind that buskers have the power to sing only what they want their audiences to hear.  These could be show tunes, top forty pop songs, or originals.  We buskers are completely in charge of our song lists.  My preference is to sing original songs only because then … my singing and my songs cannot be compared to those on the public program that are already in place.

Know who your audience is.  If I’m singing in front of Crave or Golf’s, my tunes are slow and folksy, never rammy nor edgy.  If I’m singing betwixt Flip and Copper Kettle, I tend to sing the same tunes as those at Crave and Golf’s.  In Victoria Park I quite vary the tempos according to who might be listening, slow during the day, faster in the evening.

Create flow. Play and sing in themes of cadence -- rhythmic beats, varied voice inflections, and the like. I remind you that whenever I am busking I am always just practicing, practicing, practicing.  For exactly what I am practicing for I’m not sure.  My busking, I guess, could be rehearsals for indoor winter gigs, or could be rehearsals for just the next busk.  For whatever it is for, I practice different strums and thrums, different ranges on my vocals, I practice different hums on the didge, different blows on the harmonica, and different styles of whistling.  You can never go wrong by varying the instrumentation (I go guitar, banjitar, didgeridoo, and accordion) and the delivery of such.  Playing harmonica along with strumming a guitar does, in my mind, represent the quintessential busker.

Present style.  You need style.  Clean up and costume up.  Cap-a-pie as a cowboy I am under a cowboy hat, sporting a crisp cowboy shirt and blue jeans, and stomping polished cowboy boots.  As a folk singer I am of ruffled hair, white long-sleeved or t-shirt, faded jeans, work boots or sandals. Droning into my didge I present the folk look, and picking my banjitar I often wear a bowler or tam, never a cowboy hat.

Bring closure. When it is time to wrap and your desired outcome has been accomplished, wrap it up!  Desired outcomes may vary.  Perhaps you just want to enjoy a sunny day.  Some days in summer are just meant to be lazy.  On days as these, I wander down to the park, my guitar slung over shoulder; find a spot, and play, play, play.  On such lazy days whether or not I make much money doesn’t seem to matter (though I always do make money).

Perhaps you want to make fifty dollars, or a hundred dollars.  Most times when I busk it is a mercenary mission.  I know I’m going to make between 35 and 50 dollars per hour but … I have only the stamina to go for one hour.  Since this is the case, once I’ve made fifty dollars, I exit.  If I go longer than one hour, I do so in a two-part, first over the lunch hour and then again during the supper hour.  Sometimes I busk for one hour, have an American decaf break for half an hour, then busk another hour.     

Perhaps you’ve been asked to busk at a certain place for a certain period of time.  This happens frequently.  I’ve been asked to busk at a few places for certain events, the SASKATCHEWAN SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY SCAVENGER HUNT, SEARCH Saturday barbeques, mental health promotion months at SHOPPERS DRUG MART, to name a few.

Perhaps you’re just bored.  Or perhaps you need to practice.

Only one character is marching in my Chaucerian Parade this week -- the fellow who paid for my groceries (twenty dollars’ worth!) at SHOPPERS DRUG MART. 

I was at the SHOPPERS DRUG MART counter paying for some items when a busking regular consumer of mine pounded on the window from the outside signaling for me to halt, then he rushed in to pay for my stuff (he knew I’d just finished busking and he missed me).

However, there are many,many marchers in the Canadian political a-go-go current events parade, Chief Theresa Spence and Prime Minister Stephen Harper being in front.  Here’s the scoop:

IDLE NO MORE movement began in Saskatchewan, Canada.  Four women, Nina Wilson, Sylvia McAdam, Jessica Gordon, and Sheelah McLean, decided to take action to prevent certain federal legislation from passing.  These four women were especially concerned with the environmental and water protection policies being obfuscated by the Feds.

Much to the chagrin of these four women (I’m sure), and much to the delight of the ruling Conservative Party of Canada (I'm sure), the news media chose the face of Theresa Spence, homiletic Chief of Attawapiskat, to symbolize the IDLE NO MORE movement.  

Chief Spence, with open arms willingly jumped into the spot light, but adding some concerns of her own: nation-to-nation relationships honoring the treaties, impoverished living conditions, and chronic under-funding of First Nations. She even demanded that both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston, together at the same time, meet with her personally.  When that didn’t happen in the way she had imagined, she wrote a letter to the Queen of England, asking for her support.

And too bad for Chief Spence and her myrmidons that the stage light in which she was basking also shone on her myriad of problems from last year – 104 million of them to be exact.

Some impotent (not to be mistaken for important) hoity-toity players, too, have taken the stage this past week.  Former Prime Minister Paul Martin and former Governor General Michelle Jean have called upon Chief Spence to end her protest fast (did I mention that Chief Spence is on a hunger strike to further her cause).  Meanwhile, back in First Nations country, the Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Shawn Atleo, has taken a stress leave.

IDLE NO MORE members have blocked rail lines in northern British Columbia, have slowed traffic the movement of traffic at Ambassador Bridge on the Ontario border between Canada and the United States, and have blocked the very busy highway between Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta.

IDLE NO MORE is not going away anytime soon.  Some facts and fixes:

Fact: IDLE NO MORE has gone from the collective ideology of four Saskatchewanians to the single face of Chief Theresa Spence.
Fact: IDLE NO MORE has gone from First Nation environmental concerns to First Nation under-funding concerns. 
Fact: The Prime Minister, the Governor General, and the Queen are choosing not to dance to the drum beats of Chief Spence.
Fact: Even Shawn Atleo has exited himself from the situation.
Fact: Idle No More began as a good fight.
Fact: None of Chief Spence’s followers have read this blog on public singing.

Fix:  Chief Perry Bellegarde (another Saskatchewanian) is always the political voice of reason. 
Fix:  Chief Bellegarde will read my aforementioned tips on public singing and come to the rescue.

I know what I’m talking about.  Here are some newly created Aesopian lyrics to fit into my summer busking -- I have yet to decide on the chords:

Because they buy at the marketplace
The designer still designs,
The kings and queens send out decrees,
The professors speak hypotheses,
The preachers promise saving grace,
The presidents search in outer space,
Only buskers see the human race
Because they buy at the marketplace ...
Because they buy at the marketplace

Fellow buskers ... 
Keep your feet on the street, your ear to the wind, and keep buying at the marketplace!


Sunday, January 13, 2013


Idle No More.  For the Canadian readers of this blog, you know what is going on.  For the International readers of this blog, a click on Google shall suffice.

Living in a clime of minus 20 degree winter weather, I am inclined to frequent the downtown coffee shops.  Over an American Decaf, I was having a chat with fellow educator musician, who is of First Nation ancestry.  The principal/chief (pun intended) discourse of our coffee chat was the perceived defective school system as it relates to First Nation’s education, and of course, the Idle No More movement, the headliner as of late in the Canadian news reports.

I stated that certain school boards ought to create a treasure of creative and highly enthusiastic, socially alert and student-centered teachers, and place them into a collective educational environment with a student population comprised of volunteer First Nation, Aboriginal, and Metis students, and any others with a particular interest … and then allow a new and necessary curriculum to unfold.

With my hands wrapped around a piping hot coffee, my colleague icily accused that it was precisely my kind of arrogant attitude that was the cause for the Aboriginal lack of academic achievement and, never mind, the very root and concern of the Idle No More movement. He went on to present his bright-line demarcation by stating that it was I, in fact, who was the problem.

I do agree that the problem is of public concern.  Here are just some of the quantifiable facts:

Canada has a population of 30 million people.  The Aboriginal population in Canada is upwards of 1.3 million.  868, 200 are registered Indians, 404,000 are Metis, and 53,000 are Inuit.  There are 615 registered Bands across the country.  Heart disease is 1.5 times higher among First Nations than that of the rest of the population.  Tuberculosis and Hepatitis C are many times higher among First Nations, than that of the rest of the population.  The rate of suicide is six times higher.  Life Expectancy is eight to ten years shorter.  Among Aboriginal children, accidental deaths are four times higher than that of the rest of the population.  School graduation rates of First Nations members are considerably lower and incarceration rates considerably higher when compared to those in the rest of the population. (Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has stated that First Nations children are more likely to go to jail than to graduate from high school!)

Shocking indeed!

And now for my busker’s narrative redaction, which is neither a bully pulpit nor a contest in humility -- And I'm not usually such a qualitative liar:

When I was five years old my parents separated.  For reasons I am unwilling to express at this time, I was sent to a rural community to live with my Grandmother, Ollie, and her second husband, Sid.  Ollie and Sid were poor.  Every morning before sun-up, they swept the Post Office, the Royal Bank, and on weekends, the movie theatre.  In our village, we were considered janitors.  In our village, I was the only child from a broken home. 

When I was in high school I worked in concert with my peers at lots of part-time town and country jobs:  cleaning elevator boots, picking rocks, throwing hay bales, building corrals, demolishing old houses, building granaries, shoveling wheat, harvesting and hauling grain, constructing rural telephone lines.

After my grade 12 graduation I chained on Saskatchewan highways, I climbed Saskatchewan telephone poles, and I guided the booms of construction cranes over the Saskatchewan River.

During my undergraduate university days I moiled in the muskeg of the North West Territories, I walked the valleys of the West Coast and Rocky Mountains in British Columbia, and I worked the windy prairies of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba on pipeline construction.

When I was a young teacher, for two months every summer I served booze in bars in the evening and during the day I was a swimming instructor. 

Nowadays as a full-time guidance counselor from September through June, I teach part-time at the university in both the Fall and Winter semesters, and in July and August I busk as a social entrepreneur for the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Saskatchewan Schizophrenia Society, and any other agency that advances the social welfare of those who are disparate and/or disenfranchised, including the clients of SEARCH -- a Four Directions Health Centre for First Nations.

(Scroll the left side headliner on this blog for more information on any of these above-mentioned agencies.) 

To the notion of my musician, teacher colleague I shall not kindly acquiesce.  I am not the enemy.  I most certainly do not contribute to fester the political debacle, and the community conundrum of the First Nations people.  And if the perception persists ... that I am to blame for the grief and the despair and the poverty and the discontent and the inequity of the First Nations communities across Canada, then this problem shall never, ever be resolved.


Sunday, January 6, 2013


Generally speaking, Buskology is the study of buskspots; specifically speaking, Buskology is the study of the pitches, the players, the consumers, and all of the above.  And I must admit that being a Buskologist is a people freaking occupation.

I can remember when I was an English major in university.  Along with a couple of other writers we used to sit on a downtown bus bench and just watch the people passing by.  Some were skinny; some were fat; some were quick; some were slow (not dead).  Some seemed alert; some seemed hypnotized.  Some were worthy of a laugh (unethical) and all were worthy of a written description (these were actual creative writing assignments).  We referred to this a People Freaking.

And I remember when my children were young and we’d be together sitting at a mall People Freaking, my kids guessing aloud about where certain passers-by might have come from, what these passers-by did for a living, and so on.  Those particular times, as all times enjoyable seemed so condensed. An hour would seem like a moments because we were having so much fun (and for the most part, not in unethical manner).

My kids are now adults, but as a buskologist I am still People Freaking.  Yesterday morning I was didge busking just across from Shoppers Drug Mart.  The air was crisp and cold (minus 4) and the sky quite sunny.  My first customer (I thought) stopped to chat.  But he didn’t stay long.  He was tall, long-haired, and clean shaven and he smiled at me. 

He started off by saying, Hey, young fellow, and then suddenly closed with, F#%k you! He bumped me as he stumbled by.  Maybe my immediate response was not what he was expecting, maybe I didn’t smile big enough, maybe I … and for whatever reason, I shall hence refer to him as Angry One.

I did not need to be a people freaking expert to ascertain that he was wasted, being either drunk or stoned; but, being a buskologist I can imagine where he’s temporarily perched on Maslow’s pyramid of needs. 

Often presented in the picture of a pyramid, Abraham Maslow, considered the founder of humanistic psychology, created a developmental hierarchy of needs theory. From the most basic to the most complex, he decided our human needs to be from the bottom up: PHYSIOLOGICAL (i.e., food, water, shelter), SAFETY (i.e., resources, health, job), BELONGINGNESS (i.e., friends, acquaintance, family), ESTEEM (i.e., mastery, recognition, respect), and SELF-ACTUALIZATION (i.e., expression, talent, creativity).  According to Maslow, before any particular need can be met, it can only be accomplished by first meeting the need assigned lower on the hierarchy, except for PHYSIOLOGICAL, which is the lowest one on the rung.

Maslow, himself, did not actually employ the pyramid to represent his theory. I have a problem with the quiddity of the pyramid, as I think it to be somewhat Aesopian in nature.  A pyramid implies that most subjects would be at the PHYSIOLOGICAL base, and only an elite few are on the SELF-ACTUALIZATION top.  Overall, the pyramid conveys a simple and innocent meaning, wherein reality, such a pictured presentation seems thick and defined from a rather arrogant point of view.  My thinking is that if one agrees with the comparative needs of the commoners, most would at least be in the realm of BELONGINGNESS, and many, or even most, could be at the level of SELF-ACTUALIZATION.  And here is why.

According to Stephen Pressfield, all of us have two lives, the one we live, and the one that is unlived within us.  All of us are subject to this existential alterity.  If this is true, and I believe it could be, Angry One just wanted to expand his resources by street panning.  Or it could be that Angry One considered his job to be panning.  The problem with Angry One was that he was wasted!  Angry was not good in his mission at that particular moment, and likely not for the rest of the day.  Angry One would be stuck in the SAFETY need for some time to come.

On first observation of the Angry One, it was obvious that his PHYSIOLOGICAL need had been met, as he seemed fed and watered, wore a parka, and was clean enough.  It could be though, that his SAFETY need had not been met.  It could be that his initial friendly salutation was a prelude to a solicitation.  It could be that he was going to say, Hey, young fellow, could you spare an old fellow some change.  It could be that at that very moment he recognized that I, too, was soliciting he became angry.  And then in precisely that very moment he closed with F#%k you!  It could be that he was so angry he deliberately bumped me as he passed.

While busking I can guess (with authority) where my consumers stand on the rung of Maslow’s step-ladder. (Yes, I’ve decided a step-ladder metaphor to be more conducive to my depiction of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.)  Those standing on the bottom rung,
PHYSIOLOGICAL, are few and far between, especially in the Canadian Prairies.  Most of the street people I meet while busking in Alberta and Saskatchewan are in the SAFETY zone.  These street wandering folks that I know as familiar strangers are subsidized either by government Social Services or Mental Health.  Simply put, the Prairie winter is just too frigid to have people who are truly homeless. During the Prairie Winter I can barely busk, nevermind sleep somewhere outdoors in a park. Homeless people mentioned in Regina, are more for academic discourse than a reality.  (However, there are truly homeless people in Canada, and they tend to congregate in the Okanagan and on the West Coast where the winters are mild, where they are not likely to freeze to death due to their outdoor sleeping arrangements.)

Most consumers I meet when I'm busking are those standing, at the very least, on the SAFETY rung of the needs ladder.  Randy, the back alley picker, I see at least three times a week.  Sometimes he wears glasses, sometimes he doesn’t.  Sometimes he has teeth, sometimes he doesn’t.  Most times he looks disheveled, sometimes he doesn’t.  Always he says hello.

There is also Cowboy Bob.  Cowboy Bob ever friendly and always needs just another fifty cents for a coffee.  Oftentimes I see him when I’m not busking, and usually he’s carrying a six-pack of beer.
And there is JB, short for Joke Book.  JB has an inappropriate joke for every occasion. JB has some obvious mental health issues and most times his jokes are disconcerting.  Nonetheless, the benign JB is a regular consumer of mine.

Many of my consumers are least as high as BELONGINGNESS.  Whenever I’m busking at Value Village there is a family who always stops to chat.  They’re from out of town and drive in every Saturday to shop.  Over time and several chats, I know that the father works, the mom is stay-at-home, and the two children take guitar lessons.

Of course I have to mention my two octogenarian consumers, Hank and Gus.  Every Saturday whilst I busk at Value Village, Hank stops for a chat.  Hank, a retired trucker in his eighties, is the sole owner and operator of Hank’s Potatoes.  Daily, Hank buys and loads potatoes from the market gardens, then sells and delivers them to several restaurants in and around Regina.  These past couple years I’ve met both his son and grandson.  Hank has brought each of them by just for introduction.  Hank is a guitar guy and Hank has at least met his need of BELONGINGNESS.

Gus, too, visits every Saturday.  Gus, also a guitar guy, always hints that he should play a bit on my twelve-string.  And every time he hints, I offer him my guitar.  Gus, in his eighties like Hank, is retired but still active.  Gus is always trapping beavers in the creek that runs through his farmland, and still clearing stumps along the edge of his crops.  More than a few times, either his daughter or son taxis him to the mall.  He, too, has at least med his need of BELONGINGNESS.

And now for the pinnacle rung of Maslow’s ladder, SELF-ACTUALIZATION.  If one were to follow the pyramid presentation of Maslow, it would seem that very few of us ever rise to such status.  If this is true, then very few of us would be expressive, talented, or creative.  I think this is not the case.  Both Gus and Hank play guitar, have been in bands, and certainly can pick some original tunes.
I’m sure that JB, Cowboy Bob, and Randy have at one time in their lives, been expressive, talented, or creative in some regard.  Though not so apparent now, it is likely they have a positive history of something, and at present and perhaps for the rest of their futures, they’re in a backslidden condition.

Even the Angry One.  It could that he’s never been up a rung, and it could be that his addictions to whatever have not allowed him the clarity of mind to consider such a social climb.  Though sad, the Angry One is certainly not in the majority.  As mentioned, most of us have two lives, the one we live and the unlived one within us.

As long as the Angry One is wasted, the life he is living is the only life he has.  As for Randy and Cowboy Bob and Joke Book, it is likely they have climbed the ladder, took a look at the world beneath, and for reasons whatever, decided to climb down a rung or two.  And for Gus and Hank, they’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and the hat, so to speak.  Though both are still active in their present endeavors, they’re present endeavors are more toward surviving yet another day, week, or year.  As octogenarians, they could still be philosophizing and creating and expressing but … around me they are not.  They are a couple of gregarious consumers and that is that.

I often ask, Where on this social ladder of needs do I stand?  If you were to make a quick assumption (and that would not be dangerous), I’m sure you would have me perched on the top rung, SELF-ACTUALIZATION.  Perhaps this is true. I do express my thought lots of times, especially when teaching university Psychology.  I do have talent, limited but adequate when it comes to thrumming my twelve-string, blowin’ my harmonica, droning into my didge, pumping my accordion.  Talented enough, I am, to do express this talent in public without much angst.  I do create.  I write folk songs, none that are great, but good enough to be recognized as a singer-songwriter of sorts.  And saying all this, there are days when I do not feel that I’m atop on the ladder.

Though I can breathe in my two lives, the life that I live (when I’m working) and the unlived life within (when I’m busking), I am not always at the top of my game.  I, along with the myriad of other pedestrians residing in the Western world, have anxieties relating to all of Maslow’s suggested needs.  I believe that most of us climb up and down and up and down on the rungs of Maslow’s ladder.  I believe that none of us are stuck on any particular rung, and all of us, for better or for worse, have the power within to change our situations.  And I believe that by conscious or unconscious design, whether energized or enervated, we maneuver up the social ladder and down the social ladder. I believe that when we become disenchanted on any particular rung, we decide to ascend or descend, depending on our personal politic.     

Ah … but I am but a faux busker, and oftentimes wonder what real buskers do.

Ah … but I am but a buskologist, and in my world whatever comes to mind comes to print, and these consumers that I’ve written about in this particular essay are simply some pedestrian examples of the hoi polloi that I meet on the street.