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.



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