Tuesday, May 28, 2013



Thank-you, JAIME CARLSON!   

Once again, as the Cathedral Arts Festival busker coordinator, you’ve designed the perfect clement day for busking.  (The Cathedral Arts Festival is the spring and artsy a-go-go held annually in the Cathedral heart of Regina, Saskatchewan, organized by the bon vivant Cathedral clerisy, a citizenship of white collars who have abdicated the middle-class stereotype, replacing such with a social voice and practically any planetary cause.

Indeed, this particular notion I'm presenting has a credible psychological counterpattern, being the newly placed managers at the glozey neighborhood Safeway, who have formally banned buskers from their premise and surrounding property, so cited for the reasons of safety and security.
SPECIAL ALERT to the Managers of the 13th Avenue CATHEDRAL SAFEWAY:  I pack a guitar, not a gun.  Do I sound angry?

The Cathedral Arts Festival is an annual comity, having a callithump of 35,000 people gormandizing tube steaks and donuts; 35,000 consumers for the week long celebration, who pungle up and chaffer their coins to the potters and painters and sundry buskers.

And among those sundry buskers were the cavalier trio of Eric the fiddler, Baron the drummer (on his pan), and self, Neil the hummer & strummer (on my Blues Harp and twelve-string).  Busking is an avocation for Eric, a livelihood for Baron, and a study in buskology for me.

Every three or four minutes we fashioned from the fiddle, the pan, the harp, and guitar, a distinctly strange sounding opus, stylizing songs from the Beatles to Bobby Dylan, for our consumers of friends (some) and strangers (many).    

Whether we are marching into battle or holding our hats to our hearts during the anthem at the hockey game, the power of music can turn us from a crowd into a community. Few moments in life match the power of music, and nothing matches having happy consumers, in the moment, in middle of an intersection, dancing to our tunes. For three busking hours we played and sang and swept ourselves into the grand Regina Cathedral Village Arts Festival.

Our last buskspot, we made our way inchmeal in colubrine fashion through the bumper to bumper pedestrian traffic, to replace Matt, a buskeroo in black leather diamond-studded cowboy shirt, stationed at the end of the line of the artisan booths.

This shirt cost me $360 dollars, he said.

Arriving in good time, I offered to play my didgeridoo along with his western ballads.

How much will you charge me? He asked.

Nothin’, I answered.

Really!  He relied.

This is your buskspot, man.  We’re just killin’ the clock.

And so did I doo until he left for his next station.  Before he left, he handed me his card:

Founder Of The Regina Sober Jam

Matt disclosed that he’d been clean from drugs and alcohol for eight months.  However, cigarettes he claimed, were still a vice.  In fact, we couldn’t help but notice as he was busking, Matt attempting to bum smokes from the very people tossing coins into his guitar case. 

Good luck to you, Matt, but …

And, for anyone wanting to winkle your way out of an addiction, I strongly advise you to give yourself:  31 DAYS

In the October 74 issue of Runner’s World magazine, 700 runners responded to a questionnaire published by William Glasser.  Seventy-five percent of those respondents claimed to be addicted to running, and that running had enhanced their lives.   It was from these responses that Glasser became convinced that running was the hardest but surest way to positive addiction.   

In his book, Positive Addiction (1976), William Glasser presents that a number of self-improvement activities could become positively addictive, and that these positive addictions could strengthen and make lives more meaningful.

The theory of Positive Addiction suggests that people affixed to socially accepted activities (music lessons, sports teams, and volunteerism for example) have little time to indulge in behaviors that are socially recognized as being negative activities (drugging, drinking, and gambling for example).

My theory is that anyone addicted to anything, those addicted to something they can’t get away from … can … provided they dedicate themselves to a self-prescribed positive activity for 31 consecutive days.

For example, someone wanting to quit drinking and start running can quit drinking and be a runner, provided that person dedicates 31 days in a row to going for a run.

This 31 days theory will prove the same for someone wanting to quit drugging or gambling and wanting to start weight training.  If that person is willing to get to the gym and do a workout for 31 consecutive days, the negative addiction of either drugging or gambling would dissipate.

And that is the skinny for my 31 DAYS.  

31 DAYS is a simple theory that demands a ton of dedication.  Also, 31 DAYS is a simple theory that will be politically difficult to promote against the adversarial censure of those camping in the chronic brain disease theory and those pitching their tents under the stars of the AA twelve-step theory.  (For the record, anyone challenging the disease theory would be regarded as a scientific fool, and anyone challenging the twelve-step theory would be regarded as sacrilegious – even though neither theory has much merit in academia.)   


Those marching in my Chaucerian Parade this week include Paul, Erin Wood, and Nathan Wieler (a.k.a Wheels).

  •          Paul introduced himself to me as I was busking in front of SHOPPERS ON BROAD.  Paul is a banker, a friendly and sincere fellow who had … heard of my blog … through Erin Wood … a familiar stranger when I busk!

Paul, you made my day!
Erin, thanks for the promo!
Paul and Erin, hope to see you again!

  •        My buddy, Nathan Wieler (a.k.a. Wheels), was the officiating referee in the final Memorial Cup game between the Halifax Mooseheads and Portland Winterhawks.  Wheels was also the recipient of the WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE OFFICIAL OF THE YEAR AWARD.

Good job, Wheels!
And to closeGo BOSTON BRUINS!

Sunday, May 19, 2013


Everyone connected to the buskerhood knows that buskers need to be public perks, not public pests.  Having an eye for the most successful business arenas, buskers that are thoughtful (and successful) are cognizant that it is Consumer Flow that determines the value and politics of any selected pitch.

My familiar busking stranger, Greg, has just such an eye.  He always busks in places where the crowds are in constant flow.  During the daylight hours, Greg, will pound his guitar as he stares down at his open guitar case (really at the cheat sheets contained) two to three hours non-stop just to the side of the only entrance to the government run liquor store.  At night he busks in front of the downtown bars.  Greg never looks up, never acknowledges a customer, and always has a rolled brown-stained flattened cigarette stuck on his bottom lip.

On Fridays and Saturdays commercial liquor outlets and downtown liquor parlors represent the epitome of consumer flow.  People are in and out and out of these establishments, buying their booze all day long, and these are the people working for weekends.  My logic suggests that liquor store busking is lucrative for a couple of reasons.  First, Friday night is hammer time, the time to party hardy.  With the workweek officially over, the weekend encourages the working stiffs to get lucky, and in this delicious anticipatory moment they cannot help but feel munificent.  All buskers know that these tippled weekenders are far more generous than their doppelganger weekday sober selves.

Secondly, no matter to what level of drinking the beery buyer has succumbed, the imbibing consumer will always feel superior to the guy strumming the guitar on the sidewalk.  No matter the commitment dipsomaniacs are to their drink, in that one generous coin-tossing moment, they are convinced that they are of higher strata than that of a busker.  Such an appeal to arrogance is a consumer flaw designed to be in favor of the busker aware of consumer flow.

Other places of quality consumer flow are mall entrances and street corners.  Any pitch where the customer can walk, stop, talk, walk, and take or leave whatever the busker has to offer is an ideal performance pad.

Opposite the notion of Consumer Flow are places of Consumer Confinement, pitches where thoughtless buskers ply their wares to somewhat captive audiences.  CafĂ© and coffee shop patios, bus stops, and movie lines are some typical examples where consumers are seemingly confined, places from where they cannot escape without a certain fuss.  No matter how talented the busker, not everyone will be in appreciation.  People are on patios to snack and chat, not necessarily to be forcibly entertained.  And the same goes for bus stops and movie queue lines.  People ought not to be coerced into auditory amusements.  A queue line busker is a campy busker.  Consumer choice should be the code of the busker.    

I know another familiar busking stranger, Ned, who employs the busking tactic of Consumer Confinement.  Ned hangs around a couple of outdoor patios, a specialty coffee shop and an Irish bar, that are situated right in the heart of downtown Regina.  Ned is an overweight, scruffy cadge who sings loud and long with an outstretched palm.  Even though Ned has a decent singing pipes, his confined consumers are, more often than not, visibly perturbed by his presence.  (Not strangely, his bread and butter consumers are not those seated in the patios, but those who happen to be the passers-by.)

Sometimes Consumer Flow and Consumer Confinement can be negatively intertwined. Even when pitching their wares in areas of Consumer Flow, some buskers can go awry.

I know a particular cowboy busker, Will, who opts for the places of Consumer Flow but behaves in a manner that makes his customers feel in the state of Consumer Confinement.  Will struts about, a transmogrified cowboy bedizened in glitter and fringe, strumming his jumbo guitar on the front walk of a very downtown liquor outlet, singing the songs of Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. However, whenever anyone approaches, Will tends to yodel cowboy tunes right into the ear of the potential consumer, and follows the person right up to the entrance.  Rather than a front walk asset, Will is really the creepy cowboy giving consumers the heebie-jeebies and receiving little coin in return.

Some strategems for the Consumer Flow busker:

  • Tittup and sashay … don’t writhe and be wifty.

  • Wear a smile, not a mask … never cover your visage.

  • Hum, whistle, and sing while thrumming and strumming.

  • Ululate on dark summer evenings … and you may be mistaken for a werewolf.

  • Enjoy freeganism.  Sometimes I'm asked to busk at the Copper Kettle take-out where the crowds are thin but the pizzas are thick  … and free!

  • Don't be starchy.

  • Don’t be milquetoast.

  • Don’t be a sycophant.

  • Always be humble ... but remember (pun intended) ...



Monday, May 13, 2013



 Hatless with my twelve-string and Blues Harp 

and Baron with his Pan Drum

I’m so sorry for my blog being late this week but … the Boston Bruins playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Finals!  In Canada, readers from elsewhere, hockey is a religion.  And why do I hope for the Boston Bruins, even though my late brother-in-law, Larry Hornung, scouted for the Maple Leafs (Pat Quinn attended Larry’s funeral)?  I’ll give you my good reasons why:  The Boston Bruins I remember with whatever romantic nostalgia that besmirches me have Derek Sanderson (asking to wear white skates after Broadway Joe decided to wear white cleats), have Bobby Orr (the greatest hockey player ever in the world), and Don Cherry (the most colorful coach ever in the NHL).  And last, my NHL buddy, Billy Lesuk, who played for Stanley Cup winning Bruins in 1970, and re-joined them as a scout in 2005.

For the quintessential guitar busker, hats and harmonicas are two necessary accessories. Being a buskologist, I have several hats and harmonicas. 
 Cap-a-pie, I’ll begin and stay with my headbone.  Over my busking years I’ve gathered a dozen ball-type caps (I AMSTERDAM  my favorite), a few tams (even a green plaid for St. Paddy’s Day), and three perfect cowboy hats (a CHARLIE 1 HORSE RIDE white straw for hot and sunny days, a WRANGLER 4X BEAVER black for my cowboy persona, an olive BRIXTON TILLER, my Springtime suave).

Moving south down my headbone, I play three different harmonicas.  My very first harmonica was a HOHNER BLUESBAND, my second a HOHNER BLUES HARP, and my third a SUZUKI TREMOLO. When I purchased my Blues Band, the vendor mentioned that one can either play a harmonica (easily) or not play (even with practice), when accompanying a guitar.  Within 30 minutes of blowing my Blues Band while strumming my 12 string, the harmonica paid for itself and … its 20 dollar rack!

I quickly outgrew the Blues Band.  Within a few busks I was running out of notes up the scale.  Buying the Blues Harp changed everything.  With the Blues Harp I really am the quintessential guitar folk and blues busker. I purchased the Suzuki Tremolo on a whim.  For busking I find it to be a complete waste; for gigs I find it is awesome.

All three of my harmonicas are in the key of C.  And here is just one of many secrets in the subject of BUSKOLOGY:  Thrum your guitar in G, blow anywhere on your C harmonica, and your consumers will think you’re a pro.   

Hats and harmonicas have become an identity thing (for me).  When I began busking I played only the guitar. Those days I was the concrete buskeroo wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.  My harmonicas have made me a folk artist, and I continue to nurture this identity with my hats and harmonicas. 

Such hat and harmonica decisions seem small, but are really big buskology boosters for me.  Not in a strange way, they give me the courage to busk with authority.  Hats and harmonicas raise me from a performance that is middling, to one that is maxixe.  Hatless, I am button-down; hatful I am truly my buskeroo self. 
Duck (and other) costumes are infra dig; whereas, cowboy hats are urbane.  Duck (and other) costumes transmogrify; whereas, cowboy hats are translucent.


Three characters that marched in my Chaucerian Parade this week:

  • The twenty something skeleton with a bedraggled looking toddler in arm.  I need a dollar for dialysis, she said.
  • The fifty year old grey man hugging a life size Raggedy Anne who just stared at me while waiting for his taxi. 
  • The man in the black business suit ASKED IF I WANTED A JOB and handed me the card that read:

              A FRESH START – 
              A PLAN THAT WORKS


First we take Toronto -- now we take New York!


Sunday, May 5, 2013


Spring weather brings out the soccer cleats, and the dog days of soccer will forever bark out to me my life and times as a soccer coach.

My soccer coaching career began with my oldest boy, Baron.  When Baron was eight years old he decided to play soccer, and so he began as did I.  Mid-season his coach quit for whatever reason (a job, I think) and it was only natural that I, being a teacher and extra-curricular hockey and cross-country running coach, take the helm.

The DEVIL HAWKS played in the Competitive Soccer League, and my boy played two positions, half-back and keeper.  From there Baron went on to play full-back and keeper positions and for the newly affiliated CAPITAL HAWKS, then full-back and keeper for another independent team, the CLASSICS (so named because the COCA-COLA sponsorship), then RTO-X (so named because of the RENT-TO-OWN sponsorship), and full-back and striker for the NATIONALS, striker for SOUTHERN PROVINCE SELECTS, then full-back for the SCORPIONS, a senior team, and last full-back for AEK (our jerseys came direct from the real ATHLETIC UNION OF CONSTANTINOPLE team based in the city of Athens, Greece), a team in the men’s premiere league.  And I coached all these teams, save for the NATIONALS and the SELECTS.

When my youngest boy, Travers, decided to play soccer he was five.  Travers began his playing days in the Recreational Soccer League, mixed teams of guys and girls.  Travers played recreational soccer until he turned eight, and then his Competitive Soccer League years began.  His first competitive team was the RTO – CRUNCH (so named for the RENT-TO-OWN sponsorship), where he played full-back and striker.  Travers played on the CRUNCH for a few years (I was the coach) and then jumped to the NATIONALS, again as a full-back and striker.  At fifteen years of age, Travers’ soccer career ended with the NATIONALS.

(I mention these team names because I am reminiscing, my mind filling with soccer players and soccer balls, my words being hazed through romantic nostalgia.)

Back in the day, Baron and Travers were considered, in their soccer community, to be elite soccer players. It seems but a finger snap in time when those heydays of cards and whistles came to a close. Baron dropped out of soccer for reasons of health; Travers dropped out because of his stronger desire to skate board and snow board. Coincidentally (not really), when my boys’ enthusiasm for soccer waned, my interest too, for the game, waned.

However, this essay is really not about Baron or Travers or me.  This essay is about the philosophical and stark differences between recreational league and competitive league soccer, from a coaching point of view. And I do have the credentials (Canadian Soccer Association Level 4 Certification) to comment. I remind the reader that I speak of general, not specific principles. I also remind the reader that in Psychology – Generally, things are always true; specifically, things are never true.

Parents bring their children to play in the recreational soccer leagues for one reason – FUN; whereas parents bring their children to play in the competitive soccer leagues for a number of reasons – DELUSION, PRESTIGE, PRIDE.

Most parents of children in recreational soccer are just happy that their sons and daughters are getting to play a sport, getting some sun, and more importantly, gaining some skills in sociability.

Parents of children in competitive soccer leagues know that their child is, indeed, headed for the big leagues.  Also, parents of competitive soccer league players are not reluctant to express the prestige and pride that is imaginarily attached to their particular involvement.

Parents of recreational soccer know little about the sport; whereas, parents of competitive league players know everything about the sport, oftentimes more than even the coach.  Parents in both leagues tend to display certain amounts of angst, in recreational soccer because of the unknown sociability factor, in competitive soccer the unknown making-the-team (or not) factor.

Recreational soccer games typically take place in schoolyards and public parks.  Competitive soccer games are played on manicured and groomed soccer pitches. 

The fees for recreational league soccer are cheap, cheap.  Competitive league soccer fees more than triple the cost of recreational, plus fund raising, fund raising, and more fund raising efforts are required for traveling teams to compete out of town, out of province, sometimes out of country.

In recreational soccer the coach is a volunteer.  In competitive soccer the coach, if not on a fee, at least gets perks a plenty (travel money, motel costs, food allowances).

In recreational soccer leagues, all players are allotted equal amounts of playing time.  In competitive soccer leagues, the bench is shortened, depending on the importance of the game (and all games seem important). Starting players receive loads of playing time, players riding the pine receive minimum minutes of playing time.

In recreational soccer it is unsportsmanlike to run up the score.  In competitive soccer it is disrespectful not to run up the score (if a team has the capacity).  In competitive socceer the total number of goals for-and-against are statistically tallied for final league and playoff standings.

In both recreational and competitive leagues ... A team is only as strong as the season is long (a phrase coined by me).  In the recreational league, reasons for players not returning the next year range from lack of interest in the sport of soccer specifically, or, generally, a preference for individual rather than any team sport.  In the competitive league a non-return is likely do to either lack of playing time or lack of team wins.  (Once a youth has achieved the athletic skills to be a starter and then not worried about the amount of playing time, the next pursuit for both player and parent is to be on a winning team.)
In recreational soccer, winning can be important but winning is not everything.  In competitive soccer … Before the game it’s only a game, and after the game it’s only a game, but during the game it is life and death!

Buskers, too, can be cataloged into the recreational and competitive leagues.  I know many a busker that sings for beer and cigarettes.  Typically, these buskers ply their trades next to liquor stores or smoke shops.  Such buskers are in the competitive league.  (Move uninvited onto a competitive pitch and you’ll find out just how nasty and mean spirited these buskers can really be!)

And I know a few buskers (not many) that are merely recreational players.  Such buskers are out for sunshine and conversation and practice.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

As for me, I am a self-confessed faux busker.  I busk for profit, but not necessarily profit for myself.  Anytime I have a sign on display (CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION or SASKATCHEWAN SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY) I pay the sign as I would pay any other employee in an entry-level position – the minimum wage, provided that sign behaves itself!

Generally, on any sward be it soccer or busking, all is good.  Both soccer and busking are significant venues for which to introduce fresh air and citizenship.  As for soccer, I’ve kicked many a ball. As for busking, getting the balls to do takes a while. 

Soccer is for those seeking values that are collectivistic; busking is for those seeking values that are individualistic. 

If you want your offspring (pun intended) to have sunshine and fun, join the local soccer club and go footballing.  If you (yourself) want to have sunshine and fun, grab a musical instrument and go busking.

Two characters marched in my CHAUCERIAN PARADE this week:

  • Summer, whilst working at ISLAND LUNCH, presented to me within seconds of my setting up, an ice-cold Pepsi and bottled water.  (I love those ISLAND LUNCH ladies: Emma, Krista, and Summer!)  Summer is a First Nation 17 year old, graduating from Scott Collegiate next month.  She will be the first in her family to get her Grade Twelve Certificate and … she is already registered at the University of Regina for the Fall Semester.

  • The other character marching this week was a twenty-something female with a Caesar haircut. Giving me no personal space, while breathing into my face she disclosed that she had just received her methadone prescription.  As she spoke she was disconcertingly writhing and twisting to my music.

Don’t mind me, she said, I’m just zoned from my methadone.  It’ll take a few minutes to kick in. Will you play me a song?


Some Johnny Cash?


I played and sang for her, strumming my twelve-string and blowing my harpoon, Folsom Prison … but I had to stop suddenly.  Clearly she was agitated over something.

What’s wrong? I asked.

These guys walking by keep staring at my breasts, she replied, because I’m not wearing my bra.


To close …

Spring doth bring out all players to their pitches.  Few players are pundit; many are purblind.  Whatever their athletic or musical abilities, these players represent the olla podrida of the season.  Moving along in linear fashion, the burst of spring gives blooming opportunities for nidifugous neophytes and vicious virtuosos to exercise their talents, along with their sins, to be pleasurable for the season.