Thursday, August 25, 2016

Busking and the Human Condition

The 1969 seventh edition of Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary does not display the word busking, that's how new the word is. But buskers have been around since the first caveman set himself on fire to amuse his cave-mates. Oh, Ogg had a great act. Not only did he set himself on fire (fire it self a novelty at the time) but he stuck his head in the gaping jaw's of a live saber-tooth tiger which he had supposedly trained. Unfortunately he skimped a bit on the training and "Ogg-The Master of Fate" only gave one performance. It was a doozie, however.

Professors Google and Wikipedia both define busking as the act of  "...performing in public places for gratuities." Money. Bread. Which is pretty straightforward, although it isn't always for the coin of the realm. Sometimes it can be for gifts, food or drink. In fact as a busker myself I have received cans of soda, bottles of water and glasses of lemonade or milk shakes. Which was most appreciated on a hot day.

Standing on the Dock of the Bay
Buskers come in all sizes and shapes and do many things to gather a crowd. Such as acrobatics, animal tricks (like our poor friend Ogg), balloon twisting, caricatures, clowning, comedy, contortions (as the father of a young Edith Piaf does in the 2007 movie La Vie en Rose for which Marion Cotillard, as the Little Sparrow,  received a well deserved Oscar as best actress that year.), escapology (think Harry Houdini) fortune telling, fires skills (Ogg again) and flea circuses, among other things.

And speaking of flea circuses, I always thought they were just products of some deranged jokers imagination, but, son-of-a-gun, Professor Google made me wrong again. There are real three ring flea circuses, some without fleas, and some with. The ring master of those with actually acquires fleas does with a drop or two of super glue cause their tiny little body's to be attached to thin wires which are connected to carts and wains, or balls or whatever and they prance around, basically trying to get the super glue off their backs. Well, wouldn't you?

So, to rephrase, anything that gathers a crowd and fills a fruit jar with money is busking..

I have been a busker for several years; playing my banjo, guitar, uke, harmonica and kazoo (not all at once except the harmonica and a moist kazoo) and singing popular songs of the day. Most of my performance have been at the town docks in Meredith NH. I've also been to several weekly auction and flea-market in Springville NY when my wife and I visit relatives.  I do my thing surrounded by boxes of toys, musty books, hub cap displays, NASCAR memorabilia, bric-a-brac and booths where a satisfying fragrance of baked goods fills the air and manned by local Amish who sell sturdy savory bread, muffins, pies, cookies and other things that bring saliva to my mouth and a weakness to my knees. I usually spend what profits I make there on warm, fresh pastries.
Great old wooden Chris Craft

Busking brings you closer to the human condition then anything else I could imagine. People walking by on the boardwalk smile, laugh, talk and do all they things we humans do while in a pleasant place. Most have come to my town to vacation near Lake Winnipesaukee.  And many from the several hotels in town wander around checking out all the things an up-scale tourist town has to offer. Antiques shops, bistros, museums, sculpture parks, discount shoe stores and clothing stores, ice-cream parlors and curio shops. and many walk the docks checking on the big lakes pleasure craft.

 There is a bounty of beautiful boats; large yachts, cigarette boats that can skim the waves at 40, 50 or even 60 knots, sail boats of every size and shape. Meredith Bay often plays host to the occasional wooden hulled antique boat. The exquisete Chris Craft from the 1930's and 40's waxed to a shiny glaze and gliding with regal perfection is a sight to behold. All size tourist craft from the giant Mt. Washington to WW2 PT-boats redesigned and rigged for slower speeds also pay daily visits to the dock. Of course there are usual kayaks, paddle boats and water skidoos. Oh yes. And tubes. Lots of tubes.

But beyond the man-made treasures are natures own. I say a double crested cormorant break the surface tension just a few yards from shore, its snaky head and skinny beak holding a recently speared fish. And of course the regal loons. Black and white and putzing about in the bay, fishing for lunch, and later in the evening their eerie cray bounces off the trees and islands. These are a few of perks a busker gets all in the course of a days work.

The Mount Visits Meredith
As a novice busker starting out, I use to take a music stand, song books, chairs, stools, and a hundred other assorted things I thought I needed. I found out fast that instead of helping, these extra things were an annoyance and  created a barrier between you and the folks you were entertaining,  Plus they were a pain the butt to schlep. Talk about a case of the droppsies. Whoops!!

The trick is to learn as many songs as you can without the books in front of you. And pray that parents with kids will walk by. Oh how I love the tykes. I do a chorus or two of "Puff the Magic Dragon" or, "Bingo Was His Name" and they stop, listen, respond with a shy smile and start dancing. When the parents give them money to drop in the bread jar, sometimes they actually hit the jar. Sometimes they don't and sometimes they take money out of the jar. Smart kid.

Loon. June. Honeymoon.
Look the people in the eyes when they walk past. Making eye contact in essential and smile all the while.
No one likes a crabby faced busker. Ask if they have a favorite song or singer and try to make them happy. Even if you don't know a song from their favorite, always say something like.."I don't but would this do?" and then play something that sounds like them. Recognition will bring you a buck or two.

To say I don't busk for money would be a lie. Of course I do, but frankly, observing the human condition and making people happy produces a feeling beyond avarice. As Don McLean says in "American Pie"...."and I thought if I had the chance that I could make those people dance and maybe they'd be happy for awhile."

Don't try to sing too loud. Use your regular voice unless its a real rocker like Hank's "Move It On Over", then, go for it. And don't get too fancy with your instrument unless you shred like Chet Atkins..

I love the lazy summer days on the Big Lake and all the joy and sunshine that comes with it. But when autumn comes, I feel rather sad. As Joanie Mitchell says in her song "I'd like to bring back summertime and let it stay a month or so. But I get the urge for going, and I never seem to go."

More on busking in another post.

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