A Busker's Life

I arrived at 34th st today at 12 and it was really cold (below freezing with a draft). It took me a while to set up.  As I was setting up a young boy and a woman stopped to talk to me wondering what I was doing. I told them I would be singing and playing the guitar.  The boy asked if I could sing God Bless America, which I did a weird version accapella (honestly could never remember the line "Thru the night with a light from above."

Then the woman asked if I would give the boy a t-shirt which I did, and asked him if I could take his picture.  Here it is:

I asked his name and he told me Duwan. I then asked him for an inspiration and he said "My Grandmother and God and SubwayGirl."  Really cute.  The woman I learned was his Aunt's name was Sha and her inspiration? "God, positive people, family, you. Seeing you down here doing this, keeping up on life, trying to make something happen, just a blessing, just a blessing."

I asked if Duwan would sing me a song and sang God Bless America, but not the version I sang.  He sang:

God Bless America, he says dat I can do anything I want

if I behave in class and go to college

'cause God is good."

What version is that I asked? and he replied it was his own. So he just freestyled the song right there in cold 34th st. station.

A guy walked up + asked me for $1 for a cup of coffee, which I let him take out of my tip box, where I always have a few dollars I put in beforehand. By my accounting I was down one t-shirt and $1 before I even started singing!. Then I sang and it was so cold that my breath fogged up my glasses and my finger tips were ice cold. I got tipped by a homeless guy $1, so I was back to earning $0. It was too cold too play, so I packed up and left the spot for the eager breakdancers who are always at the ready to take the spot no matter what the weather.  And immediately a crowd gathered.

Metro-card swipe cost me $2.50 moneywise it was not a good day, but the little bit of time that I was there was really inspiring.

Agua Clara May 2012

One of the treasures of the Music Under New York program is Agua Clara.  I was passing through 34th street last week and there they were, sounding so joyful, musical and lovely.  I always like to film other performers and usually edit clips down to 1 minute or so, but this one speaks for itself.  The camaraderie of seeing another busker like myself as they acknowledge and smile is a fun part of the underground musical community. Performing in public spaces is such a wonderful way to share our art.

a subway story

Once last year while performing at 34th street station I saw a group of about 20 young school children passing through. It isn’t strange to see school kids traveling in large groups, but rarely have I ever had a teacher point me out as this one did.  What I usually experience is at least one of the kids will start mugging, dancing, being silly-air guitar or mouth singing.  But this particular time, the teacher to my surprise and thrill gathered them around me to listen.  I sang my song Through My Eyes, and eventually they caught on and by the end were singing along.  It’s a memory that I cherish.  The lyrics are “see the world through my eyes," so imagine these young children singing along.  It was quite a sight and sound. At the end I spoke with them a bit, asked if any were guitarists, a couple of boys said yes, and there was one girl too.  I encouraged them to practice and thanked their teacher for stopping.  I never did get their names.  They said they were from The Bronx, and I handed out my card to them-the teacher had to keep them from all taking one!  I had hoped to get an email to let me know who they were, but never did.  I was just happy to have provided a school class from The Bronx a chance to hear a subway/performer.

It’s just one reason why I believe that the MUNY program is so essential to NYC. An interesting coda is the following day I was at Graybar and could see a group of kids heading my way, and wanting a repeat of the day before, I attempted to engage them.  Nothing doing.  No reaction.  Goes to show these spontaneous moments cannot be recaptured, they are little gems to savor as they happen.  That moment of those 20 or so kids singing along with me will stay in my head for a long time.

Unfortunately I didn't have my camera filming that day (some things are best left to memory), but here is a clip made of kids I have captured. edited by Brendan Padgett

34th st

today I struggled, it was hotter than I thought, although once and a while a breeze came by that wasn't 1500 degrees.  Like yesterday at SI ferry terminal, the commuters were distant but visible.  What I mean is people passed by, I got wonderful smiles, the usual kids who connect immediately and many who pass saying positive things, but, no one really stayed for long. 

I had a bizarre deal with a guy 'junior' 'Irag vet'-who wanted to sing.  First of all respect is # 1 for me, he came up demanded to sing and then played the vet card.  I personally would have liked to let him sing, but didn't get the chance to decide as he grabbed the mic and then ordered me to sing the harmony to 'In The Still Of The Night".  You can imagine how excited I was (not). A woman passing by gave me a sympathetic nod and looking towards the policeman nearby, wondering why he wasn't doing anything  to help me, yelled out for him to come over.  All was fine, I let 'junior' have his moment and then I got lost in the moment and said silly things like, 'I imagine you don't share your gun with anyone, well I don't share my mic", to which he explained, "which would you rather have, a mic that doesn't kill, or a gun that does?" bravo.  Too bad he was pretty messed up. The cop stopped by, asked him to come over and talk to him, with which junior disappeared. Afterwards the cop asked why I didn't call out to him.  I explained that I like to deal with things in my own way and knew if I needed help, where to find him.  

Such is life underground.