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Monday, September 21, 2009

Day 6

I played from noon till six today. The blisters on my thumb and fingers have formed into loose dead skin. I met Valentine, the Russian sax player that plays not too far from where I set up. Said he’d been out there for seven hours.
“Man, do your lips get sore?” I asked him.
“No, it all comes from here.” He pointed towards his stomach and said, “Good exercise.”
“You do o.k. today?”
“No, slow, no money. But c’est la vie. This is the life we choose. Practice. It’s good practice.”
My only break today was two minutes to inhale some leftover pizza, ten minutes messing with some broken string issues and amazingly I managed to leave with a hundred bucks in my pocket. Couldn’t believe it. It was much needed after most of the past week was slow. The Labor Day crowds were out. The first few hours were pretty typical, lots of change thrown into the case, tons of pictures taken (I wonder if maybe I should put myself in a cage and have a sign around my neck pointing towards the zoo. Aside from street musician I’ve also come to be Central Park direction guide. Half of them come up to me desperately wanting to know where the closest bathroom is. For all of Central Park's great qualities, bathroom locations certainly isn't one of them). Some kids told me that one of the other musicians said they had to give him a couple of dollars to take a picture with him. I’m not all into that. I know it works for the Statue of Liberty guy out on 5th Ave. and 59th but I just can’t bring myself to that point.

People seemed to be really into the music today. Three hours into the day though I break the string on my guitar and of course I have every other string except for the one I need. I tried to put a larger string and it sounded horrible. Dejected, I started to pack up my gear. Then I put a higher string on. It didn’t sound great but I figured it could pass. This is the beauty of setting your own terms in the tunnel. Fumbling around like this at a show in a club would never work. Anyway, I was playing a song by Guy Clark when a couple stopped to listen. It was a man maybe in his late forties and a young, stunningly beautiful black-haired French girl. She was wearing a dress and I couldn’t help but stare at her. They loved the lyrics to the song, The Cape. It’s about a man who, convinced he’s Superman, continually jumps off of his garage, a flour sack used as his cape. “Well, he’s one of those that know that life is just a leap of faith. Spread your wings, hold your breath, and always trust your cape.” They were really digging it and I even closed my eyes myself and felt the muse. They threw some money in but I didn’t look to see how much. They asked me if that was my own song. I said it wasn’t, but I could play them one of my own if they wanted. I played them a song about a woman that is living in Alaska working at a cannery who one day decides to leave her husband and drive her Mercury Comet across the country, picking up an eighteen year-old Indian kid in Sioux Falls. Thus an affair ensues. They seemed to like it and then went on their way. When I looked down in the guitar case there was twenty-five more dollars. Couldn’t believe it! I’ve played in punk bands for years when we were happy just to get 30 bucks and a 12 pack of beer for a show. Now I’d made that much just for a couple of songs.

An hour later a man approaches. He has that Italian suave look, hair down to the shoulders. He’s dressed very sharp, big camera in tow.
“You got change for a ten?” he asked.
I looked down and said I did.
“Actually, let’s do this. Give me five back and play something happy that will make them dance. You know Beatles?”
I’m probably the only one on earth that doesn’t know Norwegian Wood. I’m not even a huge fan of the Beatles. Oh well. I was in a strange open d tuning anyway and only new one song that I could play.
“I just know the blues,” I said.
“All right, that’s fine, whatever, just make them dance.”
I looked to the left of me and noticed a crowd of jovial wedding goers approaching, dressed to the tee in red dresses and tuxedos. There was also another cameraman with a huge video camera taping it all.

So as I played John Hurt’s Pay Day I had them dancing in circles around the tunnel, the married couple in the middle. The rest of the folks had their arms raised and were holding hands. Laughing. Singing. It looked like some kind of Greek or Russian dance. I didn’t know if what I was playing actually went along with their rhythms but I just kept on playing. They seemed happy. I think I repeated the song about three times. They even brought the party over to the center of the tunnel and continued in circles and I almost felt myself get dizzy. When I finished the father of the bride thanked me and threw in a good-sized tip. He seemed elated. Off they paraded out of the tunnel and around the corner. It’s time like these when it all seems right. The rest of the day was relatively quiet, but I didn’t mind.

At the end of the day I calculate my earnings for the week. I do the math and it comes out to about seven dollars an hour. I figure it comes out to the same amount I’d make if I was working as a dishwasher except I’m not washing dishes. I’m just banging away on my old guitar. Life ain’t bad.

Day 5

I was awoken very early this morning today by the persistent meowing of the cat I’m taking care of. I’m housesitting for a friend of mine in Williamsburg. The cat had food and water. He just wanted me to be up. I tried to tune him out. Soon it was the chop saws cutting through metal studs at the high-rise being built a few blocks away. It’s a sound I’m all too familiar with, but don’t miss at all. I could see the building out the window while lying in bed and I like it that way. Later on I’ll make in five hours what I used to make in an hour, and yet, I actually look forward to going to work. I can’t wait to get to the tunnel and see what’s in store.
Unfortunately nothing too exciting too note, but had fun anyway. I had a cameraman film me earlier in the day. Turned out he was Kid Rock’s cameraman. He was on tour and had the day off in New York. He was very friendly and excited about how it’d come out. He was filming all of the musicians in Central Park and I thought that was pretty cool that he sets time aside for more artistic endeavors. Then again if I had to listen to Kid Rock every day for months I would be desperately running around the park looking for music too. Later on a photographer friend of mine who does a lot of work for the New York magazines and papers came by. He took a bunch of pictures of me in my office. I even did the pose and looked out towards the pond, figuring it was the money shot he was looking for. He was focused on just me but at one point I said, “Dave your missing the real picture.” Down at the other end of the tunnel was a little girl with her father. She was dancing in circles in the dark, a little ballerina; a beautiful sight to see. After the song she came running up to me with a dollar in her hand. “That was awesome,” he said to me. Things like that definitely make my day.

Day 4

Very slow today. Can’t remember much exciting going on. Came out with twenty more bucks to my name. Not much for tips, but tons of people taking pictures from afar; it’s the tunnel and the guitar player. They don’t even listen to what I’m playing. Just take the picture quick and they’re off. Some folks might get angry about it, but I don’t. No one asked me to set up down here. I take note that I saw over one hundred Abercrombie and Fitch bags. Whoever the pretty boy model is on this bag is now forever etched into my mind. Beautiful men…beautiful women…beautiful children, from every country imaginable, pass by. I listen to the different languages spoken and try to figure out where they’re from. I’m feeling a little lonely today. It just hits some days. I’ve stopped playing the Rolling Stones Dead Flowers song. I love to play it, but for some reason singing lyrics about heroin and dead flowers and roses on a grave as little children and mothers stroll around the beautiful confines of Central Park seems a bit morbid.
I had to laugh as I was walking out of the park past the portrait artists and vendor that sell photos of New York. There’s a guy who sells screenplays for movies. An old Jewish woman approached him and asked if he had one for Golden Girls. Nothing against the show, I just didn’t think it was something one would really want a screenplay of. He didn’t and the old woman walked away dejectedly with thoughts of Bea Arthur.

Busking Day 3

I had a feeling today would be good. The last few days were overcast and raining. Then comes the weekend, the sun pokes its head back out, and along with it comes the crowds. Folks seemed to be in good spirits and feeling generous. I get lots of compliments as they walk by. Everyone talks about the cool acoustics in the tunnel. It’s a relatively low ceiling and supposedly there are sweet spots where the reverb sounds really good. A lot of beautiful females were smiling at me. I smile back. Without the guitar I’m just another of the eight million in this vast seat of movement, but with a guitar and stool, some country, folk, and blues, I’m actually someone of at least a little importance. After spending most of the past two years in Oregon in a relatively solitary existence, it’s a good feeling to have. It’s hard to believe that for the past five years I worked as an electrician. A few months ago I would've been a top a ladder fumbling with electrical wires, maybe a rotohammer putting in anchors. Now I’m sitting in Central Park amongst the crowds with the postcard view of the pond and the trees and the high-rise buildings of Manhattan. I couldn’t picture myself being anywhere else.

Day 2 Busking in the Tunnel

Rained all day. I wasn’t expecting much. Figured I’d practice some new songs. There were hardly any people out. In the tunnel I get a lot of the families on their way to or back from the zoo. I imagine seeing wet animals behind bars isn’t high on the tourist itinerary. A Japanese couple took some shelter from the rain, ate their lunch of noodles and rice. It smelled good. They were making me hungry, but I kept playing sad country songs. It was the rain. It had me in a weird mood. They had their backs turned to me the entire time not paying me any attention. When they finished their lunch they each put a dollar into my guitar case and thanked me for the songs. You just never know.

The highlight of the day was a very attractive girl who walked by, then stopped to listen to me playing Mississippi John Hurt’s Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me; a happy ragtime blues song with sad lyrics: “When my earthly trials over cast my body in the sea, save the undertaker bill, let the mermaids flirt with me.” She leaned against the tunnel next to me, smiling the whole time. When I was done she looked me deep in the eyes, peering into the depths of my soul, and said, in what I gathered was a Eastern European accent, “You juz made my day.” Shucks. I nearly melted as I watched her happily walk away, then cursing myself later for not asking her to marry me.
An hour or so later a guy stopped for a couple of songs. He was looking for the tennis courts, but liked what I was playing. Ended up he was from Long Beach, California where I was born. He said I sounded like some guy named Doyle Dykes. I’ve never heard of him. Then he asked me if I knew a particular ELP song.
“Huh?” I asked.
“You know, Emerson Lake and Palmer.”
“Nope, sorry, but I’m sure my dad would,” I said, thinking they were probably the same age.
“Fuck you Seth!” he said jokingly and then walked away.

Day 1 Busking in New York

Day 1
Today marks my first foray into the world of busking. I used to play for the mentally ill and junkies in the parks of Portland, Oregon and I’ve played in random towns on benches while watching the trains pass by, but never for money. So here I am in New York, no job, and with nothing better to do, playing my guitar in a tunnel in Central Park. I have no stool, no guitar strap, and I’m sitting on the ground singing my tunes. Kids seem to like the music. They’re a bit enamored by the sight and sound of the guitar. Some are dragged away by their parents. Looking back in turkey-neck fashion they watch me with innocent curiosity and then disappear. Others are given a dollar or some quarters by their parents. Some even dance for me, which I get a kick out of. After two hours my ass is a bit sore and the mosquitoes are starting to feast on me so I call it quits. Twenty-five bucks in a couple hours. I do the math. Maybe I can make a career out of this. I laugh at the idea and then put the guitar on my back and follow the heard down into the subway.