Saturday, July 13, 2013

Buskin II

So I was buskin in downtown Portsmouth when the rain started. At first I didn’t mind. It was a light rain, barely enough to soak the inside of my guitar case. Tourists passed by, resolute that their vacations would not be spoiled by a little weather. This was good, since they were in New England where weather is always a factor to be contended with.
Well, the rain got to be more than light, so I packed up and sheltered under a near by Jewelry shop awning. After a bit, I figured I might as well play there.  I though I would ask the proprietor if it would be okay, so a poked my head in the door, hoping the shopkeeper wouldn’t notice that I didn’t have any shoes on. “Mind if I play out here for a while?” I asked. She said, “I’m studying for a physics test,” which meant that I had already been annoying her, and that she was taking the opportunity to shut me up so she could concentrate.
I turned back out into the storm and pondered. As I did, the rain lightened up and I noticed the trees across the street in front of the North Church.  Thinking that they would provide me with enough cover until the rain got really hard, I crossed the street, found a dry spot, and plunked myself down to start playing again. 
In a futile act of defiance, I sang, “Watch me” to the store tending physicist. I enjoyed it. I don’t think she was listening.
By and by, a man stumbled across my path carrying a mostly empty bottle. Though he was not sober, he was very friendly and asked if he could sit next to me. I welcomed him and he joined me in the shelter of the tree. His name was Cory, and after we’d established that I didn’t know any of the songs he wanted me to play, he settled for one of my originals. I played “Constance Waits,” and he gave me fifty cents.
Pretty soon, two of the folks who had been holed up across the street under the bus stop shelter noticed him. They obviously recognized him, and crossed the street to sit with us.  Now there were four of us sitting there, under the tree. 
Just then, another man came up and sat on one of the benches close by. It was then that I noticed a kid sitting on another of the benches. This kid had tossed a dolor in my case and I hadn’t realized that he’d been hovering around. 
It started to seem like I actually had an audience; like people were listening. They were stopping and staying and listening. This was a buskin first. Up until that moment buskin had been a smiling passing by thing, or a thumbs up thing, or a toss a buck in the case on your way by thing. Aside form Danielle and Cecelia in Exeter, no one has ever stopped and listened.
It struck me how cool it was, this spontaneous gathering of mostly strangers in the square in the rain. And it all started because of the shopkeeper who wouldn’t let me play under her awning. If I hadn’t crossed the street, Cory wouldn’t have showed up in front of me, and his friends wouldn’t have seen him and come over to talk to him, and the benches wouldn’t have been close by to accommodate the kid and the other man. The rain and the shopkeeper and the tree all conspired to create this amazing unlikely event, that was unfolding in front of me. How lucky I was to have had things not go my way, so something I could not have predicted could take place.  I was witnessing a moment of grace.
Unfortunately, I was running out of time. I said I’d do one more song, and played “A Team” by Ed Sheeren. The girl who had come over from the bus stop cried, and they all clapped when I was done.

I packed up and headed for the truck. On my way, I stuck my head back in the jewelry shop and wished the woman luck on her physics test. She smiled timidly, waved, and apologized.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buskin IN Exeter

I’m reposting this picture because there is so much about it that I didn’t say when I posted it the first time. This picture was taken by Danielle. She was Cayd’s and my first buskin contributor. She gave Cayden ten bucks and told him to keep singing.  Last week she took the picture on her phone and emailed it to me.

This happened after we stopped to see Dan, at Sweet Dreams bakery, who sold us our pre buskin pie, and after Cecilia, who works at Exeter Fine Crafts, passed by and said, “Hi.” Cecilia walks by our spot in front of the Ioka Theatre on her way home.  She said how much she enjoyed our showing up Thursday evenings and playing. It happened before me and Cayd went down the street to D2 coffee house to get our post buskin Mexican Mocha’s from the awesome barista there, whose name we do not yet know, who said she would come to the May 20th Kilim show, but didn’t because of her own show in Newburyport.

The reason why all this matters so much is that it is about the relationships that are evolving out of this being-a-musician-again thing.  When Heather and Jemma went to see Taylor Swift two years ago and came back telling us how amazing and friendly and warm the show was, it occurred to me that it had that feeling because everyone in that 15,000 person audience had a relationship with Taylor and her music. I realized that if I was going to accomplish anything with this iteration of me as a musician, I would have to do the same thing; I would have to connect with people.

So. I set a goal:  To connect with at least one person at ever show I did.  Then I learned something else. Up until the May show at Kilim, I had been focused on playing and singing as well as I could. Not a bad thing to focus on, but it distracted me from something even more important. Two days before the Kilim show, Mary, a young actor, gave an amazing performance in the New Hampshire Theatre Project youth rep season ender. She wasn’t the only actor who shined, (props to Jemma who was also awesome,) but there was something that Mary did that really struck me. She gave of herself. She made herself vulnerable.

It hit me that if I really wanted to connect with people, I had to do the same thing. I had to put myself out there.  So that’s what I did. The Kilim show was the first time. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I did. And it was the first time I really had fun.

I joke that this is the 3.0 version of me as a musician. Version 1.0 started when I was born, and evolved through dreaming, songwriting, and cover bands till I was in my early 20’s, then faded when I got a “real job.”  2.0 started when I did the solo singer/songwriter thing the first time in Boston. It faded in my 30’s during grad school.  3.0 started about four years ago when Heather and I decided we wanted our children to know us not only as parents, but also as artists. What you get to witness if you come to a show or buy a CD or listen to me online is me figuring out what that means.  Truth is, I really don’t know.  So far it’s been about learning the lessons I have just described.

Along the way, someone said it bugged them when I close my eyes while I’m playing.  I had been trying really hard to keep them open. I stopped trying at Kilim.  When I was watching Mary, I realized that when I close my eyes I have freed myself from the fear of screwing up, and moved into the dreamtime where this music originates. It isn’t a shutting out thing, but a trusting thing. I am trusting that when my eyes are closed you will come with me to a place that is as personal as any place I have to offer.  More than a place, it is all of who I am.  It is where I am deeply vulnerable and most alive.  It is where I mingle with the Creation and let the magic that is this music flow through me, and out to the world.   To do that, I have to close my eyes. But it’s also a trusting that when I open my eyes you will still be there, listening.  Because without that, there can be no music.

This has been quite a journey so far, and I appreciate everyone who has been willing to come along for the adventure. Let’s see where it goes next.