by Michael Houston — About a half step out of the gutter. Why do you ask?
Life as a top street entertainer is not all glamor like it’s cracked up to be in the common unconscious. Shakira and Beyonce may not share my perspective, but some us have gear and don’t have roadies or transnational corporate sponsors. I mind the time the great Sean “the Carmel Valley Piper” Folsom shared his view of life and its encumberments as he ignored his sore lower back; crammed his collection of antique hurdy-gurdies, Taylor uilleann pipes into his now long-deceased van at the Monterey Scottish Games and headed joyously into the west toward his demense in Mid Valley.
Mind, I’m not complaining about my own aches and pains as I make crucial life decisions as 7:00 PM approaches. What to do? Happy hour at a local shebeen: Bovines and Ursidae, Albion Arms, Bay of Conifers, Pedro Betas … or a warm dinner by my kitchen’s video hearth? So, I stoically pack assorted maracas, toy marimbas, rain sticks, and drums, etc. into the rolling storage box I inherited from my youngest daughter. Will the on-shore breeze at my back and gravitational force of the moon carry me toward last call at a convivial happy hour? Kismet. Will karmatic balance require a spirited chat with the spouse about household finances, our child rearing practices, or the terrible state of politics at home and abroad? Tough call, aren’t they all?
We show our wisdom in the ways we spend our time. By some cosmic chance, likely related to ancient aliens high-jacking the History Channel, 7pm has become the divide between the sacred and the profane. Suddenly, as ordained by space alien folk traditional, the world of the living and the dead converge. In an instant pleasant bartenders transform into money-grubbing mercenaries! I ask, “Do we have right to happy?” It’s a trick question on the hospitality industry’s space-time continuum. Consider, “Where you bury the survivors?”
The casual observer may wonder if what I term my music therapy is either one. It’s all a bit complicated. One wonders, “Is what we buskers generate music at all?”
Furthermore, how can inflicting frantic atonal noise on people be a form of therapy for anyone? There were indeed people who took similar positions in the American Psychology Association, but they got kicked out for defending torture in clandestine prisons during a recent long-war. (Don’t get me started on Caucasian-on-Caucasian apartheid in Ulster in the 1970s or the like. Suffice to say Irish famine surviving families should be supportive of Dreamers, Rohingya refugees, and fellow sufferers everywhere. Bear with me! The best may yet be to come. Death and taxes, for example.
My Tuesday afternoon clients may wonder what I do before I waylay them and try to get their children and grandchildren to dance and entertain me with real and toy percussion instruments. Well, I meet informally with the elders of my tribe for a pro bono two-hour folk-rock gig at their assisted living digs. That’s when repertoire disputes between my inner-self and my inner-self observing my outer-self run riot. I posit that everybody is too young for Benny Goodman (108), and that Count Bassie (112) is way beyond my skill set. Ergo, I serve up Celito Lindo, Kris Kristofferson (81), the Dubliners and the Pogues. I play with great gusto if not talent. (If you want better there’s a fine American standards band in front of the Arcade and the whole market is brimming with talent.)
Performing for my fellow elders I see true wisdom, or possible hearing loss in on display. It’s amazing, but if you’re old enough and wise enough you can take a wee nap while a guy with mandolin, whistles, harmonicas, and guitar shouts Irish drinking and rebel songs at you.
4pm Tuesday in downtown Monterey is a magical time in the non-corporate busking world. You may find a parking space and locate a vender kind enough to let you busk next to them. Please be aware that where I play shoppers will find high quality goods on sale nearby. Those are vendors who needn’t explain the intricacies of C. K. Jung’s common-unconscious or the virtues of a magical talisman or medicinal potion. I repeat, great vendors abound where I howl Irish drinking songs and children dance and play to Irish and Mexican children’s songs.
When I play on the streets in Monterey as a First Amendment music educator/busker I see a cavalcade of life to delight Monterey County natives or visitors alike. In Monterey, music lovers and those trying to flee it have a variety of target-rich areas to seek out or avoid. There’s music in the air Tuesdays on Alvarado Street, daily in front of the wharf, and Friday Markets at MPC. As Pat Clark of the chromed Washburn guitar has observed, Monterey market days are filled with Montereggio magical realism sightings! The people pass by with masses of every shade of hair color or next to none at all. Weather permitting, their clothing follows suit.
On Monterey market days classic guitars and cellos rub sonic frequencies with blues and rock. Still, someone needs to invent a generator for food vendors that can double as a drum machine with an algorithm to make it all sound better.
We buskers are the hunter-gathers of world music. We are among world’s last free people. We see what goes down, but like H.G. Wells and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Men and Women, we are largely unnoticed, much like the gutters we adorn.
We acoustic players are the heart and lungs of the pueblo. When we’re done we just blow away. By contrast, the great amplified players in the night clubs: Alan, Troy, Jeremiah, Derek, Amy, David, John Michael, Mario, Bart, and Joe have to breakdown their gear in the wee hours after a long night of abstinence and call a good-sized Uber or conjure up a self-driving car. Unlike the late nightclub performers, we acoustic entities just go gently into that dark night or summer evening.
Sober and free, we are less likely to call for a Paddy wagon and turn ourselves in. We realize that we are our people’s one and only bards. In the short days of late fall and winter our fans forgive us when we don’t turn up to brave the elements. We know that we are at once visible and invisible. Being and not being is a blessing.
When the kids are dancing and the music is in the groove we can celebrate life. We can almost forget that we; he, she, or it, is still just a step out of the gutter.