pictures and recordings never to be seen again - imagery of a busker is strong
saxophone in Latin America, including in places with rich trumpet histories
The Book Of Busk
Notes From The Underground Of A Faux Bohemian Playing The Mean Streets
I busk, therefore I am... on the random occasion when I'm at it, anyway. Ah, busking, BUSKing, buskING... how cool! BUSKING! Right, like, know what I'm saying? Yeah! Well, okay, actually you probably don't - or at least not in the good ol' U. S. of A. Hereabouts, the odds are reasonably good that you've never heard of this perfectly serviceable term, elsewhere in the English-speaking world rather ubiquitous. It describes that eminently laudable activity you've hopefully seen in numerous public, touristed areas. Still confused? Fine, then try this: BUSKING (noun): street performing for tips. (Naturally, there's also BUSK (verb): to perform on the street for tips. Less specifically defined: whether to collect said tips in a hat, coffee can, or instrument case.) Ah yes, THAT!
Yes, that, and with this sudden, newfound awareness of what the heck I'm talking about likely comes the reality that you've seen us apparently wackadoo wackos about somewhere, sometime... like precisely when you felt the strong, sudden urge to inspect the sky as you walked by. Actually, that's NOT what most folks do - but I'll get to that in a bit. No, it's better to start at someplace like a beginning... like giving the answer to the following question: WHAT on Earth inspires a person to street perform, with its uncertain financial prospects (in contrast to a J-O-B) and open season for potential verbal abuse? Granted, that's really a WHY query, but us buskers don't typically split such hairs. That's a good thing for wannabee hippies and hipsters required to sport hair or odd lengths, colors, and designs.
THE GOOD LIFE, FOR SOME OF US
Here's the answer, in any event, in the form of a question: WHY not take the crass reality of making a buck, yet replace it with the idea of making a CAREFREE buck? No schedule, no boss, cha-ching! Oh, but we ARE dreamers, ain't we? Still, what could be more pure, more unquestionably Bohemian for a performer (and patron alike) than a barter proposal of entertainment for a, hmm, TECHnically unsolicited donation? Indeed, if such an enterprise sounds both noble and idealistic, well, frankly, that's the entire point. What's not to like about the opportunity of sharing a passion while simultaneously allowing people to give something back (or not) as they see fit? It DOES almost feel altruistic somehow... even if that's not exactly true. But to my fiercely capitalist friends, let's merely say that it's a particularly winsome example of "try before you buy"... which sounds like an amazing promotion gimmick some marketing whiz should coin.
Yes, I know. ANYway, said donations (tips? payments? hush money?) DO unquestionably connote good will in both directions when they happen.They comprise more-than-tacit compliments which amply evidence the beauty of how a lack of obligation is overcome for both parties involved - not that such a sun-shiny theory of active karma doesn't avoid traipsing toward guilt-ridden lines as well, unfortunately. True, true: I'll grant that I've seen my share of woeful, doleful, sorrowful and other-ful looks on a busker's part that a starving, wounded dog wouldn't be proud of... and yet which might, sadly, even work.
Actually, they can. (Here comes anecdote #1, anyway.) Ah yes, I well recall a scruffy trombone player I once met on a beach in Mexico (Puerto Escondido, not your typical busker venue) who said as much. He spotted me playing - uh, off duty - under a palm tree, immediately taking up a missionary zeal in setting me straight about this whole street performance thing. Forthrightly he plunged into suggesting quite seriously that I immediately take to not showering or shaving - whilst donning shabby clothes. He spread his arms as if to say "Ta-da!" - and standing before me was indeed a fine case in point, if sans any concrete evidence of success.
Undoubtedly, he at the least proffered a salient, potentially worthy point... but then again, this was the same person who was trying to cover the entire coastline of that fine, sun-blessed country on something like five dollars a day. I presumed then - and now - that his (a?)vocation was augmented by food scraps taken from the back sides of restaurants. Said assumption would be based on the one time I heard him actually playing his horn, which I'd term as something like a cross between an elephant's death rattle and the canned sound of weeping underwater. I'm not saying that his might've been an altogether inappropriate angle, it's just not been mine. Vive la difference!
Which is not to say that I have no concept of a financial target. My idea - my dream, all too often - of a good day's run is to both perform well AND cover the day's room and board. Supposedly this happens in one, if not two sessions of up to a couple of hours. Perhaps this lacks finery of a beret setting just so on my head, minus the pencil-thin moustache to boot, but I do believe that it qualifies as being of sufficient Bohemian spirit.
Possibly a higher road to take would be what a fellow I met from Québec used as his ideal, busking each day until he had earned his bottle of red and loaf of bread. (No word on "and thou", although I did mean to ask.) He'd been doing the run from Montreal to about Florida and back on the strength of his guitar and voice apparently since the 1960s. In fact, I doubt not for a moment that he's probably still arguing the merits of Jim Morrison or James Taylor with a fellow busker (such as he did endlessly with me) in Percé, Bar Harbor or Ocean City right about now. Really, his was not a bad gig - and it was a pretty good showing to pull that off for so long, putting the "trouper" in troubadour.
His history, actually, has a rather practical aspect to it, when you think of just moving from town to town. Here let me mention an unmistakable benefit of busking - the experience it provides when a venue is lacking or otherwise impossible. This is especially true when on the road, with no particular schedule or destination in mind. No, there's no gatekeeper of an establishment who's focused ultimately only on profit, uninterested in risk, and unwilling to take on a performance beyond their control. Granted, there's no quality control on busking, either, in general, but who's splitting hairs when the audience can simply opt not to stop? (This isn't necessarily true in a restaurant after the food's been ordered, but you get the point.) Instead, busking summons up an audience by the fiat of mere placement, even if said location can't stop anyone from walking away.
It's worth noting, too, that in the same vein of performing sans auditions, busking similarly offers the opportunity to cut one's performance teeth in public in the first place. That's something that might not otherwise be on tap, especially if one is more a supporting player than a featured one, or gives a show that is somewhat outside of the norms of what is expected as, say, bar or restaurant fare. The teeth-cutting part was completely true in my case, where I only had some previous experience playing my trumpet in front of audiences, both for money/tips and for free. My overriding reason for such anonymity at the time was rather simple and comforting, the manifestation of which belied the oxymoron of owning a personal version of stagefright and being a trumpet player. (Then again, maybe my situation shouldn't have been considered so unusual for someone who had originally been a trombone player - the polar personality opposite of a trumpeter by all that is holy in the world of music - if one leaves out the odd bassoonist, of course. I digress.)
Actually, let me really digress: Herewith accept, if you please, a quick personal history, one that saw me as first a trombonist through my primary and secondary years before taking fifteen (!) years off. The latter's stupidity might have remained in effect, too, if not for an intriguing trumpet performance I witnessed in Ecuador on my first of many trips to South America - when it dawned on me that I actually had the right to take up an instrument that I actually wanted to play. No offense to the trombonists of the world intended. More notable was the realization that I COULD do so without the (not necessarily even real) fear of retribution from an older brother who might resent treading on his trumpet turf. Was it really that necessary to put so much time and distance between for this to happen? Who knows?
Psychological damage aside (pathetic, yes), I eventually did pick up this magical horn and built the "chops" to play well enough for others to appreciate my sound - even if it took numerous phases of self-bolstering to propel me only so far as playing rather anonymously in the lowly 3rd (or 4th) trumpet position of a big (i.e. "swing") band. And I might have happily relegated myself to such unobtrusive ranks forever, too, if only because in doing so I found that other musicians were (are) the most daunting audience to play for the musician I hoped to convince myself I could become. (To be fair, I imagine that this is true in all forms of the arts, where creativity is ostensibly being measured beyond mere technical competence. At some point one no longer wants to use the ol' "That? Oh, I was just fooling around!")
So here was this busking thing, is what I'm saying, a vehicle to try and get myself over the performing-in-public hump. By sticking myself alone out there, I knew it couldn't get any more direct and critical than that (Leave it to a former child pyro to stick feet to fire, if only figuratively.) Moreover, beyond knowing that people could pay what they would, an undeniable vote of (dis)approval, I also was more than marginally aware that the rabbled masses - I mean respectable gentry - might say what they would, too. Yes, jutting myself out into the public arena could potentially open myself up to an interesting dose of unflattering commentary. So it wasn't for nothing, then, that I faced this (otherwise alluring) busking concept with trepidation for some time. Indeed, the mere idea of walking out my door and playing the nearest marketplace was frightfully daunting. Make that nigh on impossible.
Ultimately, I realized that I needed some other trick to push the issue, and eventually I'd discover it: I'd busk ON THE ROAD! How Kerouac, how Kesey! Well, minus the heady, tripped out stuff, anyway. So enter Québéc, then New Brunswick and Maine - on a solo bicycle tour no less, completing the look of an apparent circus act I was to resemble each I'd pull up to a bench, miraculously manage to park my overly rear-loaded bike, and pull out the horn that sat on top of all my other belongings like a bungee-corded crumpet. So it began, then, in those suitably faraway (enough) lands from my native Seattle, soon begging me to continue even further afield. So why NOT stir up some musical muck in places like New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Queensland - or even the Northwest Territories - in Australia? Surely, moving from polite Canadians - and Maine is honorarily so in its fashion, let's be honest - to rough-edged Aussies should eventually provide sufficient fodder to ply my schtick on the home front - right?
Right. That was the idea, anyway, and I DID surprisingly find that there's NOTHING like playing the streets to steadily kill any form of the jitters. After starting, that is. Yeah, the first times I tried busking were excruciating in their build-up, days of procrastinating replete with the upset stomach and overly-prescribed butterflies on each "day of". Early on, it usually didn't take much of an excuse to solemnly convince myself of... "Tomorrow!" Finally, however, I got into the habit of telling myself to JUST DO IT (YOU *&%#$! PANSY-A**ED CHICKEN) - another slogan some company should take up, if only the first part.
Eventually, with this improved and eminently marketable attitude, the agonizing prep times only diminished ever more - all the way to the present hiccup level that (nevertheless) persists to this day. Nowadays, however, that nagging moment of indecision and doubt only effectively comes in sounding out those initial few notes of the first song to get things going. With the train out of the station, the air officially broken for better or worse, the chips can relievedly fall devil-care-where they may.
And they do, and it turns out that those passersby sure DO say some ... interesting ... things. Once, for example, I was kindly tipped with an appreciative smile... only for my benefactor, a young woman, to return some minutes later and ask (1) where I looked to spend the money and (2) whether I was intending to get loaded on booze or drugs with the entire Aussie dollar (then worth less than a U.S. dollar by about 30% or so) she'd just parted with in my general direction. She dished out the implicit accusation and then waited expectantly, sporting a raised eyebrow hinged over a decidedly fixed and appraising eye that stood as a withering test to pass in anticipation to my response. I could only hesitatingly reply: "Well... I might buy a beer?", feeling rather daring given the circumstances, but nevertheless offering a testy gambit somewhat. (I usually start with a coffee, to be honest, so therein lay the weak subterfuge.)
Well, yeah, so I can get (if only pathetically) uppity in such instances, true enough. But I did almost expect her to rummage through the coins and bills littering my case for the very one coin she'd placed in there apparently so hesitatingly. But there'd be no such battle, fortunately. Instead she looked me over, churned the possibilities over in her head for a minute or two, then chatted me up for a while about her needing to bust out of this lonesome Aussie beach town in the middle of nowhere (for the record: Lake's Entrance). She then trundled off to her vehicle, next slowly rumbling her putt-putting wreck out of the grocery store's parking lot. Whew!
What immediately followed was arguably worse, when I had to put up with a few punk kids who, having already passed by a few times during the time of my Inquisition, made a bored game of tossing oversized, gold-foiled chocolate coins toward my yawning case. They did so with varying success, that is, until one of them came up to ask me if I'd tip HIM if he did a cool skateboard trick. Say what? Well, perhaps I should've rewarded such pluck, or admired the spirit of his fellow hooligans' choco-coin hijinx... but instead I said no, immediately kicking into a wailing ballad that offered no space for further interruption. Luckily, none of the succeeding hail of half-heartedly pitched choco-coins pegged me in the eye or, worse, lips.
Here it should be admitted that it's not like all the time spent busking has to necessarily be "showtime!", either. A practical side of the trade is spoken to by the achievable things that can be managed outside of mere petty entertainment of the proletariat. For example, what a great opportunity to build and test out a sizable repertoire! No, it wasn't long into my sideshow "career" before I started putting together a list of potential tunes to memorize, interpret, and possibly improvise significantly on. This expanded to doodlings, too, to flesh out rawer ideas. At least in theory, the proof to these testings might appear (or not) in the case, in any event allowing for my "street time" to be spent beyond merely upping my shaky finances. How efficient (if un-Bohemian)! Thusly came the plan, in any event, to augment the roughly one hundred or so songs I sort of knew by heart, pre-busking, into hopefully something like 500-1000 songs eventually. Happily compounding the achievement would be the reality that they'd all be tunes I actually LIKED - with a live test on a hapless crowd to gauge reaction as a topper: Perfect!
As for that financial side of the equation - crass-sounding as that might seem to state aloud while professing any vestige of Bohemian spirit - one can't escape pondering the hopeful ideal: Can busking bring in sustainable dough? I'll cut to the chase: probably not while on the move, and that's even if you've got a good schtick. Knowing the ins and outs of a place, and being stationary to it, does render improvements the right direction, though. In my particular case, anyway, I'd come to believe the busking-as-livelihood is possible only by flaying songs several hours a day, religiously staying in hostels or shared-housing situations, or by adding band members to up the ante (which, while also being vastly more entertaining for both performer and public alike, typically does more than double the takings to offset the down side of splitting the pot).
HOWEVER! In the process, I'd likely be completely selling out my soul by only playing crowd-pleasers while probably also blistering my lip to a numbed and unhappy level. (Specific to brasswinds, there IS a necessary recovery time for puckered lips to be able to play well with any regularity. They're just a buncha wee muscles that get abused and tired easily, constantly demanding fresh recharges of blood that can be downright vampirish.) Yuck, in other words. Or OW! Whichever - that's just been my personal judgement. I won't speak for the others I've found out there working the tough, buskin' streets.
Speaking of which, one thing I rapidly discovered was that my fellow busking "competition," whatever their showbiz bit, from music and juggling to those "statues" who stand immobile in outlandish costume under gobs of toxic body paint - all for the glory of three seconds of motion in exchange for a coin - can range widely in talent and technique. The field of hopefuls literally encompasses anywhere from one end of the spectrum to the other in either measure. More puzzling than that, though, is how little relevance said gauging of quality might bring to bear come money time. Indeed, more than a few have been the times I've found myself less than impressed with a fellow busker, finding nothing special musically or otherwise, only to be galled at how well the money's rolling in regardless. Then I'll just as easily see such a phenomenal talent as to be awed... while not seeing much to show in the case to walk home with. Go figure.
Certain things help, that's for sure. Like being a kid, for one. Nobody but NOBODY gets tipped like kids, a morality play adult passersby often joyfully indulge in via their tipping. The undeniable evidence has led to my unshakeable assumption that this success purportedly demonstrates that adults like the idea of a kid working it, doing something they love and thus deserving of support... while secretly harboring the hope that if the imp is THEIRS, he or she will eventually become a doctor, lawyer, or otherwise "legit" profession when THAT phase passes. I readily buy this encouragement theory mostly because (a) their tip cases/hats are quite often full of money and (b) frankly, most kids aren't much to listen to or watch performancewise, however cute they might be. Someone's gotta say it! Sorry! But please don't think that I begrudge the kid factor in the process, because I don't in the least: I tip them, too - before stationing myself far away. It's just an odious (well, hardly) reality that all buskers must accept. So, as for the trio of cute, yet miserably untalented young violinists that appeared near me while I was having a banner day once at Tasmania's grand Salamanca Market in Hobart... well, let's say that only the THOUGHT of breaking their horse-haired bows occurred to me. I soon found another spot.
Speaking of avoiding potential problems and unnecessary headaches, I learned quickly that it IS worth trying to pick locations with some care. Weather is a huge factor, for one thing: getting rained on, blasted by the sun, whipped by the wind, or chilled by the cold on anything more than a mild level can be a deal breaker. There's nothing like playing only for a short time and realizing that you are miserably cold, squinting, or overburdened with layers with layers that can't be swapped out reasonably. Cold fingers have a way of choking up that has nothing whatsoever to do with emotion, just as sweating stinging salt into eyes has nothing to do with a good cry. Nor is it fun to run down the street, instrument in hand, after banknotes hard-won from tipping blowing in the wind, while a case sitting with money in it on a sidewalk is left behind unattended. No thanks to that, I've learned the hard way: Leave that type of suffering for the REAL Bohemian! Like the starving one. Besides, from both an artistic and a financial standpoint, the music almost always suffers in tandem with the cashpile as a consequence of such trying situations.
With the necessary starting point of shelter and survivability covered, meanwhile - and much as I would assume a gymnast avoids flips and tumbles over cobblestones, or jugglers wouldn't want to find themselves staring at the sun too often while juggling knives or flaming pins - any musician worth their salt should always next opt for acoustics. I certainly do, even as I also rather avoid the big crowds that can fit into big, open (and thus non-acoustic) spaces in the first place - it's too intimidating a thought to entertain a mob! (My not wanting an oversupply of people - and their possible funding - also gives reason as to why I realistically could never make a living off of busking the streets.)
For a trumpet/brasswind player, a lack of aural feedback is seriously no good. The resulting need to play (ever) louder to hear oneself properly only means wearing out those precious teeny, aforementioned-and-all-important lip muscles more quickly as a result. Sure, I MIGHT bray my horn into open space for an hour on occasion - when I'm in an inspired spot (I have a thing for abandoned bullrings), or fielding a request, or some other pathetic inspiration - but those necessarily must be one-off deals. I've come to rather blithely (if ignorantly) choose kinder acoustics in lieu of the prospect of gold pretty consistently, on such occasions haughtily reminding myself that this is supposed to be a fun and artistic endeavor. Yes, I am Bohemian, after all, I whimper - if only in a suitably pleasant, hushed, and in-key tone.
So let's see: weather, check, acoustics, check... okay, aren't there ANY people about? Oh yeah, that again. One presumably can't ignore, after all, the fact that it's impossible to make a dime without someone walking by that actually HAS one. True, true. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to find such generous, civic-minded and upright folks - and the center of town is almost always the best bet. No surprise there, but it's not necessarily the ONLY good thing going. Popular parks can be nice, as can many a city street with good foot traffic. And it's not just about the tourists, either. These spots can include park benches near store entrances and markets, although said benches - which can seat a few people, typically - can rather dangerously invite unwelcome hangers-on to sit adjacently, and for far... too... long. Sometimes these folks don't get that all talky-talk and no playing - uh, like at ALL, sometimes - makes the busking trumpeter a rather poor boy... even if it does allow for appreciative folks to get up close and personal.
Just like this one guy, fer'instance, who once plopped down next to me after slowly approaching with various appreciative moments of bobbing his head to my beat. That is, he did only before getting to his REAL motive, about five seconds after I had stopped playing: "Cool stuff, yeah, real nice. I like it, yeah, I can dig that!, you've got something going on, you do..." Ah, a satisfied customer! And then came: "Alright, I'll cut to the chase - you got any weed?" Sigh.
Better by far was the kid who came up to me about a year later, not far from the same place. He showed up by biking up from the river where he and his friends had been listening to me. He didn't have any cash on him, no, but he'd come up wanting to know if I'd share in smoking their bowl(s) of weed. I didn't, but I certainly appreciated the offer. A few minutes later someone else called from the woods behind me: "Dude, you play the killeringest trombone!" Uh, about twenty-plus years too late, m'friend!
Returning to the vein of WHERE, I've found that playing in front of grocery stores and restaurants, and during lunch or dinner hours particularly, also can be good choices. Actually, placing oneself in front of, or on the way to, any food source near meal times can be ideal, with after being better than before probably only for the removal of doubt about how much money will need to be held on for the meal... and maybe a full, satisfied belly is a more likely one to share. Seems so - and I've been offered leftovers, some of which I didn't refuse, I'll admit. I won't say no to samosas, like ever, nor will I refuse necessarily the odd offer of a place to stay. I'll never be the one to say that three freebie nights on an island stuffed with free-roaming - if occasionally nasty - koalas was a bad exchange for trumpet-crooning old-school Cuban classics like "Siboney" and "El Carretero". Playing in front of a different grocery store, about a month later, had me temporarily flopping in a week's stay with what seemed to be half the Colombian community of Melbourne. You never know. The bottom line is plop yourself into spots where people linger or dawdle a bit near commerce (as opposed to the rushed crowd trying to catch a train). It's not just that the odds that they are carrying cash are pretty good - they're probably just in a good mood to boot, having cash to potentially burn and all.
And now for an important caveat: I've found that such wanton placement in front of businesses doesn't particularly extend to bars, however: Any drunken bozo can be liable to be insistingly belligerent about wanting to play your instrument. (I don't know how this carries over to the other busking acts.) The last thing a musician wants is a tug-of-war with his beloved hunk of metal serving as the rope: "Come on! Just a note or two!" (On the other hand, I WOULD like to see such enthusiasm enjoined if it means watching said dorks flail at trying to snatch flying juggling hatchets or flaming swords. I'd tip generously, promise.) A practical consideration is that I'm not that big a person, even if plenty of other trumpeters are. So maybe it's not surprising, then, that I only rarely let folks have a go at my horn. I scrutinize their appearance for having only the mildest of intentions, and believe me it doesn't take long to become quite good at this. So, the Chilean woman from Frutillar, who wanted to play a soft Chet Baker song? Sure. Especially since she was so brave as to do so in rival Argentina, where she was visiting. Seriously, it's not that hard to avoid the frat boys on imbibed patrol - just ask any sober woman with half a brain.
Meanwhile, lemme take back a little of what I said about necessarily eyeing tourist spots, look beyond their expected high foot traffic. That's because it's also worth keeping in mind that such storied placements can be as reliably problematic as they are alluring. The problem is that they are invariably more regulated and watched over by the local powers-that-be, from the chamber of commerce minions to cops. Unsurprisingly, this often results in buskers maintaining a testy relationship with Johnny Law in any of its forms merely on account of the paranoia with respect to any potential interruption in the flow of currency into pockets. It's not like this should be unexpected, either, since a tourist spot almost by definition is far more likely to raise the eyebrows of local officials worried about image and happenings of an "un-toward" nature - which busking evidently is, also by definition - even if we are the oddest type of societal freeloaders, the ones working and developing a talent at it.
I'll allow for the idea that a busker can, existentially, be a perceived violation of a spot's "sanctity", especially at historical sites. Heck, maybe folks harummph-ed loud and clear back in the day at any unsanctioned entertainments in these core, focal areas of activity. Then again, in between twelve hour shifts interspersed with gruel and attended by dubious hygiene, maybe not. In any case, with commerce nowadays our (un?)official god, I'll readily admit that this can be a fair complaint. And this is especially true when folks have come far and wide to see/have a specific tourist experience that's been well-packaged in their minds. I can see how playing a mean flute while swinging on the Liberty Bell, or standing in some celeb's handprints in front of Mann's Chinese Theater while kicking out some seriously tasty jams, could be conceded as out of the question - if only in the sense of propriety. No question, one person's amazing communion with unexpected entertainment can indeed just as easily break the wondrous solitude of another's historical moment... which makes such touristy spots serve as a dual-edged sword. Besides, when it comes right down to it, anyway, any prospective busker attempting such a potential travesty (often without a permit - more on that in just a sec) had better be ready to run, or at least give up the show in a hurry. The cops and council enforcers WILL be making their rounds in these kinds of places. This is not terribly comforting for the busking ranks, who almost always seem to only seek these lightning rod-like spots, but that's how it IS.
On the other, brighter side of the equation, there are also those relatively non-touristed burgs that dream to be more trafficked. Folks in those kinds of places seem to have no end to ideas of what a busker can do to put them on the map. I've had numerous such experiences as the one I had in Warnambool, Victoria (Australia), where a council member approached me excitedly and invited me to play in his restaurant on the main drag - only for tips, of course. (Bars and restaurants worldwide love to get something for nothing.)
More amusing was my experience in somewhat more touristed St. Martin, New Brunswick (Canada). There, the lady in the local tourist information booth (a former lighthouse) urged me to play on the bench outside of her door. She excitedly told me that a small cruise ship's passengers would be briefly disembarking to check off the local covered bridge from their checklists. To her glee, yet like a monkey clapping a cymbal in time, I briefly did so - rendering any vestiges of pride on my behalf entirely moot. Well, I didn't too poorly, anyway. So here add an axiom, if not a corollary for busking: It can be worthwhile to choose places that are up-and-coming enough to not be jaded to a busker's presence yet.
Here allow me to relate a related bit of advice I was given once, early on into the busking trade, relative to local jurisprudence, judicial restraint: I once met a guitarist in Quebec City, an old hand at the busking thing, who advised me that, whilst always playing my heart out (naturally), it's also always a good idea to always keep half an eye out for an approaching squad car. (It should be noted that, following his model - which also insisted that the eyes must be squinted shut to be appropriately passionate - I believe this is called peeking.) Furthermore, he urged, should I ever see the cops come by a SECOND time, I should instantly take off running - before returning to the same spot after they finished their pass. I nodded, listening on attentively.
This is entirely logical, he assured me in continuing, because the REAL police (not the city council officialdom types) typically aren't interested in feeling required to chat with buskers. Well, beyond the odd oh-I-remember-back-when scenarios, when THEY were in a marching band, or even took a stab in their basement at being a minstrel for, like, a month or so - but those are the guys kinda on your side in the first place. No, generally the cops - fortunately, happily, luckily - find enforcing busking rules of any sort a complete waste of their time. My take, I'd like to append, is also that buskers aren't usually the type to get violent. Thus we're not terribly inviting for the possibility of letting a cop let off some steam in a physical way. How boring! I've had friends who are cops over the years, so I well know that, regarding working the streets, there's no mistaking when their stories get interesting to them: "So this guy reaches into his jacket like to pull out a..." WHAM, BAM, POW - just like in the comics.
Anyway, his words turned out to be sage advice, as evidenced not before very long. Like the very next day, when wasn't it yours truly who lazily didn't get up shortly after spotting a not-flashing, yet siren-sporting vehicle roll by for a double-back? I was summoned over after he rolled by again, surely going so slow that I'd hopefully beat it before it came to any reading of the riot act. To this this I wouldn't hazard a guess as to which of us was the poorer schmuck for the encounter. In any event, what duly followed was a rather bored and rote dressing down about performing-without-a-permit, concluded by a suggestion that I go and see some of the righteous folks in city hall about one - and then paying strict attention to the regulations that came with it. Yes, sir! Mais, bien sûr!
He might've yawned around then, not sounding convincing either to me or himself regarding the value of such law-abiding action. Still, if only for the ennui of stopping, he scribbled my passport number down in pencil on a ripped sheet of paper which I believe he scrounged up from the floorboards of his car. Sure, said scrap was in all likelihood pitched out of his window a minute later, but - ever the scholar, I is - I at least got a nice opportunity to test my improving Quebecois comprehension and speaking skills for the detour. Yet, I wouldn't guarantee all such meetings to be so sanguine.
For instance, there was my entirely different - if fleeting - encounter with the cops some years later, in Bariloche, Argentina. Whilst playing with a jazz quintet hailing from Buenos Aires, having one of those inspired moments us street types pray for, two men ran burst through our modestly assembled crowd at full speed. Whoa! Hey! Moments later, as us band members quickly took to clutching our instruments closer and swiveling to avoid contact, came the cops with guns swinging in the air in pursuit. Apparently they were hot on the heels chasing what we'd later learn to be gun-toting(-and-shooting) robbers. Yikes! But at the moment we had no idea, far more concerned with someone banging into our instruments. My point - inasmuch as I have one - is that I'm sure that these cops were vastly more satisfied with their interaction with us busking types than that poor, bored cop back in Canada. Meanwhile, this being one of the rare occasions where I was playing with musicians playing amplified instruments, we all somehow missed the shootout that left a bloodied and rather dead body around the corner until we left. Well, I guess that was kind of exciting for us, too.
More typical, however - and far peskier - are the versions of legal wrangling that occur otherwise, like when I was in the far-flung Australian tourist hotspots of Hobart, Tasmania, and Cannes, Queensland. In each, I'd find myself vastly more bothered by the local powers-that-be, and those in spite of both times taking the rare action of obtaining a permit (if admittedly belatedly, after some brief tussles and hassles on their battlefields of tourist-dom.) Far more annoying was the fact that one (Cannes) required an "interview" and audition for the right to busk, an event perfunctorily attended to only by the grumpy secretary of the local council - the one who'd be typing up the papers. She was an oddly under-credentialed judge of talent, I thought, so I made it a point to be both rousing and brief in such a tiny enclosed place. If she couldn't tell in twenty notes or so that I could play, she never would, I figured. And indeed she was happy to give me the papers and see my backside exiting the door shortly thereafter - and even happier a day later, when I came by to return the badge.
My disgusted action came about because Cannes's few legitimately chosen spots to busk were obviously sandbagged for failure, at least to any wind player, a handful of places along a sidewalk heading to the beach that lacked even the remotest possibility of acoustics. And here tourist after tourist had been suggesting Cannes as a potential busking valhalla for months prior to my setting foot there, assuming that its heavy tourism was all that was necessary for success. Well, that famous adage about "assume" made an ass out of me, anyway. On account of that and Cannes general Spring Break atmosphere, I wasn't long in sticking around that over-hyped town. I soon found a much more welcoming lieu all the way up at the end of the bitumen road, in Cooktown, where both tourist and busker alike are desultory denizens.
Another, similar bout with local ordinances, meanwhile, came some months before that. This one further announced its intentions by providing a ludicrous handout that read somewhat like the wrong side of the Ten Commandments... except there were about FIFTEEN of them, each beginning with "The busker shall NOT...". Outside of not being allowed to harangue any strollers-by (duh), there may have been some verbage about being shabbily dressed or unshaven for all I remember of its dictates. Far more amusing, however, was how this heavy-handed, negative approach was comically belied by the cover of the folded sheet of paper itself. It sported a whimsical sketch of a long-haired guitarist, sitting Indian-style while watching notes and birds fly above his head as he played. Yeesh. (The latter was in Hobart, for the record, where I also returned my badge and went so far as lodging an official complaint about their asinine "system" of musical incarceration.)
As in Hobart, the physical number of available spots and times was so unduly restrictive as to not be practical for any but the most desperate. Then again, that might have been the very idea of that prim-minded, Chamber-of-Commerce-driven place - which I otherwise enjoyed, when interacting with its citizens, who also detested the local council. Resignedly turning in badges and making written complaints, in any event, was all I felt I could do in lieu of the more appropriate response of pulling my own finger and farting in their general directions. Which I really, really wanted to do. Instead, I made it a point both times to blatantly return to the welcoming fold of illicitly resuming my trade by beginning to play just after council enforcement's strictly daytime hours - with my feet at the ready, should an uppity, off-duty rules enforcer show up.
In Australia, anyway, it was fortunate for me that bigger cities such as Melbourne and Sydney were far more likely to give my low-key hijinx busking ways a shoulder shrug. Only on one occasion did someone finally feel it necessary to explain the local permitting deal, albeit in a drastically less officious manner. In such cities, meanwhile, the floodgates of available spots substantially opened to almost an unlimited number of choices after getting a permit. The enforcer types would no longer have to bother with bothering me anymore - which was what they really cared about - and the world was my oyster in which to play. For all that, I've come to doubt it's a coincidence that such a laxity of busker placement is more typical for the considerably faster-paced environs of bigger burgs world-round. They have REAL crime to worry about.
The litany of tactical questions on a location's potential success doesn't end with obtaining a permit, however. For example, another prime factor is if there is already another busker nearby. This actually happens a good deal of the time, and almost with a certainty if one is indeed focused on the tourist spots. Happily, for this there's an unwritten rule among buskers: It SHOULD be the case that one can only barely hear at best - or not at all - any others plying the trade in the area. A logical extension of those similarly stationed in overly close proximity necessarily includes any other form of music (piped in, etc) or performance (juggler, mimes, etc) if not necessarily the preacher insisting on eternal hellfire (who is on a greater mission, of course). (It's worth noting that this is often ignored by kids who - and I choose optimistically to again dangerously assume - just don't know better.)
By the same token of not being overly obtrusive, this consideration applies as well with respect to any business in front of which it might be appealing to place oneself. I've found that immediately leaving - after perhaps only the briefest of questions to possibly ameliorate the situation for staying - is the best choice when any owner is bummed out about my choice of lieu. Why bother with fighting the good fight for more than a minute? There's always another doorway or wallspace in front of which to set up shop. Fortunately, plenty of shopkeepers realize that buskers can foster the very environment that might get someone to their door in the first place. Moreover, when they are sufficiently clued into this fact, it can lead to that glorious moment where the busker is asked to play out front any time desired. Those are moments of harmony which make the Bohemian of any stripe smile. It only takes a modest recognition of acoustics and volume to get the equation reasonably correct, I've found.
Of the few cases where I've been asked to move on, rare events I'm happy to note, I'm glad to report that one shopkeeper later eventually sought me out to ask me back - if I'd just lose that didgeridoo player I'd been playing with in the process. His amplifier had, admittedly, encouraged me to crank up the natural amp that is a trumpet to match his volume, but that was only after a week of playing that same narrow alley in a drastically more muted fashion until then. It's not like I was all that much on his side, truth be told, not after his having broken Rule #8753 of Buskerdom - when I decided to depart immediately upon her complaint. The broken rule? An obvious one: Thou shalt share the freaking tips! Still a bit miffed an hour after his bidding me adieu with no offer of splitting our prodigious take (it had been his show which I had joined, which naturally put him in the position of being potentially gracious), I was happy to get this moment of resurrection, if not exactly restitution (we had done outrageously well only after having joined forces, his case previously quite empty), when the shopkeeper sought me out to apologize for complaining while also extending the invite back.
Having chosen a spot, meanwhile, my toughest moments in busking remain those first notes that, by necessity, must be sounded to get things going. Some buskers launch into their schtick with amazing bravado, but them's not me. That's because I can't help but notice that, wherever I'm choosing to perform, there's an existing ambiance of street noise, conversation, or the muted hubbub of nature that I'll be invading. This is for better or worse, naturally depending on perspective. I just happen to roll in a rather un-typical trumpeter fashion, preferring to speak with a small stick in usually sounding out my first song quietly and carefully. (In the music geek world, musicians supposedly can be picked out by their bearing and countenance. The trumpeters are always the guys in the back, laughing and making spit-wads while farting belligerently. I'm mostly only like that with folks I know.)
My mentality is that of breaking in and inTO the new environment, rarely choosing a spot already filled with stationary people unless I begin pianissimo (awfully quiet). Only over time might I let the muse move me up to the forte fortissimo (really freaking loud) stuff, if the situation allows. I DO sometimes want to make spitwads, after all. Anyway, the idea is to not interrupt the rhythm of existing sounds too brusquely, even if I'll obviously be doing so on at least SOME level. (It's a trumpet, for crying out loud: Although it's a formidable and coveted skill for a trumpeter to play whisper-quiet, the DESIGN of the thing is to signal a call to arms - or tea with the king - whatever). In any event, such is the take of a formerly, extremely shy kid. Approaches vary, and so it goes. Loud or quiet, folks look around for the clown making the sounds. Loud just means they're more startled, that's all.
The fray now properly entered, my hapless audience is only particularly forced to make a choice to deal with me - or not - if I've arrived AFTER them. Fortunately, this is less true the other way around - a main motivation in my waiting until the coast is momentarily clear. I'm probably just too gosh darn polite. Anyway, with the first song out there, I've surpassed the situation where any new people entering the area can take issue with me via any "I was first!" thinking. Perhaps this is rather passive aggressive in some sense but, whatever the case, for these new arrivals my sound is THEIR existing environment whcih they've happened to enter into unaware - even if they are nonetheless surprised at finding a trumpeter in their midst making a ruckus. If this quixotically bashful approach to the trade likely results in fewer tips - which I think it does, frankly - it nevertheless does wonders for my karmic living. "It's MY Bohemia!", I always remind myself - even if a certain number of Czechs might disagree with my appropriating their heritage.
Tune selection is the obvious next topic of interest for a musician. On the one hand, there's what one feels like playing at a given moment... which very well might not be among those tunes that get the greatest positive reaction, or fit the scene best. Take it as a matter of faith that, while pleasant strains of the Bossa Nova can seemingly do no wrong, they might not be the most appropriate sound for Oktoberfest or a busy train station. These two combatants of mood and practicality blissfully and helpfully overlap at times, sometimes not. It's a certainty, though, that when tips are lagging and the budget begins to press in to pay for food, the temptation to strike with something that's been working can run a bit high. Which allows for the danger of it getting to be an unhappy habit since the resulting, somewhat shortened set list is a likely means to becoming quite bored with the joys of busking. Somehow the at-times unavoidable emphasis on favorites must be mitigated by trying to do new things with them to make them more interesting.
For my part, I prefer to think of any busking venture as a themed practice concert. I strike a vein - old Cuban tunes perhaps, or swing standards - and then run with it. Luckily, I'm partial to pretty "accessible" fare: jazz and latin standards, traditional international classics, plus an array of tunes from old cartoons or kids' shows. I thus might play Spiderman until the cows come home just as easily as El Cumbanchero, Well You Needn't, or The Spanish Flea. And the best known Stars Wars tunes never fail to please, either, just like The Pink Panther. So it goes, and I for one don't complain. Instead I think myself lucky to be sometimes content with such fare, when loftier, more original aspirations can be questionably marketable. I won't argue either angle with any energy, but I'm regardless "stuck" with playing all of my repertoire with some frequency to remember it all. I've come to believe that it's a lot more controversial to the "purists" if a busker plays over recorded backing tracks. On the other hand, such an argument has its value as well: It IS entertaining to watch two Bohemians arm wrestle over such nuance, even if the audience only has ice cream dribble down their chin for the pause. If the combattants dress like mimes, the better!
For all the above, however, I'm all for just making stuff up. Being creative IS cool and rewarding. And it can start anywhere: A musical scale with an interesting quality to it is worthy of experimentation, for starters. And any intriguing phrase is fodder for repetition in my book, possibly finding its way to becoming a song. "Chan Chan"'s simplicity is just as genius as "Planet Rock"'s brief them. Who knows where these little diddies will go? As for employing scales, arpeggios, and the like, the accepted pedagogical thinking anyhow is that reenforcing such fingerings ad infinitum will always be rewarded somehow later in performance. So why not a freshly-discovered lick, too? Of course, outright playing scales should be as verboten as memory-testing an only shakily-learned tune on an unsuspecting public. The streets are a form of practice, yeah, but not at THAT level. Not surprisingly, street-practicing tunes not completely memorized, without the net of other musicians to take over, has other associated dangers. Besides finger fumbling to put errant and unintended notes into line, it's also all too easy to play a little too loosely or sloppily with the tempo. Who, me? Miss a note? Uh... yeah.
Similarly, one doesn't go backward in music to correct wrong notes, nor adjust the tempo to get a section right when playing as a group. With more than one voice (instrument) in the balance, one's got no choice but to plow forward - the beat waits for no one. Worse, a half-step "grace" note against certain backing chords might sound REALLY bad. Fellow musicians might not take too kindly to such experimentation, however "street" one wants to be. So it's merely an ADVANTAGE to be able to mess with tempo and tone when playing solo, a beautifully forgiving nicety, but unless it's kept minimal it'll become a damaging habit. Anyway, that's what trouble a musician can get into - I have no idea what worries the fire-breather or sword-swallower has. Well, maybe inconvenient gunpowder breath or rust-abrased lungs?
But none of all of the above is what REALLY interests you, I know. You really want to know all about the MONEY, of course. Show me da...! Sigh. Yeah. Well, first things first. By which I mean that Money Rule Numero Uno is to make it obvious that you are doing this FOR money. Or are at least open to the cause. As a practical matter, this wholly translates into one thing: seeding the case/hat. You MUST put some moolah in there to show an openness to tipping, then ya gotta put it out there visibly. It's that simple. Or is it?
Depends. As always, there is nuance. For instance, some go as far as to say that its both necessary and wise to stick the seeded case out as far as possible, practically making people trip on it - while also making it more difficult to defend or protect. Most important to me with that strategy is the feeling that that's a bit pushy or rude. Others, meanwhile, suggest seeding this cavity of hope with a sufficient pile of cash to show that others are tipping. This implies "...so why won't YOU?!?" Yuck, you might think, but unfortunately this one IS rather necessary. I've not made hardly a penny without seeding the case first, and the money seems to flow better as the pot grows.
Indeed, just how much to put in as seed money, and in what kind of coinage, poses an interesting question. In Australia - with coins of 5c/10c/20c/50c/$1/$2 and bills of A$5/A$10/A$20/A$50, I found myself putting in a couple of gold-plated $1 and $2 (worth about 70c and $1.40 at the time) coins each. Those handily stood out while having a modest-yet-tangible value. About the same went in Canada, although over there the $2 coin is apparently called a loonie because of the duck on the back and, I'm sure, to not be confused with all the Aussies that infest some of their top tourist spots as workers, particularly their ski resorts. (To complete the lesson, the $2 coin is ostensibly called a "toonie". I never cared, as long as some of them ended up in case.)
In the U.S., with our apparent phobia about EVER giving a dollar coin a proper go, it's usually a number of one-dollar bills that are necessary to get things going. Sometimes that "number" is five, but over time it seems to be growing toward ten. Is this inflation, or experience? More importantly, my seeding theory - and many buskers would agree - is that people look to see what others are giving and more or less do the same - within reason. Seeding with Benjamins (Franklins, the US$100 bill), in other words, would be stupid on more levels than one.
Not that such blatant suggesting can't be easily and blatantly ignored, though. The horror! Yeah, it ALSO turns out that a portion of people will regardless still tip with heaps of small coins. That's probably because they don't imagine them to be worth much, more of a hassle to keep in the pocket and thus preferable to dump without thinking too much of the matter. This makes sense - and surely only the most foolish of buskers would think to refuse such mildly headache-inducing coinage. I've never heard of such a thing, frankly. Sure, these coins can reduce a tip to something frivolous, but a compliment is a compliment - until it's thrown like a fastball. I've learned to spend the smallest coins as soon as possible on a coffee and a pastry, if only to save my pocket from developing premature holes. I also don't like to awkwardly lean to one side from the metal ballast, although the jingle can sound nice sometimes as I trudge away from a hard day's busk.
Bills, naturally, can stand out in their reward, since they always represent the higher end of the currency scale regardless of milieu. In Australia and Canada there was no denying the compliment, not with the lowest denomination at $5. Such grand gestures generally meant that an ensuing conversation was a given, both because the tip signified a consequential amount AND because these tippers almost always tried to make the motion of giving obvious. Fair enough, although my bulging eyeballs when a $10 or $20 is dropped (rarities in my case, I assure) should serve sufficiently as proper acknowledgement, one might think. Nevertheless, I was slightly taken aback once by a woman in Washington State, who asked me "Can you break this twenty so I can give you a five? Uhhh - you're not starving or anything, are you? 'Cause then you could just have the whole thing!" Had I been taking that trombonist's advice after all, I wondered? Hmm. Short story shorter, I assured her that I was okay. She nevertheless resolved to come back later with the fiver as, for my part, I resolved to reevaluate my appearance. (Unfortunately, that was pretty much how I dress every day. Come to think of it, though, a friend DID recently say that she's been noticing that I've been wearing the same clothes as when she met me ten years previous or so... and my haircuts are getting fewer and further between... and some days are beginning to seem less worthy of a shower... Hey, I AM a Bohemian! How about that?!?)
Ahem. Now to fulfill a promise from back in, uh, about Paragraph #2: One thing EVERYONE does do is look inside the ol' case. Regardless of how otherwise innocuously someone is walking by, invariably will come that nonchalant, yet ultimately deep and penetrating stare into the case. Sometimes it's only for a professional second, other times ten. It doesn't matter. Not uncommonly, either, do I notice these eyeballs flicker, like an abacus on steroids, during this GUARANTEED lingering, calculating, COUNTING look.
"Some fools have tipped this muck THAT much (or little)?!?", their looks seem to say. Perhaps more generously, I prefer to think that they are weighing future careers as buskers themselves. I chalk it up to natural human curiosity, or at least such in an Anglo-Saxon-driven, turbo-capitalist world. Not for nothing, either, is one's line of work the first question asked after meeting someone in any of three English-speaking countries I've mentioned so many times above. But fair's fair, too: I readily confess to doing the same thing myself - the case stare, that is, not the occupation query. However, I get to deduct it from my social tax as RESEARCH, because I'm often trying to relate what's in the case to the quality of what I'm listening. It's an economics lesson of the simplest kind, even if I have yet to determine the exact equation.
I can speak for many when I say that, from the busker's side of it, we can't help but notice what's going into the case on some level. As someone throws the coins in, it's practically impossible to not automatically glance over if the eyes are open and the playing is easy. At a minimum, a recognition of the deed feels required, if only as courtesy. Of course, this isn't left to doubt when the tipper puts the money in slowly and purposefully, which often happens. I've seen some go so far as to even stop in mid-tip to try to catch my eye for that brief instant of acknowledgement. I duly bounce the bell or mutter a thank you (if I can with my breathing).
So I'm 'fessing up to being guilty of noticing what people are tipping. Sue me. I'm just glad that - so far - I'm also lucky enough to not be guilty of worrying about it. Neither can it be denied that it feels good when the dough's rolling in - especially because this leaves no doubt that people are liking what they're hearing. This furthermore allows for making the dream of living on the playing seem much more real, easier to imagine - even if it isn't. Are there IS that gratifying afterward, where I spend the pile of silver, copper, or even aluminum at the nearest cafe, an experience that is unquestionably elevated by the feeling that the treat is "free."
That's because wages per hour don't exist quite so much when you enjoy what you are doing. It sure beats the alternative, even if for all that you have to deal with the numbnut who pees nearby, or the fellow who asked me "You gonna be here the next 45 minutes? I need somebody to watch my dog." Unfortunately, in that one, no mention of renumeration came into the short exchange that followed, but it COULD have led to great things. Right? Maybe not. Anyhow, I got this sneaking feeling that the dog thought I was encroaching on his territory. I passed.
As a final observation, let me also note that you also can't help but notice who gives and who doesn't. Women "of age" - no. "Of a certain age"? More likely. Or maybe that's my age. For the guys, it often seems that the tippers fall are those among the retiree set or young hipster/artistic dudes - and few in between. Best by far, for either sex, are the little KIDS, who are superbly adept at stopping dead in their tracks. Instantly assuming the role of a pulling anchor, they're often ready to dump Dad's wallet and Mom's entire purse into the case. Although it's a coincidence of taste, it isn't for nothing that I'm nothing more than a Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Rubber Ducky man who knows why The Lion Sleeps Tonight. God love them all, I say, even if something's gotta give about their actual power to translate such appreciation into their parents' dumping their wallets over my way. For the record, however, this young'un concept doesn't extend to teenagers, the leading candidates for pointedly laughing at us earnest, angelic, altruistic buskerfolk.
The rest of the sizing up of tippers goes about to expected form. The folks displaying/wearing lots of bling and jewelry, or all dressed up? Yeah, that's about as likely as the homeless throwing a few bills down. Doesn't happen. No, far better are the usual bevy of heavier tippers - bartenders and waitstaff in general. Or other musicians, performers of any stripe... and buskers. Which sometimes makes me wonder if we're all just shlepping the same pile of quarters around. So be it.
And that's about where I'll leave my observations, this Book of Busk. The time has come to close the case and part, if only with a plea about this permit stuff which is steadily seeming to make us hopefully entertaining flakes disappear. Yes, the growth of i-dotting and t-crossing wisps of paperwork is killing the beautiful trade of busking as sure as there is a word that is spelled g-e-n-t-r-i-f-i-c-a-t-i-o-n. The Bohemian with thoughts of setting up to play on the fly - then blowing out with the wind - is an endangered species, I assure you, when so much authority is given to officialdom in the form of where and when to play. The siege of security guards and council-empowered enforcers relishing their dominion over hapless buskers is real. With threats of fines or worse, a de facto cultural police is being born, ironically starting and growing first in the most touristed, cultural cities of the world.
But hopefully this dark tide will be stemmed by those who question any need to legislate the activity. Busking can, and generally is, self-regulating. With or without a permit, a busker only poses problems when he/she stinks, is disturbingly loud, or creates a safety issue. The first takes care of itself usually in tips. As for the second and third, existing noise ordinances or public safety laws often need merely be enforced, hopefully first with an attitude of judicial restraint and warnings. A rambling drunk already typically merits this level of courtesy - why not a busker? Shouldn't the officials only step in when the law has been broken.
This reality disturbs me because there IS a ramification to this disappearing act of busking. As these street performers disappear, so too go the interactions that happen. Not only does a busker share a talent, it's one which fellow local buskers can co-opt into their own scene. We add color to what might be lifeless streets, too. Not for nothing have I been photographed and recorded a thousand times, if often surreptitiously. Moreover, often it is the case that locals and tourists alike use buskers to clue them and others into events going on in the area - just as the busker might receive an opportunity from a local to learn more about the history of the area. It's also those conversations, like how someone played the same instrument back when or hasn't heard that song - live - in years. Contacts build, stories get shared - what music is about in the first place. So let's wave the growing wave of permits good-bye.
So there you go, and I apologize for the late use of the soapbox. But then again... maybe you're a wannabe busker, too. If so, then here's my suggestion: Get the TUNE(s) IN your head, then TURN THEM ON for the masses. But, while you're at it, might I suggest to not turn them out out of tune?
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