Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Harold's Business

45 Dollar Saturday
20 Dollar Sunday
Special 20 Continues To Impress

Saturday night, I arrived even later at the Lilly Pad, 11 PM, than the previous 2 nights.

A good half hour could have been shaved off that arrival time, had I not tried to "pop into the computer room 'real quick' and post to the blog off my data stick" to find that the Sacred Heart computers had all been scuttled by someone who must have moved from one to the next, leaving them hung up and frozen in his wake.

Sometimes, I find a window open on the abandoned computer which has a misleading directive on it, like "are you sure you don't want our product?" and, without apparently having even tried to decipher the message, whomever it was repeatedly clicked upon "no," as a knee-jerk response to anything that obstructs freeporn.com, and became frustrated after a couple dozen such re-directs, and went to the next machine.

I made 40 bucks in about 3 hours total of playing. It was an overall slow tipping night, though the dollar bills came at a pretty much consistent rate. A couple that I met at the Quartermaster actually accounted for half of the night's take after I played a couple songs for them outside the place. I also have 3,000 "colones" in cash. From Costa Rica; each bill with an image of a presidente, along with his signature.

The sun is coming up on this Sunday, 16 April. My parent's anniversary was 2 days ago.

I'm listening to Anton Bruckner's choral works.

I put 35 bucks on the green plastic card, and have lent 45 bucks to Rose and Ed, which will come back to roost in a mere 14 days as 90 bucks, and have around 45 bucks in cash.

We seem to be within the season where I can go out and expect to consistently earn around my average of 18 bucks an hour, regardless of the night of the week.

I saw Tanya and Dorise for the first time in a couple months on the corner of St. Louis and Royal Streets, with the former giving me a smile, which is a departure from the quick turning of the head away from me that been the norm the few times that I had encountered her playing by herself, along with a backing track.
3 days ago...

They were in the middle of playing Pachabel's Canon, and had a guest violinist joining them, a young, tall, brown skinned guy who was dressed up in a way that might indicate that he plays the violin "classically."

I didn't stop because I was running late, but I returned a wave to them and made a note to myself to send off an e-mail to Tanya, I guess apologizing for the way I had started to ride past without acknowledging her, which commenced after I rode away after having said something to her and gotten no response except her having hit the play button on her backing track and started playing.

I had to smile upon hearing Pachelbel's Canon, which is the equivalent of "Freebird!!" to any busker with a violin; i.e. a song that is a good song, nice melody, maybe starts off slowly (check) and then builds to a climactic refrain (check, check) but is not a nice enough song to warrant playing (in its 10 minute entirety) for every person who comes along and feels like shouting out a request, and is only skimming one off the top of his memory at the moment. Oh, and about everybody knows them (check).

To start to play "Freebird" only to have the requestee drift on, in an attitude of: "I was just kidding, yelling 'Freebird,' you know, cause everyone always yells 'Freebird,' just trying to be funny; I don't really know why they yell that, nor do I really want to hear 'Freebird' but, I guess you're stuck for the next 10 minutes or so with it now, 'cause here comes a group of rednecks with their thumbs up.." is something that a busker has to be leery of.

Tanya doesn't always seem to get my humor, and perhaps becomes offended after taking something literally.

For instance, one time I rode up to find her in the process of peeling some skin around the callous on one of her fingers. "That's from not playing enough," I joked; in reference to the fact that no other street musicians come close to the 15 hour sets that she has been known to endure, with the black and blue marks that have shown where the violin touches her chin and shoulder being legendary, etc. That is not just 15 hours of "playing" for her, it is 15 hours of playing while under the watchful lenses of smart phones, which calls for an effort worthy of appearing on someone's Facebook page in their "Our New Orleans Trip" section. And, it's going to be captioned with "These girls were AMAZING!" and so...

But, that time, she seemed to have taken what I said literally and, without saying another word to me, launched into the next song, as if to say: "Maybe I should be playing right now instead of talking to you." I can understand how she might think that a guy who plays an average of 2.25 hours a night has a lot of nerve to imply that she isn't playing enough (causing her callouses to peel off).

I have become a better musician in the past year since I last jammed with them in any way, and I have to admit that it would be a feather in my cap to hear Tanya and Dorise note the improvement.

But, the improvement in my playing is indicative of a more global improvement which stems from my mindset; and a creative state of mind is just a subsection of the hologram of a life that is in order, in general. For example, perhaps about 8 months ago now, I had a boon in my fortunes after I noticed that my attitude had shifted and settled into one of a guy who is playing for his own enjoyment, fore-mostly. It wasn't until about that long ago that I realized one night, at a point where I hadn't made much at all, that I was still in a good mood, having had fun playing whatever I just had, and totally understanding and forgiving tourists who didn't tip for whatever reason.

I had probably about 75 bucks in a jar at home, cat food, toilet paper etc., but was also stocked up with things like a fresh battery in my guitar tuner and plenty to go in the spotlight, an extra set of strings and basically stuff that can pile up behind one who reaches the economic level of being able to buy in bulk. When Harold the cat has 11 cans of his favorite food piled up by his dish, then it's easy for me to smile if a couple walks by just shaking their heads at a rendition of "The Carcass Song," for example. 

"The Carcass Song" is my fisherman's equvalent of that lure which is about 6 inches long, shiney on at least one side, maybe 2 pounds, and fitted with a large utility hook, designed with nondiscriminate eaters in mind. The tourist who wants to hear an original song by a totally unknown to them as yet musician -and the weirder it is the better- would be the, say, marlin, in the extended fishing metaphor. 

475 Days Sober

And, of course, the shift in attitude was part of the extended period of sobriety, which saw its different plateaus and milestones reached along the way, and was one of them.

It had been kind of a surprise, because about a year off alcohol, I was sure that all of the physiological fallout from quitting drinking had run its course, and I had stabilized to the point where I would have "good" days and "bad" days, with most of them clocking in at right around that average day; but I hadn't accounted for the psychological aspect.

That would be the gradual letting go of that part of the mind that had linked every action to the satisfaction of the addiction. It took almost that whole year to have it sink in that, as long as I have food and a place to stay, then I can come out and have nothing less than a very good practice session, or have it begin to pour down raining as soon as I reach the Lilly Pad, with few worries on my mind.

After I had realized this on the occasion mentioned above -that the "I'm not drunk enough, goddammit-you!" part of my brain had relinquished it energy and inclination to direct anger at the tourists, I went on to make something like 50 dollars more, to go with the 3 or 4 bucks, the sight of which having brought the realization to mind.

So, becoming a better musician, at least in my "school" involves a globally oriented "practice" regime. For example, laying in a hot tub and listening to Anton Bruckner's choral works is like practicing, it just requires the companion routine of playing the instrument, in order to reap the benefit. So is jogging, eating healthily, and basically life can be filtered through the binary check of: "Does this make me a better musician, or not?" which is at the top of the music directory tree.

I basically made a giant leap towards became a more laid back, care-free person, but only at that point of about a year of sobriety, and after having come within a razor's edge of drinking again during the prior stage, when I felt that I had seen what sobriety had to offer; it wasn't going to get any better; and it's not better enough to be worth going without fine whiskey for a lifetime, for.

I will throw this in, as it is related. Music is a great tool for gaging the sincerity of people in your life. A musician can purposefully play badly, perhaps detuning the instrument for further effect, or will have occasions when the bad playing is unavoidable, such as after having made the poor decision to start a certain song at too impossible a tempo, or from messing around in a key that isn't familiar, etc. Then, should someone come along and say: "You're really talented!," then, bam!, you have uncovered a duplicity, and can be on guard.

So, perhaps next Sunday night (which has always been kind of a "guest performer" night for Tanya and Dorise) I'll pop in and jam with them, and hopefully they will note how improved I have become, and that will be that.

It might have nice to hear the same from Brian Hudson and Christina Friis, who were sitting on the steps of the Supreme Court building Friday night/ Saturday morning, after having been out for 17 hours (but only having played 6 of them; I guess they were sharing a spot). They were effecting being very exhausted, but seemed somewhat content, as if they had perhaps exceeded their expectations, money-wise. They certainly weren't complaining about any of the things that plague street musicians, brass bands setting up 50 feet away, et. al.

I didn't ask them how much money they had made.

I imagine they can recall the times when they were embarrassed to tell me that they had made, say, $300 on a generally slow night when I might have made $23. My reporting of having made $45 that night wouldn't have radically changed that equation.

But there is the the general overtone of pity for me that lingers from when I would emerge from under the wharf late each afternoon and would walk Royal Street, where I would encounter them.

They said they had been back in New Orleans a month, but that this was the first time they had seen me, which was true.

The bike trail gives me a back way to the Lilly Pad, which circumnavigates Royal Street. They have gone from seeing me just about every night that they come out, to once a month, now it seems.

As I sat there, talking to them, I started to wonder what, in my repertoire, I might play if I were trying to entertain them. I was drawing a blank.

I also noted that my newfound carefree state of mind was being buffeted somehow.

From the questions they asked me, I could tell that neither has read this blog in a while. "Do you still have the apartment?" being one.

But, unless they have some kind of aggregate reader applications whereby an indication of a new blog post by me would at least show up as a blip on a ticker-tape, that is understandable.

Still, it seemed almost like they value my friendship to a large extent for the fact that I came along every night, and would listen attentively for a bit and converse, and, I would tell stories about the homeless busker's life; then they might even be able to come to this blog and read about my encounter with themselves the next day.

There was almost kind of an awkwardness, beginning with the fact that I sensed their tiredness, and felt that the appropriate thing would be of course, to stop and talk to my friends that I hadn't seen in a half year in Brian's case and a year in Christina's, but not to stay too long.

I'm sure that, on their end, they might have been thinking, "Oh, there's Daniel, what a terrible time to see an old friend whom decorum dictates that we greet, when we're so tired, having been out 17 hours. Maybe he won't stay too long.."

They seem to have such a "commercial" approach to music, that it is something that they turn on while they are "on stage," and then turn right back off, when they are done. I've never seen Brian just noodling around on the guitar, amusing himself with it, or trying to learn something new. After he is done with his show, it goes back in its case. He just does all that at home, I guess.

I had known each of them for about a year when I was invited to a barbecue at Brian's then residence near Frenchmen Street. At the party were several musicians, singers, and such. Not one song was sung or played by anyone.

Brian's guitar and mandolin and fiddle were just room decoration at that party. I remember thinking that was odd, and writing it off to the idea that they are so professionally minded, that they wouldn't want to just grab an instrument and play something half serious. There were people at the party who knew people who booked musicians for various things and they wouldn't want to besmirch their "brand" by delivering of themselves anything that hadn't been rehearsed, and with the equipment having been set up and throughly sound checked beforehand, with tackling dummies used to simulate the acoustics of a room full of party-goers, etc.

That might have been my "job," I'm thinking in hindsight. The homeless guy who sleeps under the wharf taking his guitar out of its rat poop stained case and playing his best song, with all expectations having been laid low at the sight of the duct tape holding the two halves of said guitar together...but probably not, because (see below).

There would have been no sing-along because, when your latest demo is in the pocketbook of someone who knows someone who hires backup singers for Lionel Richie, why risk ruining it by trying to sing live at a party? Bobby Brown really embarrassed Whitney Houston once, at a party, doing that.

People expect life to mirror art, so that when Bobby Brown begins to sing, they expect a hush to come over the room and for him to sing using a voice that is compressed with the upper mids boosted, and with a 200 millisecond echo that repeats and fades, and for it to sound like he is in a room 4 times bigger than where the party was. And, certainly for someone to grab a ukulele that's sitting there (that sounds equalized and in a cathedral) and accompany him.

So, I can understand professionals like Brian and Christina not being on the steps of the Supreme Court building trying to remember and sing campfire songs from their youths.

I've found that one of the benefits of my late state of mind is that, at the times that I have no idea on what to play, even as I am tuning up, something comes to me, as if by inspiration, as soon as I start picking out a few notes.
"Let's break into a spontaneous duet!"

I took my guitar out of its case, baffled by the sudden damper that I felt was upon me. It was for no other reason than to explore why I had clammed up so, after having been at the Lilly Pad, with a free-flow of ideas, an hour earlier. It felt stifling.

"Daniel, could you please not play right now," said Brian. And that was my answer.

"I couldn't think of anything to play, anyways," I said, before I put the thing back in its case.

And that was true; even having taken the thing out and plucked a couple notes hadn't inspired anything. I guess I was picking up on their vibes, or at least his.

It could be seen as being shut out by someone who is playing an instrument.

It Was The Summer of '79...

When I was 17, I worked in a nightclub.

Scampi's Restaurant and Lounge, in Leominster, Mass.

This was cool in the sense that I was one year shy of being able to legally drink, so it made me one cool 17 year old, to be in there and all. It was mob affiliated (purportedly) and the fact that they had an under-aged bar-back, while cops (purportedly in their back pockets) occasionally sat at the bar and tossed them back, who was breaking the law, right along with his wise-guy cronies; hell yeah!
I had it going on back then, I must say... And I rode a moped?!? C'mon...

Scampi's had a "house band" that played Thursday through Sunday nights every week.

OK, "Survivors, LTD." they were.

They were very professional, and cranked out very well crafted renditions of all the popular songs on the radio, with the implication of their moniker being that, as this was the late 70's, they had survived the 60's.

Since their repertoire was not particularly full of guitar influenced songs, as they were then trying to survive the Disco Era, their guitarist only cut loose with a solo every so often.

I was an enthusiastic student of the guitar then, and I complemented the guy on one of the solos that he had played (on a Glen Campbell song, of all things). He was a guy of probably about Brian Hudson's age at the time.

"What kind of stuff do you play at home?" I asked him.

He gulped down the last of his drink, and then, before heading back to the stage for another set, said: "That guitar is nothing but a tool of the trade. When I get home, I hang the thing on the wall, and there it stays. I don't touch it, I don't practice; I don't even think about it until it's time to come here and play; It's like a chainsaw in a work shed ..."  

That kind of stuck with me, as a 17 year old. I thought of that guy when Brian asked me not to play.

I'm pretty sure he wasn't trying to disparage me; but it does make me wonder what kind of mental torture he envisioned would come from anything that I might have put forth.

Christina Friis also listens with a professional ear. She has sung in studios, backed by "studio" musicians (i.e. musicians who are paid more to not make mistakes or draw attention to themselves -Duane Allman's solo on "Hey Jude," by Wilson Pickett notwithstanding- than they are to "collaborate" with the singer) and so I didn't really feel like I had, at the ready, any kind of unique harmonization of a jazz standard that would have caught her ear and had her inviting me to "accompany" her to the studio, but thought that I might be able to amuse her with a tidbit of something that I might be working on.

I'm sure Brian would have said something like: "I think you're a very creative musician who deserves to be listened to more attentively than I had the ability to do at that particular time, in the exhausted state that I was in. I think it would have been worse if you started playing and I fell asleep, wouldn't it have been?"

The thought crossed my mind that he was afraid that I was going to play so horribly, that it was going to take more of an effort that he felt he had in him, in his exhausted mental state, to endure it; or to exert the extra energy to go so far as to be patronizing....I like the bridge chords....

I will say that Brian is one of the people that I've never actually played well in the presence of.

One time, he and a friend walked up upon me at the Lilly Pad. They had been drinking, and Brian asked me to play something. The problem was that, I had been drinking just as much, and only got about 2 verses into one of my originals, before deciding that I really didn't know it. It was a song that I had written when I was about 16 years old, and hadn't really played since then. Why I chose that song is a mystery to me. Maybe I was just testing him to see if he would say: "That really sounds like crap; you need to find another profession; I'm just telling you that as a friend..." whereupon, I would say; "Yeah, I was just messing with you. I'll play a real song now..."

Monday Night, April 17th, 7:50 PM

This is the time of evening when the decision is made to go out and play or not.

In general it is always good to go out and play. It is only asking 3 or 4 hours out of the day; the rest is free time, and how easily I can rearrange my schedule around those 3 or 4 hours.

Last (Sunday) night, I chose "yes, do go out and play;" got to the Lilly Pad at exactly 10:28 PM, and made 16 dollars in just about 2 hours.

But, I'm also a blogger and am working on a CD and studying Spanish, English Literature, Mel Bay guitar and harmonica methods, XML and Perl programming, and cartooning with the "GIMP" free editor.

The editor is esteemed as perhaps the crowning achievement of all things open sourced, and has been used at the highest professional levels by organizations that escape me right now, like some major Hollywood Studios, or something, so I think the fact that I can't even draw a stick figure with it right now, lies in my lack of education about the GIMP.

I think that staying in tonight to learn the GIMP editor might be cost effective, in lieu of going out looking for another 16 dollars...

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alex carter said...

It's nice to hear Tanya and Dorise are back.

alex carter said...

About professional musicians "keeping it in the case" when at parties etc., I remember reading the Louis Armstrong was like that too. He did *not* play his horn at parties and gatherings. If he wasn't being paid, no one heard a toot. Now, in the case of Armstrong, he mentioned a thing that people have been known to do to trumpet players, bang their hand on the bell of the trumpet, harming the trumpet player's mouth or even breaking teeth, so that might be a reason not to play in a crowd of people who may be drunk or may not all have his best interests at heart.

But compare that with artists, who will often do some little doodles or something. Not all, but I think it's pretty common. Maybe because it's quiet, and doesn't disturb the "flow" of the party.