by Kristina L S
Copyright KLS 2011.
~Late 90's, Sydney Australia~
Honestly he'd let things slide for a year or so. It had been his world for years, the outside interest that held him. The thing that pulled and nudged and brushed up against him wherever he was. Music.
More specifically the guitar and modern pop, rock, blues. Time and place he supposed. An older brother that played and introduced him to all sorts of things kids his age didn't hear often if at all. Eight years difference which might not seem like much but was a lifetime at that age.
His high school years were a waste in many ways but yet he learnt. A heard song led to the what made it, led to the chords to the rhythm, to the melody. And that led to how it all fit, what made it work and how do you.... play it.
An all boys school and while he ostensibly studied music it was really of little interest as the curriculum had it. Still it filled a hole in the schedule and there was some...were? Whatever, pieces that grabbed him, history that spoke. But mostly his attention wavered and wandered.
School was not a place he enjoyed, not anymore.
Yet he did learn, just things not specified and knowledge that while in some ways well above where he needed to be to pass, where it counted he failed, badly.
So it was. He was a student of music and by the time he ah...graduated? Well honestly he couldn't say that. While smart enough he didn't even make the half way mark, A few teachers had taken.. a minute or two to question him. To cajole. To berate.... But a minute or two over years doesn't equate to much.
So it was. A mutual failure and no one to care.
He left and worked. Nine to five jobs that after.. months.. left him... empty. Multiple jobs, late nights, early mornings, no time to think. Just move from one to the other. Mindless. He did it for two years and then sitting at the dining table at home told the parents he'd quit. Dad looked at him quietly and nodded, he'd sort of expected it. Mum was... well she tried to be cheerful but worried.
"What will you do?"
"I'll do something part time and I'll play music. And we'll see." he shrugged. There was more to say but now was not the time. So when will be you gutless jerk?
So he had the basics. Where to start? What do you do to get some performance practice when no one wants a beginner? You need to be part way there when you walk in. So....what....?
He had the guitar, a cheap Takamine Acoustic Electric and the basic knowledge of how to put songs together. The where was tough. Music rag ads and notes on shop boards got no response worth mentioning. So.... the streets, the time honoured...cough...troubadour tradition, begging by song if you were feeling unkind. Skill levels of great variety and fluid apathy and indifference as the barrier. A challenge.
So, gear. He had a guitar. He could play. But... was that enough. Streets, especially busy city streets were noisy places. Everyone was in a hurry and 'beggars' were..... an obstacle on the way to...wherever.
He read various websites on the pitfalls, and problems. The expectations and the realities. Phew, not easy, not at all, and yet.....
"Life is a risk" he muttered to himself, "You could get hit by a bus tomorrow and then where would you be... so to speak." He laughed softly to himself at that bit of looney introspection. Nuttiness will out or something.
So, what do you need fella. Basics. Guitar....check. How to be heard. An Amp? What? Something portable, simple but tough. Sing? Shit, you have to be kidding, but...oh hell, yes probably. Now that complicates things.
Budget? Crap... not a lot. A few hundred. Six at a stretch. He browsed he asked he watched he pondered. He asked a lot of bloody questions and pestered a few staff at a couple of shops that he'd decided had decent prices and... didn't call you dude. Polite and pleasant rather than surly and black, clothing that is, skin didn't matter.
Funny in a sort of vaguely obscure way how hard that was to work as a criteria.
But he did..... so...Amp a light and good and loud enough Roland Street Cube. Quality and tough. Red or black? Hah, what ya got, but.... Now microphone. Stand and mic...hmm, static, boring... but probably simpler and cheaper, but he asked...what were the options? Move, rather than stand. A headset. Shit, lets vogue or something equally ridiculous. But..... a headset, yeah maybe. Shure? AT? Sennheiser? How much?
So the nice man in the music shop smiled and searched and yes... the Amp, the mic the ….ah crap the power supply?? But yes, Rechargeables. The guitar the mic pack the Amp, yep all 9 volts or double A's. So.... check the budget, work it out. Yes, you can do this....
Amp? Yes, do that. The man nodded and paused. The Mic? Yep go the AKG.. with the belt pack. The man nodded again and made a call. Time.
He sighed, "Okay, a few weeks that gives me time to work up some songs." The grin was pensive but... straightening he grinned and nodded back.
"Thanks, see you in a couple of weeks. I'll be in the shed."
The man laughed and glanced to the screen and rattled of the number to double check. Yep, that's the one and he left.
So...bloody practice. Work. Sigh, suffer for your... 'art', you wanker. He chuckled quietly to himself and ran that chord change again, sang the notes and worked the progressions and ran the scales out and back. Up and down.
Make the playing automatic so you can sing on top and maybe it will connect. Maybe you cause a few to pause and listen. To think and maybe feel. To connect a memory perhaps. Toss a coin... or a note.
He worked and struggled and swore. But after a few months he had a setlist. Um, a songlist, a bunch of things he could play and move and sing and work and hopefully pull a dollar or two. Standards, pop and rock, a few folkie things, some variations on the theme. Twenty, forty, sixty songs of mixed genres, stuff he could stand to play and fiddle the order and the tempo and the feel. Who the fuck was 'traditional' anyway? They must make a shit load in royalties.
He explored and sussed the competition, checked the spots and the people flow.
So, let's give this a go huh. Bloody hell, nerves are a bastard. Now there's an insight you dozey prick.
No... enough coffee, pissing in a bottle in the Pitt Street Mall is probably frowned upon. Income disruptive at the least. Shit should have sussed where the nearest public loo was. I guess there's always McDonalds or the nearest pub even if they frown at the duffle bag and guitar case. Railway station? Crap, you have to go past the ticket barrier. Strap a bag to your bloody leg? More bloody expense.. but no thanks. McDonalds I guess... hey maybe the food courts in the centres? Yeah.
Set up, seed the case, fifteen dollars broken into assorted change, so any of that size and that, up to... made it easy to see if you made anything. Then you had to watch as sometimes people dropped in and took at the same time. First week he made thirty seven dollars and on two days lost four and six.
The streets are no place for the faint of heart eh. Or the gullible and slow. Jeezus, people on mass are a cold thing. Maybe, sometimes... settle....
Weeks, a month..or two... and he learned and improved and now he could read the street and the flow. Knew what songs to play when and when to move and walk and...thank god he wasn't tied to a Mic stand... play the soppy love song or the folk or pop standard. James Taylor or Creedence or Clapton or Bonnie Raitt or Coldplay or Waltzing Matilda.... change the pace and the style. Pull out the classic Zep or JoJo Zep outa Melbourne or Summerrrtime... or whatever.
Anything he knew or could wing if someone called out. Hear the opening, get the key, know the chords and run with it. Simple... cough.... well not that hard really but you had to work to get there and he had. Almost 5 years now if you looked at it that way. Graduated suma cum what the fuck street bum musician. Hey beats working for a living, except he might have to if the punters, the great unwashed yuppie passers by didn't dip into the pocket or purse just a little.... okay a fair bit more.
Work it girl...err guy. Make them love you. Make them pause and drop.
More weeks, and they did slowly start to dip some more. Thirty a day, fifty, eighty... an hour here a couple there, move it in a loose circle around the city centre. Don't wear out the welcome, keep it pleasant. Don't bad mouth the arseholes. Make friends with the shopkeepers.. if you could. Three...four hundred a week... modest, but an income. Beats workin' for a livin' beee-itch. Hah, well you could be sitting at a damn desk in some airconditioned shithole of a cubicle. Christ count ya bloody blessings.
Expenses... shit... strings, twice a week, by in triples at a discount, makes it twenty per. Train fare. Lunch... if you make friends you can get discounts, nice...he'd even had a few free hair trims. Not to mention coffees, had to watch the bloody coffee though, that was a weakness and time out to break down and move if the crowd was hot really sucked. But bladder waits for no loo, or something. Ya gotta go when ya gotta go, the alternative could get damn embarrassing. Thankfully...
Then there was the wardrobe. Look sorta loose and cool and vaguely Muso-ish in a slightly androgynous way so you keep your sanity such as it is...er was.. might have been once upon a time.... Whatever, it's all relative. Or something.
Jeans mostly, or loose baggie combats, just no bloody camo patterns. Cushioned shoes, basketball type for support and comfort. Hours on your damn feet with a guitar and singing and smiling gave ya aches....damn, imagine doing it in heels. Singlet tops that sort of covered the buds, loose shirts in colours and a scarf here and there. Not too girly mostly, but.... A cap or hat if out in the sun, sometimes you had to. Hah, and you thought smiling at customers was tough. Water bottle, wallet keys, spare chords, strings, tuner..duffle bag with shoulder strap for quick move when nec. Guitar in one hand, duffel on the other shoulder for balance, quick getaway. Bloody rangers, some were cool, some worked for Goering. Fines he didn't bloody need.
So.... there he was, that day...
A nice crowd, a working crowd. About thirty with stragglers floating in and out at the back. Enough stepping up and tossing a coin... even the odd small note. Always nod and smile, even five cents.... that's ennn-terrr–tainn-ment. Just for fun he segued into the old Benson thing 'on Broadway' and shuffled into the vocal. One or two smiled and a few more coins bounced into the case.
Smiled and joked and moved and grinned.
"Ah thank you my lovely." She giggled as did her friend. He did his best not to roll his eyes, hey she was just a kid she can giggle. Just cause you can't... a kid yeah, right. She must be what... two.. three years younger than you. Yeah, but there's years and there's years aint there....
"Can you play Madonna?" , he mimed horror and shuddered, swell at least she laughed.
"Okay..." she looked at her friend and frowned, got a raised eyebrow and a giggle in response and turned back pulling a five from her small shoulder bag. "Okay, how 'bout the Beatles then, they're old.. like you..." She laughed and waved the note.
"Ah darlin' ya wound me, old is it." The rough Irish accent got a laugh. "Yeah well my Liverpudlian is crap okay." His eyes roamed and noted the smiles and interest. Cool keep it up girls.
With a bow he eased into 'Yesterday' and as he sang and wove softly more coins tinked and the crowd grew a little. Smiles and the girls hugged each other and giggled and as he finished she dropped the note into the case.
He bowed, "Your name wouldn't be Michelle would it love?" He shrugged at the rough Liverpool accent and smiled and the crowd returned it.
~~Michelle ma belle... ~ more coins and this was cool and felt good. Finished and strummed a couple of chords hard and fast before....
Then some raised voices in the background. Harsh male, mocking. The object of the mockery turned and moved left to avoid and they the three of them formed up and blocked escape. Not too overt and nasty, almost subtle in a street tough sort of way.
So, she paused and looked and moved into the small crowd. Close in to the centre space. The girls shifted and looked and then giggled again. They and the crowd shifted slightly. Maybe it was catching. She was tall and a little gawky and the slight trace of beard shadow....
The taunters stood smirking and loose at the rear. "Ya know Lola then?" The three of them laughed and the mood shifted as a nervous ripple spread.
"Naw, we're doin' Beatles stuff juss' now. I have one might just fit." My best McCartney, hey I didn't say it was great, but not too bad.
The small crowd shifted and the taunters smirked, the tauntee looked like she'd been punctured somewhere, a slow leak.
"Hey there love, give us a smile then eh." I grabbed her left hand and lifted it, her eyes followed slowly. I mouthed... trust me...
She smiled weakly and shifted and then stood straighter. I let go her hand and strummed a few chords.
" Now then, where were we.... oh yes, the Beatles, right then. One for the lady here." I strummed the opening and moved and looked at the crowd and smiled and winked and tsked at the scowls in back. And they loosened up. The girls relaxed and so did the crowd.....
" Oh oh Darlin... please believe me... I'll never do you no harm..... believe me when I tell you.... " he moved and dipped and sang and winked and smiled. And the crowd relaxed and the snotty bastards at the back scowled and muttered and left.
More coins and another couple of notes, the girls clapped and she stood straight and smiled as she tossed a coin of her own.
Finished with a flourish and a bow. Lifted her hand and kissed the back with a wink, "..there ya go Darlin' all yours."
She smiled at that and a few more soft claps. And a few more coins. Every bit helps. He bowed in acknowledgement, raised her hand again and then let it go gently.
She reached out and took his, "Thank you, you have no idea.... just, thanks." She looked just a pinch misty and to be honest he felt his eyes moisten too and smiled wide to hide it.
"You're quite welcome.... what's your name?"
"Maureen." she looked down and took a breath, then softly, " yes, Maureen" and she smiled wide and stood straight. "and you?"
There was a pause and he leant in a little..... "Kristina, pleased to... meet you."
There was a momentary hush and a 'pregnant' pause, then some soft chuckles followed by a few more coins and some quiet applause.
He rolled his eyes and smiled ruefully at Maureen, "Ooops, bloody microphone." Blushed and winked.
- a musical pause — till another day. Yeah well, so... it's a longish pause.
I have I'll admit taken a liberty or two here. Some of the gear quoted did not come to be for some years and the personal history has been...messed with, but that is the 'authors' conceit if you like. We take bleedin' liberties. So.....
Comments, questions or criticisms welcome.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.