"BUSKERS RISK DIGNITY FOR A DOLLAR"By Joe Bennett
I was bribed last friday. I can't remember being bribed before. The organiser of the modestly named World Buskers festival offered me free booze and a reserved table at the Dux de Lux if I were to go to watch the buskers and perhaps write about them.
I succumbed--I never could resist the lure of art--but I did worry about the reserved seat, since it would mark me out as privileged.
Busking is proletarian theatre and buskers love to mock privilige. I expected that we in the roped-off section would suffer. As it turned out, we hardly suffered at all, but other people did and that was lovely.
Because it is hard to tempt people into theatres, buskers make theatres of the places where people are. Dressed only in optimism, buskers parade the routines they have polished in solitary flats and run-down tenements and in the hopeful hallways of their heads.
Buskers busk to avoid a proper job, but also to be loved. Like all theatre, busking is vanity, but it carries more risk than the ordinary stage.
A buskers audience is standing and is restrained by no conventions. The people have homes and shops and offices to go to. They are moving with the ticking of the clock.
The busker must arrest them with a sight worth stopping for.The world, says the busker, has more to offer than the errand you are running now, the routine that shakles you.stay to watch and I will show you things you've never seen. I'll yoke the ordinary to the extraordinary and I shall make you laugh.
The audience, of course, can choose to ignore the invitation. Then the busker finds himself playing to the sky and hope lies shredded around his ankles. Busking takes guts. Its a game for the young. All the performers I saw on friday were on the flexible side of thirty.
A bad busker dies quickly. For a while he'll blame the place, the weather, the ignorance of audiences, but in the end he'll have no choice but to accept failure and a job in an insurance office.
But if he succeeds, he taps the sap of joy. He knows the power of making people laugh.
At the Dux I saw the top and bottom of the busking graph.Two woman bombed. They did a flamenco routine that may have worked at other times in other places, but didn't work that night. The audience grew bored and started talking. Had there not been other acts to come, the people would have left.
The woman perservered with their routine, growing more desperate for a tinkle of laughter amid the growl of conversation, but their cause was lost. They should have stopped. As I watched them flounder, I felt an uncomfortable mixture of malicious pleasure and sympathy.
The man who followed them on stage, an American whose name I cannot tell you because I woke the following morning with the cheapest hangover of my life but no notebook, had the job of regaining the crowd. To do so, he rode a sort of zebra over a miniature showjumping course. The image startled you into laughter.
What you knew--the way people ride horses over jumps-- was wedded to what you had never seen: a man strutting in a skirt with a stuffed zebra head at his groin and two floppy rubber legs draped from his waist. If that makes no sense, catch the man in the street some time this week. You will laugh and the world will seem full of comic possibility as heady as oxygen.
Whenever I stop to watch a busker in the street, I hover at the back because I do not want to be asked to join the act.
The other night the american sought a volunteer and when he looked my way I folded my arms, hunched my shoulders, and looked at the ground. But once he'd found his man, a shaven haded character called Dane, I spread out again and prepared to watch Dane make a fool of himself. He didn't. He stole the show and I wished it had been me.
At the end of the show, the performers came round with big red buckets. Asking for money is a good way to clear a path through a crowd. People parted in front of the bucket and then regrouped behind it. Some men slunk away to the bar or toilet , but others gave abundantly.
Buskers conduct a strange form of trade. They give their goods for nothing. If you choose to pay, you get nothing more than if you don't. Buskers rely on benevolence and conscience.
That there is a waiting list of performers who want to take part in the Buskers Festival shows not only that vanity is common, but that benevolence and conscience are commom, too.
A good busker can make good money, but it is hard money, harder than a bribe. ..............................
In response to the busking editorial of the 26th of Jan.
In a word, sad.
Unless you are a gonzo journalist, (and a good one) I might suggest meeting deadlines while hungover might be stretching your capabilities just a tad.
Excruciating metaphors, transparent padding and naive admissions that you got so legless on free beers you somehow lost your notebook, might impress others in your support group.
But we, the buskers concerned, the fodder, from vague memory , you masticate tastelessly, must take exception (albeit merely mildly) at being subjected to the obvious projection of your own indulgent self pity. You, a fellow performer of sorts, failed us.
Your condescension, with its innate brittle superiority, marks you a sad provincial wordsmith at best.
"Dressed only in optimism, Buskers parade the routines they have polished in solitary flats and run down tenements and in the hopeful hallways of their heads."
We can only guess you grew up with some sort of crying clown archetype brought on by an excess of biscuit tin lids.
"Then the busker finds himself playing to the sky, and hope lies shredded round his ankles."
Please take all attempts at pathos and write a sad novel for your immediate family. Maybe even consider throwing away your old adolescent poetry, its starting to leak into your work.
We don't like your tone Joe.
Your admission that you tentatively inhabit the very edge of crowds can, we're told, be cured by chemicals. There's the difference between an opinion and a symptom, much like the difference between opinion and pontification.
Things to consider.
If you have to be bribed to do something, like write an article, do think twice. Its no big thing to admit you don't like something or know nothing about it. Its what separates professionals from others.
Bear in mind the next time you have a cheap hangover and a 800 word deadline that you yourself have an audience, they expect to be entertained by your work. It's not enough for just you yourself to be entertained . Unlike buskers you cannot hear people cringe at your work.
We cringed Joe.
Unlike you we have nothing against people who work in Insurance offices . Some are our best customers,(and yours!) Ever considered a job in one?
And if we did somehow miss the point and it was a parody, were you parodying us or yourself as a writer?
Finally, given your occupation we must still insist on your opinion...we suppose...eventually.
Did you have a good night out Joe?