Washington Square Park is the perfect place to go to get totally outclassed. The talent and professionalism level there is absolutely astounding, though a bit badly coordinated. Well perhaps not the talent level, exactly. At the north end of the square, beneath the arch, a four piece jazz band, three piece suited african americans, played “smooth jazz” badly with a cardboard box tip catcher. Just inside the square, not thirty feet away another four piece jazz band played with a more attempted big band sound – they were the politest of all the acts, taking rests and trying not to impinge on others’ sound spaces. Not far across, a pair of hippies played grateful dead-esque tunes. Another thirty feet around the fountain a lone guitarist playing horribly and offering “Free Guitar Lessons” on a sheet of paper on a stand. Ten feet from him the crowd began for a set of breakdancers accompanied by an upright pianist playing amusing arrangements of popular tunes (which had nothing to do with the breakdancers but the two were affiliated). Finally, at the south entrance a lone trumpeter struggled in vain to be heard.
Naturally I decided to join the hippies. I could have returned to Union Square Park or found a different pitch altogether, but something about the day begged me to take this experience and day for enjoyment. It was a good decision. It dawned sometime in the next few hours on me that I hadn’t really enjoyed music so much in the past days – and this brought that back.
I forget their names. The woman sported clothes and a cross-legged pose that spoke of new age mysticism, holding her bango much like a sitar in her lap. The man didn’t play or sing particularly well but had great kindness and energy. They had a stand before them with printed out, color coded charts for a number of songs. I followed that at first but found it much more interesting to figure out the chords on my own later, playing a different voicing from the other guitar player (for there’s little more annoying than a bunch of guitarists strumming the same chords and singing in unison). Once I’d catch a melody I’d make sure to harmonize and not double. We sang a few songs I knew, also. Country Roads, Here Comes the Sun, Mrs. Robinson and surprisingly I’m Yours Robert happened by the park and even joined in singing for a few.
I sat on top of my cropped pea to save my white jeans – the day was so warm a t-shirt sufficed. I find myself writing poorly in a desire to express the amount of life filling the Square. People lounging by the closed off fountain. Crowds shimmering with that crowd sound and wavelike motion around one of the jazz bands and the break dancers. Onlookers listening to myself and the hippies on nearby benches. Pairs chatting. Best of all, I noticed a dearth of electronics. The usual video-recording, photo-snapping onlookers were mercifully absent. Few people spoke on cellphones or walked briskly with eyes glued downwards composing a text message. A slower, more human and entirely un-New York pace of life, and only in that small Square sanctuary. No obvious couples, either.
I had the hippies teach me some new songs. They seemed to know everyone who passed – other long, curly haired men with the look of weed and free love and dance days behind them. Two joined us – one an excellent solo guitarist and the other a great jazz guitarist. I spoke with the latter a while and he showed me some nifty chord shapes – I learn so much more in these random conversations than ever I could in a classroom or at a lesson.
Sometime in the middle of my hours in the Park, the piano player finished, the African American Quartet took a break, a bagpiper in kilted garb took up a pitch by the entrance, and the lone “Free Guitar Lesson” player jammed away in his own little world and yet another jazz band set up ten feet away from us. Rather a rude act, especially seeing as the jazz band across the way still dominated the sound space. They had a very businesslike look to them. Though they had a good sound the hippies and I resented them greatly for their rudeness – they didn’t approach anyone else and simply played loudly to try and blast us away. It’s these sort of “buskers” who ruin it for the rest of us. They even brought three pairs of dancers to start off dancing hipster style in front of them “spontaneously” to create more of an atmosphere – certainly planned and professional but not in the slightest polite.
Before leaving I became engaged in a passionate conversation with a sketcher and a busker about racism, etiquette, religion… A very enlightening one that underscored my responsibility to do something with my privilege and small talent and effect a similar enlightening on otherwise ignorant (not a cruel word) peoples – through media and education. I’m beginning to see what a huge duty I have by virtue of my education and upbringing. I’ve always despised I-bankers for what I see as an exploitative use of one’s circumstances to further (and even exacerbate) the entrenched problems, and now I think even a simple job off in the middle of nowhere, content with a daily humdrum existence won’t suffice either.
At Kirk’s housewarming party that night I felt very odd, once again, with the substances and small talk and fakeness. I found a few compatriots, however, one of which taught me more chord shapes and some chord theory and a kindred spirit trying to publish a children’s book. It got me thinking I really ought to turn this journey into a book or something.
A last note: I found myself starting off my answers to people’s inevitable questions about busking with the negatives – I guess in a desire to dispell the busking mystique. I guess some part of me wants to be acknowledged for doing something “difficult” and not just cavorting about and having fun – doing something anyone could but “doesn’t have the balls to.” It’s a desire for respect. But then, really, I don’t know what people think of me. And I wonder.
The next day I stayed in and Josh, Kirk’s roommate, tossed me a random tip while I wrote a song on the couch as they played FIFA 2010. I followed that with a fabulous homemade dinner at Amy’s – replete with all the modern pleasures. Life can be odd, sometimes.
Earnings: $1.25, n/a
Song of the Day: The Weight – The Band