Moments after I met Jen in Madison Square Park (10.28.10) and set up for a pitch (after waiting for a pair of businessmen to finish their cigarettes), a pair of young hipster-types asked me for an interview. It was a very strange interview, with my interviewer expressing a distinct lack of interest in the procedure and communicating that to her cameraman, who actually seemed to be enjoying the process. I forget their names already.
My young interviewer – haughtily attractive with her perfect pearly skin and teeth, donning an artsy yet tasteful combination of sleeveless vest and breezy unbuttoned blouse – told me her radio station, breakthruradio.com sent her to conduct interviews of people out on the town to discern whether they believed their time in college assisted them in their present career. Her cameraman, also in his upper twenties or early thirties, spoke only once after introducing himself. He hid behind his Bon Iver/Iron & Wine style scruff and his expensive camera and boom mic instead.
They began by asking me to “do what I do.” I offered them my song list, which Jen had been perusing. The girl was totally overwhelmed, asked me to just choose my best. I offered them the choice between Hallelujah and Falling Slowly. She knew neither song but her companion ducked out from behind his shield for a moment and called for Falling Slowly. As you well know I’ve been videotaped before, but never before such a professional setup. I was terribly nervous all the time the camera rolled. I tried to act normally and direct my attention to the passersby, especially as my interviewer looked completely nonplussed, with a body language that spoke of a great desire to be elsewhere. I realize, now, that’s sort of a stylish affection, but at the time it was a bit injuring.
A young couple sitting on a park bench directly opposite provided me with the energy and confidence I needed. The female half of this couple’s gasp of pleased surprise was audible to me even across the path and their rapt, wondering attention carried through the rest of my pitch. I owe the pitch to them. After mercifully getting through the song without issue, my interviewer came to a bit of laconic life to ask me a series of questions – my major, if it helped my career, what “busker” meant, whether if I’d consider myself a professional busker (um… I guess so?), and whether this was a lucrative spot (no idea). To Jen and my amusement, she never asked where I went to school. Probably for the best. She tipped me with some muttered comment about how she always likes to support artists, but said in a way that implied it was an act of charity. They left as unenthusiastically as they arrived.
Jen had me sing a couple of happier songs after. Through the short pitch I inhaled water at an alarming rate to try and compensate for the dry scratchiness of my throat but in the end this was all in vain and illness won out. After the happy songs, a man who’d taken interest plopped himself down on a nearby bench to bob happily to my music. Jen offered him my repertoire and he chose Hallelujah. In the middle of it he nudged the young man sitting beside him with a smile: “He’s really good, isn’t he?” The stranger nodded absently.
Coincidentally, a drove of minorities and foreigners passed when I sang Liberta. They were quite appreciative and one olive-skinned middle aged man met my eyes with his own twinkling ones before stepping in for a coin tip. Not long afterwards, I noticed the couple from the bench engaged in conversation with a kindly old gentleman, looking in direction every now and again, smiling. He gave them a dollar to tip me. Made my week.
Because that’s the service I think I provide – I bring strangers together, help people live in the present, notice the world around them, awaken them from their trivial or serious problems, brighten their days. Jen said she’d never seen anyone try that park but I can’t imagine why. It’s gorgeous and friendly. Almost all my interactions were positive this day. I suppose I’m not effective enough to turn the black moods of subway rushers but at least I can enhance the feel of a day outside. Outside, on the street where I belong.
Earnings: $6.10, 30 minutes
Song of the Day: >Falling Slowly – Soundtrack of Once