Red Beans and Busk, New Orleans, Day 5.5

I promised I’d touch on the attire of New Orleans buskers. The seven piece band’s riotously Bohemian garb ran as the norm there. When the antique store owner made that comment about my not being a hillbilly he slightly missed the vibe of their dress – they are self consciously dressing in this way and I must say it seems to work. I’ve just had a conversation with Bram in Austin about hipsterism (and in so doing have identified more closely my own hipster tendencies). It’s an identity created from a hodgepodge of stolen idolized poorer identities – Bohemian Europe with it’s overalls and fedoras and suspenders and waist high skirts, street urchins and their worn and torn leavings, gypsies and their silky rags and wraps, belly dancers and flamenco dancers’ bangles and body ink and …. and so it is with the vast majority of New Orleans buskers. They dressed to a caricaturable model of Bohemian – what it means to “look like a starving artist” I suppose. I’ve been told the one merit of my longer hair is that it makes me look more like an artist.

Now as Bram and I agreed it should be fine for those of the upper classes to dress however they please – the dreads, the dirt, the rags… but there’s something very disingenuous about the use of such dress in the public performance sphere. That’s using people in a business that’s mostly about what you look like rather than how you sound. Maybe it’s business savvy. Either way I find it dishonest. Despite constant entreaties from friends and passersby to adopt raggedier dress and the comment that “I look like I don’t need the money” I have yet to change out of my (in another way) sharp casual dress.

Before they fade from my capricious memory, I’d like to jot down the other buskers with whom I shared the streets of New Orleans. Foremost: a circle act of dancers/acrobats with a very strong act and a decidedly non thuggish way about them (as opposed to the comparable acts in New York, many of which seem like they want to intimidate you into giving tips). Their act included a running flip over the crouched backs of six audience volunteers, one dancer spinning with his stomach on the head of his spinning comrade, parallel to the ground, one demonstrating conservation of momentum in a headspin (like a figure skater). Chief among the large musical groups, of course, is that Bohemian band, after which come two brass bands (one of which plays the same 5 songs continuously on the square) and yet another Bohemian/DIY type trio complete with washboard and headscarves. A blues guitarist with a small personal amp, a battery amped classical guitarist, an excellent jazz clarinetist, Alexander the trumpeter, a hipster girl on guitar and a guitar cello duo round out the musicians.

Aside from the false seated silver busker, all the painted living statues in the city don silver: a hobo who simply walks about aimlessly, a man dancing badly in pop and lock to Kylie Minogue type songs, and a silver singer. Finally the statues which most impressed me: a man in white with a guitar and a black crow at the end, a tall impossibly lanky black man in full white suit and Abraham Lincoln hat in midstride with a toy dog and a swarthy looking “construction worker” in midstep up a ladder with a plank over one shoulder. Mindy Kevin and I witnessed this last one hotly abusing a passerby who took a bunch of photos without a tip. The Abraham Lincoln lookalike also was something of a ventriloquist. Incredible.

The morning I left, Mindy dropped me off at the station three hours early, so I took the time to take the St. Charles streetcar. I don’t have photographs or a drawing, unfortunately. Let me simply say the ride perfectly bookended my time in New Orleans – gorgeous Southern Manors straight from Interview with a Vampire highlighted by the loveliest Borders bookstore I’ve ever seen. Seeing such a brand in a charming white southern manor opened my eyes to what could be possible if the companies stepped out of those horrendous boxes. But then, that would cost money, eh?

Leaving on the train:(

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