So my pitch ended at precisely the right time last night. As soon as I checked my phone I received a text from my host Dana, saying “Where are u? Tsunami warning!” No wonder the street seemed to be emptying, I thought. I felt incredibly excited. I wanted to see the thing. Dana’s Norwegian roommate and good friend from Guam, however, wanted nothing of the sort. They panicked. The government counted our student dorm as a highly safe building, and that the only action necessary was a move up to a higher floor. Cool, thought I. The girls shrieked and babbled about where to go – to the UH Loa campus or the top of Diamond Head, or, or…. So eventually Dana’s friend Stefan drove us all to his place in inland Pearl City. I didn’t sleep so well as the girls kept their panic meters loud and active to match the sirens ’til around four. They also claimed the couches such that I slept with the four dogs on the floor.
Naturally, after eating a stupid amount of food so as to be economical and not require sustenance at night, I took a nap. After beach watching a bit (so many Japanese tourists and their strange beach behaviors!) I started from the East end of Kalakaua looking for a new spot. The store owners at that end recommended I go at least as far as the Macy’s, and there I found three high school aged local Asian boys, amped with a keyboard and guitar and singing Chasing Cars. The keyboardist/singer at the moment was hardly audible and they had no money in their guitar case so I decided they needed my assistance, this so obviously being their first attempt. I told the guy to get into his mic (he sang with his right cheek to it with predictable results) and sort of sound checked them a bit. I explained the necessity for seed money and gave them $2.50 to start. A third boy sat on the ground nearby and we talked a bit before I headed down the street to try my own pitch. Again, all the spots were dominated by amps so I retreated back to the boys and asked, “I know I’m some random dude you just met but I wondered what you’d think about playing together?” They were down.
The two boys who played were decent musicians – as good as can be expected of fifteen year old ish boys. The guitarist soloed Hotel California excellently, but verbatim from the recording. The pianist played off sheet music. Neither could transpose or knew much about playing on the fly or had much of a sense of free non written tempo, which limited the options of songs I could sing with them. I’d given them my list and offered to do vocals while they played – my tactful way of relieving myself from the pain of their more off key than on key songs. Untrained voices and an inability to move keys meant almost every note ran flat. Don’t get me wrong I’m not looking down on them or any such as I certainly was no singer at that age – I’m hardly one now – I just want to detail the situation as it stood. I like runons.
They had me sing Superman to the sheet music, but as they couldn’t change the key this did not go too well – a lot of unpracticed falsetto and bad phrasing. Then I spelled out the chords for Let it Be in G, which they couldn’t play any slower than punk speed – and so an overly fast rendition. Strange. I’d broken my low E string jamming rhythm to Hotel California and now I decided I couldn’t sing songs with them in good conscience. They couldn’t adapt to me as lead, so I needed to adapt to them. I yielded the mic and played percussion on the guitar itself. Then on my unlatched case. Just before my string broke I developed a sudden massive blister on my right forefinger (which only as I write three days later has subsided) and I was a bit glad of the opportunity to take a backup role. My voice felt strained and off from the previous night, too.
Stefan, Ben and Chris passed by while I drummed happily away, and a bit later while the boys took a short break to decide what to play Dana passed while I sang I Will Follow You Into the Dark solo with their guitar and mic. Such a difference. The passersby mostly gave us awwwww reactions, slower and nicer as a general rule. The mother of one of them videotaped us playing for a song and her daughter even dashed in to tip us. They didn’t have their set list very well figured out so we lost some people who’d stopped to listen and moved on between songs as the two boys discussed what to play next. At the end of the pitch I advised them: eye contact, breath support, and practice song transitions.
Just before seven they decided to to pack it in and I asked to play one more song while they had the PA/amp out. I decided on Hallelujah, which just felt right at the time, and has always been my most reliable song. After half a verse a girl in her late twenties stopped her boyfriend dead in the street, looked at me with tears in her eyes and a searching thank you. Oh, the gratitude and emotion there almost overwhelmed me, and I sang all the better. Her boyfriend tipped, and then they walked on only a few feet before returning and standing directly before me, him hugging her close to his side as she watched me rap, for the rest of the song. When I finished she came up to me and said “Thank you” with that same depth of emotion, about how her father died this past December and he used to sing that song to her. I gave her a long hug while she cried a little and then another. The boys took the guitar to pack it up and the boyfriend told me “You guys have a lot of soul for your age.” while his girl stood in dazed wonderment behind.
I guess he figured me to be the same age as the others, which is odd. The boys counted up the tips, then, and passed me $4.00, which I accepted graciously but with a touch of irony – we’d received $5 while I played my two solo songs, $2 while I sang and they played and the other $8 for the rest of the many songs, $2.50 of which were mine. A mic can do wonders.
I set up a solo pitch a few meters down in front of the Macy’s where I met one of the Argentinian staying at the UH hostel, but this lasted only two songs, as I felt drowned out by the crowd and no natural amplification. A bucket drummer to my right waited patiently and kindly for me to finish, too, so I rewarded him by wrapping up and moving to my tried and true American Apparel pitch after just two songs and one tip.
After sitting and writing a bit to recover my voice I set up beside a new, equally old and kind promoter lady. A group of three black early twenty somethings and another set of white youngsters sat on the parapet nearby, so I stereotyped them and started with Hey Ya. Confused looks melted to familiarity to lip syncing to head bopping to tips. The family standing outside the ABC jived along, too, but I saw the father reduce his tip amount after the two younger groups tipped. Not long afterwards, Chris and Ben saw me and sat themselves down. I sang Ben (who’s half French) Liberta, and then their requests. A group of girls sang along to Here Comes the Sun. After Somewhere Over the Rainbow a kindly local went into the ABC to get a slurpee (and change) and fanned out the three dollars to show me before she dropped them in. Many people started to gather on the parapet beside Ben and Chris, without financial impact. I enjoyed playing without my E string for a little challenge.
Near the end, after my German friends left, a skateboarder started zooming around me just to be an ass, once going behind me and tapping me on the back and another time swiping at my case. I thought he fake swiped but after I counted up the bills and mentally recounted my tips I realized he’d taken about three dollars. As I packed up, the promotion lady smilingly recommended in her faltering English that I try playing further down, but didn’t understand my response that it was too busy there, and that I like to be able to tune myself.
Earnings: $17.14, 2.5 hours
Song of the Day: Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen