Putting the Ho Back in Hobart, Day 2

Before I’ve been remiss in updating for many reasons. This time I blame it on success.

Terri took her son and me out to MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art just opened for a few hours on yet another grey, drizzly day. I loved it. The combination of artists I despise, a beautiful building cut into the cliff and surprisingly wonderful installation work with mirrors and black facing and silver or white and light pine and so on made a great impression. With a theme of death and sex, after seeing a Damien Hirst on the bottom level I knew I’d eventually encounter a Kiefer, an Abramovic, a McCarthy… etc. Taken together in the distorted world they create I found them a bit less distasteful. Only a bit. But what a building! Had I more time I’d have sat at the top of the central stairwell for a nice long draw.

I swapped hosts to stay with Clare the next afternoon. This nixed my plans to play during lunchtime, but owing to another overcast chilly day I wasn’t terribly bummed out. Clare and I chatted inside for a while before I rushed off to the New Sydney Hotel for a possible 4.30pm gig. The manager offered me one if sunny and told me to come in either way – well no sun and no gig and I got a bit sweaty to no avail. Undaunted, I walked about the corner to the Elizabeth St. Mall, which I now knew was off limits past 3, but found myself a beautiful alleyway leading into the mall, called “Soundy’s Lane” which wasn’t specifically mentioned in the busking pamphlet. True to the name I couldn’t have encountered better acoustics.

I played around an hour in that narrow corridor near the opening into a closing Salvation Army. A group of young kids took up residence at the other end of the passageway right as I began, not 10 meters away, rather loud and nearly drowning me out, but still I received a few tips for my first song. They decided to move on and passed before me. I admit I felt a bit worried having had my money stolen two days ago by similarly dressed youngsters, but these took to me enthusiastically, requesting two songs in a row and tipping some silver coins. The second of these was my rough Nothing Else Matters, during which the young girl kept hushing hte boys to listen. Requests would define Hobart for me. Unlike Sydney or Honolulu where my sign and request list seemed to deter passersby, here in Hobart it marked me as different, and my greatest asset finally showed through – human jukeboxness.

A man passed by speaking into his mobile but paused, slowed and told me “You’ve got a really great voice!” before picking up his pace and conversation while I sang Dream. As in Bergen I made a point to sing my slower melodic tunes, and went through most of the songs I’d neglected for lack of projective power. Almost nothing went poorly. Early on as I retuned to compensate for the weather, a woman passed humming the notes. She apologized hastily saying “Sorry, I have perfect pitch.” Luckily I was tuning in the right direction. She passed back the other way a while later right as I sang Scarborough Fair, joining in as she heard and stopping across the narrow way to make eye contact. Her partner (in Australia it’s common to refer to significant others as partners) stood happily by, clearly relishing the opportunity to enjoy her voice. What a voice, too! I asked her after we sang a rousing Country Roads together about it and she admitted that she had indeed been a professional singer for many years. And so I asked her, timidly, if I was singing alright – hoping my efforts in technique via Bram resulted in better intonation, expecting an “eh, alright” – and she replied with a dismissive laugh, “It’s wonderful!” as if why are you worrying? “You’re singing really well.” She took my card.

A very young couple stopped to request the girl’s favourite song: New Slang. Her boyfriend’s kindness poured out of his eyes – that gentle wonderfulness with her reserved soft smile – and then the skateboarder who’d sheepishly passed through thrice sat down on his skateboard right in front of me with a similar smile and two thumbs up, listening to Falling Slowly as his pedestrian friends tipped. A girl looked in delighted at the end of the passageway, beaming at Under the Bridge but not stepping in. A man who passed before and complimented my voice on the second pass double back from the entrance for my “Good choice of song.” Nature Boy. I was on with song choices. Rarely does a pitch prove so fruitful, such that I only left on not receiving a tip for a song.

But I want to write about the night. I’d arranged to meet Clare at Rectango, a wonderful block party type fest which happens every Friday night, apparently, with a large funk band with backs to a quarried sandstone cliff, dancing hippies and all for free. There are two typical Tasmanians, apparently and up to this point I’d mostly encountered one kind – the environmentally conscious, vegetarian/vegan, bushwalking, composting, bike-riding sort the square was infested with. At around seven o’clock I proclaimed Hobart the greatest city on earth and I meant it.

I decided to try and catch the crowd departing from Rectango but the alleyway I liked already boasted a trio of bored locals sitting on skateboards and hitting crates with sticks to go along with some uninspired guitar strumming. So I took up a spot in an arcade of closed shops at the back exit of the square, catching a few passersby for tips with two songs. With the arcade then absolutely deserted and still, I wandered back out to see the trio wandering off and I quickly claimed their spot, backlit nicely by a studio window.

I honestly can’t remember too much detail from my night pitch. Everything flowed together beautifully, tied together by one character – an admittedly piss drunk man with a great voice and an exuberant friendliness as large as his belly. He split from his friends and wife on seeing me and asked to sing along to one of my songs after seeing my request list. “People tell me I have a good voice but I never get a chance to use it. I’m not good with words… but I can sing along if you don’t mind.” At first I didn’t mind at all. It was nice to have someone friendly. But then I though perhaps he was scaring people from tipping with his obvious inebriation, lapses in intonation and nonsense instead of lyrics. So I had him stand across the way, which he figured out, and was a tiny bit hurt. He wanted to help, though, and started to corral passersby with that easy personability, telling them half jokingly “You have to tip!” “This man’s come all the way from Florida…” (People were amazed anyone would visit Hobart, even from the mainland.) “Make a request! He knows one hundred and eight songs!” and people responded, open minded enough to entertain him and so to give me a chance. When people actually listen, I do well.

My ally bought me two fried “veggie dimsum” skewers from the Vietnamese restaurant, a sprite when he needed a drink and I’d coincidentally run out of water. Clare sat by across the way with a newly met keeper of a boy for a bit and came back for the end. With my ally’s help, few songs passed without a crowd. One requesting pair signalled for my friend to stop singing along to Tears in Heaven, which he got self conscious about. All the time I assured him he sang quite well (and he surely did) but that people get annoyed when someone’s a bit off time and doesn’t know the lyrics. Once a lovely couple with a small child joined in on Country Roads which we sang to the southern stars and some girls gathered round with us. I played them Skinny Love on a request.

Soon my friend starting calling himself my manager, jokingly, to passersby. He’d already bought a CD off me. The seven out on the town girls who gathered round each tipped, singing along to She’s So High, though the one they singled out to sing it was too nervous to sing alone. When I changed the key for Hey There Delilah (from the oh so Pachelbel Canon-y D to a more comfortable for her G) she sang bits alone, timidly. I felt surprised I could still sing it (though I sat out the choruses, simple as they are, or sang an octave down). All the while my “manager” engaged them “All together now!” “Come on!” “Don’t be shy!” Everyone smiling – bashfully as the girl on the spot, softly and maybe even covetously watching me do my thing, drunkenly with arms waving, innocently a babe in the arms of a father delighted and bemused with his wife in awe and gratitude.

So I kept going, and going and going. Kept singing with a voice still strong with the breaks afforded by singalongs, the ease of singing provided by people crowding close and the excellent alley acoustics, the sprite he gave me. I knew I couldn’t stop until my friend left, so I kept going, taking a rest here and there, until his friends and wife returned, happy to see him so cheery, requesting all manner of songs including his request for his wife Your Song which we sang together though he couldn’t manage keeping the melody when I switched to harmony. Like Dan Geoffrion a perfect amplifier but not a lead. And then all of a sudden he left in a huff, maybe something his wife said about “Maybe we should go?” or just the strange whimsicality of the drunken. I stayed to sing Clare and Steph a few last songs to some last tips. During our chat that afternoon she’d complained of finding no good men in Hobart. I’d set out hoping doubtfully for thirty dollars. We walked back together, the three of us, them ahead hand in hand, smitten, chatting and smiling beautifully, while I trailed behind hugging the heaviest case I’ve yet brought back.

Earnings: 106.00 AUD + food + sprite, 3.5 hours
Song of the Day: Country Roads – John Denver

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