Strumming on the Street: My Excellent Guitar Adventure, Part I

Apr 03, 2008

I saw “buskers”, or street performers, everywhere I went—and, having taken my guitar Down Under, I wanted to see what that was like. 


I grew up without giving anybody much trouble along the way; I studied, I “played nice”; went to college, got a job—got several, in fact. Did the office thing for years, wore rather nice suits—and at some point before sanity, or cowardice, kicked in, I even found high-heels somewhat amusing.

In New York, like scads of other women, I actually wore power-sneakers with my Dior ensembles as I made my way from home to the subway, and from the subway to work—for awhile, at CBS Broadcast International, and then at public television station WNYC.

Footwear-wise, I would have stayed in the gymmies all day, but culture—and couture—dictated that I go with something more appropriate and unpleasant indoors, in keeping with the seriousness of the atmosphere in which I’d found myself.

When I think about it, when I was growing up, people had to practically drug me and force me into wearing any shoes at all, because I hated them, and still do. But at some point, in the name of conformity, income, getting on, and those sorts of things, I was willing to submit, to have my feet trapped like those of other people for the long haul.

But that’s enough about tootsies. They’re only symbolic of what I’m getting at in this particular story. What I’m getting at is this: Coming up, I had every reason to believe I could do the 9 to 5 gig with relative ease. I could be perfectly normal, I could do water-cooler chat, give my all for The Company, go for the promotions, the gold watch at the end of the salaried rainbow, do the white-picket-fence scenario, then lust after Wilford Brimley in my golden years, as he hawked everything from breakfast cereal to diabetes-testing contraptions on the boob tube.

However, I failed to take into account that, in actually doing the 9 to 5, it was not uncommon for me to go changing countries every few years, when a contract ended, affording me an opportunity to breathe in the essence of different histories and circumstances, different answers to the questions of life. I was already defying the white-picket-fence pattern, or at least modifying it greatly, without even realizing it.

I think I really wanted to “fit in” in certain key ways, not the least of these being the way where you get the thrill of a steady paycheck. But as time has passed, I have come to realize that my path is probably not one steeped in the unsung beauty of stability.

One experience that really drove home that truth involved a month-long stay in Melbourne, Australia, where I’d been invited from P.B. to edit a manuscript. Now, before it starts sounding like I was living the life of Magnum, P.I. without the Ferrari, I’d just like to point out that, yes, when freelancing is good, it can be really good. Of course when it’s not—and those times can seem like forever, especially if you have a weakness for taking nutrition on a regular basis, or for sleeping indoors—well, you have a lot of time to reflect upon the meaning of life and, of rather less importance, the length and overall condition of your toenails.

I went to Melbourne to write, something I’ve done for years. But when I got down there, I added to my daily activity something I’d never done before: I saw “buskers”, or street performers, everywhere I went—and, having taken my guitar Down Under, I wanted to see what that was like.


Who is more likely to drop money in your guitar case while you’re playing on a footbridge near the train station? A pregnant woman with a toddler, or a businessman with a briefcase?

Check back tomorrow for Part II of “Strumming on the Street: My Excellent Guitar Adventure”, and get a feel for what you can learn about people while offering up tunes as they pass you by…