Strumming on the Street, Part III

Apr 06, 2008

…Gee, Officer—How did I know you needed a license to perform on the streets of Melbourne?


Just a few days of sitting and strumming for hours on the street can give you amazing insights into human nature and tendencies—as can all business that is done in so direct a manner, I would imagine.

It’s important not to go out with enormous expectations when busking, if you really hope to enjoy it in a big way. In the same way that not everyone is inclined to stop in at this auto body shop or that restaurant, not everyone lies awake at night dreaming of paying to hear you do your Guitar Hero thing, either!

But in my personal experience on the footbridge, I did note some patterns: People with whom I made eye contact were more likely to let go a coin or two as they passed; those in groups of peers were more likely to give than were individuals; people who had enjoyed a libation or two at the local pub were among the biggest givers, I was to learn.

After a major athletic event, an interesting thing would happen: Supporters of the winning team tended to be quite generous—but so did supporters of the losing side, who seemed to experience heartfelt kinship with a solitary woman singing out in the cold. (Note: There seems a belief among many that being female in the busking world tends to work in one’s favor. I was reading a male busker’s blog a while back, and here, I paraphrase his advice for fellow male street artists: “If you can get a chick to go with you, that’s definitely going to help”.)

Other buskers always gave a bit as they passed, and I learned to do that, too. Always. They never threw much into the case, mind you, but just a little something to encourage you in your effort. One fellow busker, a wonderful American operatic talent on vacation, even stopped to refer me to the CDs of his own celebrated Aussie voice coach, so that I might learn to project more effectively.

Brazilians gave because I sang primarily in Portuguese; Chinese gave because I would chat with them in Mandarin between songs (nearly a hundred years on, and my Asian Studies degree comes in handy when I’m crooning for pennies in the streets of Melbourne); and mommies and daddies of myriad origins would often give through the outstretched hands of their curious children.

Lovers of all ages were good givers, presumably because they saw all the world as theirs, and seemed certain that any singer in their path had been placed there by the gods to confirm and enhance the perfection of their own unions. What a fabulous way to see the world!

In fact, the only group virtually resolute in its determination never to drop a single peso into my case was the business set—guys in ties, and women whizzing past in well-tailored power ensembles. Only one businessperson ever put a coin in the case—a lone, middle-aged Asian man who may have felt something akin to pity because of the late hour. I will never forget his courtly smile.

I’m glad he broke that business-set streak when he did, because there would not be another chance.

The next time I went out, two members of the local constabulary took an uncommon interest in my career as a street performer. It seems the City of Melbourne actually issues licenses for this kind of thing…

I was forced to admit to these two police officers that I didn’t have one; My Brilliant Career went decidedly downhill from there…


After grooving to The Girl from Ipanema during what turned out to be my farewell performance by the Yarra River, the police took down my personal information and issued an ultimatum, Aussie-style.

On Tuesday, the conclusion of “Strumming on the Street”!