Friday, 17 July 2015

Friday July 17th 2015

For those of you interested in the where and whens of my performances....
Kids these days!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Dec 25th, 2014 (barely)
I've been sitting on this story for months now. The events I'm about to describe took place in July, but having been raised on the CBC's Vinyl Cafe, I knew that in the grand tradition of Canadian turkey stories, I'd have to save it for Christmas. I was busking outside Santa Barbara grocery store on Commercial, a busy, but extremely competitive spot. It was an especially swealtering day, and shoppers were taking their sweet time to pick the most refreshing summer produce they could find. (I'm drooling as I type this, I can feel the heavy lump of mashed winter root vegetables that was my vegetarian Christmas dinner lazing in my stomach, and I feel mighty envious of my July self). An older man in a straw hat and wayfarers stopped to listen as I serenaded the grocers with Chris Smithers' "No Love Today" (a song that is one part heartbreak and two parts vegetables). In the middle of the song, a sundressed woman placed a big wooly peach in my case (disclaimer: I stole the peach descriptor from poet Ben Jonson). I waved away her apolagies for not having any money to give me, thanked her, and told her to enjoy the sunshine. I played a few more songs, and then the sunglasses man came up to give me a couple dollars and tell me the best real life turkey story I've ever heard. (No offense at all to the great Mr. Mclean's fictional ones).
He used to be a busker in my old West side neighbourhood, out near UBC. His favourite place to play (guitar I think, but honestly I don't remember), was outside the Safeway on West 10th Avenue, where I used to go with my elementary school friends to buy bagels that were mostly air, and entire tubs of neapolitan icecream that always melted before we could carry out our gluttonous agendas in full. When he would play there, people would often stop to give him food, which he always appreciated. (I can absolutely relate, sometimes when you're having a music-making day, it's hard to remember to feed yourself.) He received his best food-based donation during the Christmas season decades ago, when a shifty-looking character bolted out the front doors and produced a frozen 20 lb. turkey from his oversized puffy winter coat and dropped it in his guitar case, thanking him for the music and wishing him happy holidays before heading off on his merry way.
I asked the man if he returned the turkey, and I was pretty satisfied when he said "are you kiddin'?! I cooked the thing up for Christmas dinner, and you know what, it was the best bird I ever ate!"

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Saturday, July 27 2013

            I was feeling pretty under the weather today and therefore did not get to go out and play in it despite it’s being perfect for busking-sunny but not so stifling that people get to feeling uncomfortable and crabby and therefore less willing to part with their money. Still I’m feeling a little guilty about my neglect of this blog, there are so many people who make my busking incredible and it’s not entirely fair for me to let their stories blend together and eventually slip away once I start cramming my head full of poems and junk again come September. So I will share with you tonight an old(ish) story from one of my first days back out in Gastown this summer. I was just finishing up a set between this schmancy restobar/liquor store called Steamworks and the Roger’s Chocolate’s store (i.e. a tourist’s paradise) when I was approached by a frail old man wearing a blue and red windbreaker. He waited for me to finish playing before asking me where I’d been all year and I explained that I go to school in Montreal and just come home to Vancouver to busk during the summers an see my family. I didn’t actually recognize him until he addressed me as “sister” telling me that my music always “picked him up” no matter what kind of mood he was in. His phrasing jogged my memory and I remembered meeting him a few times last summer and having him accompany me with his unbelievable harmonica playing. We reintroduced ourselves and he told me his name was Gordy “though most people ‘round here call me the harmonica man.” He asked me if I’d mind if he played with me for a while and I said of course not then we rocked out hard to a medley of songs in A minor .The harmonica man then wandered off for a few minutes and returned with a five dollar bill which he placed in my case explaining that he had run into a man who usually gives him money when he’s panhandling and told him how good my music and that I was a “good girl, just come back from studying in Montréal” and he had given him the five to pass along to me. Now if that doesn’t boost your faith in the kindness of strangers I don’t know what will.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

July 24th, 2013

'Twas a busy dizzy evening for me yesterday as the lazy hazy summer weather drove diners out in droves to the not-so-ancient cobbled streets of Gastown. A man and his grown son each gave me a loonie then stopped to listen to me play a few songs while their wives browsed in one of the nearby souvenir shops. After a few minutes the son came over to ask me if I was studying music at school, I told him no, I wasn't, I just play music for fun and I'm studying English literature. He then turned to his dad and translated my answer into Québecois. From there on out I continued the conversation in French, covering up my public school immersion accent with as much "ben," "ouais," and fast talking as I could muster. After we finished talking the son put a fiver in my case and his father was about to do the same but paused saying "elle parle Français, ça vaut bien plus que cinq dollars" and dropped me a twenty instead. Their wives came out of the souvenir store just as I was stammering out the last of a string of mercis and I played them Carla Bruni's "Quelqu'un m'a Dit" (the only French song I have memorized). When I was finished the son completed the exemplary tableau of our country's harmonious bilingualism by switching back to English to wish me the best of luck in my studies.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

May 22, 2013

Today, at the beginning of my set by the Gastown souvenir shops, an old grandpa played one of the classic, yet always amusing, grandpa tricks on me. The "trick" is basically to walk by me while I'm playing and smile and show that you're heartily enjoying the music, then keep walking a ways up the block, leaving me perhaps a little disappointed that I haven't received a donation (though I always try not to show it), before subtly tossing a coin into my case and flashing a grin or a wink then heading on your way. Grandpas will often play this trick on me in the metro in Montreal, and it gets me every time. For some reason it is only mischievous old men who play this trick, I've never seen it attempted by a member of another demographic. My guess is that this is because grandpas know they are the only people who can pull this sort of thing off and seem suave and cute, rather than simply seeming like a cheesy show-off. Unfortunately my ukulele case is much smaller than the average busker's change receptacle, so these grandpas often miss their mark. Today was particularly tragic in this respect as I was standing at the top of a slanted alleyway, so the coin the grandpa tossed me rolled off into oblivion. At the end of my set the grandpa came back and in a thick accent (Italian, I think) asked me "did you find the ten cents?" I smiled and said yes I did thank you very much, and he lightly punched me on the arm and said that he was very tired after his big day and was excited to go home and go to sleep, then wished me a good day before continuing down Water street.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

May 21, 2013

            On Saturday a young couple and their smiling baby sat down in front of me for a few songs. I assume that they were tourists because they were smoking cigarettes and drinking open beers in a comfortable, casual way that lacked the guilt-ridden defiance that typically accompanies these activities if you are native to Vancouver. The scene made me pretty homesick for Montreal’s more relaxed European climate, where a beautiful piece of legislation called “the picnic law” stipulates that open alcohol is permitted in public so long as there is both food and a comfortable sitting implement (such as a blanket) present. It also made me happy to see that these tourists had brought bits of their home with them on their travels. As I watch tourists climb on and off of the big shiny tour buses and go in and out of the equally shiny souvenir shops, I am often reminded of P.K. Page’s “The Permanent Tourists” and its description of tourists as bland, personalityless beings, trying to somehow fill out their identities with snapshots and souvenirs of the places they have visited. My momentary glimpse into this family’s Saturday afternoon broke through this jaded view I’ve been holding and reminded me that the world really is made up of all different kinds of people, and while that may include mindless frequenters of junky souvenir shops, it also includes people so driven by their curiosity about the world that they will go through the trouble of taking their infant daughter on a long plane ride just to enjoy a Pacific Pilsner and listen to a young girl play her ukulele in the sunshine.

Oh, and if any of you are interested in that P.K. Page poem, here it is!

The Permanent Tourists
Somnolent through landscapes and by trees
nondescript, almost anonymous,
they alter as they enter foreign cities—
the terrible tourists with their empty eyes
longing to be filled with monuments.
 Verge upon statues in the public squares
remembering the promise of memorials
yet never enter the entire event
as dogs, abroad in any kind of weather,
move perfectly within their rainy climate.
 Lock themselves into snapshots on the steps
of monolithic bronze as if suspecting
the subtle mourning of the photograph
 might later conjure in the memory
all they are now incapable of feeling.
 And search all heroes out: the boy who gave
his life to save a town; the stolid queen;
forgotten politicians minus names
and the plunging war dead, permanently brave,
forever and ever going down to death.
 Look, you can see them nude in any café
reading their histories from the bill of fare,
creating futures from a foreign teacup.
Philosophies like ferns bloom from the fable
that travel is broadening at the cafe table.
 Yet somehow beautiful, they stamp the plaza.
Classic in their anxiety they call
all sculptured immemorial stone
into their passive eyes, as rivers
draw ruined columns to their placid glass.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

May 7th, 2013

Back to busking in Vancouver again, I have yet to renew any of my permits so I had to spend the day playing in the sparse and not particularly lucrative "no-permit" zones. I have really been wracking my brain for a good stand out moment or story from today since this is my first time busking here and writing about it in nearly a year. Truth be told though, it was kind of a crummy day. I made next to no money, got a serious sunburn, was accosted by an old man (something I am more used to dealing with in Montreal where I can just pretend I don't speak French), and had two teenagers in suits take a good ten minute chunk out of my rush hour set at the Oakridge Canada Line station to talk to me about Jesus. So all in all today was not one of those magic busking days, but you know what? I still can't wait to get back out there tomorrow and do it all over again.