Friday, April 11, 2008

One Night Only

I was beginning to think I would never play the Sherbrooke Metro again, at least not on this trip. Someone had warned me that it's much more difficult to sign up and play in the winter months (I know it's Spring here. I got the memo late.)

Three times I set my alarm, got to the station early, but never early enough, apparently. So last night, I set the alarm for 4:45, and there I was in the station at 5, all alone, list in hand.

As you recall from last Fall, Campers, you gotta get up early, make two sign-up sheets with the date and hours listed; put your name in a slot, and then affix the lists to the metal music sign at each station.

And even then, it's not always a guarantee. Last year I put up a list, and came back at noon to find that someone had thrown it away and made their own list--a cardinal sin in busker circles. This afternoon, in fact, I found one of the sign-up sheets missing, and other torn halfway down the middle, but there was my name in the 5:30 spot. (Oh, I'm not a busker, by the way. That's a stupid name. I'm a guy who sometimes plays his guitar in the Metro station.)

I tossed some coins into the flute case of the guy on duty when I arrived, to his surprise, and was ready to go--no set list, no music stand, no song notebook. Just a person and that person's guitar.

I'd actually learned new songs this time around. And the guy who sings on the streets of Dublin in last year's Irish film, "Once," was wrong. You don't have to play familiar songs to attract coins to your case. The guy who was playing today at lunch time was noodling jazz/rock guitar improvisations through too many effects pedals with his eyes closed. To me it was nauseating. But there was money in his case, quite a bit, in fact.

But I began with two originals, the one about that girl, and the other one about that girl. It was slow at first, really slow. I was beginning to fear that this would be the only set where I made no money.

Twenty (!) minutes in, a little girl accompanied by her father, dropped coins in my case, and five minutes later, the same scene repeated itself. I almost thought it was the same little girl.

And then something odd happened. A tattered, toothless, dreadlocked hippie approached me, and started to look at the list. He stopped me and asked in French, "Are you on this list?"

"5:30. There's my name."

"I really need to busk. Can I have your spot?"

He seemed surprised when I said no.

"Oh man, I really need to busk....," he said, and then tossed the sign-up sheet on the ground, stomping away angrily towards the exits.

And then he was back. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, smelled him coming, actually. As he walked by me, a little too closely, he spat on the floor, in front of me, and kept walking.

Did he just spit at me? Okay, I think he was just making a point. Had he actually spat on me, it would have been International Incident time. But off he went, to convince someone else to give up their spot.

And then money started to fall. Old women, twenty-something baby chicas, business guys. I was pleasantly surprised.

Remember last year, when I said you could theoretically sing just one song for the whole two hours? Um, maybe you could actually sing five or six. People seem to really like that song about that girl, and the other one about her. And then maybe you do two or three they recognize immediately (but not the Eagles. Never the Eagles).

And then "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

I remember very clearly and distinctly. Two trains arrived at once, and a bus had just discharged passengers into the station from St. Denis. Perfect storm. Okay, they're approaching from both sides now, and from three directions.

Start in that split-second quiet moment. They hear it, and they notice, and then suddenly, they're one quickly moving group moving in and out of the station from east to west across my vision. They slow down, they step aside, they maneuver towards me. Coins fall. I metamorphisized from jukebox to guichet. Something about that song, I guess. Plus you have to make eye contact.

Ssssh. I played it twice. And then the song about that girl. And the other song about that girl.

It's 4:34 a.m right now. Hmmm.....


Blue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue said...

Good one as usual. But.. Who is "that girl" anyway... Not Marlo Thomas?? ;o)

M said...

Greetings from a NYC busker (I actually like this word...).
I enjoyed reading your post and I related to it, though we don't have the sign-up sheet thing here. It's just first come first serve.

I totally agree with you - I do well with originals. Though there's no beating that 'Over the Rainbow' :)

All the best,

Saw Lady

a said...

about the incident..what did you expected? I mean, the majority of theses guys playing in the metro have no real jobs, sometimes are drug addicts or alcoholics, or just going to a rough time for paying the rent.
I'm not saying that you don't have the right to play there, but personnaly i would leave the spot for those who really need it.
it was a nice post though, always nice to read you.

BuffState said...

Love your reference to "Dreamgirls", Eddie......"One Night Only" ;) And......your talent notwithstanding, it IS all about the eye contact, n'est pas? Good for you for not surrendering your place to the bully busker!

Eddie Rivera said...

For the record, I have never seen "Dream Girls." That was not my reference.