Street Musician Daniel: No Chickening Out Friday

“Everybody Has To Work”

I looked at the webcam shot of Bourbon Street around 9 pm Friday night, and I had to go out there.

I told myself, as I rode, that I would only be 20 minutes away from being back home, should I get there to find the guy with the loud sound system sitting 40 feet away from where I play; or I would be able to move down to the next block and play diagonally across from The Quartermaster -the place that has barred me for borrowing milk crates from them.

I had 46 cents in my pocket, and Harold had just eaten his last can; so my goals were very modest. The first potential dollar would go towards him, and the second one might go towards bus fare, so I wouldn’t have to make what has turned into a hell-ride to the dental place each time, to get to my 3 pm appointment. I had managed to cut the trip from 10 miles down to 4.8 miles by using Google Maps to enlighten me to the fact that I had originally ridden a huge right angle route. Still, 4.8 miles (instead of 10) of dodging potholes and traffic is no picnic.

I hadn’t eaten in 6 days and even forgot to bring a bottle of water with me, so I detoured to CVS to get a Celsius energy drink; and was at the Lilly Pad at about 11:20 pm

The fact that I am a better musician when not drunk and stoned was hinted at by the fact that, when I went to tune up the guitar it was already pretty much in perfect pitch, just from me having tuned it by ear at the apartment.

I thought I was playing pretty well, and even started having thoughts creeping in that I wasn’t in the right venue to be appreciated as the first few groups of people went by without tipping, with one young guy sarcastically saying “Yeah, you sound good,” as his group went by and didn’t throw anything in the jar.

Maybe I need to seriously consider going around to the little pubs that pay musicians, like, a hundred bucks to play for 3 hours, using their house sound system, so that the audience can hear the music loud and clear and appreciate whatever is there to be appreciated.

I was playing without the amp, and happy to see that, along with the sound system guy not being there, there was relatively light traffic, made up mostly of people who were saying things like: “We’re way to the right of where we’re going,” as they stared at their phones.

No Picnic

The other end of Bourbon was a huge cluster of people. I always think of ants when it is like that. If you are having a picnic, and there is an ant hill under your blanket, then ants are soon going to be all over you and you will probably move your blanket. Still, though, you will be regularly visited by the more adventurous ants that, sensing the heavy competition for the crumbs on the ground around the hill, strike out for fortune in some direction. What about over by that tree about 20 feet away, where those humans are sitting? they might think; in ant thoughts.

And that would be the Lilly Padin terms of the block of Bourbon Street where the strip clubs are being the ant hill, where they are crawling all over themselves, both literally and figuratively.

Most of the people that make it as far as me are armed with the knowledge that ‘the oldest bar in America” is just 40 feet past me, and from them, I often hear: “There it is; Lafitt’s Blacksmith Shop Tavern!“At various distances from it as they approach, depending upon their eye-sight.” It’s right up there, I can read the sign. My eyes are better than yours!” type of thing.

I might edify them as they walk past me with: “Oldest bar in America; established in 1772 by Jean Lafitt the pirate, and his brother Pierre; although they never shooed a horse there; They used it, as a front, to fence pirated goods out the back door.”

Some of them might even pause to hear me add: “Chances are that if you bought a bottle of rum in 1772, it came from right there, by Lilly‘s pool…”

And so, with The French Quarter Festival in full swing, I had just the right amount of ants, er, tourists going to and fro; half of them historians, the other half, lost.

The 6 days of not having eaten was probably taking some of the physical energy out of my performance, which can be out of step with some of the more rowdy and drunken tourists; But the fact that I was playing well, and was “feeling” the music, and doing so without being “artificially” euphoric usually attracts others, probably the way a bartender is a magnet for bar patron’s to air their life stories and grievances: Maybe this is just the whiskey talking; let me ask this sober person if he thinks the bitch is using me, type of thing.

I might have been oblivious to, and thus not factoring in the effect of not having the amp, which had me back to using the same setup that used to net me a steady 18 bucks per hour, night in and night out.

I certainly felt that the words I chose weren’t as important as when I was singing them through a microphone and wasn’t as concerned with dropping in little sarcasms or directing things at individuals that I could see, but who were “out of range .”

I was just having my first thoughts about quitting, as in quitting busking altogether when a large black woman dropped 6 dollars in the jar; always a large black woman, and always right when I’m thinking of quittingI thought…

Then a group of about 6 black people stopped and took their phones out and began to improvise lyrics and eventually 4 part vocal harmony, split into bass, tenor, alto and soprano, so that they sounded like a heavenly chorus. It was like they were a Southern Baptist group on vacation, or something. The irony wasn’t lost upon me that the song this group of black people were free-styling over was “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

That particular classic by Procol Harem, I read somewhere, is the song most covered by other, as far as released recordings artists go, nudging out songs like “Yesterday,” and “Ave Maria.” I think it is even on one of the fine discs waxed by William Shatner; and if that doesn’t prove a song’s validity, then…?

I’m thinking that, since the lyrics are a nonsensical word salad, it is one of the songs least likely to offend anyone.

The choir singers threw a handful of ones in the jar; and it was at that point that I, myself, felt validated.

After my decision to fast and cleanse had removed the motive of going out there for drinking and drugging money, and had in fact kept me from going out, out of fear that I would succumb to temptation; I had decided that I still needed to go out and work in the spirit of something my dad used to say, which was: “Everybody has to work; Adam and Eve made it that way.”

So I went out there primarily just to work. Sure, cleaning my kitchen would have been working; but I was defining work as “service to others,” and cleaning my kitchen wouldn’t produce a can of food for Haroldunless I discovered one that had rolled to behind the refrigerator, nor the bus fare to keep me from having to pedal another 4.8 miles times 2 during Monday’s trip to the dentist (although pedaling home would be a bit easier (no pun intended) minus the weight of one tooth).

I was surprised earlier when David Greenwellwhom I was mistaken in thinking was heaping abuse upon me when I was heading for the emergency room when I had the toothache, knocked on my door and asked me if I had gotten any antibiotics.

He handed me a sheet of paper with the number of a “Nurse Hotline” on it, saying that the person on the other end would be a “nurse for the homeless” and would be able to help me.

I had interpreted his anger as him berating me as being stupid for even going to the emergency room for a toothache; it turns out his anger was directed that them for potentially not even seeing me over it.

He had actually gotten the number off one of the computers in the computer room and wrote it down, trying to help me, 5 days after I told him I had a toothache. He asked me if I was going to go out and play; and when I told him I was because the French Quarter Festival was going on, he said that I should make some good money; and then added “You’re as good as some of those people playing at the festival.”

And so the fruits of the cleansing fast seem to be being reaped already. I had read David totally wrong, 5 days ago, when I was still drinking and drugging.

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