Rock Star

Can you imagine that you are a rock star for a day?  What would it feel like?   Who would you meet? How would they treat you? Well that’s what happened to me. I was a rock star for one day.        I am not a rock star. Sometimes I think I am not even a very good musician. I don’t know honestly. Sometimes I think I am, and sometimes I’m sure I am not. But wherever the truth lies, and I’m sure it’s between those 2 points, I am still passionate about playing street music, especially when I am in the right mood. I like to play on the street, not in clubs, not in a recording studio, but on the street. It’s there that mistakes don’t matter much. It’s there that you can play games with the people, it’s there that people are surprised, confused, stopped in their tracks, completely mesmerized, or more likely than not, completely oblivious.      Friday was a fun night. My partner Hye Young and I were alone that night playing as a duo in front of our favorite spot 7/11, in Hongdae, Seoul, South Korea. It was getting cold, November 20th; we were lucky it warm enough to play still. It was about 10 pm and a crowd of about 30 had gathered. We were eager to entertain. It could well be the last show for many months. We had come up with a nice little routine for the famous song Autumn Leaves.  There was a cute little tree right in front of where we were playing, in fact, with 2/3rds of its leaves gone, it seemed like the tree was adorned with earrings, a perfect prop for our song. As HY sang the song, I walked over and unobtrusively started shaking the tree. It was small enough that with great effort I could move it a few centimeters in either direction. The audience, focused on the singing, little by little glanced in my direction, wondering what had gotten into me. Then as one or two leaves trickled down, the realization spread through the crowd like a dawn spreading over a meadow. Oh, I get it, autumn leaves! Then there was great hilarity and a big cheer would rise up each time one of the stubborn leaves let go. After my body and the joke were both exhausted I went and sat next to HY while she finished her song and solo.     Now it was my turn. I took one solo, enjoying the crowd’s good mood. As I did I looked out at the audience. They were listening so well. I was playing so well. The feelings were coming out like little flashes of heat lightning and my fingers were finding the spots that were lit up. The audience was lighting up too. It was one of those magic moments; the moments we play for, that we live for, when we go beyond, into another place, where we scratch the surface of another world, a world beyond ME.      I searched the audience for eyes that were feeling with me. There was one foreigner who was listening. He was scruffy, had on a lined flight cap with long flaps covering his ears. I usually avoided foreigners. I didn’t want to get into THE conversation. You know the conversation; How long you been here, where are you from etc etc etc etc. When I scanned his face though, his look stopped me. There was nothing there. He had no personality at all. His mind was totally on the music. He was like a vacuum cleaner sucking up every sound, every nuance, every feeling. There was no HIM at all, no judgement, nothing but empty space.  I moved on to other faces, my melody, tried to feel the lightning again. When I looked back a little later, he was still there a vacuum of attention. I took 2 choruses. There were still 4 to go in the song if we wanted to do that. It was time to get silly. I held up one of the leaves in front of my face and treating like a puppet, I sang in its voice to the other leaves, ” oh my brothers, do not be afraid. You can do it. Let go. It’s not as bad as you think. You can do it. Jump my brothers, trust the unknown, carpe dime, let go, beyond the unknow there exists more than you can ever know. It’s another world. It’s a glorious flight down. Don’t resist the inevitable. Trust me, trust yourself.” I sang these words as an improvisation to the chords of autumn leaves. It was funny, it was melodic, it was theater, it was metaphoric, and it was so very silly all at the same time. The audience was captivated and I was just getting started. I stood up and waving my leaf at the crowd I directed them to chant with me. I sang, “those autumn leaves,”.  I directed them to sing “jump, jump, jump”, in a silly syncopation,   “Drift by my window”. “jump jump jump” “those autumn leaves” ” carpe dime” ” of red and gold” “carpe diem”   My mind was reeling. I held the leaf up and tried to get people to dance with it, I scooped up leaves and threw them in the air, the audience was cheering, delighted, confused, frightened that I would pick on them. I signaled to HY and she sang the melody for the last time. We ended it perfectly and I threw another bunch of leaves on HY’s head.

The audience applauded heartily. The strange man was still there and HY went over to him.  She wanted a picture. His companion, a beautiful Korean woman asked her not to take his picture. Why not?  He’s Damien Rice, the rather famous singer songwriter. HY was amazed. She loved him. She couldn’t believe it. Immediately she asked, ” Can I hug you?”  he shrugged and agreed. As she hugged him fully, I commented to him, “You will never be cold in Korea”.  He laughed, “yeah, I guess not”. Again he refused any photos, it was a thing with him. He really didn’t like the worship thing at all and didn’t want to fan the flames of fanatic fantasy any more than he had to. No autographs and no pictures; he was famous for that.  Luckily our kookie artist friend Kay was there. She was a fast drawing artist. Within 30 seconds she had drawn a portrait of Damien        The woman murmured to him, “let’s go.”. And Damien called to us, “we’ll see you later”. HY was awestruck and star struck. I was amused, not so impressed with stardom, but I was impressed with the way he listened. I played a few songs alone while HY settled down. It was about 1030 now, our usual stopping time. But then the fantasies started.  “I think he really liked us. Don’t you think he will come back? Maybe we can get free tickets to the concert. Wouldn’t that be great?” The fantasies went on and on. It was getting cold, but we were afraid to move. What if he comes back. We played on and on. 11 pm, 6 degrees C. And just a few people. We decided to play until 1130.  It was cold, no one was stopping but what if he comes by? Finally it was 11:30, and no him. Somewhat disappointed we packed up. We tried to justify it in our minds, “oh well we got to meet him anyway. Yeah it was great”       As we packed up, I thought, maybe he is a Tulkigul.  Tulkigul was a nice little bar right around the corner. It meant Rabbit hole. It had lots of nice features. A long wooden bar, where people could sit around and be sociable with strangers, and also tables if you wanted to be private. But most importantly, it had a piano, bass,drums, guitar, and microphones.  We walked around the corner over there. HY ran up the steps and looked in the windows. She came down disappointed, no he’s not there. It was a little hard to see in the windows and for some reason I didn’t believe her. I ran up and peeked in the windows too. There at the long bar, I saw the back of a scruffy head. I came down and gave my report. I think he’s there. HY was so excited I thought she was going to pee in her pants. “No, really? he’s there? he’s really there?” We all went up and entered the bar, HY, Kay, and I. As we entered Damien turned and flashed a charismatic smile. What took you so long? We were waiting for you. “       We unpacked and sat for awhile. DAMIEN RICE’s producers were friendly and used to dealing with foreigners. There were about 5 of them, 3 who spoke English well and 2 others who did not. 2 of the 3 were very beautiful and charming Korean woman, and an older nice looking man. I sat at the bar next to the older man and he didn’t mind me asking about his business. He was a big time music producer, handled a lot of foreign acts as they came through. He answered all my questions, stadium capacity, problems he encountered. He was very calm but spoke with power. While I spoke to him, HY spoke with the women about who knows what. Later I found out that they offered us some free tickets to the concert on Tuesday in Pusan. The Sunday Seoul concert was sold out.

When things started slowing down, I knew it was time to play. I asked Damien if he knew the song Ariang. He didn’t. Ariang is the most important song in Korea. It’s not the national anthem, that’s more militaristic sounding, but everyone knows that Ariang is most important. It’s a song that Koreans never get tired of. Never. And it can bring them to tears. The funny thing about it are the words. It talks about an old man who wants to leave his old wife. As he is walking away up the mountain path, she yells at him that his feet will hurt before he’s gone 3 kilometers. That somehow sums up the Korean character and experience. Maybe you have to be Korean to get it. After we played that, we played another Korean song. The 30 or so people in the club applauded generously. I then turned to DAMIEN RICE and said, your turn. He was a very down to earth and humble guy and he shrugged his shoulders and said ok.

Everyone was very excited. What a treat to see DAMIEN RICE in such an intimate setting. Luckily everything was there he needed. It may not have been the best quality but good enough. HY had complained about the mic and DAMIEN RICE said the guitar needed work, but within a few minutes he was playing one of his songs. He voice was rich with character and feeling. There was nothing wrong with the mic. His lyrics were deep and emotional. He had a way of repeating a phrase that really got you. I played some background on the chorus, hoping that I wouldn’t get in the way. It seemed to add something. He played his song through and I wondered if he would give me a sax solo. He didn’t. I guess if you are that big, you don’t have to share the stage at all.

He finished and then said, your turn and we played another one. Then it was his turn and asked us what song we could both play together. We played Summertime and HY and DAMIEN RICE sang together. It was great. HY was extremely excited. Afterall, DAMIEN RICE was an old favorite of hers. Kay was busy sketching at 100 miles an hour. We took a break and DAMIEN RICE came over and chatted. I think he appreciated that we weren’t coming on to him as fans. After all he had watched us before we even knew who he was. Maybe he was our fan! We talked about playing street music, because DAMIEN RICE was also a busker. In fact he was famous for going out after the concert and playing on the street or outside the venue.

He said the most important thing was to please yourself; delight yourself, with the music. When people would just walk by and not notice he would close his eyes and go inside. If he could find that space where he would be delighted, when he opened his eyes again, often there would be a crowd. It made a lot of sense to me. I would try it next time. He was very philosophical. Very deep. And playful, funny. I could have talked to him all night. He said he didn’t want to go to bed early because of jet lag. His goal was to stay up until 4 am that night. It was already 330 so there wasn’t much time. Where had the time gone? Kay shyly took the opportunity to present him with some of her sketches, a big thrill for her. Soon it was time to say goodbye. HY who was on cloud 9 walked up to say goodbye, “Where are you staying?” He looked a little taken aback. “Uh…a hotel” It wasn’t the way she meant it, or maybe she did. I think she just wanted to know how far he had to go, but he was staying close-by. “Hey Damien, we are going to play some street music tomorrow, you are welcome to join us. “ In fact it might be the last time to play at Deoksugung, our favorite spot in the world, for a long time. I tried to sell him on the idea. “There you can see the Unhang or money tree, appreciate the beautiful bright yellow leaves, you can smell the disgustingly sweet smell of the tree’s fruit that would mingle with the amazingly sweet smell of the traditional candy made of sugar and baking soda made by the old woman who is my friend. You can see families and couples walking in front of Breakup Wall. “ He said he just had to buy some shoes and that he would try to come. We said our goodbyes and walked out. It had been a great evening. Little did we know that our adventure with DAMIEN RICE wasn’t over.

He didn’t come on Saturday.

However, we had a good time and stayed as long as we could hoping that he would. We left around 5.

The next day we talked it over and found that it was technically possible for us to go to the Pusan concert without missing work as HY was off on Tuesdays and I got out of work at 1. Pusan was 2 ½ hours away by fast train and tickets were about $110 round trip , about the same as the cost of the free tickets, so that was a negative. Plus the time. I told HY it was too much trouble but that I would go with her if she wanted. She wanted. Very much, so we planned to go. It turned out that it was actually cheaper to fly down. The flight left at 330 and got in at 415. I ran to the subway after my class. I wanted to get there as early as possible because I had never flown from Gimbo Airport. It turned out to be pretty easy. The big question was whether or not to bring our stuff, the sax, the amps etc. It was heavy and who knows what problems it could cause on the plane. In the end we decided to take everything. Better to be prepared. Maybe we could find a place to busque during our trip. That was what we were about anyway, that was what I was about anyway, playing wherever. It’s a good thing that we did.

As we arrived at the gate at the Seoul airport, HY got a message on her phone. Would we be willing to open the concert, play for 20 minutes before DAMIEN RICE came on? I have never seen HY so excited. It was like she was a tuning fork and someone had struck her full force. Her vital force was vibrating pure and full force. It was an amazing moment. We were going to open for DAMIEN RICE!!! We were going to OPEN for DAMIEN RICE!!! We were jumping up and down. It was amazing. We had no idea how many people there would be, but the producer had told me the auditorium held 2,500 seats. Of course we knew it wasn’t sold out, but we guessed there would be a lot of people.

The planes’ take-off was superfluous. We were already mile high. In about 40 minutes we were in Pusan, on our way to the Bexco Convention Center, . The subway ride from the Gimbo Airport to took longer than the flight. By the time we got there it was drizzling rain. It didn’t matter. As we walked into the Bexco convention center, we called the producer. She came out to get us. As we walked into the backstage door, the scary security guards stood in front of me, menacing. The Producer just looked back and waved to us, “come on” the guards obediently step aside, still menacing. We went right to the stage. There wasn’t much time. It was 6:45, we would go on in 45 minutes. There was just time for a sound check. The Producer asked if we wanted to eat. I did, desperately, but there was no time. Save us some I called out. The sound check went smoothly. These were top professionals. Everybody was all business. No smiles all work. At the top, no one is going to risk ever making a mistake. Things went perfectly. We decided on our set, just 3 songs, a Korean song, a funny Jazz song, and Ariang. We were done by 7:05. Great, there was time to eat.

We went down the dressing room. The Damien dressing room! I had always Damien Riceeamed of seeing a real Damien Riceessing room of a real rock star. Now I was here. The room was large size. About 15 meters by 10 meters. A large table took up a large part of the room. It was splendidly laid out. Salmon, white fish, salad, fruit, beautiful tofu with soy sauce, different kinds of bread and croissant, lots of desserts. Damn, and only 20 minutes. My acting teacher, the one that advised me to Damien Riceop the class, used to say, you should be thirsty, hunger, and horny when you go onstage. Oh well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.

We made our way up to the stage, surrounded by the producer and 3 scary security guys. The security guys walked in front and behind us. I guess that must be what the president feels like. They held flashlights in front of us so we could make our way out onto the darkened stage. We peeked out and there were a lot of people. Then suddenly people were clapping and we were walking out on stage. Once out there HY introduced us and the audience clapped warmly. We started out with a beautiful old Korean song called “Sadness about Love” Hye young , always fearless in front of an audience, sang beautifully. The feeling from the 1000 people in the audience was palpable. HY made an announcement that basically told how we met DAMIEN RICE and how he was a busker at heart just like we were. It was my turn to make the announcement in English. I looked out at the audience, but I could only see Koreans. Not one foreigner. I leaned down to the Mic. “Anyone want to hear that in English?” There was no response, so I just said “ok, never mind” and we went on. The next song ,”Take the a Train” was one of our funny songs. We change the words and get the audience to interact. As you may know, the A Train in A Train refers to the subway in New York City. The A train goes to Harlem (where all the good music was back then) . HY announced that we weren’t in NYC so we would change it to ilhosan (the 2 line) which goes to Bexco, and that everytime we said that they should go “WOO WOO” and image that with their hands that they were pulling the whistle. They were pretty good. Korean audiences are good at things like that. Collectively in groups they are about 8 years old and they are always happy to join in, no matter what ridiculous thing you ask them to do. Our last song was Ariang. HY’s singing was inspired. My playing was good enough. Then it was over. It happened so fast. I hadn’t been that nervous but I hadn’t been that focused either. It was amazing to hear the applause at the end though. I’ve played in front of larger audiences before, but I never felt such warmth and love. But there was a bigger thrill awaiting.

As we walked off stage into the darkness of backstage, HE was there. DAMIEN RICE had come up to listen to our entire set. Amazing! Usually I image that stars stay in the dressing room, relaxing, getting a massage, meditating, doing drugs, getting sex, or whatever, but he came up and listened to us. We went down and put our stuff in our private dressing room which locked (we had the code). Then we hurried out to our seats. They were good seats too. In the 5 th row and a little off center. The concert started about 20 minutes late. Maybe he was relaxing now, but we were sky hi. People sitting nearby were amazed that we were next to them . They wanted pictures and to talk to us. It was fun to be a rock star for a day.

I won’t describe the concert except to say that DAMIEN RICE’s voice was amazing, rich, supple and feeling. He sang a few songs and then he thanked everyone for being there, his staff, the staff at Bexco. I was thinking, “Mention us. Mention us” Finally he did. I really want to thank the street musicians who came down from Seoul. What’s their name? Scatag, Scatpeole.” He looked backstage to the producer. She didn’t know our name either. She just said Hyeyoung. I sat there frozen. I knew what to do but my mouth stayed closed. Then I heard HY open up, “Scatengers” she yelled out with a strong voice. Wow. My hero. “Yeah Scatengers, that’s it. Thank you Scatengers”

Then he went on to sing a great concert. It ended at 1030 with a drinking spree onstage, but that’s another story. After the concert, we had to get our stuff. We waited until the crowd dispersed. We went to the backstage door and showed the scary security our badges. They grudgingly stepped aside. We went to the dressing room. The door was opened.

It was ok though. The producers were in there talking. We sat with them for a while. We wondered what would happen now. Would we see him again or would he just ignore us? We waited around awkwardly for about 15 minutes. Then we decided we should just say goodbye to him and leave. We didn’t want to appear pitiful or bother him. We told one of the producers we wanted to say goodbye to DAMIEN RICE. That seemed reasonable. We waited longer. Suddenly there was a big stir. Something was going on. Suddenly DAMIEN RICE was there. “Hey man, Im going to play some street music, want to join me with your sax.” Yes DAMIEN RICE was kind of famous for playing street music after the concert. But it was raining. I didn’t hesitate though. I hurriedly took out my sax and followed him.

Outside there were about 100 people hoping for just this. They mobbed him. “Everybody sit down,” he ordered. We were under an awning and not getting wet. Amazingly all the fashion conscious Koreans did just that though, they sat on the ground. He sat near the front and he sat on his heels, meditation style, a way that I like to sit too. Then he sang 2 or three songs. I played along with little fills. I don’t think anyone noticed my playing, which was ok. At least I didn’t get in the way. I think maybe I added something to it. But , hey, still no solo. Ok . Whatever. After the 3rd song again there was stir. DAMIEN RICE was whisked off. They were going to a bar to relax. The producer said we could come but by the time I got my sax packed up, they were all piled into 2 limos. As they started to pull away, we pitifully tapped on the rain streaked window of the slowly moving limo. They didn’t stop. We felt so stupid. Standing there in the rain as they slowly pulled away.

We turned to one another, like 2 soaked street kittens. What now? As we were talking it over, HY got a message from the promoter. We are at this bar. She gave us the name, address and a picture. Do you want to go? Of course. Let’s see where it leads. Just then a taxi came, and with just a little effort we found the bar. It was a music bar, with all the instruments, not unlike the Rabbit Hole, but they weren’t there. There were some concert goers though. They recognized us. We were still enjoying our 15 minutes. We wondered, was it a cruel joke? We waited. Finally 30 minutes later, they came. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

It was about 12:30 am. Our morning train left at 5 am, and we needed to leave about 345 am. So for the next 3 hours we hung out with the entourage, the sound man, the lighting man, the two concert managers and DAMIEN RICE himself. It was very relaxed and fun. The concert managers and lighting and sound man were quite stand-offish at first. They were wary of fan mania. The concert manager was steely eyed and intense. When I tried to question him about other artist he had managed, he resisted, “oh a lot. Everyone.” He held my gaze. He would resist as long as I was there. I tried to ask him about how he got into the field in the first place. He opened up a little.

His assistant, a red headed woman was easier to talk to. But we didn’t talk about music, but traveling and the joys of Japanese toilets. The lighting man was the nicest. He just wanted travel tips about what to see in Pusan the next day, their day off. I told him about the art museum and the ancient Korean temple nearby. All the while DAMIEN RICE flited around from group to group. He was in the zone, a little drunk but oh so charming. When he joined our group I just sat and listened as he talked about his influences with the crew. They saw me listening but didn’t mind. It was fascinating hearing him talk about other musicians that I had admired. Ok I was a bit of a fanatical fan. Finally it was time to leave. We each hugged DAMIEN RICE goodbye. “You are not only a great musician, you are a great person,” I said. “Ah, that’s just projection Frank. Everything is projection.” And with that we left.

The bartender told us it was a 30 minute taxi ride to the train station, but our driver made it in 20 taking a route that perhaps only he knew. It included some back streets, some alleys that unexpectedly let only main highways in improbable twists. I enjoyed the ride immensely. We got to the station and hour early. HY laid down with the homeless people on a platform for that. I stood guard over her and woke her up when it was time. It was a 2 ½ hour ride back to Seoul and I was up for most of it. When we got to my station, I ran to my house, threw off my clothes and pulled on my teaching clothes like some kind of Superman. I started the class 5 minutes late, and despite having only 1 hour sleep had a pretty good class. No one noticed and no one suspected that I was a secret rock star that day. It was a perfect day, except that, we never got paid. Not in money anyway. In memories and experience, we were rewarded with great treasures.

 

 

BATTLING BUBBLEMAN

 

It was October and with winter fast approaching, there were few good days left for street music. Each day, I figured could be the last, and was precious. People asked me what it was about street music that was such a big deal and this was something I had a hard time explaining. It was theater, it was freedom, it was possibility, it was meditation, it was life. I guess it was like my bodi tree. Sitting there playing music, I could watch life go by and interact with whatever reaction there was to what I was doing. The first few moments were tense. Was the music going to be accepted? Would I be arrested? Chased away? Or more probably, ignored?

I got off the subway, exit 12 and walked to my favorite spot. I was always a little nervous as I rounded the corner. Would there be something else going on that day? Would there be other musicians playing in my spot. For years I had been the only one who knew about it, but you can’t keep a good thing a secret forever, the word gets around.  Hongdae, the first place I started playing street music was now pretty much spoiled for me. It was filled with mostly young men who played the same loud cheesy music and were surrounded by young adoring girls. That’s why they were there, for the girls and the glory. For me, it was more than that. I was there for the experience, the novel experience, and the music of course.   That next note, that creative moment that was there and then was gone.  The bubbling up of a new idea that came from…..where?

As I rounded the corner, my heart sank. There WAS a festival going on. It was the Fair Trade Festival, whatever that was.  As I got closer, I could see that it pretty much was a coffee festival. There were booths lining the narrow street and against the wall and they all seemed to be selling coffee. Coffee was rampant in Korea. There were coffee shops everywhere. I went to my favorite spot, where there were some large stone seats made of polished black alabaster.  There were 2 booths on either side. I wondered if it was possible to play still. There was an attractive and alert woman at the booth making coffee.  She smiled at me and pointed to my instrument.  “You play?” she asked in Korean.  I sadly nodded yes. “Good. Play here please.”  I felt some hope spring up yet. Maybe the day wasn’t ruined. I checked again with here and she was sure she wanted music.  YES!   I went over to the other side and asked the woman that  was at that booth.  She seemed concerned. There was a problem. Shit.  I couldn’t understand, but there seemed to be a problem.  Someone came by who spoke Korean and English. It was a minor problem. She just wanted to make sure that there was space on both sides and that was easy to do. I just moved over one seat.

So my day was salvaged. I was now part of the Fair Trade Festival. I guess I was fair trade. I wasn’t cheating anyone. I was giving the music away for free. People didn’t have to give me anything unless they wanted to. Then they could give me money, or food, or coffee. Coffee was the best. I play for lattes. I put my things down by the seat and walked over to check out the coffee woman’s operation. She was grinding the coffee with a portable bean grinder. She was selling coffee and other things too. She was selling coffee grinders, the little setups you use to make drip coffee, little silver coffee beans and bracelets. She even had pictures made from ground coffee . They were pretty good too. There was a portrait of Stephen Jobs. Did he love coffee too? What was the connection? As I admired the artwork, I heard “You want coffee?” She was beaming at  me.  YES. I was hoping for that. Not only was she letting me play there, she was downright friendly.  Then she was making it by pouring the hot water over the ground beans one cup at a time.  I watched her closely. Her left arm was flat on the table. She was leaning on it. Each finger had a sliver coffee ring on it.  As she poured the water through the filter, her concentration was intense. I looked at the coffee filter as she poured the hot water from a special silver pot with a long exotically curved spout. The coffee in the center where she poured the coffee foamed up a little. She poured the coffee in a little circle of about 4 centimeters that took up the center of the coffee in the filter. She poured only in that area. Her concentration was intense, like a Buddha. This was more than just coffee to her. This was meditation , this was a passion, this was her life.  This went on for about a minute. Finally she was finished. She looked up at me flushed. Perhaps she had just had an orgasmic experience.

I had an old Styrofoam cup in my bag and I took it out. Why waste a cup I figured. I held it out to her. She examined it for about 2 seconds. “No”  I was surprised then it all seemed to make sense.  She took one of her own cups and poured my coffee into it.  She gave me the cup. I took it and as she watched me closely.  I was careful to give it my full respect. I had lived in California for years. I knew about wine. I twirled the coffee in the cup. I noticed the color.  I stuck my nose into the cup. I sniffed. I raised my head and nodded at her appreciatively.  She smiled. I took a little sip. It was good. Nice flavor. Then, wait….wait….ah a second taste coming…and then a third. Very nice. She watched me intently. I raised my eyes to hers and smiled. Very very good. She smiled broadly, satisfied. She was a real artist. Really passionate; about coffee.  I like passionate people. It doesn’t matter what they are passionate about, as long as the strong passion is there.

I went over to my spot and took out my things. In about 3 minutes I was ready to play.  Those first few moments of playing were always important.  I was very sensititve to that initial reaction.  I turned the volume down and eased into it. The sounds of my saxophone seemed to mix in with the other sounds of the crowd and the city. I looked around. No one seemed alarmed. It was going to be ok. I relaxed and settled in. It was going to be a great day. People walked over to see where the music was coming from and listened awhile then went over for coffee and then came back and drank their coffee and then walked on. I was a part of the festival and all was well. I played for about 30 minutes happily. I looked up and there was the coffee lady. “More coffee?” Sure why not. And I walked over and got another cup. As I did though, I noticed that about 20 meters away on the corner there was a large crowd gathering.

It was a crowd of about 150 people. I wondered what was going on?  Was it another musician? Somebody famous?  I didn’t hear anything, but I feared the worst. Oh no! My day was ruined afterall. Shit. What could it be. I asked coffee lady to watch my things and I walked over.  I had to find out who it was.

I couldn’t see through the crowd. I walked behind the crowd though the bushes. Oh no. This was much worse than I could have imagined.  It was unbelievable. It was ……Pusan Bubbleman.  There were actually a number of Bubblemen in Korea that I had seen. They were all pretty much the same. Large buckets filled with bubble solution. Usually older men,  strutting around aggressively like a rock star. Inflated egos like the big bubbles they blew. Of course their egos were inflated because they drew huge crowds. What was it about Koreans that made them so attracted to bubbles. Don’t get me wrong, I like bubbles too. They are pretty. But my wild enthusiasm for them waned when I turned 8.  Koreans remain wildly fanatical about bubbles. Bubblemen always drew huge crowds.

By far the best though was not living in Seoul, but in Pusan.  This guy had taken it to a whole new level. All bubblemen used huge sticks with ropes attached to make gigantic bubbles. Pusan Bubbleman however had actually made his rope sticks into rope sculptures. One was a gigantic face. One was a huge bat. One was different fruits. If you watched carefully and used your imagination a lot, you could watch the giant face turn into a 3d balloon face for a few seconds. Or you could just enjoy the bubbles The highlight of the act was the amazing bubble within a bubble demonstration. In this one he put a bubble pistol in his leather holster.(all the bubblemen have holsters!) Then he picked up one of the rope sticks and created a huge bubble. With one hand he held 2 sticks like a marimba player and with the other he drew the bubble pistol deftly and blew bubbles inside the big bubble. It was beautiful. It was technically amazing. It was perhaps even metaphorical. This was always a crowd pleaser Here is where his real artistry comes out. As the big bubble starts to form, he blows the little bubbles inside.  It IS quite amazing, even for a normal person like myself,  I must say, but for Koreans, it’s an ecstatic experience. Now, how could I compete with that?  My day was ruined, and perhaps my entire playing at this site was over. Over in the time it could take a bubble to burst. Dejected, I walked back to my spot.

I continued playing next to the fanatical coffee woman.  A few people stopped now and then and then there would be an eruption 50 meters away at the Bubble site and the people would look up and hurry over to see what they were missing. It was depressing. Then I had a thought. It was that old saying, “If you can’t beat’em, join’em”.  The only problem was how would I ask permission from him? I was sure that he didn’t speak English. It would be so awkward.  Just them a young woman came over. She had stars in her eyes. She was adoring me.  Sometimes these people came along. Real fans. They loved my music; they loved what I symbolized to them. What to do with these people? I played a few more songs. The girl stayed, awestruck. A real fan will do anything for their star. Now was the time to test her devotion.

“Can you do something for me?”

“Sure anything. I would be honored.”

“Do you see that Bubbleman over there?”

“Yes.”

“Go ask him if I can play with him.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Go ask him.”

“ok”

She slunk away not too happy with her task. She looked shy, but hey, if you are a fan then prove it.  This was a test.

Now there was no one to listen to me. But that was ok. A few people looked over, a few threw some money into my hat. I looked over that way again. It seemed like the crowd was growing bigger even. I thought she would come right back but the song ended. I started another one. I heard a roar from over there. More notes, more people walking by, more change.  I finished the third song.  I couldn’t believe it. That fan actually conned me and just walked away. What kind of fan is that?  I looked over and that’s when I thought I saw her walking towards me. She looked dishelved, flushed, not well at all. I had asked too much of her. I over-challenged my fan. Maybe I had used her up. She didn’t look happy either.

As she got close however, her face broke into a big grin.

“He said ok”

“Really?”  wow. That was great.  The only problem was that I had all my stuff with me.

“It took a long time before he took a break so I had to wait.”

Ah. Silly fan. Doesn’t she know that I am important enough to warrant an interruption? Anyway, she did it. I wondered how far I could push this fan. Would she watch my stuff? I played one more song, waiting for Pusan Bubbleman to get back to work.

There is the famous rule of 3 in Korea.  Koreans are basically shy people especially around foreigners. If no one is watching me, no one else will stop. If at least 3 people stop then other people will stop. As I played a couple stopped to listen. That, with my fan made 3.  Also Pusan Bubbleman (Pubbleman) was taking a break. I suddenly attracted a small crowd of about 30 people. It was great, but I knew it was to be short-lived because I couldn’t possibly compete with Pubbleman.  I finished the song and as luck would have it I spotted another glazy-eyed fan.  Just at that time I heard a roar from Bubbleland. I told people I was going to play with Pubbleman.  Everyone was leaving anyway. I talked  to the other fan and asked her to watch my stuff for 5 minutes.  She eagerly agreed. I left everything there, even the money in the hat.  Fan’s are  the most trustworthy people on the planet.

I started over to Bubbleland with my first fan. We were both so excited. As I was about half way there, I was intercepted by a TV camera crew. This was a real TV team though, working together with a producer and a reporter. Through my fan they told me that they were here to film Pubbleman for a documentary film, but that they had heard about me too and wondered if they could film me and Pubbleman.  I was honored to be included in the same thought as the great Pubbleman.

“Could you go back to where you were before? We want to get a shot of you walking up towards Pubbleman.” They asked through my fan.  I had no problem with that.  I went back and walked like an important artist.  I circled behind Pubbleman. He was just warming up with some small bubbles; teasers really. I stationed myself in the bushes behind him.  As he dipped in the suds I played a descending scale to go along with his motion. As he brought it up, I went up. Pubbleman didn’t even turn around. He didn’t look surprised or angry. He knew I was there and kept on just like we had rehearsed it a thousand times.  What a pro! What style! What cool!. He blew a medium bubble and as it came out of the ropes like a baby pushing through the birth canal, I squeezed out some notes of my own in kind. . It was almost out of the ropes and a  good sized bubble it was, perhaps 3 meters in length warbling around , out of control lose in the world.  I tried to play like that. Then just as he twisted his wrists to set it free, it caught on the stick and burst in a shower of bubblewater.  The crowd groaned. Pubbleman shrugged his shoulders, and I played a Wah, Wah, Wah, that sounded like a sound on a computer game.  It was perfect. Just like we rehearsed it.

Not to worry, he quickly made another, even grander bubble and as it was set loose in the world, I tried to play that bubble. I cleared my mind so that only the bubble existed and I played its shape, its movement was my rhythm, its ups and downs were the movements of my melody.  I looked up. The cameraman was right on it. The reporter gave me the thumbs up. It stayed in the air like that, suspended for an eternity. When the bubble finally broke, I tapered off quickly.  The crowd applauded wildly. They sensed the connection. They thought Pubbleman and Frankhongdaesax were an act together. It seemed normal to them.

Now the big climax was coming; bubble in a bubble. I had seen it before but I was excited for the audience.  As Pubbleman picked up the trumpet, paused for a moment and looked to the side (my cue) he held it up to the sky and pushed on the keys. I was ready. I played some fast notes. It seemed like he was playing small bubbles with me. The crowd went wild.  Then he got to work. The big bubble came out. I played it. And then the little ones and I added trills to my original melody. It was …….burfect (bubble perfect). Pubbleman in his classy style bowed and then turned partially and motioned to me. What a class act. I bowed too. It was time for another break. I guess Pubbleman believed in leaving them wanting more. The crowd chanted for more, but he couldn’t hear them, he was busy mixing more solution.

Without him there was no reason to stay there. I was about to go back, afterall my slave, I mean fan, was guarding my things. Just as I started to walk back however, the Tradional Korean Place guards walked by. They stand in front of the palace and reenact the traditiional changing of the guards, that was normally done in the 1800’s when there was still a king in Korea; before the Japanese took over. . They are dressed in full regalia of the times, and even have fake beards and of course the most comical hats.  They play traditional instruments as they march to and from the front gate of the palace. They make this march 4 or 5 times a day, every hour or so.

I always try to respect them.  After all, I am the intruder here, playing jazz music in this rather sacred place for Koreans. I feel bad about this and apologize for it,  but I need a place to play.  However, when they march by, I always pause or sometimes play along with them. As they get near me, away from the tourists and up the hill to the place where they rest,  they stop playing all the instruments and just hit the drums.  At that point I often play the most important traditional Korean song, Arirang. I usually play it from a distance, but this time I am right there by Bubbleman. The corp is right in front of me now. I wonder what their reaction is.  I’ve always wondered about that. Do they like it when I play with them or do they think I am mocking them and being disrespectful?  Some of the men are dressed as guards and they have swords and lances. I wonder if they are sharp. Probably not, but for a moment I think perhaps they might run one of those swords right through me.  As they pass I bow repeatedly to show my respect.  The guards don’t even look my way. Not a smile, not a nod, not a wink.  Still the Bubbleman’s crowd seems to like it and they clap.

I go back to my spot and release my slave. The excitement is all over but I am still charged up. Bubbleman is packing up and I have the whole street to myself now.  Some of Bubbleman’s fans even followed me over.  As I start to play a crowd of about 30 gathers. As I look over the crowd I notice one man with an amazing energy. He is a monk. He looks at me with amused detachment. As I look at him, it is like I am looking in a mirror. I see myself clearly, without illusion. I am taken down to my basics, nothing like my illusions, my dreams, yet there is love there. There is acceptance. As I play I look right in the man’s eyes. They don’t waver.  My mind grows calm, looking at his gaze. I turn away to look at the rest of the crowd. When I look back to the spot, he is gone. I search the crowd to see him walking away, but I can’t spot him. He has disappeared.

I play a few more songs. Coffee lady brings me over a coffee. Its hot and strong and it has a complex flavor. She is completely absorbed in her art and I think how I admire her passion. The videographers walked over and they tell  me  when they will air the footage.  As they are about to leave, the coffee lady comes over and asks if I want more coffee. I say no thanks but encourage the videographers to have a cup. She smiles at me again.  Ask me if I want another coffee. Sure why not. She goes to make it and the producer notices it.  Soon the cameraman and the producer are over there and filming her making coffee in that special way. She doesn’t look up; she is all business. She smiles her beautiful smile at them.   They spend a few more minutes filming her and her amazing coffee.

Finally the camera team is packing up. I walk over to them and ask through my fan; Whats the topic of your piece today. They smile at me and say, “people of passion’  I can clearly see that coffee lady and Pubbleman are passionate, even fanatical about what they do. But I wonder, “do I fit into that category, of fanatical driven people. I ask the producer, “Am I a fanatic like Bubbleman and the coffeelady, He looks at me confused, likes it’s the dumbest question ever.  Of course you are. You are the best, the most  fanatic here today. Then I realized that they were right, I was a crazy passionate fanatic  like Coffeelady and Pubbleman.  Just then I saw the monk walk by on the other side. As he walked by me on the other side, he gave me a sly wink and continued  walking purposefully down the street.

London and Beyond

Probably the best thing about Elf School was that we met Sarah. We decided early on that she must be an elf herself. Who else would be such a fantastic generous person and such a fantastic host? Finding and picking us up in Brixton. Giving us her sofa bed to use, keys, hanging out with me when HY was down south in Brighton visiting old friends. She was just great and a very interesting person, having been an overseas correspondent in Afghanistan and other amazing places for many years.
With HY away and my luggage lost, there was no way to recharge my amp, I was fated to be a normal tourist in London, which meant walking around and seeing the famous sites like Big Ben, Parliament, the South side of the river which seems more like Disneyland than London, with all the tourists on a feeding frenzy. And seeing that marvel called the British Museum. Leave it to the British to categorize history like that and give examples, real examples taken from real places, so it comes to life. Of course the biggest marvel is how ignorant I am. I hadn’t even heard of many of these civilizations (nor they me to be fair) and here they were creating these incredible artifacts. I could spend weeks there,especially the tours where you can really get the inside stories. The museum itself is amazing too, from a presentation and lighting point of view. And it’s free, as it should be, after all the British stole that stuff from around the world anyway. I went there twice.
Also when i was there I had the chance to see 2 great movies, “the Big Lebowski” which i had somehow managed to miss all these years and a movie in the theater called “Begin Again”. It was eerily like the movie “Once” except set in New York” and it was made by the same guy, I think they should have called it “Twice”. But I loved it anyway. I guess I’m a sucker for teacher movies and unknown musicians making it big movies. Hmmmmmmm I wonder why. .When HY came back on Thursday, it gave us a chance to play some street music. What better place to do it than in Brixton. Honestly, I had never heard of Brixton before, but wow, what a wild and crazy place. Filled with lots of West Indian people, Rastas, and Africans, along with a sprinkling of whites, and white hipsters, the place was seething with energy. Just watching the exotic hair-dos were enough to keep me fascinated. The energy was slightly dangerous. Such a mix -n-match your bad, drugged out people, elegant people, super excited people, super cool people, people from the old countries, etc. …..what a place.
We found a place to play right on the corner. It was far from ideal, way too loud for that, but the area in the square nearby was occupied by a very large gathering celebrating the opening of the Black Cultural Archive. They were having a celebration along with music, poetry, dance, and even an invocation by a medicine woman (read witch, read strong woman) which was being translated into the sacred language of yoruba in real time. It was great and we watched for quite a while, but in the end we wanted to play. So we crossed the street and played on the corner. All the amazing people just looked puzzled. You guys are really good. What are you doing here though. go over there. Even the cop walked by slowly eyeing us. I thought, oh oh, but he just said the same thing. Why are you playing here? Everyone goes over there. In the end after about an hour, we bowed to social pressure and did move over in front of the Ritzy theater, where there was an outdoor cafe and people seemed resigned to the fact that street music was part of the experience. What was unusual for them though was to hear nice mellow jazz. They were used to music of a more wild and random nature, like digeradoo or some strange African instruments with kazoo or jaw-harp. We sat down on a little ledge in front of e theater and started playing. It was fun to get looks from all the interesting people walking by, many of whom would stop traffic in almost any other place in the Western world. Sarah showed up and she was all smiles, no doubt relieved that we weren’t absolutely terrible and that some lunatics were staying in her living room. Two pretty black women were standing some distance from us, dancing and smiling. They seemed to be our first Brixton fans. Turned out, one of them was a singer and we gave her the mic and she started singing up a storm. Her style was different from HY’s, more funky and soulful, whereas HY’s voice was more pure and feeling. We had a great time with them and even gathered a bit of a crowd. We even gathered a bit of change, but it’s not about the money of course. Later we went to a pricey Ethiopian restaurant (they charged 5 dollars for a bottle of water…that’s not pricey, that’s ripping off! ) that nonetheless had very good food. My pleasure to give Sarah her first experience with Ethiopian food. The next morning we were off to our next destination, Prague. It held some great treasures and disappointments for us.

First day in Lisbon

I have a confession to make. I am way behind in my writings. In fact I am 3 countries behind. But yesterday was so fun, I have to write it all down before I forget it. 2 counties ago, I had a bit of indecision episode. Prague or Lisbon. Prague or Lisbon. Prague or Lisbon. Or Prague and Lisbon? You see there were some people I wanted to see and wanted HY to see there, and she had never been there, but I had………..You see what I mean? I got seriously wrapped up. And like it always seems to go, I felt like I made the wrong decision by going to Prague; there were too many tourists, the food was bad, my friends had to go away after 2 days, it was raining…….You see what I mean. After or 5 days were up in the airbnb, I suddenly decided we should go to Lisbon for a week. After, it might be my only chance in life, I was sick of German/ Slavik culture, I had dreamed of Lisbon for many years…….You see what I mean. So I went way over budget, I splurged, I spent my plastic surgery money….you see what I mean. As soon as we arrived I was glad I did.
It’s a totally different feeling here. It’s laid back. It’s relaxed. It’s very multi- racial, I love the sound of Portuguese (that “ao” sound is like an itch I can’t scratch, certainly can’t say either…sounds like a cat yowl). We arrived at the airport, didnt have to show our passports or have our bags checked, got on the mero right there and found our room easily. We laughed at our typically sour pus Russian landlady who interpreted every question as an attack. we started our first full day in Lisbon, the last day of July 2014 with a walk around the park at Alameda Metro. It’s a strange park laid out like a long wide ribbon 300 meters long and 50 meters wide with a funny short grass that looks like a golf course green. We were greatly amused by a dog that kept drinking from the high speed water sprinklers by grabbing the stream close in and getting everything wet then running back away from the sprinkler and biting down on the stream as he went. It was hilarious and went on and on.
Then we went for a typical breakfast at a corner not fancy diner. That included coffees and pastries including something i later found out is a speciality of Portugal. There were so many pastries though that we made a solemn promise to try a different one each day. Then we went back, got our instruments and gear and went to the Metro. I asked the attendant, “Do you speak English?” “A little,” he replied. He then proceeded to explain how to put money on my ticket in perfect English. As I left, I thanked him and said, “By the way, you are a liar.” he looked shocked and upset. “you don’t speak English a little. You speak a lot”. He laughed relieved. How often can you call someone a liar and get a smile in response? I couldn’t pass that chance up. Arriving at Baixo- Chiado station and the first thing we saw was this very handsome young man playing the Cello beautifully. We had just watched the video of the experiment done by the Washington Post of Joshua Bell. If you don’t know it, they put a very great concert violinist in the subway with his Stradivarius violin and had him play for 3 hours. In that time more than 5000 people phased by, and 7 stopped to listen for more than a minute. Well here was the same situation. This kid was great and we were the only ones listening. At the end we talked with him. His name was Christian and he was from Latvia. He told us he often makes up to 350 Euros a day. He invited me to play a song together but actually it didn’t work out well. He couldn’t play with some chord structure freely and he could feel it wasn’t working (to his credit, as could I ) we parted in a friendly way. Walking around the unfamiliar streets we sighted the water down the street on the right side, so we walked down that way. We came to an immense square Teatro do Paco. It was huge, many 200 meters by 200 meters. It was so huge, that the hundreds and hundreds of people milling around seemed to be very few so the place seemed empty. In the middle was a colossal statue showing God’s angels trampling His enemies with horses and elephants. It was so cool. At the head of the square was a colossal arch, and at the bottom, the water. Lisbon you see is built near the end of the Tagus river, and the beach doesn’t start for another few kilometers. Across the river they have a stunning ripoff of the Golden Gate Bridge, right down to the color, and a poor copy of the big statue of Jesus they have in Rio. This one is only a cross though on a body like cylinder. Around the square were nice outdoor restaurants, with waitresses with pasted on smiles waving at you like you were long lost friends to come and sit at their place. We avoided one then went into the tourist office and asked a million questions till they were glad to see us go. Then we went out and I challenged HY to go ask one of the restaurant waitresses to see if we could play there. The woman was so excited when we actually came up, that she forgot her fake smile. “we want to play music here”, we stated. “you have to talk to the manager over there.” then she went over and interrupted him from his conversation and he came over. His name was Joaon (theres that funny sound again. He was immaculately dressed in nice jeans a a beautiful cotton shirt. and he had a goofy friendly face. We explained that we wanted to play. He was very friendly and interested but explained that he had no money to give us. HY made a great move by saying we didn’t have to be paid at all. Joaon got excited and said we could play for an hour for a free meal if we liked, and we did like that deal. It was just 200 pm the last hour of siesta so we started right in. Right away we could tell it was a good move. People adjusted their chairs and started listening and nodding. Joan stood the whole time listening intently and smiling and giving us thumbs up. People started coming over and putting money in our (ever-ready) hat. New people walking in, choosing our place over the others. One beautiful woman came over and then dropped in some money and sat alone and listened to us sadly but happily. There was something different about her. Near the end of our set, we looked over and she was holding the pigeons in her hand. It was amazing and so unusual, that i took pictures (while playing). We played an hour and a little more, then Joaon motioned for us to sit down and brought us a most wonderful meal. An arugula salad, a kind of cucumber pasta with a lovely red sauce, wonderful bread with olive oil and fancy mustard and for drinks 2 large glasses of red sangria. The sangria was so strong though that we both got drunk. Sitting next to us was the woman. It turned out she was a prima ballerina from Paris here for a few days for a friends party. We asked about the birds. “I used to study birds, swans in particular as part of my dance training. They are so graceful. I would watch them for hours, and try to feel what it was in them that made them so graceful. I have a great sympathy for all birds now and I let them know I don’t want to hurt them, and they come to me when I want. It was amazing. We finally left the restaurant around 4 with Joaon telling us to come back anytime we wanted. I’m sure we will.
HY wanted to be alone and write for awhile so we looked around for a coffee shop that she felt comfortable with. It turned out to be a chocolate shop called cacao (that sound again) just like in her favorite movie “Chocolate” the people were extremely nice to her and she had a great time writing, drinking coffee and eating great things. I walked around the streets of Chiado still quite drunk. Around 7 we met again. She wasn’t quite ready but I arranged for her to come around the corner on the steps near where we had first met the Latvian cellist. I was a little disappointed when there were some others musicians there, but not to worry, I just asked if I could play with them, and they heartily agreed. There were 3 of them and actually they looked a little drugged out and ragged. They seemed serious about making some money so they could buy a bed for the night, but what could I do, it was there spot and I needed to stay there. Ones name was Tech and he was from Wales. Another was from France and he played a nice box and did some amazing thing just by laying the cymbal on the ground. Finally there was Killian from France but living in Portugal. Tech played some pretty nice Django Reinhardt style guitar. We had a good time playing a few swing songs. The guys said that they had to go though to make some money playing at outdoor cafes. They wanted me to come along but i really didn’t like that. Too much like begging. But where was HY? Just when they were about to leave she came sauntering up, so we did a few more with her, then they left, except Killain, he stayed with us. That was fine, we had the spot to ourselves, by now it was 830 pm and the place was clearly dying, not many people were around anymore. We played a few songs and met some pretty cool people. One was wearing a beautiful shirt and called himself a citizen of the world. I tried to get him to exchange shorts with me and he almost did it, but instead said he would give it to me next time we met, which he seemed to program into the universe right then and there. Another was an artist who drew a nice drawing of our band. She was waiting for a student photographer and they were going around photographing homeless people and asking them what their childhood dreams had been. They had this amazingly bright compact LED light to get interestingly lit night shots.mi got him to take my picture too as part of the series too. Finally they all left. It was just the 3 of us, Killian, HY, and I. Killian didn’t want to seem to leave. He was like our loyalty dog now. He kept rolling homemade cigarettes and sprinkling hash into them. Probably that was why he was smiling constantly. He said he lived up on the hill and would show us some places where they had live Fado music. We went with him and the hill was very very steep. We labored up for about 15 minutes and came to 3 places where there was music. The owner was standing outside the first place. His skin was as read as a cooked lobster. We heard some music coming from inside but it wasn’t live. That’s coming on in 15 minutes and she is much better than that. We said we would come back later. In the second place there was a very nice singer and guitar player. He was finishing at 10 so we said we would come back another night. The third place was finished some went back to the first place. It was a rather elegant looking place so my rip-off sensors went up on alert. Instill remembered the restaurant in brixton that charger us $5 for a regular bottle of water. It was a scam many places we’re running, charging for regular water. Even though it was embarrassing, we started asking, is there a charge for water. Usually the answer was yes. I don’t like to be scammed so I started bring a bottle of water with me. If they don’t like it, too bad. A man came up to the table and told us about some breads and cheeses, asking which we liked.mi had to ask, is there an extra charge for this. He nodded sheepishly, yes. By that time the much heralded singer was due to come out. The 2 musicians playing some mandolin looking instruments played a warmup song. Then a man came up and told everyone to be quiet. We were about to hear Fado and it was a sacred music and everyone had to be absolutely quiet. He even hushed one table of tourists. When everyone one was quiet, they started playing dramatic music. The curtain behind the stage started rustling. There was a lot of tension. The rustling continued a long time. What was going on? Couldn’t she find her way out? The tension was killing me. Finally she stepped out. She looked like a witch or a very bad female impersonator. Remember Tiny Tim. Then she started singing, and it was angry and ugly and rude music. It was like she was vomiting on the audience. The other people in the audience , tourists mostly were sucking it up. They wanted to be exposed to and understand Fado. It was a culturally experience for them. But I had heard a recording of Mariza singing Fado and it wasn’t like this. The waiter came by and wanted to know what we wanted. The menu was expensive with 12-20 Euro entrees and drinks etc. I felt like we were trapped. Then I realized , no we were not. It was just a time to be honest. No we don’t like this music and we are going. Tiny Tim was busy emoting vomit all over the stage and seemed shocked that we would dare to get up during her amazing performance, but that’s what we did. We just walked right out. in fact we had to walk in front of TT and she said some nasty things about us as we walked out, but we didn’t care. We escaped. By now HY was hungry. we went back to the center and found a restaurant with tables set up in the street. HY had some steak, I just sat with her.,I was still a little hung over from that sangria. The waiter was from Bangladesh. I asked him about the George Harrison song “Bangladesh” which was kind of a national song there. Of course he knew it. So I played it and all the staff, who were also from Bangladesh, we’re smiling broadly. I played another George Harrison and then transitioned to some Beatles, and then before I knew it I was a DJ. It was the to my first official Day in Portugal. It had been an amazing day. We had had an amazing string of good luck. Friday wouldn’t be nearly as good. How could it be? And anyway you shouldn’t compare days. They are what they are. And we are…….. changing all the time.

Riding around Iceland

After spending 10 days in Reykjavik, we decided it was enough, but what else was there to do? Of course, all the good museums, bars, and culture were there in the city as well as most of the people. There was, of course something else, the main attraction of Iceland, the natural beauty. But how to see it best? You could take tourist bus tours. We went on one called, the Golden Circle. That however, like everything else in Iceland was rather expensive, $150 for the 2 of us for a 6 hour ride. Still, it was great. We saw 2 major waterfalls, geysers and mud pits, and a historical area that was built right on the point where the North American plate and the European plate come together. You could see that too, as the American ridge rose up about 20 meters from the other. It was kind of scary and awe inspiring. Icelandic people told us the plates move with the same speed that our fingernails grow, about 2 cm a year. Anyway, I wanted to go further, see more, be independent and free. That meant renting a car. Online I looked and found a car for about $90 a day. I figured 2 days to get around the island. People told me it took about 16 hours of straight driving. So I took the plunge and made the reservation. There was a guy staying permanently in our airbnb named Jon. He seemed like an ok guy. Not too friendly, but I became interested in him when he told me he was a commercial deep sea driver. He told me all about it. Mostly he laid deep sea cables and worked in a dry suit. Never had any problems, but one of his colleagues died in an accident once. When I told him about the rental car, he cocked his head and said, “hmmmm. Thats a lot for a car. Damn this country, everything is so expensive for you. The most in the world”. I nodded. ” suddenly he said, “you know, I’m not using my car for a few days, why don’t you take it.” I couldn’t believe what he was saying. He didnt even know me. We had talked about 20 minutes. Too bad i had already rented. Anyway was he really serious? A day before we were scheduled to leave, the rental car company emailed me that they didn’t have any cars at that price after all. Thanks for letting me know jerks. I approached Jon that night, “were you really serious about the car?” “Sure, why not?” unbelievable his generosity. And it was a nice car, a Peugot sporty model, with a dual manual automatic transmission. Seeing as we had no other option, we took him up on it. Our plan was to drive along the South coast, hoping to meet some glaciers, then turn north and end up in the village of Seydisfjordor (which was on a fjord) which was having a music and art festival, and the cut across the top to number 2 city of Akuryeri, which lies above the article circle, then swing down back to Reykuvic. Since everyone told us it would take 16 hours to drive all the way around the “Ring Road” we figured the first leg to be about 6 hours and would arrive on Thursday night. What a gross miscalculation that was. Of course there were a lot of places to stop along the way. We hadn’t driven 1 hour when we came to a geothermal power station. That I HAD to stop in. It was fascinating for me. They generated power by sending super-heated steam through turbines. They also generated hot water for the area as a byproduct. They let us look right into the plant. We’ve got nothing to hide, they kept saying. What was also amazing was the ground around there. It looked like nothing I’d ever seen. Like the insides of someone’s intestines, or a microscopic view of the inside of a nose. If you examined it closely there was about a 6 inch layer of spongy moss covering most areas. Those that weren’t were a kind of dark slag and volcanic rock. As we drove we kept looking at the ever-changing eerie landscapes. There are 4 major glaciers in Iceland covering more than 10% of the area. 2 of then are accessible from the southern Ring Road. Of course you have to stop for a glacier and we did. It was only a few kilometers from the main road. Seeing the glacier at first was confusing. It looked like black rock mostly and some ice. But on closer examination, it was ash from volcanos of years past that was dusting the glaciers. Underneath was ice. Also as we got closer we could see the magical blue ice. It’s a color unlike any other. There seems to be light coming from inside the ice, but in a very mysterious way. Unearthly. Walking on the glacier is a little scary, but fun. Every once in a while you come to a crevice, that carooms deep down into the depths. Of course I had to eat some glacier,tasting water that has been there for more than 10,000 years. It tasted good. Lots of minerals. Of course I had to pee on the glacier. Well, I guess it’s a guy thing. Just think, my pee will outlive me. The really fascinating thing is to watch the huge chunks of ice floating around like giant ice cubes in the worlds biggest mixed drink. If you are brave enough to get in the icy water and try to push one of those chunks you will be surprised. They don’t move easily, even though they are floating they still have tremendous mass and don’t want to move easily. Ok. So much for the science lesson.
Also along the way were some tremendous waterfalls, the kind that are on postcards. The kind that you can walk behind. And get soaked. What fun. In fact, as we drove we noticed so many waterfalls. One mountain might have 10 waterfalls. Small ones but beautiful because they look like strings of silver or tears. We probably saw 1000 waterfalls as we drove around the island. Maybe they should call the country Waterfallland, not Iceland. But as we got further and further east we were awed by the endless string of majestic mountains that billowed out of the sea into the grey skys. And yet there was something wrong. None of the mountains had trees. In fact, Iceland has no native trees, just small bushes. They’ve tried to import trees, but that 6 month darkness, doesn’t encourage tree growth. The joke going around Iceland, which we heard 4 or 5 times is, “what do you do if you get lost in an Icelandic forest?…. Stand up. ” the effect of mountains and landscape in general without trees is subtlety disorienting,; you know something is wrong but you can’t put your finger on what it is. It’s kind of like the 24 hour light. Your body knows its dark time, but your mind wants to stay awake because it’s light. We had nowhere to sleep, so I just drove till I got tired, about 230 am I guess , and slept till I woke up and drove some more. It’s a good thing too because that 16 hour figure was way off.
Not too long before we turned north, we came to an amazing place at Hofn. It is there that the glacier ices break off and float in the river. Huge chunks the size of riverboats serenely float. We arrived around 5 am. You would think its quiet, but there were thousands of birds and there was a feeding frenzy. They were going crazy, plucking small something’s from the freezing waters and then flying out and flying back. The din was deafening. If you watched closely, the birds were bringing their bounty back for other birds. They were feeding them mouth to mouth, beak to beak. My guess is that the male was feeding the female. Wow. What a life! I want to be a female bird living at the glacier in Hofn for my next life. I really hated to leave that place. It was sooooooo magical. We didn’t arrive in the eastern city of Seydisfjordor until 3pm the next day, 30 hours after we left. Of course it didn’t help that I was taking pictures a mile a minute, or that I had to stop frequently to do that. It got worse after about 12 midnight when there were no cars except me, and I could stop in the middle of the road whenever I wanted. I couldn’t resist. It was too fantastic. I took about 1000 pictures in 60 hours. Eventually we got to Seydisfjordor. It WAS lovely. But we weren’t too impressed with the festival so we drove on after a few hours. Another all night drive arriving at Akyekuri around 4 am. Another nap in the car and a nice time walking around the town. It had its own famous church done by the same guy who did the Volcano church. It wasn’t as intense but also very modern and lovely. Here we also saw some surprisingly good art museums. We headed out around 3 pm in the rain, hoping to get back to Reykuvic around 10 or 11 pm for some nice street play. Things went pretty well after a long night. We were driving through a large desert area. After about 5 hours of driving, we came suddenly and unexpectedly to a big hot area just off the main ring road. Hot with steaming ground, mud pots, hissing sounds, and sulfur smell. It was great and we stayed about an hour walking around the mysterious wasteland in awe.
Just to backtrack a bit, when we were coming from the airport to the city in a big transport bus, there were 2 women sitting next to us. I asked then why they were in Iceland. “to photograph the horses.” we thought it was quite funny because the one woman rather looked like a horse, and also, what a strange thing to do. Later we were to find out that Icelandic horses are a big deal among some people. It seems they come from a special breed brought over by the Vikings. In fact the government protects them. You may not bring any other type of horse into the country, and exporting these special horses is a big business. A guide told us that they have a special way of walking that other horses don’t have. Regular horses can walk in a few ways like, gallop, canter, whatever, but these horses can walk with their 2 feet together like a camel. Sounds like bloody rubbish to me, but whatever. Still i had to admit, they were beautiful, with their beautiful manes flowing over their handsome heads. Near Seydisfjordor, we saw a couple of horses standing by the grocery store. I thought to stop and see them, but I didnt because we were tired and wanted to go on. A few minutes later i regretted that. As we were getting within a few hours of Reykuvic i was really feeling i had missed my chance. Then i saw a bunch of horses by the side of the road, and the owners were doing something with them. I made a u-turn and came back. The owners didnt mind and suddenly there they were. The most beautiful horses. We could touch and pet them. The mane of my favorite horse, was a tan color, a few shades lighter than his chocolate brown skin. It looked like he’d jus had his hair styled. They were so friendly, almost eager to be with us. And it seemed like they had expressions on their faces. They actually smiled. The owners who were preparing for a 10 day horse ride, took most of the horses, in a galloping stampede, across the road, and they all followed. That left about 4 with us. We stayed as long ss we wanted, and had a grest time with those horses. I actually felt sad to lesve them. I gsve them names, and now i miss them, and i am definetly not a horse person, or I wasn’t before. Now i am an Icelandic horse person. We drove on, and it wasnt long before we could see the famous Volcano church looming off in the distance. It was amazing though how far we drove after we saw it, anothher 30 minutes it seemed. That church is visible a looooooong way off. We somehow managed to find our home and parked at the bus station. We went directly to play. Although it was good, it wasn’t as good as it had been the previous week. Still we were raking in the money. We decided we would give that money to Jon as a thank you, but in the end it was too much so we gave him about 130 dollars of that and 3/4s tank of gas, another 100 dollars value. I was worried how to get Jon his keys. He had told me he would be home and that I should just push the keys through the blinds. At 630 am I walked to the window and heard some voices. One was female. I was embarrassed but what could I do? “Jon. I’ve got your car.” “hey Frank, I’m here with a really beautiful lady. Do you have a condom?” luckily I did. I pushed it, the keys and the money through the Venetian blinds. Jon didn’t even ask about the car, the trip, or anything else, and who could blame him. I gave him the one thing he really needed, just like he had given to me.
In the end, driving around Iceland was probably not such a great idea.,the cost of gas was astronomical, I don’t even want to think about how much I paid in gas. The long endless driving, sleeping in the car, eating in the car. Yet now that I’ve done it, I wouldn’t want to give those memories up. I feel like I KNOW Iceland. That crazy, quirky, mysterious hot zone, with it’s beautiful and beautifully different people.

Ice cream and Bjork

On Sunday, July 13th we moved to a new place, much closer to the center of Reykuvik . The 30 minute walk one way to the place we had been staying was wearing us out, and anyway it didn’t have a shower. To take a shower, we 1; walked to the geothermal beach, 2; went to the public swimming pool and sauna, or 3; didn’t. After dragging our luggage the 30 minutes to the new place we were exhausted, but happy; until we saw the room, it was tiny, and not the $45 we expected, but $60. Oh well, travel often has these unexpected calamities. But we soon found out that the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. The location was great, just minutes from the center, and in the coolest neighborhood. Exploring the first afternoon, we came across some activity in a small paved area. We were not shy and talked to the 3 artistic looking types who were mulling around. It turned out to be the opening of an art project of sorts. The city had given a grant to these three artists to turn a small paved paid parking area into a park.mthey could do anything they wanted. They had erected a tetherball court, painted the rubberized asphalt pink and put in a stage. Also there was a small grassy area about the size of a grave that seemed so ridiculous surrounded by all that artificiality that it cried out sarcasm. “come back after 2 pm and we will have free ice cream. That did it. In our deprived stimulated state, ice cream was irresistible. That gave us 2 hours to walk around and explore the neighborhood. It was filled with interesting and quirky murals and we were really glad to be there. At 230 (fashionably late(we didn’t want to appear to be overly eager, although we were) we arrived, and true to their word there was free desserts, like popsicles and ice cream , though of an Icelandic sort. Everyone was just hanging around so I had a great idea. I approached one of the artists. “hey would you guys like some free live music?” she was delighted. ” of course. that would be amazing!” our place was minutes away so we collected another ice cream and headed over there to get our gear. 10 minutes later we were setting up, and the party seemed in full swing now that there was some focus. There were about 40 people relaxing around the area and we took out our amps and started playing. We played 4 songs, one solo jazz saxophone, 2 Korean songs by Hye-Young, and one jazz duet. We could have played longer but we thought its always better to leave them wanting more (if they did). After we finished, we expected people to come up and talk to us, but they didn’t. They clapped enthusiastically, but that was it. We were left alone and felt like wall flowers. We found out later that Icelandic people really respect each others privacy so it was not a slight at all. I decided that I would use our status as performers to good purpose and walked over and sat down next to a nice looking young man, perhaps 35 who was talking to an older woman. He looked over and said he enjoyed our performance. We started talking a bit. His house was right there next to the park and he answered our questions about its distinctive architecture. It had in fact a notable history. “by the way, what do you do, anyway? , I asked, wanting to get a little deeper. The woman answered smiling, “actually he’ s the mayor of Reykuvik.” I looked at him questingly. He smiled rather sheepishly. “Yes, that’s right, I am” it seemed that he attached no status to his job, it just was his job. I however was greatly impressed. “nice to meet you, Mr. Mayor.” I said shaking his hand. You are so young to be mayor. What kind of background do you need to be mayor, if I may ask? ”
Again the sheepish look. “well, actually I am a medical doctor” obviously a high achiever. So we talked a bit about the city and Iceland culture. Then suddenly he said, “by the way I took some pictures do you 2 performing. And did you notice that Bjork was over there listening to you? What? Bjork? “the” Bjork was listening to us play. I couldn’t believe it. For those of you who don’t know, Bjork is big. BIG. The biggest thing in Iceland and a sensation around the world. She listened to me? “and I took some pictures of you playing with here in the background. I can send them to you” wow. Amazing. About 10 minutes after we stopped playing another group came up. They hadn’t planned to play but saw us play and also volunteered. After they played, a third act came up, a woman who was a protege of Bjork who had the strangest but most interesting voice. For lack of a better description she sounded like a beetle. Not the Beatles, but a beetle. But very interesting uirky and strange, like Iceland. Later i saw Bjork and I couldn’t resist walking up to her and speaking with her. “how did you like the Korean songs” at first she looked a little taken aback that I was speaking with her, but I didn’t do anything really stupid like Sk her for her autograph or a picture. ” they were really beautiful” she said sincerely. That’s it? No record deal, guest appearance at her next concert? That was it. But it was enough. I was doing it the Icelandic way. Cool. Very cool. She was my neighbor and a superstar, but so whT. I nodded in my coolest way and said, ” glad you liked them”. She smile (at me) and I walked off coolly
look at all that happened, and just because we wanted ice cream.

Heating it up in Iceland

Saturday was a day for walking around, visiting museums, getting lost etc. it was fun just walking with no destination. Although looking for the artist area, we got lost in the port area which was fine. We found the most popular ice cream parlor in the city which doesn’t compare to Handel’s or Kate’s in Youngstown. Ohio, land of the best pizza and maybe the best ice cream. By the time we got back HY was tired and so it was up to me to go out and play street music alone. I learned a lot about life in the Reykjavik that night. For one thing, things don’t start heating up until midnight. Why is that? Drinks are so expensive, that everyone drinks at home until they are almost drunk, then go out and have one more drink. I was sitting at my regular place with a view of the Volcano Church at about 1030 pm. It was a little slow and then little by little things heated up until they started peaking around 1230 and crested there for the better part of 3 hours. It had been about 10 days since we had been there, and I was just getting used to the looks of the people.At first I thought they were strange looking, with their sharp features and hay colored hair. Little by little they were getting under my skin. Every once in a while I would see a woman of just unbelievable beauty,with features so exact and so delicate that it looked like she had been chilled out of porcelain. Around 1230, they started strolling by. Strangely enough it was the men I was impressed with. These were young men in their early to mid twenties for the most part. They were dressed in very stylish jackets that seemed too small but were elegant. I don’t know the name for this style but it was attention-getting. The young men were carefully styled and groomed,with elegant expensive leather shoes, flowing linen shirts and tight pants. But it was their poise and positive attitude that struck me. These young guys,mere so classy, they put me to shame. In beautiful English with a slight accent which made them sound aristocratic, they talked about everything with me, encouraged me, charmed me, and tossed money in my hat. It was nonstop until 330. They seemed to genuinely like the music, but more than that, they wanted to welcome me. One young man passed me 3 times, Every time pausing to listen a few seconds and then give me a thumbs up. Another young guy with 2 friends yelled from across the street, “Excuse me sir, but you are the coolest dude ever.” I love that, especially the “sir” part. To be seen as a super cool old guy is perhaps the greatest compliment, I’ve bridged the generation gap. Another guy leaned his head in about to drop some money into my hat when he looked in and smiled, never mind, you’ve got enough already.” Yeah I did. When I got home I counted about $200. But you know, it’s not about the money. I have a great memory of the cool elegant young men of Reykjavik giving me their good wishes, and that is worth a lot more than $200 or $20,000 for that matter.