It was a sucky day to be a street musician. The weather forecast said cold and rain later on, so I decided to get their early. I started to walk over with all my equipment (2 amps and a sax) which takes about 40 minutes. As soon as I crossed the street, a taxi signaled if I wanted a ride over. I decided to take it and save some time. It was a good decision because I was at the festival by 11 am. I found a place to play near the bridge where the entrance was. As I played I saw some South Americans walk by. They gave me the funny look and I thought, hmmm strange to see a South American. That was the start of hell for a street musician. Later as I walked to the bathroom I saw them there….. the worst thing…… Peruvians. They are all over the world and they are damned good. They wear beautiful clothes. Who can compete with the damned Peruvians. Their music is great and they do it with just a few instruments. Its uncanny. And its so politically correct. You know, they are Indians and all. What chance to I have with them around. That’s why I hate them. They always sound the same, and they are very short. Ok, they play way better than I do. I kept walking down and down and down, past the main stage where they were doing some kind of amateur singing contest, past the other guy setting up and saving a spot for a group street performance, past the Korean Army’s booth that allowed you touch all manner weapons including bazookas (I wasn’t so interested in that) , past the baseball throwing booth with the guy with a voice that sounded like he was trying to hypnotize you, past the entrance to the congressional building (with guards) and the bathrooms, further and further. There also seemed to be a marathon race on; a lot of people with numbers pinned onto their jerseys in running shoes. Didn’t see why that would affect me one way or the other.
Actually there was not good spot. At the end there was some Christian music station with the music booming. At least he could sing and at least he was better than the Christian woman at the other end, who just yelled at people. Im not exactly sure what she was saying but I’m sure it was something like,” you will go to hell if you don’t accept Jesus right now”. Someone should take that megaphone and make her a hat out of it. So I was caught between a band that was setting up soon and the Christian band. I took my stuff out and started playing. If I played loudly, I could only hear me and not the others clearly. Although not an ideal situation, it was the best I could get that day so I settled in. It wasn’t long before bad things started to happen. First of all a samualnori group showed up. A Samulnori band is a traditional Korean harvest festival band. Actually I like them but not when I am trying to play street music. They have 5 or 6 different instruments including a drum that looks a bit like a kettle drum, an hourglass drum played on both sides, another drum that looks like an oversized throat lozenge, a cymbal the size of medium sized bowl and a wild double reed horn. The thing about the samulnori is that it is really really loud. Having them show up is something like one of the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians for a street musician. It was almost comical. Ok Christians with powerful speakers on one side, samulnori bands, great winds, on the other, I guess God is mad at me for sure. In the end I had to move a few times a settle for less than ideal circumstances.
I was trying something new. Recording the entire session with my iphone. I noticed if I turned on the recorder it would lock in and record by itself for hours. That means I could record myself playing and any interesting interactions. Also if I had any brilliant thoughts I could just speak them out. Of course it might look like I am talking to myself if someone saw me later. The other drawback is that I would have to listen to it later. But I found that I actually like to hear myself play. Its interesting to hear how the playing goes through phases. Sometimes passing into very happy sounds sometimes sounds just like a flow. In this sense the tape could be like a soundtrack for the movie that I cant see later. I wondered what it would be like to make an actual video. I would like someone to come out an help me do that, but strangely no one wants to spend the time with me to do . No one sees that potential in street music that I do. It can be magical street theater.
“Do you know Jesus?”
“Yes. I heard about him?”
“You believe in Jesus?”
“I’m Jewish like Jesus.”
“Ok”…they are backing away …“you don’t a good job today.”
“No I have the best job. “
I don’t tell them that sometimes I feel like I am channeling music from the other side. Maybe who knows from Jesus himself, or maybe from Buddha, or maybe from the creative life force that lives inside all of us. When I let go and let it flow, I get in touch with the powerful force which brings others in touch with their life force. That can be jarring for some, joyous for others. When I am playing I am trying to find that zone all the time. I don’t know how to do that, but I think it is a bit like juggling. You have to keep your mind focused but not tense, a field of attention. Where do ideas come? Not from me, they come from my reaction to what is going on. What is going is the last note I just played. If I am paying attention to that it will spark an idea, a memory, a feeling. There is a difference between a feeling that comes as a reaction to something that just happened and one that occurs because of my thinking. The first is natural, unpredictable and has unlimited potential. It is linked to the universal energy or maybe the great unconscious (they say that we only use 10% of our brains. Sometimes with music I am aware of the other 90 %. But I can’t make it happen, I can only let it happen. For that to happen though I have to pay attention. Why not pay attention? Things get in the way, like my desires. Even my desire to play great music can get in the way, or my desire for attention, or to meet a woman. All these things take me away from the music. On the other hand, I do want to share it when it occurs naturally. When that happens there can be an amazing meeting of the minds.
A 3 or 4 year old girl rides by on her bike. She is honking her horn. I try to match the tones. There are surprisingly 3 tones. She turns around quickly when she sees me and rides away in terror.
But its not really the minds, it’s the spirits that can meet. We are joined for a moment by the music. We can both feel the same thing. Its funny people’s reaction to that moment when it happens. Some just smile the biggest happiest smile. They are happy in that moment, feeling the music. It’s not about me at all, but the music touches their soul. They are happy when they hear the music and they often want to acknowledge me. Sometimes its just a staring into each other’s eyes. It’s a completely calm place like a ripple free lake. The music creates ripples and we both feel them. Or they are like a harp that I can pluck. When I pluck, I can see their reaction, they ripple. They give themselves over to me in a sense. Some people when they are caught up in the music look almost angry, like they don’t want me to take over their minds. Or maybe they are distrustful and think this cant be real. They resist. I have to be careful not to get in the way. I watch myself and see how I act when the spirit moves me. I am looking for someone who heard it. I want to touch someone, not out of ego in that case, but a natural sharing desire. But its very close to my desrie for friendship, companionship etc. They are almost the same. I can’t control it yet but I am working on that very hard now. My tendancy is to play with my eyes closed, but that is not good. A Seoul guitar player used to chide me for that. Of course if my eyes are closed I miss any possible interaction and really that is so sweet, why should I miss that. So now I am working on playing with my eyes open. But I must do it with a pure mind. I have decided to try to look in an unfocused way at about hip level to passing crowds. Actually I can see with perriferal vision if people are interested or not. The worst of course is to be completely ignored. Then you start to wonder, “Do I suck?” But if I look closely, I can see that people usually notice the music and maybe even seem curious. So usually I am not being ignored completely, just people are not stopping for other reasons. Some may be on their way, some may be shy or afraid, some may be in the middle of talking, and yes, some are not interested. The reason it matters is that if I have a negative feeling about it, it can close down the channel. So I decided the only thing I should be thinking about as I play is, 1. The music, and 2. Finding someone to share the music with when I feel it. If someone is tuned in to me, then I can go back to the music and when I have another feeling, I know I can look to them to share it. That’s what im working on now as far as relating to the audience when I’m playing. Then the question arises, what to do when the music stops. Of course anything can happen. But as the leader, I have the right to look away first, to look at other people etc. sometimes people are just curious and want to look at me to see who I am. If I am playing, I am not (or shouldn’t be ) interested in them, because it takes me away from the music. If they are listening though or staring into my eyes what can I do? How about a wink? I’m not really a winker, but Ive been experimenting with that lately. Afterall a wink in an acknowledgement and cant be denied. It also can be done while playing and without the hands. What is a wink anyway. Sometimes people will clap as they walk by. I choose to ignore them. If they were really interested they would stop. They just want a reaction from me which takes me away from the music. I came up with a new response if someone seems interested (especially if they are good looking or interesting) when they give me the thumbs up sign. Instead of returning the thumbs up, I will just point back at them. Its more ambiguous yet to me it means “the same to you”. It requires less effort and its new. That and wink are my new toys.
A man walks right up and wants to sit next to me so his friend can take a picture. I don’t mind until he tries to put his arm around me. I have to say, “don’t touch.” I know it sounds a bit unfriendly and cold. But ive had too many people like that try to hurt me either intentionally or not. Often they are drunk and may be angry or just careless. I would rather people don’t touch me, unless I give them my arm first (especially if they are cute)
Also I’ve thinking about what constitutes a worthwhile encounter, and how do you end it? If my music touches someone briefly and they smile and walk away can that be satisfying to me. Can I take it in. Can I be satisfied with that.
Also important is to keep an open mind while playing. Maybe another idea will come to me as I’m playing, for example for my science class. We had the problem in class, what do you do if you are in the middle of a frozen lake and the lake has become so slippery that you can’t walk. You need friction to walk. If the ice was a little wet it could be that there was no friction. So how do you get the 10 meters to the shore. It’s a hard question. None of my students could guess the answer. Can you get it? Stop for a minute and think about it…I will leave a blank.
Ok….So you give up right? You want the anwer? Come on don’t give up so easy. Try again. Think. Ok here is a hint. …..Newton’s third law……I guess that won’t help you much but you could google it. …I will wait
Ok. Still don’t know. Well here’s the answer. You take your shoes off and throw them in the opposite direction that you want to go. That’s Newtons 3rd. Every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. So you push on the shoe and the shoe pushes on you. So here is what I thought of while playing. What about the same problem, you are naked and don’t have anything to throw. Well there is still a way. Yes you can fart. But what if you cant fart. You might say burb or blow out air, but that wouldn’t work because you have to breathe air in and that will counteract it (an inward breathe would push you the wrong way. So this is what I was thinking about while playing, the extreme example of the problem…..can you guess? You have to bite into your vein, get a mouthful of blood and spit it out until you reach the shore, Then if you have any energy or blood left you can go to the hospital. So thinking that thought surely takes me away from my music but on the other hand it could be a significant thought. So at that point I have to take a larger view. Am I just a musician or perhaps my talents are more encompassing than that. Why should I limit my creativity to one thing. In other words the universal creative energy can wear many styles of clothes. I try to keep an open mind. Sure music is my most accessible channel and it certainly has its wonderful aspects, but if I am not open to all then am I not trying to control it and maybe I am missing out on something. So that’s the dilemma, how much value to I give to an interrupting thought. It might be something that could be developed or it could just be a distraction. That’s why I thought the tape recorder might be valuablable. Instead of stopping playing and trying to write something down, I could just blurt it out and catch it later
Something interesting happened. To really tell the story I have to go all the way back to Facebook and Youngstown, Ohio. Last summer when I was there all summer, I met an amazing woman at a local bar. Most people would classify her as a hippy, and as a matter of fact she was coming directly from the Rainbow Festival. I saw her as a spiritual practioniner. I watched as she talked to a middle aged black woman who had a lot of street in her. By applying her love to her and listening, that woman was stripped bare emotionally in minutes. There before my eyes she let it all out. Her pain, her tears, her inner self was laid bare. Winyan, the spiritual womans name knew just what to do , it was like she was coaching her and giving the love and suppot the woman needed in a deep part of her that rarely saw the light of day or the light of conscious love. That amazing experience made me realize the power of love that Winyan had tapped into. Wow. I got her facebook name and forgot about it.
After getting occasional posts from her, I wondered, “who is this Winyam” I looked at the post and saw a very high level Buddhist post and I remembered. I read the post and I realized it was in a way similar to the things I had been thinking about , but at a much much higher advanced level, but basically the same. I will reproduce it here.
Of course you don’t have to read it all, just skip to the end if you want…
Adopting the Spirit of Awakening
1. I happily rejoice in the virtue of all sentient beings, which relieves the suffering of the miserable states of existence. May those who suffer dwell in happiness!
2. I rejoice in sentient beings’ liberation from the suffering of the cycle of existence, and I rejoice in the Protectors’ Bodhisattva Hood and Buddhahood.
3. I rejoice in the teachers’ oceanic expressions of the spirit of awakening, which delight and benefit all sentient beings.
4. With the folded hands I beseech the Fully Awakened Ones in all directions that they may kindle the light of Dharma for those who fall into suffering owing to confusion.
5. With folded hands I supplicate the Jinas who wish to leave for Nirvana that they may stay for countless eons, and that this world may not remain in darkness.
6. May the virtue that I have acquired by doing all this relieve every suffering of sentient beings!
7. May I be the medicine and the physician for the sick. May I be their nurse until their illness never recurs!
8. With showers of food and drink may I overcome the afflictions of hunger and thirst! May I become food and drink during times of famine.
9. May I be an inexhaustible treasury for the destitute! With various forms of assistance may I remain in their presence.
10. For the sake of accomplishing the welfare of all sentient beings, I freely give up my body, enjoyments, and all my virtues of the three times.
11. Surrendering everything is Nirvana, and my mind seeks Nirvana. If I must surrender everything, it is better that I give it to sentient beings.
12. For the sake of all beings I have made this body pleasure less. Let them continually beat it, revile it, and cover it with filth.
13. Let them play with my body. Let them laugh at it and ridicule it. What does it matter to me? I have given my body to them.
14. Let them have me perform deeds that are conductive to their happiness. Whoever resorts to me, may it never be in vain.
15. For those who have resorted to me and have an angry or unkind thought, may even that always become the cause for their accomplishing every goal.
16. May those who falsely accuse me, who harm me, and who ridicule me all partake of awakening!
17. May I be a protector for those who are without protectors, a guide for travelers, and a boat, a bridge, and a ship for those who wish to cross over!
18. May I be a lamp for those who seek light, a bed for those who seek rest, and may I be a servant for all beings who desire a servant.
19. To all sentient beings may I be a wish-fulfilling gem, a vase of good fortune, an efficacious mantra, a great medication, a wish-fulfilling tree, and a wish-granting cow.
20. Just as earth and other elements are useful in various ways to innumerable sentient beings dwelling throughout infinite space,
21. So may I be in various ways a source of life for the sentient beings present throughout space until they are liberated.
22. Just as the Sugatas of old adopted the spirit of awakening, and just as they properly conformed to the practice of the Bodhisattvas,
23. So I myself shall generate the spirit of awakening for the sake of the world; and so I myself shall properly engage in those practices.
24. Upon gladly adopting the spirit of awakening in this way, an intelligent person should thus nurture the spirit in order to fulfill his wish.
25. Now my life is fruitful. Human existence is well obtained. Today I have been born into the family of the Buddhas. Now I am a child of the Buddha.
26. Thus, whatever I do now should accord with the Bodhisattvas’ family, and it should not be a stain on this pure family.
27. Just as a blind man might find a jewel amongst heaps of rubbish, so this spirit of Awakening has somehow arisen in me.
28. It is the elixir of life produced to vanquish death in the world. It is an inexhaustible treasure eliminating the poverty of the world.
29. It is the supreme medicine that alleviates the illness of the world. It is the tree of rest for beings exhausted from wondering on the pathways of mundane existence.
30. It is the universal bridge for all travelers on their crossing over miserable states of existence. It is the rising moon of the mind that soothes the mental afflictions of the world.
31. It is the great sun dispelling the darkness of the world’s ignorance. It is the fresh butter formed from churning the milk of Dharma.
32. For the caravan of beings traveling on the path to mundane existence and starving for the meal of happiness, it is the feast of happiness that satisfies all sentient beings who have come as guests.
33. Today I invite the world to Sugata-hood and temporal happiness. May the gods, asuras, and other rejoice in the presence of all the Protectors!
Anyway I read through it quickly. I think its to get you in the proper frame of mind. That’s how Buddha approaches the world. Of course we should come to that naturally not by trying to force it. Anyway, I had quickly read that before going down. What do I see when I enter the festival but one of these paraplegic guys that you see around in Korea. They have one or both legs missing and they pull themselves around on a kind of dolley all they while blaring this old Korean music. Over their legs they wear this material like a scuba wet suit is made of. Nobody likes these guys (they are always men) because they are depressing and actually irritating because their music is so loud that you cant ignore them and its so bad. Its especially bad from street musicians because as soon as these guys show up, you cant play anymore. Also these guys are never smiling or cheerful, always kind of mean and grabbing and giving people dirty looks. I see them as some kind of lower life form. Even if you give them money, they don’t smile or say thank you, they just keep dragging themselves along.
So I see this guy and his very negative energy and manner and the first thing I think is “What a disgusting creature he is and if he is around me I won’t be able to play. ” Then suddenly I find myself looking at all his disgusting behavior and thinking the poor guy, of course he’s like that, he has a terrible life. Now wonder he is rude and selfish and depressed and these behaviors instead of making me disgusted almost make me smile because they are proof of his hard life. Of course he is like that. No wonder. And suddenly I feel a wave of love and compassion for the guy. Its not like I think he’s a great guy, he’s not, he has all these disgusting behaviors, but suddenly I can forgive them and appreciate where they came from. Later as I was playing about 200 hundred meters down the way, he and his blaring music box came by. I waved him over and signaled that I would give him money. That was a mistake. It took him a few minutes to get to me and the whole time I had to listen to his music. I reached into my “hat” and gave him 5 dollars worth. He didn’t smile or say thank you , he just looked at my hat which had about 30 dollars more in it as if to say, “Why don’t you give it all to me?” I just smiled to myself and he went on his way. As soon as he was past me I started playing again. About 30 minutes later he came back the other way. It was so loud that I couldn’t play, so I turned my music amp off and started playing along with his tape. It was kind of funny. I think he noticed but he acted like he didn’t. As he passed me I waved and he waved back but didn’t smile. Now Im not saintly or unselfish by a long shot, but somehow reading that text had an effect on me without me knowing it, and that was amazing for me.
All in all it was a pretty sucky day to be a street musician.