Open Letter from a Busker to a Passerby


Prague, Czech Republic

Howjeedo, Passerby, thanks for passing by. If not for your by-passing ilk I’d have nobody to play for, which would be a bummer.
Your bewildered look is well understood- chances are you had no idea I- or anyone else- would be here on the street wangin’ away at an old guitar and wailing to wake the dead. Perhaps this alleyway has historically been populated only by garbage men and amorous, one-eared cats. The element of surprise is one of the things I find so exciting about street performing: it’s unexpected, unsanctioned, guerrilla music (as opposed to gorilla music, which I imagine is even more surprising).

Busking descends from an ancient tradition of performance art practiced for millennia by various gypsies, minstrels, troubadours, snake oil salesmen, tap-dancing dwarves, fortune telling cats, horse cart magicians, bible pounding fire-and-brimstone damnation preachers, unicycle-riding bear wranglers, graybeards with natural disaster-predicting bunions, circus people, star-divining monkey jugglers, organ grinders, Delta Blues singers, and train-hopping, bindle-sticking, matilda-waltzing vagabonds of every imaginable stripe.

You don’t have to tip me; I’m not even asking you to, but my guitar case is open, and you’re invited to tip me if the spirit moves you. If you just want to throw a grumpy, surreptitious, sideways glance at the cardboard sign in there that says who I am and where I’m from and then move along, no hard feelings. If you want to walk by and execute a few goofy dance steps and/or smile at me, I’ll smile back; smiles are free. If you buy one of my albums I’ll be honored and excited to send my songs with you, wherever you’re bound.

Please know that no tip is too small to elicit my sincere gratitude. You’re supporting my ability to live in one of the most inspiring and exciting ways I can imagine, and I don’t have words potent enough to properly thank you for that.

I’ll admit that I get a kick out of imagining where the thousands of photos and videos taken of me on the street will wind up. For all I know, I may be the Elvis of Borneo or the Sugarman of Guam. I don’t mind the snapshots- I realize I look homewreckingly handsome in my red worsted vest- but I humbly suggest that if I’m interesting enough to be clicked into posterity, I might be interesting enough to toss a nickel at; you know, just a little contribution to help keep me so damn photogenic.

I understand, too, that some tourists think it’s cool to snap a souvenir photo of themselves posing with a street musician, some exotic city providing a dazzling backdrop as we both stand there looking as tickled as baby chimps at a petting zoo on fat camp field trip day. I’m happy to pose with you. Common sense and basic etiquette suggest that in this situation, you make a token donation (amount unimportant) and indicate that you’d like a photo with me. I’ll then smile and nod my assent. But listen: If you don’t plan to tip me, it could ostensibly be considered rude as hell to sneak up into my personal space like we’re bosom chums and stay frozen there until your girlfriend snaps a picture of me ignoring you while you give the thumbs up and grin like a refugee from Goon Island. This is especially egregious if you seem to come from a region in the grips of a devastating soap famine.

Souvenir hunting aside, though, I’ll reiterate that I don’t mind if you don’t tip me. But unless YOU are going to sing ME a song, dance the Lindy Hop on the curb, or sketch one of those adorable and utterly tasteless caricatures depicting me cruising down the Champs Élysées in a funny little clown car, I sure as shit don’t have to tip you either. This is a friendly way of saying that I dislike being robbed and will consider you discourteous if you try to steal money from my case.
Like the woman in Paris behind the art museum who, offering me a much-needed 2 Euro tip, accepted 8 Euro in change for what turned out to be a counterfeit 10 spot.
Or like the guy on the Damrak in Amsterdam who in passing reached down and scooped up a handful of change. This poor dingbat actually believed he had slyly and successfully pulled off a feat of slight of hand, the consummate skill of which would leave me with the illusion that he had added coins to my case.
This dazzling David Copperfield wasn’t smart enough to speed up or duck down one of the city’s many dark alleyways when I stopped mid-song and jumped down from my platform, nor was he macho enough to take a swing at me with his free arm when I grabbed his wrist. “No, I give YOU,” The thief trailed off impotently, still trying to salvage his trick like a sweaty, low-rent stage magician caught at an 8 year old’s birthday party with a dead dove down his pants. He made no resistance as I pried the coins- his heroic heist had probably netted him less than a Euro in 10 and 20 cent pieces- from his limp, mollusk-like fingers.
I could happily hammer out a book’s worth of pages on this subject with my inept and laborious single-middle-finger typing technique (I suspect it’s my noisy, ignorant inner Luddite that dictates the unconscious preference for this particular typing finger, a futile, anachronistic “fuck you” to a form of writing that doesn’t involve ink and pulp), but I’ll save myself the cramps and you the eye strain by bringing this letter to a close, saying once again, thank you, thank you for continually scraping the moss off of this ragged rolling stone. I’ll meet you in the square, or on the bridge, or on the corner this afternoon. If you please, bring along a little jingle-jangle, and I’ll bring along a little razzle-dazzle.