Archive for the ‘busking’ Category

ONCE: a busker movie

Posted: October 4, 2009 in busking

I recently saw the movie “ONCE”, starring Glen Hansard as a busker on the streets of Dublin. Quite nice.
I’m glad I hadn’t read the plot description on imdb.com first, because it sounds a bit chickflicky: “A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story.”

Overall it’s a movie that shows the ups and downs of playing on the street, being an undiscovered talented artist (that’s what all buskers think they are). The singer is ignored, underpaid, robbed and lonely. Pretty realistic.

A bit unrealistic is the fact that a busker seems to be able to get girls by singing heartbreaking songs about past romances. A feelgood story about a busker? What’s next? An Auschwitz musical? But hey it’s just a movie and I enjoyed it.

Thumbs up for the songs in this movie and I encourage buskers to play them, because I like the concept of “meta-art” (you know a busker playing songs that he heard an actor sing that played a busker).

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If there is one thing al lot of artists want, it’s street credibility. Thanks to producers, songwriters, studio musicians, lip-sync and make-up artists, you don’t really need talent or be able to sing in key to become a superstar. But street credibility is one of those metaphysical qualities you just can’t put your finger on.

Buskers have tons of street credibility, they live and breath (and sometimes eat) the street! Showbizz-artists are quite jealous of this and so they steal their looks and behaviour from buskers. Remember the 90’s when every rock band started playing unplugged and thought they were buskers while selling millions of albums with acoustic covers of their own songs?

Rich and famous as they all may be, they wanna busk.
But they do it wrong…

Street credibility is not about drive-by-shooting another millionaire rapper from your limo because he dissed you in a song nobody can decipher the lyrics to anyway.

Nor is it dropping tv-sets from a five star hotel, when your tour manager paid up-front for the damage you make. (Most contracts stipulate a minimum of 5 tv’s per tour)
It isn’t flashing your genital or nipple area in front of paparazzi while leaving an exclusive club.

No, street credibility is… well like I said, it’s difficult to explain, but being a busker you know what I’m trying to say here.

Some artist have noticed this and start busking too. Check out Roisin Murphy (of Moloko fame).

What makes this not quite real busking, but a nice attempt is:

– buskers don’t bring a whole band
– buskers don’t bring a  BBC camera crew (it was broadcasted later)
Here’s another one by James Morrison busking for charity.

Yeah, the boy’s got talent but…

– buskers don’t bring mics and speakers that cost more than they make with busking for a year
– buskers don’t have press photographers lurking around

It mostly comes down to this, if an artist really wants to feel what it is like to be a genuine busker and gain the street credibility that comes with it, do it anonymous. Don’t warn your fans through your website and don’t bring the press.

When you know the feeling of being passed by uninterested people, when nobody applaudes after a song, when you really have to live from the coins in your guitar case, then you have busked. Then you’ve got street credibility.

That said, the short following clip features none-other then Paul McCartney doing exactly what I described (except I don’t think he really needs the money).

And here’s Bruce Springsteen in an unannounced guerilla street performance. Since he started out as a busker once, he doesn’t count as a busker-wannabe. He’s still got all the street cred he needs.

Well some interesting busker-related news found the way to the “Busker’s Handbook”-mailbox… apparently the most (and only) famous busker, The Naked Cowboy, wants to become mayor of New York!

“If it’s really chilly you only need a ukelele to cover up your privates.”

In a statement as to why he is the perfect candidate the wardrobely challenged busker said:  

“No one knows how to do more with less than yours truly, and that’s the kind of thinking I plan on sharing with my fellow New Yorkers when you elect me”

In these times of financial crisis these are words to live by. Especially when being a mayor will probably earn more than busking for broke Wall Street yuppies who would have long jumped out of their office building if they could figure out how the windows opened.

The fame of The Naked Cowboy is a beacon of hope for buskers worldwide. He is living prove that busking is a pathway to stardom or a carreer in politics. But that’s where you are wrong. You see, The Naked Cowboy isn’t really a busker. Have you ever noticed that he’s not famous for his guitar skills or angelic voice? No… he is NAKED!

And unless you come up with a similar gimmick you will still only be an annoying busker. Given the bodies most buskers drag around it might not me a good idea to start a carreer as The Nude Policeman or The Undressed Firefighter, wearing nothing but a cap or helmet.

“Be honest you wouldn’t be that cute.”

The Naked Cowboy is as much an ordinary busker as a topless car wash babe is an automechanic.

“You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.”, are old and wise words, but for buskers it should read: “You can achieve anything if you show your naked ass while playing guitar.” Even becoming mayor of New York.

So don’t get your hopes up fellow buskers and buskerettes. This story isn’t an example of how busking is the stepping stone to fame.
That said let’s all give a thumbs up for The Naked Cowboy’s campaign!




What do you do after a long day of standing in the mud listening to bands whose lack of talent is compensated by extreme volume, drinking beer at body temperature and eating undercooked hamburgers? You retire to your tent at the festival camping area to get some peace and quiet.

At least, that’s what you wish you could do. Because within a few metres of every tent there’s an asshole with a guitar who paid an expensive festival ticket, but spends the whole day sitting on a coolbox hoping for passing talent scouts that cannot find the stage.

Not seen in this pictures: 700 camping buskers

Not seen in this picture: 700 camping buskers

These are the dreaded Camping Area Buskers, which crawl around the outskirts of every festival just to be able to say something like “I played at Roskilde last summer”. Their repertoire ranges from bad covers of bands that play at the festival and the entire “Nirvana Unplugged in New York” album. And that’s if you are lucky, because some of them feel the urge to play their own songs.

The main reason earplugs are sold at festivals is not because of the damage the volume of hip bands can do to your hearing, but to protect you from having to hear buskers at the camping ground. It is strongly advised to use them. If you are a camping busker yourself, make sure people have earplugs in, because this may keep you from getting beat up by a drunken German.

Some other words of advise:

– Camping Area Buskers don’t make friends at summer festivals

– Make out 75% of the people in the First Aid Tent

– Never, ever (really never) was a singer that plays on the main stage of a festival discovered by a talent scout while playing besides his tent the previous summer.

– Make sure people don’t know which is your tent, because it will be the target of flying beer cans, bonfires, vomit and muddy combat boots.

That said… have a great festival summer!