Sunday, February 22, 2004

by Jessica Delfino

I busked yesterday at the Astor Place station - that's the six line near the Starbucks near the other Starbucks around Cooper Union and Joe's Pub.

I've busked before, I used to always go to 42nd street, at the 7 train end of that long ass tunnel, and also on W. 4th street in the middle of the tunnel coming from the downtown ACE.

For those of you who don't know, a busker is someone who performs in the subway for change. I think there's a more technical definition, but for now, let's go with street performer who works for passing change (or in some cases, for free.)

So, now I don't go to 42nd street anymore. It got too creepy. Maybe it's better now what with Giuliani and his anti-porno crusade, and Disney and Toys R Us, but I don't think so. I got hit on way too much by the type of guys that girls don't like to get hit on. I met a few interesting characters also, but interesting characters don't pay my bills. When you're playing in the subway, people will come up to you and chat your fucking ear off, ask you your life story, where you're from, how long you've been playing the guitar, and stuff like that. It's nice to chat with weirdos underground. Being somewhat of a weirdo myself, I should either take solace in the fact that weirdos aren't out weirdo-ed by me, or I should be concerned that weirdos can sniff out my weirdness and therefore, have no trouble weirding around with me. However, the more you chat, the less you play, the less you play, the less dough you make.

Yesterday, I played for two hours and I made $25. Not a bad gig, really. The way I see it, I'm getting paid to practice guitar. I'm so much better now than I was when I started. When I first busked a few years ago, I was so bad. My voice was not confident and neither was my playing. Also, the people in Times Square were a bit meaner, kids and black women in their 20s would laugh at me and say rude shit, like, "Damn, she busted!" Whatever that means.

Still, I made alright money even having no skill and just the basic budding bloom of talent. Not to say I'm any kind of guitar wiz now or prodigal singer/songwriter, but simply having confidence makes up for a lot of lack elsewheres.

I don't play my dirty folk rock songs in the subway. There are too many kids. All I need is one parent to come over and yell at me or call the cops who would then ticket me or make me leave. Any way you slice it, it'd be shitty.

I played over at Rockefeller Center Plaza one day down in the concourse. That was the worst stop ever. I had this vision in my head of someone coming out of William Morris or one of the record companies or acting agencies over there and spotting me over the brim of their Au Bon Pain coffee cup and next thing you know, I'm signed (whatever that means) and I'm riding down to my storage facility in a limo to clear that shit out. (All my shit is in storage right now.) (I don't know why I'd take a limo to clear my stuff out of storage - it seemed extravagant to me, regardless of completely lacking any logic.)

But that didn't happen. I ended up playing for an hour and making 0 dollars and 0 cents, as well as getting a LOT of really weird looks from overdressed conservatives.

But look at Kaki King. Look at Patty Rothberg. They were just lowly buskers once. Now they are stars. Patty Rothberg, haven't heard from her in awhile, but Kaki is an up and comer who just signed a deal with a little record company called Epic. It's hard for me, though, since I can't play my real music on the platform, I have to do covers, and singing covers isn't really going to get me noticed. But, it will put some money in my pocket for lunch or beers.

So, next time you're over near Astor Place, say taking the 6 train uptown or shopping at K-Mart, listen for acoustic Joni Mitchell or Rush being voiced by flowery-toned maiden. That'd be me.

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