He appears to be neither hungry nor homeless. Some have claimed he is a music student. His playing suggests otherwise.
And the fact that he has chosen to inflict his lack of performing skill on people outside the LCBO store at Shoppers City — sorry, College Square — also points to an acceptance that he is not yet ready for bigtime busking.
Yet, in recent weeks as the sometimes-shirtless young busker has put his heart into his erratic live performances, I have become a fan. There is something compelling about an individual willing to learn an instrument — several instruments, even — in public. But hey, it worked for George Harrison. Scotty Moore, too. Hence, I say we thirsty westenders owe it to this budding musician to play the waiting game. And, I suspect, we’re in for a long wait.
I first took note of the local hopeful a few weeks ago, as he sawed his way through an attempt at Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 on violin. He was fumbling through the intro as I entered the LCBO. He was doing likewise as I left. And when I returned the next day (Yes, I buy liquor every day; you got a problem with that? Those Air Miles aren’t just going to accumulate themselves, you know.) nothing had changed. For all I know, he may well have played through the night and into the following day. Without any marked improvement. Which is a shame, as there is a touch of Ottawa Valley fiddling in his approach to Bach. Were he blessed with a modicum of talent, he might be able to work with that contradiction in style: Bach to the Valley, or some such thing.
Alas, we may see light rail in this city before that happens.
I admit that, while a fan, I have yet to throw this minstrel boy a coin, and am not keen to do so until he does for us one of four things: learn to play something beyond the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1; learn to play the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 properly; craft that oh-so-tempting new interpretation of a classic; or, at least invest in a cello rather than a violin, if your showcase number is to be a work for cello.
Am I being too hard on the bearded busker merely looking for spare change from patrons in search of a vice? Perhaps. In fact, I have been tempted to ask about his decision to bring his music to the public before mastering even one tune. Not that I haven’t seen bands do the same — Vancouver’s JR5 comes to mind. Busking can be entertaining, and for the gifted performer, relatively lucrative. In this instance, it may also be lucrative to the pharmacy stage left, as it has likely seen a spike in earplug sales in recent weeks.
I am, however, reluctant to share my critique of the young man’s playing, lest it destroy the Shaggs-like magic of the moment. It’s possible that he is indeed a music student in need of a few dollars — presumably to pay for a second lesson. It’s possible that he saves his best material for later in the day. It’s possible that he just really like’s Bach’s first cello suite, particularly the prelude. Fair enough. And I’m not about to tamper with a classic. The busker, I mean. Besides, I am reminded of the time when a contributor to a local newsweekly for which I was the editor (don’t look for it; it’s not around anymore) opted to review a homemade CD handed to him by a ByWard Market busker. The review was, I and he thought, balanced and not unkind, if lukewarm. The busker disagreed, and expressed his contempt for both review and reviewer when next the two met on ByWard. He did so in song, improvising scathing lyrics on the fly — for which he is to be commended. Another of our music reviewers, if memory serves, occasionally busked in the Market, playing bagpipes. (No, not that guy; this was the other one.) So respect to buskers, I say.
Heck, at one point back in the day I even considered offering a guide to the city’s buskers, with recommendations and ratings. Probably not the best idea, it was duly abandoned. Though, it should be noted, even Old Crow Medicine Show first performed in this town by busking in the ByWard. Talent is there, folks, and being able to command the attention of passersby within a window of mere seconds is a skill to be admired.
One which, unfortunately, our student of Bach at College Square has yet to acquire.
He’s working on it, though. Bless him. Recently, I was impressed to see our resident ‘musician’ forsake his violin in favour of an elaborate one-man-band schtick that involved a drum tied to his waste, additional percussion around one ankle and a recorder. Still shirtless. Still talentless. Still struggling with a single tune — probably something we should all recognize, but in our budding busker’s hands quite unrecognizable.
So he’s now up to a quadruple threat, musically speaking. And I do mean threat. He is, in effect, multi-untalented, a young man whose staggering lack of musical skill truly sets him apart. That, and the fact that he has chosen to play at College Square.
I look forward to hearing more as winter approaches. Though, he might want to invest in a shirt. I do hope that’s not what he’s trying to raise money for. If so, he too will be playing the waiting game for a while.
Okay, I’ll throw that minstrel boy a coin.