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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Begging as Performance Art

The man who really can’t play the trumpet is Wynton Marsalis compared to the men who really can’t play the keyboard.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Nicollet Avenue Mall, where the creatively-challenged and the overly-confident come to ask for your change.

The trumpet player: what can I say about a man who riffs on Mary Had a Little Lamb, who repeats the opening phrase of Somewhere Over the Rainbow only to hold on to the last note as if being paid to do so?  Day in and day out – barring heavy rains or temperatures below freezing, he is there, with the skill level of a 7th grader with promise, assaulting the ears of the 4:30 to 5:30 commuting crowd.

He’s a dapper fellow, and despite his affection for playing half a song and then trailing off, only to start -- again! -- with Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I wish him luck.

He’ll get no money from me, but still.  I wish him luck.

This new guy, though.  Surely he is some sort of social experiment.

I’ve been watching for cameras, but so far, it seems legit.

Or as legit as it’s going to get.

There are two guys actually.  Two men with access to a full-sized keyboard, the kind with the built-in speaker. 

“Anything helps,” the cardboard sign propped up next to the keyboard says.  “God bless.”

They’re working in shifts.

The interesting thing, of course, is that neither man plays piano.  Not even remotely.  And so while the afternoon rush makes its weary, underpaid way toward the buses, we are introduced to the club-fisted, dystonal poundings of these disturbed and disturbing performers.

It's enough to cause one to make up one's own word.

Look at them over there: literally playing with the palms of both hands.

Initially, I waited.  This was going to get rhythmic.  Any minute now, I would catch on to whatever it was that was going to make this noteworthy.  My ears strained to detect the hidden melody.  Surely one of them would suddenly break into “Salt Peanuts” or some other jazz great that would make me reach for my wallet.

One of them would start tap dancing.

One of them would provide the key that would unlock this cacophony.

Several weeks into their Minneapolis show, I still await clarification.

35 comments:

Shelly said...

Perhaps they are waiting for one of the audience to start tap dancing...

haphazardlife said...

Maybe the idea is: "Pay and we'll stop assaulting your ears".

joeh said...

Ah...see...NYC gets all the street muscians. People waiting for their big break or just killing time practicing their chops between gigs. I used to stop and listen for 10-15 minutes.

Violin, horn, drums or singing acapela, the subways and street corners were always entertaining.

Most have a city licence to play on the streets.

Your guys would get arrested.

ellen abbott said...

some effort at providing entertainment for the coins they so fervently hope for is better than the guy who just stands there with his sign or the one that claims they are hungry until you try to give them food.

fmcgmccllc said...

2 of my favorite street performers were in New Orleans across from the hotel. We always got a balcony room and before Katrina the scariest meth addict you have ever seen-dressed in a gold suit-used to sing Ain't Too Proud To Beg, that was his only song he sang it for hours. After Katrina he was replaced by a man and a woman known as the clapper. Can't remember the music but we never forgot the clapping.

mybabyjohn/Delores said...

We have street musicians here (in the summer). I can't tolerate discordant sound so I usually start backing up the minute I see one of them. If, on the other hand, I can actually make out real music coming from one of them I will reach into my wallet for whatever I can spare. Maybe you should bring your clarinet with you and attempt to get them on track.

Silliyak said...

I'm with Hap, "Will stop for food/change"

Pearl said...

You know, I've given to street musicians. There's a South American accordionist who always gets a dollar from me. But these two just make me tired...

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I've heard that New York actually auditions its street performers... sounds like Minneapolis should consider following suit. The poor delusional schnooks.

savannah said...

i think Hap nailed it, sugar. y'all are being held hostage by bad musicians, but excellent con men! xoxoxox

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

This makes me realize I haven't been to downtown Mpls in ages. A couple of years I think. Last visit, I saw a couple of street singers who didn't seem to be seeking coin, just attention. I like the idea of auditions!

Geo. said...

Maybe it's all just meant to become urban background noise, like in Dr. Zhivago --characters so engrossed in their problems they never wonder where all that balalaika music's coming from.

NotesFromAbroad said...

Our street musicians play accordions and guitars and sometimes someone will tango while they play.
I just watch and enjoy.
Pup used to love them too. He especially liked it when people threw things into a hat, he always wanted to go catch them !

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

I've never had a desire to visit Minneapolis. But now? I am curious. Afraid, but curious.
Plus, there would be margaritas with Pearl!

Jacquelineand.... said...

They're holding your ears hostage!

Daisy said...

Since I live in a small town, I have very little experience with street musicians and beggars. I'm thinking that's probably a good thing.

Eva Gallant said...

Sounds like they are really looking for money for lessons!

Eva Gallant said...

Sounds like they are really looking for money for lessons!

Sioux said...

Pearl--Why aren't you writing a column for your local paper? You could really highlight the local "characters"and charm of Minneapolis.

This was hilarious--as always.

Kana said...

Perhaps it is a pay-us-to-go-away situation? A ransom of peace and quiet?

jenny_o said...

I'm not sure if the discordant keyboard playing enroute to work is better or worse than twangy country & western drifting in the office windows all summer long.

Intellectually I know the discordant is worse than C & W, but emotionally the C & W makes my last nerve fizzle. It's really, really hard to concentrate with that going on :)

Sending sympathy your way!

jenny_o said...

Oh, and I'd really be interested in knowing what that word is, that you made up :)

Rosemary Nickerson said...

Your title fits so well, it says it all!
Rosemary

HermanTurnip said...

It's jazz, baby. They're obviously playing a beat behind the rhythm. Listen with your soul, snap your fingers out of time, and get into the groove of the scene, man.

I swear, you squares just don't get it... ;-)

esbboston said...

I have thought of taking my violin on vacation in order to pay for the vacation. But my left shoulder hurts at the moment, so it doesn't feel like generating hertz melodical. I think it is stiLL too cold every place I would like to visit.

klahanie said...

Hey Pearl,

Yes, lucky you, I've decided to once again leave you with one of my treasured, adored and award winning comments. And yes, my delusions continue, unabated.

I've played with the palms of my hands, Pearl, but hey, that's another story...

Personally, I've never danced with a tap. And Pearl, my lovely friend, this posting um 'beggars' belief....

See you, Pearl :)

sage said...

Those who book such artist in the winter in the Twin Cities must be desperate! Funny observations, I hope you have ear plugs and maybe an ipod

Jayne Martin said...

At least your "solicitors" make an attempt (however feeble) to give you something in return for your donation. Ours just stand on corners with signs designed to instill guilt. I'm waiting until I come upon one with an accordion. I'm particularly fond of accordions.

Rose L said...

Are you SURE there is not a hidden camera somewhere? They can be pretty small and hidden in so many things.
Any flowers near there? Look again, very closely!

Tempo said...

..aren't you allowed to pelt them with rotten fruit?

Jeanne Pursell said...

Minneapolis needs to start auditioning their street musicians and making them get permits. At least it would get ride of the creeps who are just out there to squander bucks from the hard working crowd. They definitely need the money for lessons!!

Thanks for stopping by!
xo
Jeanne

Pat said...

Maybe it's ART. Hard to tell these days.

Linda O'Connell said...

Can't imagine why these guys would travel North when I swear I saw them in New Orleans last summer.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

I thought these guys were down here in Aus.........just shows they are everywhere.......lol

Diane Tolley said...

Whyte Avenue in Edmonton gets the performers - some talented, some . . . ahem . . .
And between you and I, there is music playing on the radio - music that people thought enough of to record! - that I'm awaiting clarification on . . .