[Abby's Road] All the world's a stage

I’m not a big fan of street performers. Funny, while so easily entertained by the mundane actions (inactions?) of random bodies, living and breathing and moving through life, a rehearsed performance attempting to look random, as random as someone playing with their hair or twirling a pencil between their knuckles, makes me scowl a little. And (probably) say something under my breath about getting a real job. Admittedly, there is one person who regularly preaches outside of the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro in DC who I find mildly entertaining. I have no idea what he is talking about. The Lord, maybe…or perhaps it’s the devil. Nevertheless, perched atop a plastic milk crate on the corner, he screams his musings through a bullhorn megaphone. It’s the reaction of the public to his cacophony that is captivating, not his message.

Then there are the musicians.

I’ve honestly made an attempt to comprehend, to fathom, for instance, a passion for singing opera which is so strong that performing in front of an acrid, urine-stained wall is overshadowed by the intoxicating bars of La Traviata. I understand that not everyone is classically trained and/or fortunate enough to make a living through song, even if their instrument sounds beautiful. What I don’t enjoy is being assailed by it as I am trying to jockey my way though the suits of Washington and get home. There have been some instances recently, however, involving street musicians who didn’t trouble me. I continue to find exceptions to the hard and fast rules I create in the streets of Abbytown. It is becoming a habit.

A recent road trip, destination: unknown, ended up being a journey to rural Virginia, George Washington’s birthplace (best part: chasing the free-roaming sheep and hens) and a drive through creepy-awesome Colonial Beach. While the fear of Kiefer Sutherland and Jason Patric lurking in the shadows of this winterized and boarded-up seaside town was fantastic, the highlight was having a stroll along the Rappahannock River and through historic downtown Fredericksburg. I do not enjoy all things Civil War. Quite the contrary – I find it supremely boring. On this particular day, the history and architecture seemed brighter; interesting, even, as it was accompanied by a nondescript young man playing the violin. He wasn’t dressed in period clothing (thank goodness), just jeans and a t-shirt, and no one was paying him to be there. He just stood there on the sidewalk increasing the pulse of the commonplace.

Along with never-sleepiness, New York brings an incomparable ambuscade of street musicians, the likes of which I’ve never seen in any other city. I was reminded of this last weekend as I got on the A train to meet friends for a birthday dinner when a voice rang out above the chatter of a dozen or so passengers. The voice was wearing a red hat and, at first, I thought he was a Guardian Angel. When I heard the phrase “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen” my cranial gears changed direction and I readied myself for a violent act rather than a speech about public safety. I attempted to tune him out. You know the uneasy shock of picking up an opaque drinking glass of what you believe to be water, taking a sip and getting a bubbly mouthful of Coca Cola instead? Imagine my gooseflesh when the next noise I heard wasn’t breaking bone OR a speech about safe sex OR an anti-bullying crusade, but the most gorgeous jazz flute imaginable.

I must remind myself that not everything in life is convenient, as much as I want it to be. Sometimes, messy and intrusive can be very beautiful.

Happy weekend.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

2 comments to [Abby’s Road] All the world’s a stage

  • As usual, you’ve managed to bring up memories and thoughts I haven’t had in some time.

    Boston has no shortage of street performers, mainly musicians, but we also have people who EVERYONE knows. Like the “weather man” in the Commons or the guy who rides around on a full sized tricycle screaming “AAAAAAHHHHHHH” at everyone. (Probably just his method of making sure they’re clear of the sidewalk.)

    But I remember one particular musician who had a hankering for playing David Gray songs in the T stop right by Berklee College of Music. He wasn’t terrible, but he sure as hell wasn’t good. What happened next is a mystery to me. Next thing I know I see MTV (mind you this was years ago) has given this guy a 5 minute piece about his story from “slumming it on Newbury St. to making it big time”!?

    First off, you can’t really slum it on Newbury St. and he never made it big time. I can’t remember his name but some poor producer shelled out money to put him in a studio and record a full length album. That never saw the light of day because he blew half of the money tracking drums.

    Where is he now? Well last I saw him he was working in a video store in the South End but that just recently closed down. So I have no clue what came of him.

    The point I was making…? Hi Abby! Thanks for making me remember this sad tale of the street performer who was given the golden ticket and blew it all on drum tracking.

  • Email from my mother after she read my post:

    “The topic brings to mind Joni Mitchell/He Played Real Good For Free. Talk to you later. Love you, Mom”

    I never heard the song before. Gorgeous. I get this music stuff honestly. Luckiest daughter EVER.

    Give it a listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PljZrArrb3k