Reading notes on a busker I saw here in NY maybe two years ago.
At Astor Place, a semi-destitute/derelict looking white guy in his late 40s with greasy hair and an old army jacket, two pairs of trousers (the top pair all ripped).. Classic homeless couture….. Singing into a ghetto blaster thru a crap mic as the tape machine plays karaoke versions of (mainly) Rolling Stones songs… one song on each tape. An amazing voice and a presence that’s half neurotic drunk guy and half top-of-the-bill showbiz. He’s never quite 'going for it' in any case; he’s always held back, always a kind of lounge-singer irony (the street as a lounge), and a clumsy off-handedness to his manner; a bottle of mineral water in one hand, the mic in the other. Low centre of gravity. Mostly he is just head down, eyes down, singing – bent forwards and into himself. From this curled private place he’s sometimes coming out – arm extended in line with his shoulder or higher, the hand making a loose fist or an idle point – in one sense just marking and holding these kind of shapes which are the rhetoric of ‘singing’, but marking them so perfectly that they function 100%. The opposite of his bent-in thing is a ‘coming out and at em’ routine – a sudden switch of intensity and focus to the crowd, which, since he’s on the street, means singing to people or to the disappearing backs of those who are walking by – playing lines directly to them with a kind of careless, half-wrecked brilliance. Very smart. And his voice has everything. In between the phrases of his singing he’s bending to fiddle with the ghetto blaster – repositioning it slightly, causing feedback, looking in his tape bag, taking a drink of water. I am watching, entranced by this amazing performance that’s not really in art but which is in something else, and all the better for its lack of ‘proper place. I’m so thrilled in fact, and of course very busy trying to work out if some part of the charm of what he’s doing could be used in a show! When he leaves, he empties his bucket of dollar bills into his pockets, still singing as he does so, missing the mic at some points, hoists the ghetto blaster on his shoulder, the music still blaring and exits across the street, thru the traffic, still singing.. as if to the cars…
S. comes in to sit next to me as I'm writing, asking for breakfast (Cheerios) and a notebook so that he can write down his Theory About Time. Everything in the future, he writes, is already happening now.