A Busker’s Story (English)
Ever since I was a little kid I always loved to play music, but I always said I'd never become a professional musician. I felt that if I did it for money it would stop being fun (and we all know what godless sinners musicians are! Right?). It crept up so slowly that I didn't even notice it, till one day I said "oh !@#$&*?!! too late!" Here's how it all happened...
I was born in Detroit but moved to Chicago at the age of 5. One of my strongest memories from childhood was when my grandmother took me to the 4-H jamboree county fair where there was a guy playing country music with one guitar in his hands, one under his feet and a concertina between his legs. When I was 13 I fell in love with the upright bass and took it up with my high school orchestra. I was never interested in learning to read music though. While the band played all those pieces that high school bands are so good at ruining, I was playing "Money" by Pink Floyd quietly in the background (usually in the same key as the others). Once, in the middle of a public recital, right at that moment where the music builds up to the dramatic climax, I slipped of the back of the risers with my(actually the school's) bass and gave some real punch to the music. After that they only trusted me with a fiberglass fiddle. Soon, I got myself a crappy electric bass and joined the only band that would have me. A heavy metal outfit called "the Mudslides"(sorry, no photo available). After high school, I attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I studied Film/Animation and Sound Design. There I hooked up with some friends from Alabama, Vermont and Florida to form The Gerards. A sweet country rock sound brought us into many of the major venues of Chicago. The band was serious about playing and practicing. I was serious about not becoming a professional musician. Stormy seas were ahead... I wanted desperately to see the world, the Gerards wanted desperately a bass player.
So, I left to travel Europe with a $10 banjo I found at the Maxwell St. market (for those of you who don't know it, it's the market in "the Blues Brothers" where John Lee Hooker is playing on the street. It has a long tradition of street performers, and was always a big inspiration to me. Mayor Richard Daley and the U of I have succeeded in moving and ruining it for everybody, and I hope that my fellow Chicagoans will think of this at election time!!!!). I had always played on the street in Chicago (much to the dismay of Chicago's men in blue), but more for the experience and the feeling than the money. I hate to say it, but my fellow countrymen are not famous for being the most generous patrons of the street arts. So, I left to do my little sight-seeing trip around Europe. Riding the night trains to see the cities and works that I had studied in school. I soon realized that I could extend my stay thanks to the money I was making on the street, in fact I realized that I was making just as much as I was at my job in Chicago(so, I didn't make that much in Chicago).
It was at this time that I realized. That I was playing full-time as a job, and didn't care much about going back to working in an office. So, I gave it everything I could, and so many times was paid back in applause and good hospitality. People would ask me all the time what is it that drives one to play on the street? The answer is as long as this web site (No, sorry. It's longer!).
But my response was invariable. There is no "high" like creating a feeling, an audience and applause out of nothing in a space that you choose yourself, and where without you would only be city hustle and bustle.
After taking let's say an "artistic break" from the Greasy Pigs, I hooked up with a fantastic (I want to say punk, but lets just say "wild/high energy") klezmer band from Brighton, England called the "Tragic Roundabout". They were young, and with one of the greatest street spirits I had ever met, but they lived the life a bit to rough for me. After a short stint of traveling with them, the violinist(Fiona Barrow) and I left to form a violin and tea-box bass duet called "Fiasco di Casino".
I just found their web site here.
From there, began a long period of jamming here and there with others, but mostly perfecting the idea of the one-man band. I began doing one-man tea-box bass shows with just bass and voice. It was at this point that I started to let the music go a little crazy in the direction of my longtime hero, Spike Jones.
After going to Turkey and studying the local folk music, I was inspired to build the Stranierophono. With this invention, I began working at a lot of festivals, and doing more solo concerts. I also appeared on national television several times, including an episode of "Solletico", the most popular children's TV show in Italy.
The Stranierophono is still one of my favorite instruments, but it was too undependable to count on for every day busking. So, I set out to perfect the traditional drum-kit on the back idea with the Bordellophono.
The Bordellophono proved a huge success, and also much more durable than the fragile Stranierophono. The Bordellofono, being very mobile, allowed me to develop a style of moving constantly instead of making shows in one place. I found this invention better than the actual instrument, because it meant an end to problems with the police and local merchants.
My last year in Italy before going back to the U.S. for two years proved to be rather interesting. I moved to Naples, and was immediately recruited by director Davide Iodice for a new production of Shakespeare's "the Tempest", translated into Neopolitan dialect. It was a very big production with production by "Libera-mente" of Napoli, and the "Center for Theatrical Research"(C.R.T.) of Milano. The actors ranged in ages from 22-75 and their experience from the classical Neopolitan "sceneggiata" to modern experimental. The show was a big success and took the 1999 UBU special prize, which is the Italian equivalent of a Tony award. The show is still running without me (all for the better if you ask me), and has dates all over the world.
I was in Chicago studying computer animation & making web pages, making cartoons for cable television,teaching video, animated cartooning and instrument building classes in the public schools, organizing festivals here in the city and doing the occasional gig solo and with Pros Arts Studio,(a nonprofit children's theater company). While I was studying I thought it would be nice to help organize my brothers and sisters of the streets with my new skills with this web site.
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