I saw a genuine “one man band” yesterday in the Boston Garden. He was quite good and there was no hesitation in my step as I strode over to the white plastic bucket at his feet and deposited my dollar bill. He was putting on quite a show.
His instrument he was wearing. A contraption that Rube Goldberg would have been proud to claim as his own. While the visible control center seemed on first glance to be the blue sparkly electric guitar he was strumming, the second thing to grab the eyes attention was this tower of percussive mayhem that rode on his back, strapped by assorted belts, string and rubber bands to a harness which looked like it started life as a baby sling. Perched at the top of the assemblage which towered well over the top of his head, was a yellow bass drum thumping out a beat on two and four and connected by a length of rope and a couple of pulleys to his left foot. By God, as he stomped his left foot, a tambourine secured there for good measure, the bass drum pounded out the rhythm. Then next to that was a snare drum with three drum sticks and a high hat cymbal, all attached on some sorts of “jerry rigged” pivots and attached to other ropes and strings. How these were activated was much more mysterious. What one needed to do was follow the strings down through at least five pulleys to their various attachment points on this fellow’s body. Every moveable body part seemed to have a rope attached. Some on his wrists, some on his elbows. The neck of his guitar had a couple of carabiners with twine attached and I’m sure I missed a few on casual glance. Topping it all off was a washboard with a working scraper whose operability was evidenced by a semicircle wear pattern on its rippled surface and whose jocularity was enhanced by a green smily face.
As he was strumming the guitar, and singing a tune too mind you, a jerk of his elbow and a downward thrust on the neck of the guitar articulated the snare drum and the cymbal kicks to perfection. I’ve worked with drummers whose timing was not nearly as good and all they had to do was use their hands and feet to lay it down. In the breaks where I, if I were his accompanist, might lay down a solo, he took a deep breath and blew a solo on a quasi kazoo like contraption mounted in front of his face and connected by tubes and hoses to what seemed like the bell of a trombone and a big funnel for amplification.
Visually, this all amounted to quite a show and the piece that tied it all together was that this fellow was having a jolly good time. There was a good crowd around him and with good frequency, folks would walk over and deposit something into his appreciation bucket. When I had made my contribution, the bucket was actually three fourths of the way to the top full and although the dropped dollar bills had a bit of air in between them, I’d estimate he’d clear one hundred easy for a couple of hours of happy tuning — maybe much more.
Is there a secret there? I wonder. No, I’m sure. Certainly the main message is this. Never let your music become a “job” — just another gig. Always remember to laugh and have fun. Whether you’re the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra or a street corner “One Man Band”, Joy is the common currency between yourself and the world. Spend and receive it freely. The green stuff is just incidental markers—stuff to buy more rope, rubber bands, reeds, drumsticks and such. Parts to keep the music machine going and maybe a sandwich or two for the operator.