Thursday, August 16, 2007

On busking

I recognized a gentleman who used to play fiddle outside my second most recent straight job. He sat in front of us and we got to talking and, being the polite sort who reads Miss Manners each morning with his scone and Peppermint tea, I asked him one of the uncouth questions: "How much do you make in a day?" His answer: more than you'd think.

The man said that, on a good day, when his little fiddle amplifier was working just right and it was warm out and all the stars and ducks had aligned just right, he said he'd make about a hundred bucks. There was one day, he recalled with greedy nostalgia, when he made $160 and, I presume, did a jaunty little dance.

And, sure: it didn't always work out that well. There are any number of tiny calamities that could derail the whole day. A rain storm could end the whole day. A bad burrito could too. And it's not exactly the sort of job that provides dental care and matches your contributions to your 401K.

Of course, this guy was also a damn good fiddler and, really, everyone loves the fiddle. It's like the banjo, except slightly less toothless and slightly more refined. Point is: it's a crowd pleaser. The dirt-encrusted stoner on Haight who's wheezing into a didgeridoo probably has a far different appraisal of pedestrian generosity.

And then there's Atonal. We don't know his name, but we've given him one. Plus, it bears resemblance to another Bay Area wunderkind named Adonal Foyle, who the Warriors just gave 13 million dollars to not play for them next year. That's a good gig if you can get it, which you can't, because you're not a 7 foot tall poet who looks like Shrek. But I digress.

Atonal is a busker and he plays his highly original brand of music at the Civic Center BART station. He is a multi-instrumentalist, a virtuoso in the grand tradition of Stevie Wonder, Prince, and Yuri Landman, a man who can transition seamlessly between the clarinet and the ukulele, the viola and the recorder, the harmonica and the...recorder. Granted, this depends on your definition of "instrumentalist," "virtuoso," and "sounds like forty cats dry-heaving in unison." For, you see, Atonal has his own idea of what music sounds like. I've seen him studiously reading music off his music stand with two harmonicas in his mouth. I've seen him playing the same note on the recorder for several minutes with a look of rapture all over his face. I've seen him writing his newest masterpiece on a giant swath of butcherpaper fifteen feet long. He's brilliant. He's unstoppable. He sucks.

But the thing is, he brings me joy. If I happen to catch him playing the clarinet in his usual style (which resembles a drunk man eating a hotdog), I laugh. And you know what? So do most people that pass him. He's like an episode of Married with Children: you know you shouldn't be laughing but you can't help yourself. Let's just hope he doesn't end up in McDonald's commercials like David Faustino did, although being in said commercials proved he wasn't dead, which was nice. It also proved he wasn't funny. But good job Bud. I hope you're paying off your mortgage.

So here's to Atonal. No matter how much that one note he can play sounds like a small animal begging for mercy, he's always completely lost in the music. And that, really, is the important part. I think.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cafe Du Nord. Saturday. 8.18.2007

Behold the grace and the glory that is this poster:

Monday, August 13, 2007

A lunch time beverage suggestion, complete with flawless reasoning

This morning, from the cozy yet smelling-of-ass back seat of the bus, I saw something that's familiar to every San Franciscan. No, not hobos fluent in gibberish or mustachioed men in leather, although those too are familiar occurrence round these parts. No, I saw protesters. Only about 10 of them, granted, and sure, you couldn't read the signs or understand the chanting, but damn: they were upset. A word to the wise, though: when using a megaphone, make sure the batteries are fresh. It's hard to rouse the rabble with angry cries of "Muffle fee don? GRUMBLE!!! Muffle fee don ih? Now!!!"

Of course, in San Francisco, people will protest pretty much anything. War in Iraq? Thousands meet downtown. Repeal of Gay Marriage licenses? Close down Market Street. Ten cent increase at Starbucks? Send in the riot police. It's a charming aspect of the city, I think. We're loud; we complain. And usually, I agree. So, to see a ragamuffin group of protesters at 8-something in the morning on a Monday, well, it doesn't bode well for the week. I like to have at least one cup of coffee before the atrocities start pouring in. I'm silly like that.

So I got to work, I got my cup of coffee, I chitted and chatted. I wondered what horrors had happened that would warrant a bright-and-early gang of lefty do-gooders taking to the streets while half the city was hitting the snooze button for the third time. I ate my croissant. I read the newspaper. I was at a loss. Then, one of my favorite workmates runs up to me, exasperated and borderline euphoric.

"Karl Rove just resigned," he office-yells, smiles, puases, then thoughtfully adds a "Fuck yeah!" while demanding a high-five.

I gave him the high-five.

At a time when most Americans are upset about the direction of our country (that direction: down the shitter), news like this is uplifting. Sure, we're still neck-deep in a horrendous quagmire, our Supreme Court pretty much hates all humans, and the dollar gets weaker every minute, but that countrified dough-boy with all the marionette strings is finally walking away. We're just got a little bit closer to January 2009. Every little bit counts.

So, infected by my office-mate's state of complete glee, I passed on the information and decided to go out in the sunshine, just to soak up the goodness. And down at the corner, where I'd noticed a righteously indignant crowd forming too early this morning, there was no one but some a bike messengers and a panhandler. Maybe they'd finished telling whoever it was whatever they thought. And maybe they'd moved the incredibly loud mumbling to another locale. But I like to think they got the good news and went home. After all: you can't protest everything all the time. Sometimes, you need to go home, kick your feet up, and have a beer at lunch. Today is definitely one of those days.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Notes from Undergound (not to be confused with the depressing Russian novel)

I was on the couch last night, discussing the European stock market over a fine New Zealand red (or quoting the Simpsons over Tecate---I forget) when I heard an explosion. At first, I assumed it was small arms fire from that half-way house full of delinquents across the street. After all, nothing's more soothing than indiscriminate gun play, especially after a hard afternoon of hooting and pedestrians and trying to con the guy at the corner store into selling you peach blunts. But then: more explosions. Lots more. Suddenly, my earlier hypothesis seemed silly. The neighbors were not dealing with the PLO.

Then it dawned on us all: that whole guy-with-the-giant-noggin-hitting-the-ball-over-the-doohickey-
more-times-than-anyone-else thing.
The neighbors' small scale bombing campaign? Actually just a bunch of fireworks. Unlike Francis Scott Key, no one present plagiarized a song about it.

Now, you'll read lots of indignant self-righteousness about Barry Bonds. After all, he is fairly hateable, what with the steroids, the not-at-all vague disdain for humanity, the smug curmudgeon-ness he oozes from every pore. You'll also read people defending him as the greatest hitter of all-time, a solitary loner who, deep down, only sort of completely hates everyone. Me? I don't really care about the guy or the record. The whole thing seemed kind of joyless and obligatory. I'm glad it's over. We can get back to focusing on important things like, say, the whereabouts of Mario Lopez.

The whole Barry debacle did remind me why I lived in San Francisco though. This is a place where things happen. It's not the only place, not by any stretch of the imagnination. It's just a city. But last night, if only for a few minutes, the most news-worthy event in the Western world was happening a few miles away. And, I don't know, I think that's kind of nifty, even if it occurred only by virtue of a brooding man-freak.

Yes, things happen in San Francisco. You wouldn't know it by my continued silence, but I swear, things happen. In fact, there will be much news coming out of our little corner of the internet in the coming weeks: new songs, shows, a line of Birdmonster suspenders and belts (we're quite serious about the not-falling-down-ness of pants). We just needed a little time underground to hang out with all the C.H.U.D.s and molemen. It was fun. We smell horrible.

First and foremost: we've got a show in a week and a half at Cafe DuNord (August 18th, precisely). It's been a while, so you'll have to be gentle. We're chock full of new songs and would love to see your smiling faces, even if you're a humongously large steriod abuser.