Why I Play Music on the Street


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August 28, 2010
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Every now and then I come across poetry about busking – the art of performing on the street. Here is a poem by JIMMY ISAMBARD, who is an artist and musician living and busking in London, UK:

Saw Lady at Times Square
Photographer: © Rachel S. Geylin

Why I Play Music on the Street/Jimmy Isambard

I’m a street musician, I come when I please
Open my box, take a breath then tickle the keys
And if the people who walk by like what I play
They listen, donate then go on their way.
Some drop a few coins or a five or a ten
Sweets, flowers, even a kiss now and then.

I play for the heck of it and I play for fun
I play for good vibes and civilization.
I play for keeps, I play for relief,
I play for company or a place to sleep.
I play for the moon and for lost friends
I play for the rivers and snows and the rains
I play for money and I play for love
I play for the Devil I play for God
God lays his hand upon my hands on the keys
And guides me through harmonious paths to peace
And the Devil slips a slippery snake up my ass
And listeners grow lusty and loose all sense of class.

Gather around folks, let me show you the light
Bring on the darkness, long live the night!

I’m just the musician, I can’t choose my crowd
So when I’m on good form, they both come on down
Yes, I play for God Almighty and the Devil too
And they dance like lovers on a romantic cruise
When the devil smiles with his big juicy red grin
I rock the boat and sweat like a fat whore on a swing
But when the light of truth shines upon my mortal soul
I sprout wings and strum as sweetly as any angel

I shouldn’t play for the devil, it does me no good
Gets me in trouble and into a rotten foul mood
But some hypocrites listen to such clean godly things
That the Devil inside me bursts out as I sing.

Gangsters with guns give me money to play
Policemans tell me to go away
I play for lots of neighbours who don’t like the noise
Rotten old bags who hate all young boys
I play for morons who are too drunk to dance
They fall on their face and crush my guitar.
The rich man takes a photo and leaves
The poor man empties his pockets and weeps

I play for the sick children, soon to die
And their parents with tender love in their eyes.
I play a native song for the immigrant
To welcome them to this distant land
As if to say ‘Your accepted old chum
Don’t miss your home, stay and have fun!’
I play for the guys trying to impress the chicks
They swagger and give me generous tips;
It seems to work on girls ev-er-y time,
So I do the same when I’m trying to impress mine!

I hustle and rinse, I dip and I slide
It’s my job is to keep our streets alive.

I play for the grannies who remember their youth,
I play for the children on a trip with their schools,
The goodies ignore me, some think its funny
But the smart kids give me their sweetie money.

I play for the toddlers in their push-chairs
Some stop crying, others burst into tears.
I play for the teenagers who look at me like
I was their naked granny on a one-wheeled bike.

They say change is inevitable and I play for change
So I’m getting richer and wiser as I keep playing the game.

I play for the extroverts who sing and dance
And the introverts who stand in a trance
I play for the happy ones who leap in the gutter
And also the sad ones who tremble and flutter

Like every note is a terrible monsterous wave
Driving their lost raft far far away
‘Pleeaase don’t capsize me!’ their silent eyes say
And generally I don’t… but not always!

I play for the newly married husband and wife
Who are sky-high and only too pleased to oblige
And when the guests are gay and aglow
I play notes that ring like bells of gold
I hear mystic vibrations in the air
Sounds of energy I forgot were there
And it feels like I’ve been playing since before I was born
And at the same time like I have never played before
I have been holding my horn forever to my lips
But the moment is as new as a first magic kiss.

I play for the free and for slaves,
For the sick in their beds and the dead in their graves.
For the bears, the monkeys and tigers too
I really did, it is ALL true
I play for food I play for drink
I played for absolutely nothing…
I played for nothing a hell of a lot,
But thanks to nothing I got as good as I got.

I play to de-spell the most evil blues
I play to find something, somehow new
I play to bring joy and because I’m mad
I play like a maestro and I play really bad
I rage with my music against the machine
I play and I scream ‘Come on man, break free!’
I play every note like it was a knife
Slicing away the cruelties of metropolitan life
Ripping apart the cold stranger’s gaze
Exploding joy into somebody’s dull day
I stand on my head and roll on the street
And caper and tumble and stamp with my feet
And late at night, I lie down with a smile,
Because the people I make happy make my life worthwhile.

And one sweet morning when this life is over
I’ll lie down on the earth with my tuba
My clarinet on my chest and my uke under my arm
To set off on the band tour of no return.
But if you kneel and listen very carefully you’ll hear
Me tooting and howling way down there.
And when any musician opens their soul on the street
I’ll be bopping downstairs and digging the beat.

© JIMMY ISAMBARD

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