I began street performing in Seattle, Wa., at the Pike Place Market, in October 1978, just before my 18th birthday. I had never seen street performers until August 1978, two months prior. I grew up in the sterile Los Angeles suburbs, and although I had the slick music industry at my back door in Hollywood, I was looking for a more holistic approach to performance. I did not necessarily want to get rich, I wanted to relay a message, I wanted to share music. Sick of alcoholic, cigarette-smoking parents, I did not drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, so bars were not my preferred venue for performance, so, I was actually sort of stifled in my creative abilities, out of not knowing where I could showcase them. My stepmom was a nightclub singer on the L.A. circuit, and although she made good money, she worked in bars, and her work was as much social worker as singer. I just did not want to have to hoist my breasts up in "push up bras," as we called them back then, put on gobs of makeup, and then go tend lonely drunk men in bars who, yes, would tip me, but at what cost to my soul? It sounded like a bad scene from Breakfasts of Champions. Also, I did not want to perform to sell alcohol, I could not breathe in bars due to the thick cigarette smoke, I wanted to perform politics, not some predictable boring sexy blues, and I was underage for most bar venues, anyway.
You can order Kirsten's new book about street performing, including interviews with street performers about a wide variety of topics. This is a unique view of the busker world from the inside.
It was not until I wandered into the Pike Place Market in 1978 that I saw street performers. I remember the revelation clearly. We walked into the Market, I saw the street performers, and immediately went up to one and asked how it worked. I asked if you had to audition. They said no, that you just had to "register" for a pin with the Market. (The Market now, in 2004, illegally charges us money for those pins for free speech, but that is another article). I asked buskers what the rules were. They said they each took turns in one hour rotations, you got in line on a spot, and waited your turn, and played. That was it. I ran home, and asked my relatives for a guitar for my upcoming birthday. I did not know how to play guitar, mind you, but I had seen my sisters pick it up easily. And I already had played violin from grade school to college, so I just felt I needed the instrument, I would teach myself. They gave me a cheap guitar, I wrote down words and chords, with diagrams of the chords, into a notebook, and took off for the Market. I wanted to perform before I really knew how. Read more in my new book, 21st Century Essays on Street Performing aka Busking, on Kindle!
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