“I dun know, man.” John watched all the people strolling by in the late afternoon oppressively humid streets. His guitar case dangled by two fingers and threatened to fall to the brick sidewalk, except some strange magnetism or magic coursing through his fingertips prevented it from doing just that. “This’n may not be the most brill trick, now we’re here.”
Stage fright, Sean thought. John had never busked before, but they were both ass poor and needed some cash.
“C’mon, don’t be a baby,” he chided John. “We do this until we can buy a few packs of smokes and we’ll quit. ‘Kay?”
John looked dubiously at the business professionals hurrying past them, mindful only of not colliding with the two gutterpunks. in the way. “I dun know, Sean,” he said shaking his head. “Seems like we more like get arrested than get money.”
Sean patted the statue of Mary Tyler Moore. They stood in her shadow. “C’mon, we’ve got lady luck on our side. Plus,” he leaned in and adopted a conspiratorial tone. “You’ve got that fantastic British accent, which is everything we need to sell this.”
John rolled his eyes. “Fuck me, Sean. I’m from fuckin’ Gloucestershire, not Liverpool.”
Sean looked down on him. “And you think anyone here is going to know the fucking difference? It’s goddamn Minneapolis, dude. They think everyone sounds like someone from Monty Python on the other side of the pond.”
He took John’s crooked nod as a gesture of concession.
“Right,” said John and he put down the battered guitar case, covered with stickers from bands most people in the state had never heard of. New Model Army, Billy Bragg, The Wonder Stuff, and others. He flicked open the brass buckles that held the case together with the help of the stickers — and flipped it open. He took a deep breath and then looked up at Sean.
People streamed by, ignoring the two young men standing around a guitar case.
“So,” he said with hesitation. “How do we want to do this?”
Sean smiled, one the right side of his lip curling into a vague snarl.
“I say fuck it and skip right to the chorus. Let’s let them know we mean business. I’ll count. Which song?”
“Emm… She Loves You?“
“Good choice! Let’s go!”
Sean stepped forward to create some space on the busy sidewalk, a nervous John copying the move, the guitar case open behind them.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Sean shouted to be heard above the crowd. “I present to you, for one afternoon only… Two members of the Air Beatles: SEAN AND JOHN!”
A few people slowed down to see what the noise is all about, several stopped.
“Say something to our fans, John.”
John looked panicked, eyes darting for an escape route. Seeing none, he closed his eyes, perhaps to pray he was elsewhere. “‘Allo,” he muttered without enthusiasm.
“What was that, Mumbles?”
“I said ‘allo!” John said louder. A few polite claps and people started to drift away.
Sean continued, anxious to keep the few who lingered.
“We got a great show planned this afternoon,” he said loudly and more eyes turned towards them until those eyes realized they were turning towards street buskers. “Our first song is the hit you all love and remember…. She Loves You… One Two Three Four!”
At first only Sean was doing something that might be called singing, in comparison to a cat in heat anyway, and started rocking back and forth as if he had a guitar strapped to his body, like he’d seen the Beatles do on the Ed Sullivan Show clips he’d seen in in some documentary. There was no guitar to be seen, however.
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah ...
Someone in the crowd laughed out loud, leaned through the people gathering around and chucked some pocket change into the open guitar case. A case which also happened to not contain a guitar.
She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah And with a love like that --
John chimed in and started to mime playing guitar, matching Sean’s timing on the swaying.
With a love like that You know you should be glad...
Sean abruptly held up his hand.
“That’s one of our oldies,” he told the gathering crowd. “How’s about we do something a wee bit more psychedelic.”
John waited before joining in, but instantly recognized the next song.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone…
By this point the crowd had started gathering to watch, more than a few tossing in spare change, a bare cigarette or three, most of the crowd laughing or smiling with the occasional far-too-serious business person trying to make their bus muttering how they couldn’t understand the point of an air guitar Beatles cover band (and those singers were awful to boot).
But the band played on. By this point, a number of audience members were singing along, the multiple harmonies cancelling out Sean’s worst.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds Lucy in the sky with diamonds Lucy in the sky with diamonds
The growing crowd cheered.
“And,” Sean said loudly, “Our next song will be…”
The two young men “played” for about forty-five minutes before Sean slapped the guitar case closed and darted down the street, John following close behind.
When they were out of sight, Sean opened the guitar case and peeked inside. There was easily a hundred dollars in small bills and change, maybe more.
Panting, John leaned against the brick wall. “I dun fuckin’ believe we pulled that off,” he said between breathes.
“Either can I,” Sean admitted.
“But — you said –“
“I lied,” Sean said with a wink. And they fell into the alley laughing like hyaenas.
This may or may not be a true story. Names were changed to protect the not-very-innocent.
Sure, I added some color and it probably didn’t quite happen as presented. Mary Tyler Moore was not in attendance, for instance. She was about a block away. There were even more sneers, as Orchestra Hall was having their annual summer classical music concert series going on a few blocks away (Sommerfest). But we did make somewhere on the order of $75, which was easily on the order of $100 in today’s currency. That is amazing, because we were just larking about due to boredom and needed smokes. We could have probably found someone to buy us underage fucks some booze, but one of our number was living in a sober house (though not particularly because he was trying to avoid booze, but because that was the house rules) and would have lost his happy bedroom if he came home drunk.
“John” was dubious about what was proposed when we started but, really got into it by the time we stopped. I think it’s because we saw some decent cash come out of it. But, as Manny from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress said, it’s a one-time funny joke. We never attempted it again.
That said, it’s amazing how much cash you can get panhandling and busking if you play it right. You can also come up bust if your timing is bad. A lot like playing blackjack. But that’s another story.
Quite the background for a story that may not be true, eh?