All the world’s a stage for this savvy busker. Or technically just the supermarket entrance anyway. Meet a musician who is able to perform live every night and be paid for it.
The financial return might not be much but for a passionate musician like Rene, that’s beside the point.
I have walked past Rene* on countless occasions, just kept walking past. Usually it’s at an ungodly hour and I’m trying to appease a chocolate craving. One time however, on an unusually balmy evening I stop rushing and sit with her for a while. Anyone who shops around the suburb of Highton area would have probably seen Rene; an attractive young lady who holds a permanent throne outside the local Safeway, often sporting cowboy boots a similar shade to her worn guitar
“It’s just lovely to be in the fresh air,” she says, husky spoken in a Clare Bowditch kind of way.
It is on this pleasant evening but I wonder what it’s like in the freeze of winter, on those dead chilly evenings when leaving your warm heater for outside seems unthinkable. While we sit, the world before us keeps moving. Electronic doors open and close, sometimes for good reasons and other times pre-emptive. A reporter intruder sits in the lotus position, the seeming wisest choice for a concrete floor and the busker is prepared, savvy; sitting on a fold out chair. Always she seems to be wearing a beret that always seems to match her lipstick, tonight its lilac.
“I started in TV when I was very young, about 8 years old. Because of the travel involved and schooling at the time it wasn’t possible to keep performing,” she says, moving soft tendrils of dark hair away from her eyes. Like many other bright young artists who perform to their peak at such a young age and then burn out, she had a sabbatical from performance for years.
Then about a decade ago, a love affair with busking was ignited. A myriad of reasons may have contributed to this: love at first sight, the flexibility that this occupation can bring. Moreover, it just seemed logical.
“Busking would be a functional way to express my self, bring my songs to the people and allow me to express my creative, musical side,” says Rene.
Self described chiefly as a pianist she has found another, easier, instrument to lug around, “The guitar is a lot more portable,” she adds.
A love of music is something that is firmly embedded in Rene’s life; an unspoken life partner that will not compromise its presence.
“From a very early age I was composing tunes and lyrics,” says Rene.
This passion has only become stronger, aided and adoring of anything involved with musical sound, “My whole life I have been passionate about music, whether its active songwriting or listening to music,” she confesses.
Many artists all know too well that this type of artistic fervour cannot be shrugged aside. And that’s exactly why Rene comes to this spot most nights of the week.
We’re living in an age where supermarket checkouts are slowly being replaced by beeping machines and the one Rene sings out the front of is no exception. In this respect, busking is a refreshing human touch.
“It’s uplifting for customers to be greeted by someone,” she reflects.
Yet not everyone wants to be greeted or even to listen to some free music for a few moments. They rush past, personal conversations drowning out the soft singing of the busker in the beret. Occasionally, a few will acknowledging Rene and even less will offer coins.
A man coming out of the supermarket clanks a few pieces of silver in, enough to feed a parking meter for an hour perhaps. Another throws five cents in, smugly declaring, “Five cents, There you go!” Yet both these ‘patrons’ Rene thanks graciously and genuinely. In this profession, rude people are a probability and any savvy busker needs to have a few tricks up their sleeve to best deal with inevitable confrontations.
“In that situation its best to keep a calm facade and diffuse the situation as best as possible, by offering pleasant words in return,” she answers calmly, suddenly resembling a sort of guitar playing Ghandi. Yet sometimes even a pacifist attitude may not be enough to ward off belligerent behaviour.
“Occasionally there are some harassing people around, particularly drunk young men who come around and hurl abuse at me verbally and physically.” Threatening circumstances have escalated at times, only put out with police intervention.
On the bright side however, busking is fundamentally a social activity which Rene enjoy, “Oh I meet a lot of interesting people this way,” she smiles enigmatically. But not all of them show her the money, honey, and consistent income is never a certainty in this game.
Testifying further to her genuine attraction to this job is her offering plate, once host to Neapolitan ice-cream flavours. This is stringently smatterered with money that might match a child’s Piggy Bank. “No it’s not a lucrative occupation at all,” she admits. Nevertheless, busking, according to Rene, has benefits which surpass its mentioned disadvantages: heckling, being exposed to the elements and meagre income.
To this experienced busker, the opportunities of exposure and a solid, quite literally, platform to perform one is a wonderful gift that performance aspiring musicians could easily drool, Homer Simpson style, over. How many other self managed musicians can boast that they have a perpetual spot to perform in every single night that they so wish? Functionally, the job has great benefits in testing new material in a practical arena.
Rene knows this well, “If I write a new song, for example, I can bring it in and experiment with the people and see if their response is positive or not, that’s a good indication.”
Location is everything in the universe of busking and Rene has heard the stories of buskers profiting for their abilities in places like Southbank, Melbourne, some allegedly tossed pineapple and mint coloured banknotes. Yet the quiet suburb of Highton is not particularly known for its busking prowess apart from an odd Rotary fundraising. It appeals to Rene however, and more importantly she has forged a good relationship with the business whom she works out the front of, “Management here are very understanding and like what I do.”
Does busking entice its addictive properties further than the quiet hills of Highton? The Big Apple might be nice to chomp on for a bite, she ponders.
“New York would be a good place but a little bit unpredictable,” she admits.
Highton is no Big Apple, although granted the supermarket she works out the front of does sell apples. Even so, Highton can still be an exciting place to Rene.
“You never know who’s around the corner” she chuckles heartily.
NB: Whilst Rene is her real first name she would prefer if her surname was kept private.