Life in the Streets of Ireland: A Busker's Perspective

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What is music? Where does it come from? Who does it affect? Do you know your passing it in the cities everyday. Listen.

Submitted: November 29, 2007

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 29, 2007



Jerome McGaffigan

Life in the Streets of Ireland: A Busker’s Perspective

“Who the fuck are you,” shouts some crazy bastard from across the street, “you ever think you’re going to be of any fucking importance. You gonna go change music by playing on the streets!” “Fuck ‘im,” I say to myself under my breath. He doesn’t know what it’s like, being there on the street, he doesn’t appreciate real music. If I was in an argumentative mood or if he caught me on a bad day it would be a different story, but for now he walks off not looking at me just shaking his head. Besides today was the day I’ll make good money, or even better, I might just get noticed for about fucking time. You see it’s a Saturday afternoon and people are strolling about pleasantly on the weekend in a more happy and generous mood to give to us musicians, and there’s always the chance of a musically connected man hearing you.

Not many people stop and listen to you when you’re a street musician, at least that’s the case for me just a regular busker on the sidewalks of old Dublin making a living. And when I do get noticeable feedback, it’s usually a bit of scrutiny from some angry old feller once a week. Music is my life, it’s my soul, it’s who I am and I want people to listen and accept it. I wouldn’t even care if they didn’t stop to give me any coinage if I was able to survive by just playing. So what, your life is only difficult because you choose to live off of the charity of others is what many say if I comment on my life. I usually don’t complain, but lately I had to go back and work for my pops after doing my daily rounds on the streets. People don’t want to hear a true song that someone makes to show others their life, their feeling, nowadays they just want to hear that generated shit made by computer beats and a few hooks loosely put together as if made on the fly to make money.

Not me, I am true to myself and others, true to the way things sound to me. True to those chords and strings made on my guitar as most people walk by and look at me as though I am begging for money. I don’t have connections, really the matter is I don’t have the money for connections like all those children of former stars and siblings of pop icons who get fake contracts with little or no talent. Worse than that is when they sing other people’s songs that are works of that person’s life so awfully and it passes. It makes it through the music industry’s lack of a filter for quality music. Don’t get me wrong I’m not spiting everyone who has connections available or were well off before being signed, that does not matter to me if they have talent. I’m just a struggling musician who wishes to get more recognition than those people who hardly care what comes out of their mouth during a song.

With that said I’ve only been on the streets dealing with people since after high school, I don’t expect to be treated kind and compassionately or get attention from everyone but some people are trying to take my money from me I worked for or are just outright rude. A close friend and colleague of mine Glen Hansard has been at this since he has been a kid, “‘I left school when I was 13, I knew then I wanted to be a singer, so my mother said: ‘OK, if you want to sing then you better earn off it, so I began busking on the street during the day’ ” (The Frames). His efforts eventually paid off with his successful band, The Frames, becoming the front man for the Irish-indie rock movement.

So someone might say, “so what, why should I care about you street musicians your mediocre music.” Then I would say to you, “Because you’re probably listening to something that came from it.” At the beginning of recorded music live street acts were some of the first to record and make popular hits, “Original Dixieland Jazz Band. A pioneer ensemble of white performers, responsible for much of the early interest in jazz and for the first commercial recordings” (Marco, 500). So, from the very beginning of recorded popular music street musicians came to define what people enjoyed and loved to listen to beginning with jazz bands. So the first recordings came from those bands on the streets, in restaurants, bars, wherever they could go or book, working the city trying to make a living.

One of those other buskers struggling to make a living that they love is a little someone named Bob Dylan. Today we know him as one of the pioneers of folk and popular music during the 1960’s in America and who forever changed the way Americans look at and write music, but he started out just like me. “Even a poor college student drop-out who changed his name to Bob Dylan probably started off as a street musician in Greenwich Village” (Musicians). The poet of changing times and standing next to trash started out as a street musician around New York whom eventually got recognition because of his songwriting and from there became one of the most known musicians ever. We just hope we get a glimpse of success in our own lives one day and ultimately get out from under the streetlight microscope.

A funny thing Glen mentioned to me about how he started. He says to me that he “‘came home one night and told my mom I wanted to make a demo. She went to the bank the next day, and lied to 'em about what she needed the money for. Said it was to fix up the house or something’ ” (The Frames). With that money he recorded a few songs copied a few CDs and spent a huge amount of time getting them out there, getting his name heard. The real reason, besides basic survival, for playing on the streets for money is somehow getting your music heard and starting something to happen; whether it’s getting your own money for a demo, getting others like you to start a band, or by chance getting a producer of some type walk by and give you a record deal.

That’s the goal of the street player, we need your help and even more your respect, stop and listen even if only for a minute you may like the music and buy a CD and spread the word. We buskers brought about the beginnings of the recording of popular music and the evolution of pop music today. Instead of stopping by at the Starbucks and wasting 5 dollars and 15 minutes on a freaking coffee see that musician you’ve always wondered about. Make time for them in your busy day, who knows, you might like what you hear. So, the next time you pass one of us without hesitation; just remember without the street musicians you could be listening to classical music on the radio today still.

Works Cited

"The Frames." Irish Music Central. 29 Aug 2007. 29 Nov 2007 .

Marco, Guy A. Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound in the United States. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc. 1993.

"Musicians." Busker Central. 29 Nov 2007 <>.

© Copyright 2018 Jerome McGaffigan. All rights reserved.

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