Confessions of an American Street Musician in Europe

by Daniel Gordon



If the street musician is reasonably well-groomed and even moderately talented, everybody loves him. Everybody, that is, except for irate shop owners who are annoyed by unsolicited disturbances outside their doors and power-hungry policemen who have nothing better to do than stop these harmless entertainers from doing their thing. Just about everyone else loves them. I’m not sure why; the romance of that wandering lifestyle seems to strike a special chord and arouse the latent bohemianism within everyone.

After two summers of street-musicianing, or “busking,” through thirteen European countries and an American city or two, I am by no means the foremost authority on the subject. I have never been a “hard core” busker who played on the street full-time. I busked as an addendum to my travels, to cut costs as I went, and to have a different kind of experience than the usual tourist activities. But in chatting with other street musicians about the ins and outs of the trade, I found that we all faced similar issues, shared similar experiences, and generally went through a similar process whatever the act was, be it bagpipes, bongos, banjos, accordions, violins, or even spoons.

This book recounts the busking experiences I had with a college buddy as we traversed the Continent playing baroque duets on two saxophones. It tells a few tricks of the trade and expresses my feelings about the people, places, and things we encountered. Our busking was entirely peripatetic; that is, we learned everything by going, observing, playing, talking, and asking questions. This story is, therefore, not necessarily definitive on any of the topics discussed, but true to what we found along the way.

In telling it all, I hope to give a feeling for the kind of life these mysterious entertainers of the street lead: what goes on in their heads while on the street and what goes on in their lives while off it. For while everybody loves the street musician, few really know the street musician. And at the very least, I’m hopeful this tale will make you that much more willing to toss some spare change at the next busker you see.

all of those
street musicians
who always wanted
to write a book
about their adventures
but never seemed
to get around to it
all of those
would-be street musicians
who never even got around
to busking at all