ConstantCommentary® Vol. X, No. 167, May 25,
So Sue Me . . .
by Mike Jasper
It seemed like a great idea. While covering the story on the Austin
Police Department's enforcement of new city ordinances prohibiting such
things as sitting, sleeping and begging on public streets, I'd go
undercover as a busker -- a catchy word for street musician.
my short life as an undercover street musician.)
Some buskers are well known in Austin, such as Gerry Van King aka The
King of Sixth Street. Others become famous long after their busking
days are over, such as Slaid Cleaves and Kacy Crowley.
And others are writer-musicians (that's what it says on my tax return)
pretending to be homeless for the sake of a story. Apparently.
My plan was simple. I'd put on a black trench coat, take a guitar
downtown, and pose as a homeless-looking busker while breaking the
city's ordinances. I'd then see first hand how the police handle the
situation. Would they ask me to correct my behavior? Or would they ask
me to stop playing completely? Even worse, would they write me a
ticket? Or send me to jail?
It was a simple plan, but not necessarily a good one.
After covering Monday night's Music Commission meeting (where I also
wore a black trench coat) I headed to Lovejoy's pub and enlisted the
help of bartender Marshall Sugg, who agreed to take a picture of me
sitting on the sidewalk outside -- just 25 feet from an ATM machine.
Sitting on the sidewalk and playing within 25 feet of an ATM machine
are both forbidden under the new laws.
I sat in a little doorway (blocking an entrance, also against the law)
near the corner of Neches and Sixth Street for my photo op. Marshall is
a visual artist, and his commitment to excellence extends to
photo-journalism as well. Apparenlty.
"Let me try one more and see if I can get the ATM machine into the shot
this time," Marshall says. "Good. Now another, with less black wall in
the background. Great. Let's try another at this angle."
You get the picture. Eventually, so did he.
After Marshall finishes, I start strumming and singing "Gloria," loudly
-- as loud as you can get playing a Baby Taylor. As I bang on the
guitar, someone parks in front of me, gets out of the car, and asks if
I'm a street musician.
The urge to say something sarcastic is strong, but a hungry street
musician would never do that.
"Great, I love street musicians," he says, and hands me a dollar bill.
Doesn't stop to hear one note I'm playing, just gives me a buck and
Not a bad gig, I think, and I remember a busker telling me once that
the people who give street musicians money never hang around around to
while the people who hang around to listen never give money. Odd.
Unfortunately, that was the last dollar bill or pedestrian I would see
for 15 minutes. To be more conspicuous, I walked around the corner onto
Sixth Street. As I do, a cop car drives by and I wave. He looks at me
with that I'll-catch-you-later look and drives on. Perfect.
I sit down on Sixth Street and start playing again. No police in sight.
Five minutes later I hear, "Hey, man, what are you doing? I thought you
could get better gigs than this."
Great. It's Kevin Gant, a singer-songwriter who is making an album in
my recording studio. He sings the vocals, I lay down the beatz,
and now he's blowing my cover.
Then again, maybe I caught a break. After all, Kevin is black, and the
APD makes the LAPD look like Freedom Fighters. Unfortunately, Kevin
doesn't linger long, so I move on down the road to set up shop in front
of Maggie Mae's, the heart of busking central on the corner of
Sixth and Trinity. Now the police will find me for sure.
Just as I start playing, someone walks up with an Epiphone guitar
strapped around his neck, leans down, gets right into my face and says
"You better stand up young man, or the police shall send you to jail!"
He introduces himself as Jonny U.K. That would explain the British
accent. "Let me play you a song," he says.
"Sure," I tell him. "Can I take your
He agrees, and as I snap his phot, he breaks into an original song
dedicated to John Lennon. The word "love" is repeated several times,
and he hovers over me as he sings while I sit illegally on the sidewalk
looking up at him. The
dude looks like Christopher Walken.
Soon, three redneck-looking guys walk up and carefully watch Jonny
serenade me. Great. They're probably thinking Brokeback Buskers,
they probably don't like what they see, and when Jonny finishes
singing, they're probably going to beat us to bloody hell (to use
But I was wrong. Way off.
Jonny finishes the song and ambles off into
the night. The three redneck-looking guys approach me.
"Aren't you a musician too?" the thin one wearing a baseball cap asks.
"Sure," I say and break into a mellow folk song. After I finish, the
thin guy in the baseball cap says, "Tell you what, I'll trade you
"That'll work," I say and hand him my guitar. For a moment I think,
what if they grab my guitar and run? That would be hilarious. I'd have
to charge more for the article, though.
Anyway, the thin guy's playing me this song, and I take out my digital
camera and snap a shot of him. Nobody seems surprised that a homeless
guy has a digital camera -- or a Baby Taylor guitar, for that matter --
and I get to thinking, what's up with this guy anyway? He plays great
and his voice is way better than average. But he's basically showing
up a homeless guy. Why would he do that? And what's he going to do
next, eat a hot dog in front of me?
After he finishes the song, I tell him he sounds real good and ask,
"Where are you from?"
"Wichita Falls," he says. Ahhhh. So that's why he's showing up a
"Can I get your name?" I ask. He tells me it's Rudy. Then I ask him
what they're doing in town.
"We're here for an exterminators' conference," he says.
Excellent! It's the real life Dale Dribble. Not even James Frey could
make this up.
I decide to come clean and tell them I'm a reporter working undercover
on a story about buskers. I also tell them I've pretty much given up on
the idea, since it's nearly 9 p.m. and I'm ready to go home and watch
Rollergirls on A&E.
"You should have set up around the corner," Rudy says. "Look through
window. A cop's been sitting there the whole time."
"Yeah, well, now you know why I need work as a writer," I say as I walk
off. "As a musician, I can't even get arrested in this town."
Could I get a rim shot, please?
* * *
This column aims to be funny. If you can read anything else into it,
you're on your own.
Mike Jasper, All Rights Reserved. ConstantCommentary® is published
whenever Mike Jasper feels like it. All material is the responsibility
of the author.