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Tips Street Performers Remember

The trinkets and photos you tip a street performer with today, may end up as some of their most treasured family possessions 5 generations from now. You never know. Things with zero monetary value end up as some of buskers' most prized tips. It will be interesting to see where that tip the Saw Lady received, the coin with the crown and clown on it, ends up, in the grand scheme of history. Will some archaeologist dig it up and claim it an ancient money someday?!
A sticker I received as a tip in my guitar case years ago...
A sticker I received as a tip in my guitar case years ago...
Tips Street Performers Remember
By Kirsten Anderberg (www.kirstenanderberg.com)
September 2006

When I look around my house, I see many reminders of my busker past. I walk into my kitchen and there is the hand-carved face on the broom an OCF (Oregon Country Fair) crafter tipped me, and there is the tile of a nun that a fan brought to my show at OCF, on the countertop...I walk into my living room, and I see hanging by my window, the "mosquito house" (a miniature bird house) given to me by a toy vendor at a fair and I see the wind chimes another crafter tipped me. One of the first things that hooked me on street performing was the non-money tips. I remember quite clearly the first time I received a tip in my guitar case of sea shells and trinkets, rather than money. It was like a revelation. The non-money tips followed me throughout my days as a busker. Non-money tips make life exciting and colorful for a busker. For this article, I asked several buskers "What is the coolest tip in your case, that you have ever gotten as a busker?"

PKDwyer (www.pkdwyer.com), a Seattle street performer now on the East Coast, answered that his "coolest tip" was "an ice cream cone. I know because it bounced off my forehead first before it went into my case." Ah, the beauty of busking the streets! LOL! And at first, Andrew Pulkrabek from Seattle, responded to my request for the coolest tip ever received with, "Coolest tip came from Crow about 6 years ago at Folklife. I asked him what he thought was the best way to draw a crowd and he said, "Get some fire and wave it around."" That is not exactly what I was asking for, but that *is* a damned good tip!

The "Saw Lady" (www.sawlady.com), aka Natalia, in NYC, answered more along the lines I was looking for! She responded, "I guess the COOLEST tip in my case was this brand new (in it's box) game-show-network pen which lights up in green (there's a light bulb inside the pen). I still use it even though it's been about 2 years since I got it. The most USEFUL tip was a brand new Swiss watch (in it's box) - I used that watch for years. The CUTEST tip was a brand new teddy-bear in a yellow shirt. The most ARTISTIC tip was a poem written on a gold & orange paper. The most TOUCHING tip were notes from people telling me they really love my playing but they are broke, so they don't have money to give me but they just want me to know how much they appreciate my presence there. Of course, there is the OSCAR tip - when one person gives you $100. Do you call this an Oscar, too, on the West coast?" (And to answer Natalia, no, I had not heard it called that, but it makes sense, and is a good term for the $100 tip, so I will use it from now on!)

Thaddeus Spae (www.ambertide.com) commented on a variety of an "oscar" in his response, as well. He referred to a "multiple oscar!" Thaddeus wrote: "The best tips came from the best places, like (Oregon) Country Fair and the Sawdust Festival in CA. But the single best tip we ever got was on a lounge gig in BC -- a guy who was on chemo tipped us a couple hundred dollars and then added a carved soapstone esquimo(sic) duck. A treasured thing..." I also have saved odd trinkets over the years, such as stones with hand-carvings on them, wooden carved items, etc. One of my favorite items along those lines is a white stone with the word "flexibility" superimposed onto it. I have carried that stone in my pocket before during especially trying times to remember to bend. I have no idea who gave it to me, it just appeared in my case one day, yet I have kept it for decades now.

And I have received a few "oscars" this lifetime, as well. I remember one was when I was singing under the clock at the Pike Place Market, probably two decades ago. The man sort of waved it in front of me as he put it in my case, and it was a few songs later that I realized it was a $100 and quickly removed it from my case into my pocket for security reasons. I also remember receiving "an oscar" at the OCF one year, and that one donation bought me a full day of playing with my kid instead of working, something I seriously am thankful for. (I usually had to hustle all day to cover the costs of attending the OCF, so with a large tip like that, I could take a little time off to play with my son at the fair, rather than hustle to afford attending it!) I have also gotten $50 and $20 tips, and I still get $5 tips often, along with ones. But notice, Thaddeus did not just mention the money, he also mentioned a small hand-carved duck! And the duck is something he treasures and the duck survived longer than the few hundreds he was tipped. Trinkets endure, is my experience, and is perhaps why I treasure them so.

On the Saw Lady's excellent busker page ( http://sawlady.com/sawmemo.htm), she says, "On February 2nd, 2005 someone very kind put a sealed envelope in my donation box at 59th Street. When I opened it, there was a plastic gold coin in it with a relief of a crown on one side and of a court jester on the other. Along with this coin there was the following note: "You are a magical treasure, be well." Thank you so much to the kind soul who left me this note. Nice notes in my donation box are worth more than all the money in the world to me." I share her sentiments here, fully. It is funny how things with zero monetary value, to speak of, end up as some of buskers' most prized tips. And it will be interesting to see where that tip the Saw Lady received, the coin with the crown and clown on it, ends up, in the grand scheme of history. Will some archaeologist dig it up someday and claim it an ancient money they never knew of prior?!

When my son was young, people tipped me all kinds of very cool handmade toys and other items for children. I have saved them, and my son, who is now 22 years old, would be angry if I threw them away. These toys are of the highest quality and include things like a hand-cut alphabet puzzle of wood, a wooden vacuum cleaner with wooden painted balls and bells inside, several different beautiful play capes, as well as the hippest Grateful Dead t-shirts for babies, reversible velvet hats, and even fun kids' music, such as a tip I received from Faith Petric in 1982: a tape of her singing kid's songs, that was one of my son's favorite tapes during his childhood. Busking as a low-income mother gave my son not only experiences, but toys, music and belongings, that were beyond our economic reach due to social class. Somehow, becoming a street performer gave my son a cultural richness I could not have bought with the low-income funds and lack of blood family I have. Thus, talent gave me tips and those tips enriched my life more than I think money, alone, could ever have. And my son treasures those toys and items, not only as toys. He values them as toys that were GIVEN to him, due to appreciation of *his mom's* performing talents that she shared for decades with these people and their families. And that is special. It really is. He feels those presents were given TO HIM, specifically. They were not just sold to him like the faceless tourist transaction. No, those crafters and people gave of their time, energy, and goods, and even profits, to acknowledge my son with those presents, as part of our alternative society and underground family/community, and he and I both value them in that way. As more than the mere gift items.

I have no list of tips I have received over my nearly 30 years as a busker. I am even hard-pressed to name the COOLEST tips, as I have received SO MANY *very* cool tips over the decades. And as the Saw Lady said, some of the things I treasure most are the notes people have tossed into my case, and/or the genuine appreciation from people. A woman some called a "bag lady," named Edith, used to tip me shiny coins all the time when she saw me. She had few, if any, teeth, and a long mat of hair, and carried around an odd assortment of goods in her cart. But she always wanted to tip me, and I would never deny her that pleasure. I found out later that she would spit at the male performers and I was one of the only buskers ever known to have been tipped by her, much less regularly. I take that as an honor, actually.

The Saw Lady referred to a poem dropped in her case as a tip, and the text of that poem is displayed on her  http://sawlady.com/sawmemo.htm webpage. It is truly sweet. She says, "When playing at 14th street at noon, a gentleman put in my box a poem he has written on a gold and orange paper. The poem was so appropriate to the moment that it really touched me..." The poem, written by Pat Christiano, says, "Amazing how at noon, you're there, among a hundred bikes and cars and buses, tractors, trucks and taxis, and a lone arthritic horse, among children, men and women..." The poem rivals the eloquence of Joni Mitchell's classic busker anthem, "For Free." But again, these tips were given for free, as was the music, and these exchanges are invaluable to a busker, yet have little to no monetary value! Which is why I think you need to have an appreciation for DIY culture and need to actually treasure human interactions as worthy tips alone, if you are to survive the busker world for decades.

Some of my favorite tips, admittedly, are the "hate notes" from my case, due to my dark sarcastic wit, I am sure. I have one scribbled note that I remember a disgusted Valley Girl-type of a teen threw in my case in Santa Cruz, Ca., in the 1980's, and it says, "You have the most loudest, most terrible voice ever! Shut up!" For some reason, I loved the simplicity of her critique and note, and I saved it for decades. LOL! But it is touching stuff that I have saved mostly, and that collection adds up to what could easily be assembled into a museum exhibit of busker tips. I hope someday for busker exhibits to be offered at a museum near you. (If you are a museum exhibitor, and would like to do an exhibit around busking, please contact me at  kirstena@resist.ca.)

On my desk in front of me, I just noticed a paper holder I use is a piece of blown glass that someone tipped me at the University Street Fair probably 15 years ago. The person who tipped me with it has no idea I still use and treasure it. I see the goddess candle holder tip from OCF in 1997, and I see the votive candle a Market crafter gave me as a tip 2 months ago inside it. Looking over at my jewelry, I see many a tip. I see a my "unofficial"/contraband silver OCF peach pendant, as well as blown glass earrings, obsidian earrings, beaded barrettes...all tips. (Just a few months ago, as a matter of fact, a jeweler at the Pike Place Market tipped me a $20 and told me to come to his booth for a free pair of earrings...) I look on my altar and it is filled with tips from the years past: fossilized wood, aquamarine, diamonds, amber, tigers eyes, jade, quartz, coral, star anise, tonka beans, rare coins, marbles, seashells, NYC subway tokens, The Ritz sauna tokens, a bronze carving of a woman reaching to the sky, coins for carts at SeaTac airport, money from all over the world...but of all the clothing, jewelry, trinkets, etc. that I have received as tips, my most treasured tips still are the toys and gifts people gave me for my son as a child. And the pictures people have sent me of my past, especially pictures that include my son growing up in this circus family. I was too poor to afford film and processing most of my son's life and much of my personal family's documentation has been provided by fans, who have sent me pictures they took of me performing over the decades. (By the way, if you are reading this and have any pictures of my past performances, I would love to get copies. You can mail them to me at POBox 9983, Seattle, Wa 98109.)

I think most street performers would tell you they treasure pictures of them performing sent back to them. When prodded for a tangible tip he liked as an answer to my question, Andrew Pulkrabek remarked, "The coolest non-monetary tip I have ever received was an 8 1/2 X 11
print of me lying on a bed of nails at the moment of impact where the
sledgehammer hits the cement block. I received the picture approximately one year to the day after it was taken, and it was beautiful - excellent composition, excellent timing, and a beautiful print. I still have it, and it has yet to be rivaled by all the random donations of food, drugs, and phone numbers that I have received in previous years. The phone numbers have worked out alright in a few occasions, though..."

It is quite common for pictures to be a favored busker tip, I believe. Since many buskers are low-income and/or transient, or even merely due to the fact that you cannot photograph yourself while performing, archiving our own pasts has been spotty, and thus it is often our fans who hold our own historical documents, not us, in their photo albums and attics. Sharing your own copies of performer photos from years past, with the actual performer photographed, is an excellent tip for buskers. I can almost guarantee you that a performer will be thankful for such a tip. It becomes part of their own family archives and heritage.

When I die, my son will inherit my odd collection of *things.* And he will know the story behind a lot of our family *things.* I did not inherit any bloodline heirlooms: I have nothing, actually, that was owned by either of my grandparents. I do not think I even own anything either one of my *parents* gave to me, to be honest. But I do own a large cache of tips, odd and wondrous, and my son was with me when I earned many of those tips. Those are *our* family heirlooms. Which is one of the reasons I so love busking and the circus lifestyle; it kept me outside with my kid, with other performers and with families, rather than locked up in smoky bars with drunk men as my musical clientele. I rest assured my son will treat these family heirlooms as the treasures they are, even if he never becomes a busker. The trinkets and photos you tip a street performer with today, may end up as some of their most treasured family possessions 5 generations from now. You never know.

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