Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Ring My Bell

I hate it when comic strip characters, even ambiguously gay ones, have way more cultural savvy than me. I had never even heard of Joshua Bell until a few days ago, but he is obviously famous enough to be a Dennis the Maestro punchline. It seems Joshua is a rock star in the classical music world and is both single and straight, not that there is anything wrong with that.

Washington Post columnist and noted prankster Gene Weingarten talked Bell into performing for nearly an hour at the entrance to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in DC. I am familiar with the place, having used that station for business and pleasure many times. I’ve even met fellow bloggers there since it is an easy to find and well traveled location. If you watch the video, in the far upper right is a newsstand that does way more business selling lottery tickets than magazines, even if you account for the broad selection of titles that are normally delivered in plain brown wrappers.

Weingarten wanted to know if genius would be recognized when presented in a location where it’s not usually expected. His social experiment met with deafening apathy. Bell’s open Stradivarius case collected only 32 bucks, which won’t get you nose bleed seats at most of his performances.

The long feature article has much hand wringing over the lack of culture in society and our failure to stop and hear the roses. They conclude that much of art is in the context. How true. It’s also a matter of matching material and style to the audience.

A much more successful street performer, although I hope to never see him in Carnegie Hall, is Times Square’s Naked Cowboy. On our recent band trip to New York, I was herding a group of about twenty teenagers from the Virgin Megastore to the Sam Ash music emporium so they could gawk at piccolo trumpets and enameled clarinets when I saw The Naked Cowboy drawing a crowd at the point of Duffey Square (which is really a triangle). I led the group across Seventh Avenue so they could gawk in person. One girl in our group even got up the courage to get groped by him. Those pictures are sure to be on Facebook by now.

Naked is a bit of a misnomer, the Naked Cowboy actually wears a hat, boots, and Hanes cotton briefs with his name Sharpied onto the back. His guitar has a tip jar opening and he spends more time posing than playing. One proud pair of parents had their cute daughters tag-team him while taking pictures.

He has a ready set of lines like “Take your time, I can do this all day” as he flicks his tongue suggestively that tends to speed up boyfriends taking too long fiddling with the focus. The weather that day was pretty cool but business was brisk and there was no evidence of shrinkage in the crowds around the Naked Cowboy.

So the next time Joshua Bell wants to do a little busking, I suggest he leave the three million dollar Stradivarius at home and don some tighty-whiteys instead.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: Who is your favorite street performer or where is a good place to see them?


Anonymous said...

Ha. And I'm one of those bloggers you met in L'Enfant plaza. We need to pick a better place for lunch next time, though, yello.

I think that the material might have been part of the problem, unfortunately.

If you'd put Ian Anderson out there playing Tull stuff on his flute, I bet he'd have made more money. And that's a scary thought compared to the "Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute" money Josh Bell made.


Impetua said...

We went to Spain a number of years ago. In Barcelona there is a street called Las Ramblas which is a very popular spot for tourists and the like. Outdoor cafes, kiosks, shops, all kinds of interesting sights, and street performers of various sorts. I have a photo of one dressed as Don Quixote but painted silver, the ones who stands on a box holding perfectly still like a statue. One of our group went forth and put a coin in the performer's hat and he rewarded her by abruptly (but gracefully) changing position. It scared the bejeebus out of her which made it all the more amusing to the rest of us.

Also in downtown Portland we used to have a saxophonist who would stand on a streetcorner and play various melancholy tunes, including my favorite, the theme song to "The Flintstones."

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Why is it always the goofball guys who pull stunts like this? I mean would it kill Fergie to perform on the street in her underwear?

HRH Courtney, Queen of Everything said...

I just saw the NY Times. So sorry to read that one of our literary icons, and the muse behind this blog's title, has left us.

Anonymous said...

They should never have set up Joshua Bell at L'enfant Plaza. They are all bureaucrat nerds and Republicans there. Hopelessly unmusical people.

If they had set him up at Dupont Circle station or Cleveland Park station the results would have been completely different.

One thing, though, Weingarten refers to Bell as being straight, but I had always heard he was gay. I'm gay so I want to know if I can or can't continue to claim him as a paisan.