Image source: Flickr / mofxx
The experience was harrowing, to say the least. I was and will forever remain quite scarred. Although I’ll probably stoop lower at some point, I consider the job I am about to describe a considerable lowlight. Like, romantically-dim low, but without any of the associated perks.
I was once hired to create ambient background music at a psychics expo in my home town, Adelaide.
Without divulging too many details, I’ll simply say that an ordinary person would not have considered the event to be a success. The money was not flowing. There were no queues at the door. But it was interesting. It was definitely interesting.
I was a 'gigging' musician at that time, occasionally appearing at oddball variety nights with my guitar. I played regularly (mostly for free) at the Ed Castle on Currie Street, hoping that one night a Sony Executive would be enjoying a $10 meal when she would sweep me off my desperate little feet and into a lucrative recording contract.
Needless to say, that never happened. The closest I ever got to the rockstar lifestyle was drinking alone in my lounge room, depressed because I hated law and because I would never become a successful musician. If that doesn't really sound like a rockstar lifestyle, that's because it's not. Apart from the drinking, it's really not.
I did manage to earn a small amount of money playing music every now and then, which nicely supplemented my government income. In order to supplement the income from my music 'career' I sometimes taught music. That's how the organisers of the first Adelaide Psychic and Spiritual Wellness Expo found me, by googling 'music teachers adelaide' and hey presto, low down on the list, there was my name. I suppose they figured because I was low down on the list I'd be cheaper and more willing to play at their event than all those professionals good enough to be at the top of the list. They were right. $50? My eyes flashed. They turned from a hazel-green to that particular shade of mustard yellow that adorns the second most valuable notes of our currency. They even had greyscale pictures of David Unaipon and Edith Cowan in them.
So it was that on the 15th of November, 2013 I stood in the corner of the Morphettville Convention Centre, guitar in hand, harmonica in mouth, ready to belt out a few hours’ worth of Bob Dylan-inspired audio gold.
I'd busked before. I knew what it was all about. Keep your chin up. Close your eyes if you have to. Deliver the goods.
My well-thought-out guitar chords fell on absent ears. My soul-felt harp notes scattered themselves across a nearly empty room, filled only with the muted chatter of ageing mystical types and the refreshing, largely unappreciated, bouquet of songs that I had prepared especially for the day.
To be perfectly honest, it's not the only time I've played to an almost empty room. And true to my word I went through with it, and played my way through three hours of music. And I am exaggerating when I say that I was unappreciated (an artist's worst nightmare!). Several of the stallholders complimented me afterwards, and the hosts were very gracious and even paid me the agreed upon money.
But there was one thing which made the day unforgettable. There was a massage therapist at a stall near the corner where I was set up. During one of my breaks we got chatting, and he told me about his fumbled attempts to learn guitar. I sympathised, of course, and then he surprised me by saying that he had been learning the flute. He asked me, would I care to jam with him, perhaps a little later in the day? Seeing as there were no customers to be had, why not have a little fun? I'm not sure why, but he had his flute on him, so I agreed. As long as I got paid, right?
For the first song I dropped a standard blues progression. Twelve bars, beginning on a home chord, moving to the fourth chord and back, building the tension, then home again. What could go wrong?
I learned a valuable thing during that jam. The flute and the guitar do not get along. Something about it just doesn't gel. Throw a harmonica into the mix, and you've got auditory chaos. My musical partner was quite oblivious to this clash. He played on with all the surety of a novice, eyes shut, blowing with all his might.
After each song I would compliment his performance and encouraging him to keep practicing. “I’m still struggling with these notes,” he would say. I would nod, as if I could distinguish between his good and his bad notes.
I looked around the room. The psychics didn't seem to mind, or even be aware of us. There was no audience to complain. So we had at it. Why not?
Mathew Drogemuller has the good looks of Dostoyevsky and the writing chops of Ryan Gosling. He's interested in politics, news and playful dogs. He tweets (to all of two followers) at @matdrogemuller.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.