I have many, many people in my life that are musicians. Some I love as much as I love my own family. Being a musician is surely something only few can be prosperous at. And there are different levels of success. Some are completely happy to do it on the side while pursuing a regular job/career. Some dive in full force into it and hope that their hard work pays off. I’ve found people who work tirelessly at their craft and are completely content giving their music away and performing two or three times a year and others that put tours together that travel 20 states in 50 days doing 45 shows. What I’m getting at here is “success” means something different to all of these folks.
A few months ago, on Facebook, one of my friends that I met through music (he’s a very amazing pianist, himself, and an all around excellent human) shared a video of a gentleman that was clearly busking on the street. His voice was wavering, but he clearly knew his way around a guitar fretboard. He played with passion and in the video, he was unkept and appeared to be homeless. None of this bothers me at all – because hey, I don’t know his story and at least he’s out there doing what he can to get tips and he’s sharing his heart through music. I get it. I sooooo fucking get it. After seeing this video, something in my head clicked, but I didn’t know that it had clicked until about a month and a half later when we went to a pizza/beer joint with our kids and got up to leave.
As we were leaving the table and getting our coats on, my husband said, “Hey! There’s a guy out there busking!” This isn’t something you see every day in our town, so when it happens, you notice. I squinted my eyes and tried to focus through the misty, fogged up windows and, sure enough, it was Stan. To which I exclaimed, “Hey! That’s Stan!!!!!!!!!!!!” My husband was a little taken aback that I knew who this guy was, so I explained about the video that was shared. I immediately scrounged through my purse and found my only $5 and my husband looked through his wallet and found only a few ones. Our kids got in the car because it was raining pretty hard and breezy out and my husband and I walked across the street under a rooftop of a closed, vacant business where Stan was playing. He was in mid-song, but I totally (and probably rudely) blurted out, “HI! Are you Stan?! I have seen video’s of you on Facebook!” I told him my name, we introduced with hugs and we listened to him sing a song of his choosing to us that fit the situation we were experiencing. I hadn’t heard it before and just wanted to appreciate his gift in the rain on a cold November night. We told him thank you and that we enjoyed his playing and gave him our contributions and hoped that it would give him gas money or a warm meal.
It’s been a few months since that meeting with Stan. One three occasions we have been able to contribute to Stan, who we learned has lost most of everyone in his family. His Father’s last wish was that Stan pursue music. Stan took that to mean that he needs to do that and nothing else and he is suffering for his art. My friend that posted the video and I have chatted on a few occasions regarding Stan. Before getting too involved, I wanted to know how much he knew about him, which wasn’t much, other than he is living in his van and plays music on the street – I was told he seemed like a very intelligent guy and he was not into drugs or boozing his way through life, which made me feel pretty comfortable about trying to help him more than that one encounter on the street after the pizza.
I’ve had several conversations with Stan and have seen him a few times over these last few months. We stumbled into him while meeting someone at a coffee shop one time – we exchanged hugs, we made sure he had a large hot coffee to keep him warm. Chatting with my friend that originally shared the video he told us that his most requested need, the thing that helps him get through really rough nights are hand warmers. The ones that fit inside of gloves or socks? Anyway, we bought him a whole case of those, wrapped them up for Christmas and drove around town trying to find him to give them to him along with a pair of fingerless gloves. Another time, someone had gifted him a portable propane heater and he asked on Facebook if anyone had any propane cylinders. We hadn’t been camping in FOREVER so I rummaged through our camping equipment and found 3 of them and met him at a coffee shop so that he could have them – the weather was bitter then, around 20 degrees and living in a van that you barely had money to pay for gas with all of his busking money – my daughter and I bought him a gigantic cup of coffee to get his insides warm and we sat and chatted for awhile. He’s very present and intelligent. Not out of it in any way. He seems genuine and caring and – yes, if you’ve been on the street for awhile, I’d guess that you figure out pretty quickly what people respond positively to, but I didn’t get the feeling that what he was showing us was an act. I think he sees beauty in the world, has fallen on rough times with losing his family and relocated to Washington State from New York to escape the frigid winters there. He told us about the farm he lived on where the snow drifts would get 8 feet tall and the old farm house they lived in. How he worked side-by-side with his grandpa. Sometimes, it’s nice to not pass these people by and to actually invest a little time.
He’s chosen a path that not many would choose. Stan told me that he is a very talented vehicle technician. He’s worked on import cars. Yet, he chooses to suffer for his art and not seek work outside of playing on the streets .
His latest rant on Facebook had something to do with me. I posted “Those that say money can’t buy happiness, clearly haven’t purchased a plane ticket to Hawaii.” We are planning our 25th anniversary trip to Maui this summer. So, naturally, I’m looking at airfares almost daily. ANYWAY – he saw this post on Facebook and he clicked the “like” button. His response was his own status message shortly afterwards:
Those that say money cant buy happiness are assholes who have NEVER had to choose between eating and fuel. With as much kindness as i can manage i say: go screw yourself.
To which I apologized (after he liked my status message) if I pissed him off in any way with my post. I have tons of Facebook friends and he took offense, which was not my intent. Sometimes we forget when we are making snide, cheeky comments that others aren’t as fortunate as we are. Does that mean I’m not going to share my life with those on Facebook? Fuck no. I’ll still share vacation pictures and all the other things that I get to experience because of my hard work and determination to make a good life for myself and my family. Unfortunately, Stan has made his choice to suffer for his art. Or maybe it’s not unfortunate at all. Maybe he wants to live life having a pity party – which seems harsh to say, but after seeing more comments that he posted , it’s exactly what he’s asking for.
He complains about working 18 hours a day, playing his music until his fingers bleed. Cinching his belt tighter and tighter. Making $1.75/day. To me, that is insanity. He’s clearly able to live better. He truly is. Yet, he chooses to suffer for his art. He doesn’t have gas money to keep his van on the road. I’ve invited him to house shows, so that he can get out of the cold, get some food – because GOD KNOWS – we have so much, it’s embarrassing. But, I cannot be the one that supports him fully. I just can’t. Sure, we go out to dinner a lot. We go on vacations. We have insurance and jobs and own our home and have two cars and can get gas whenever we need it, but I cannot adjust my life and the way I share things on social media because Stan can’t handle other peoples happiness or good fortune. But…
HE CAN HAVE THAT TOO.
And it upsets me deeply that I can’t do more. It really does. You have no idea how many times I have kept myself awake at night thinking of ways to talk to him and try to get him placed at a job. Or even if I could somehow get his van in the back yard so he can be safe, instead of who knows where he goes at night. But, I need to take a step back and realize that maybe he just needs to live like this. I have enough respect for how other people live their lives to not butt in and try to solve all their problems outwardly – no matter how much I want to and dream of doing it internally.
My husband described it as “victim mentality”. But I’m not so sure about that. I may never know. He may never make it out of here finding the success that makes him happy. Or maybe he will. And that is how I’m going to have to look at it. Maybe he will.
I suspect I’m not the only person that he will affect in his life by his story.