Ana and I passed a busker on the way out of the underground yesterday. He was a beat-up broken sort of folk singer with a golden set of pipes. Ana, music lover and pirate, put some treasure in his cap and we carried on.
|Rock me, baby.|
On the way home we saw a different busker in exactly the same spot. Although he was similarly broken-looking, he sang from a different songbook, namely the one containing 'Always Look On the Bright Side of Life'. He sang it with the sort of earnest feeling that Monty Python never quite pulled off.
It was the middle of the day and the commuter crowd had dispersed, leaving him to sing to no one but himself and the footstep-modulated sunshine streaming in from the street above. I was struck by the stark loneliness of the image - a man in an empty rabbit run singing to the ether.
This town is silly with good musicians. They play in the street and sing to the underground as the human school swarms in and out on the working tide, unnoticing. They sing with persistence in the face of persistent ignoring.
My other half was born with the gift of music. He picked up a guitar somewhere in his youth and never put it down. And he's always been a singer. Over the years he has cultivated an eclectic arsenal of folk, gospel, blues, ranchera, and rock tunes. Like Steve Zissou, the girls and I (and sometimes Neffe too) live with a guitar-strummer in every scene, and our family life has a rolling soundtrack. We are hugely blessed in this regard, although I suppose we've become accustomed to it in the manner that you can become accustomed to any amazing thing that you experience every day.
Music has been an important part of the girls' lives since they were days old. It quickly became Papa's means of quieting them when they were deep in the throws of pediatric demon possession. At one point just after Ana was born, the only thing that comforted her was Papa singing 'Silent Night' on eternal repeat.
The job of household master musician is a lonely one. Papa plays on when his kids are trying to chew the guitar strings off. There is no profit and no reward. They usually don't even remember to clap. Often they wander off in the middle of a particularly lovely rendition of 'Life in a Northern Town' to smack their heads on toys in the other room. I've frequently seen grown-ups respond in a similar manner to beautiful music - it just seems to be a folk musician's lot in life.
I wasn't born with the musical gift. I can do a very accurate impression of a rusty hinge warbling. I don't demonstrate this skill at parties anymore, because there's no better way to ruin a festive atmosphere than to burst an eardrum.
I've noticed something about the lonely musicians in my house and on the underground: they achieve total focus, and they really wail. My research indicates that their real trick* is to hit song hard and not give a toss about who's listening. A trick I've never managed to pull off in life, but I hope my girls will. Because with confidence like that, you could do just about anything.
At one point last week I found myself staring blankly at the monitor, drifting off on a really boring daydream about soup (vegetable - the boringest of soups). I looked down and realised that my trousers were covered in a colourful Jackson Pollock of kid-food detritus. Then I looked up and found Ana standing stock still at my elbow. Her face made it clear that she was about to drop wisdom.
'Mama,' she said, 'wake up.'
A thought I've been mulling over a lot this week, as I listen to one of my favourite songs.
*I don't mean the trick to paying the gas bill. There are better tricks for that, and I am a lousy expert in that department. What I mean some sort of fuzzy hippie notion about finding equilibrium and joy.