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November 07 , 2009

Busker - Tales of a Renegade Harpist


This is the first full-length modern memoir about the life of a busker and an inside look at the much-maligned yet honorable busking lifestyle. Fundamentally it is about learning to live life to the fullest—on one's own terms—the author's quest. Especially relevant in hard economic times when old models for gaining artistic recognition may no longer be effective, these are gritty and enticing stories of how the author did whatever it took to find an audience for his music—often through “improper channels.” A fascinating view of the travels and adventures of a northwest regional icon and instructive to those few brave souls wanting to try their hand at this ancient art form, BUSKER takes us on a wild ride from the fairs and ferryboats of Puget Sound to the castles and cobblestones of Scandinavia. David Michael was a virtual institution for seventeen years, playing his Celtic harp aboard the ferryboat between Port Townsend, Washington and Whidbey Island. His multitudes of fans were horrified when Washington State Ferries officials ordered him to cease and desist for reasons of “Homeland Security” and cheered him on as his story reverberated through the regional news and blogosphere. From security threat to cause celebre, the harpist’s struggles with the world’s largest ferryboat bureaucracy ultimately effected changes in the system and inspired satire from great writers such as Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Ross Anderson (whose team broke the Exxon Valdez story). The author writes of pertinent character shaping events that led him to his life’s work, with epiphanies and lessons learned along the way. Early chapters chronicle coming of age in Seattle in the 1960s in the midst of race riots, the flowering of the folk music scene, the Vietnam War and the height of psychedelic youth culture and a teenage hitchhiking adventure around Europe. Other stories range from attending boarding school with the children of Hollywood's elite, to time on an Israeli kibbutz, to depictions of the seamy underbelly of Sunset Boulevard and the crest of hippy counter-culture in California. The bulk of the book is devoted to his professional life as a middle-aged busker replete with lively international travelogue—including five summers of Scandinavian busking adventures and misadventures. More than a mere string of anecdotes, the conflict with the Washington State Ferries actually led to some significant changes, including an official busking program on one of the ferry lines. Ultimately, Michael’s attempts to work within that system proved personally unsatisfactory—even contradictory to the spirit of busking. However, his personal transformation through many stages in this process led him to a satisfying and natural conclusion of the story. The book glorifies the ancient art of busking and engaging the public directly. The author views buskers as cultural ambassadors whose passion for their art cannot be quenched by society’s attempts to marginalize them or force them to perform in “acceptable” venues. He supports his contentions with historic anecdotes: For example, one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, used to busk in the street, singing songs as a vehicle to attract crowds in order to sell his pamphlets. Sociological observations comparing European and American attitudes about art are interlaced with the adventure tales. In Europe, creative artists are thought of as national treasures in need of encouragement. Without preaching or whining, this memoir aims to amuse, entertain, educate, provoke and inspire through the example of true-life experiences. The story also demonstrates how a musician—through honest living by his wits—can be commercially successful without getting signed or by “selling out.” And if he wears a smile and embraces the journey as a kind of spiritual path as well as a life of service, he may find genuine happiness! The book is laced with humor, true adventure, love and soul-searching.
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