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Singing in the Spotlight

Originally published on, May 3, 2019

“I don’t want you to come.”

“What do you mean? Why not?”

“One of my friends here convinced me that it wouldn’t be a good idea to have you come here just so we can break up.”

September of 2013…. I was planning to go to Myanmar to visit my girlfriend, but... there was a change of plans. And of course, I found myself rather torn up and lifeless. I already had my flight ticket, my time away from work figured out… but I knew that if I went to Myanmar, even just to try to relax on my own… I would get so depressed there. And if I stayed at home, I would feel even worse. And so, having most of the logistics already worked out, I decided to take advantage of my time to go and pursue an old fantasy of mine: I had long dreamed of being a street performer. Maybe this was the perfect time to give it a shot. I certainly had the pathos.

I changed my destination to Prague - one of the capitals of street shows at the time - and boarded the plane with a small suitcase and an old guitar, thankful that I had found something that could still excite me in those lousy days.

I remember stepping out of the elevator and walking out into the cold European air for the first time. The rules in Prague were still pretty lenient then, and aside from a few restricted streets, I could go just about anywhere, set up my speaker, and start singing - as long as no other busker was there first.

As this was my very first time, and since I was pretty shy about it, I spent several hours just walking around and looking for “the perfect spot”. I wanted plenty of people to see me, but I was also afraid to be seen….. especially by any local irritable shop owners; and regardless of the rules, I was afraid of the cops. So I found a nice little niche under a bridge, within earshot of only one small cafe but right along the path that lead downtown, and I pulled out my guitar.

I have to say that there are few better schools for performing than the streets. If you think that you can get away with just some nice singing, get ready for an education. You will soon discover the difference between singing to yourself, and singing to your audience. If you cannot engage them, you may as well not exist.

After a couple of hours of Simon and Garfunkel, Beatles, and Dylan, I wrapped up and walked off with about a handful of coins - some of which were not even in the local currency: A few travelers apparently thought I would be the perfect receptacle for loose change that they had left over from another country, that no-one would exchange because it was just petty cash. I did have fun singing, though. And I did get some smiles. But obviously, I had a lot to learn.

That evening, I treated myself to the town square. Nonstop movement from thousands of feet and thousands of faces - children, old friends, wanderers, adventurers, businessmen, students, retirees, lovers, rosy-cheeked newlyweds… Dark evening skies and city lights, and sounds and smells everywhere. It was like being in Disneyland.

And in the very center of the square, my eyes fell on a young man who was singing a pop song with a steel-string guitar. He was tall, possibly older than me, dark jeans, thick coat, lots of hair, a loop machine, a large speaker… and maybe a hundred and fifty people standing and listening. Was he the best singer I had ever heard? Certainly not. He could carry a decent tune. Certainly a better guitarist than me. But the atmosphere was electric. The crowd formed a halo around him and even the skies seemed to sway along with the moment. But he hadn’t found any rare talent that no-one else had. He was just singing his song.

And the reason he received so much love was obvious: He was just plain brave enough to stand in the spotlight, and ask for it.


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