What Courage Sounds Like


To ring in 2012, I offer you this scene: a Paris Metro car full of people on their way home, their facial expressions ranging from impatient to bored. In the middle of us all, a woman with her amplifier strapped to a dolly, sings into a microphone that lets us hear her loud and clear (whether we want to or not) as she croons “Sway” with a very thick French accent.

At first, I found it a bit annoying to have my eardrums accosted by accordionists, singers, and other performers on the Metro when all I wanted was to get home from work and see my boys. But then I began to really pay attention to these performers. Some clearly were doing it just for the money–the handful of change they shamed or pressured travelers into giving them before they finally stepped off the train and went to inflict auditory torture on someone else.  The instrument they carried was basically just an accessory to their panhandling efforts.

Other buskers were different–well dressed and apparently indifferent to whether or not they received donations.  I have a theory (perhaps totally bogus) that these performers see the Metro as a kind of endless open-mike opportunity. They have a captive audience, after all.

But for my shy self, the proportions of their courage boggle the mind. A captive audience, yes, but a very cranky audience determined not to be moved by their music. Is it the challenge that appeals? And has a Metro crowd ever burst out into applause? I’d love to know.

While I have sometimes wanted to pay the Metro performers money to please, please STOP playing, our little boy Liam is a huge fan of all music, no matter how bad. He’ll sway to an out-of-tune accordion, elevator music, or even a cellphone ringtone. So I guess–when he’s with us–the buskers can count on at least one appreciative member in their captive audience.

And maybe, with enough courage, one real listener is enough to make it worthwhile. That’s what I’m trying to remember this new year, knee-deep as I am in scary, rough-drafting for novel #3.


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