The Busker

Revealing My Preconceived Notions About the Community

I was searching for buskers in Times Square 42nd Street subway station when I encountered a man, perched on a milk crate, drumming an upside-down bucket. Some white paint oozed out from underneath the bucket as he kept a slow, semi-off-tempo drum beat. To his left, a yellow plastic cup had some dollar bills stuffed inside. To his right, two empty tin cans echoed off the walls from his drumming. He caught a few glances from the commuters rushing by, but no one seemed particularly interested in the man’s performance.

As I observed this scene from afar, I found myself questioning the notion of being a “busker.” Do you have to be talented? Does it have to sound good? Is effort alone enough for someone to be considered a busker?

Looking back now, the answer should have been obvious. But at the time, the man did not fit the preconceived image I had of a “busker”; I thought he may have been homeless and he was not the greatest drum player… So, is he considered a “busker”? And was he “busking”?

“Busking” is the act of performing in public for donations… therefore anyone can be a busker! With or without a home. The diversity of the busking community is what makes it so cool. New York City buskers vary in age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, talent, and life experience.

But what about his performance? Was it “busking material”?

Busking is performing, performing is creating art, and art is subjective! Therefore, “busking” to one person may be different to another. Although some people did not consider his performance entertaining, other people could have. It’s certainly not up to me to decide.

So, was the man a busker? Of course!

That day in the subway tunnels, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of breaking down assumptions, judgements, and biases I may have about people or a community. Preconceived notions are often blinding. As a journalist, keeping an open-mind is of utmost importance — especially when covering a community that isn’t yours.

When I wrapped up my thoughts, I approached the man and introduced myself. His name was Tyson and he told me a lot about his unique life as a busker. His stories of ridicule were heart-breaking and his stories of harassment were infuriating, but what saddened me the most was when he said that no one takes him seriously. Tyson made me realize that even in the NYC busking community, marginalized individuals exist.

Tyson Lucas performing at Times Square 42nd Street station. (Photo by Colin-Pierre Larnerd)
“No one is silent, though many are not heard. Work to change this.”

The BUSK Stop: NYC provides a sneak peek into New York City’s vibrant busking scene. Fostering communication, collaboration, and networking.

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