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Home: A Day in the Life of a Tokyo Musician

A Day in the Life of a Tokyo Musician
(See what you missed "working for a living"
all these years!)
by Rambling Steve Gardner

working musician Steve

As a working musician playing gigs in a city of nearly 12 million and using public transportation to go to and from live shows, my success depends on the art of packing and personal mobility. I usually carry a couple or sometimes three guitars, spare strings, a handful of harmonicas, holders, slides and picks, a small amp, mics, all sorts of wires to plug into do-dads for this and that, CDs for sale, a bag of energy drinks and tonics and a Snickers bar, just in case, all stacked and packed onto my “rolling rig”. (Every musician has their own rig for gigging around. Some roll and some don’t. But we all carry more or less an amazing pile of musical "stuff".)

For me, an outing to a usual live show usually involves departing my apartment pulling, dodging and pushing gear to navigate crowded walkways sprinkled with steps and inclines to get to my local train station. I roll through the narrow station entrance up along the narrow train departure platform after more steps, but these days some elevators. Bumps and skids from the platform onto the train -- sometimes several trains. Then navigation through endless miles of escalators zooming up out of the stations but many times not back down again for when you are ready to return home.

Once I hit the venue with steps up and steps down, there is usually just enough time for unpacking and set up. It is here that I usually discover that the one electrical outlet on stage is either completely overloaded or is powering the main neon street sign for the place. This usually creates a nice humming sound broadcast out over the PA. Usually in these places everything is wired in series so the stage loses power whenever the kitchen uses the microwave oven.

Opening cases, setting up and with the guitars unpacked, somehow everything gets plugged in without a fire starting or anyone being electrocuted. I pull sound and adjust. Then I remind myself that I came to play the best music that I can for these folks, many of whom came a long way tonight just to hear me. I make a few more adjustments. The clock ticks around to just enough time for a beer. Then it is about time to kick off the first set.

As I pick up my guitar I see that the place has filled up. From the stage I can spot a few regulars out among the new faces taking their seats. Drinks are sloshed down and around as food is served up. On stage it is slow going as the microwave oven takes most of the stage power causing the amp and PA to cut on and off. I just work the “stops” into a song and keep going. Seven orders of microwave popcorn nearly cut the first set short as I was running out of tunes laced with several random stops. One that works is the old, “Mama don’t allow no… here”. I usually have to sing, “Mama don’t allow no microwave oven in here!”

Mid first set I noticed a familiar woman holding her cell phone over her head and waving. I couldn’t tell what she wanted but she seemed to be enjoying herself. As the microwave cut in again and the lights dimmed, I recognized her as a regular who often accompanied her elderly father, now nursing home bound. For years they made it to nearly every show that I played there.

I smiled at that nice thought of the two of them sharing the music. He took pride in his English ability as well as his knowledge of American music. He would request tunes like “John Henry” or “Take This Hammer”. He almost never missed one of my shows. She told me when I took a break after the first set that she had called him at the nursing home so that he could listen to a few tunes, hoping that maybe my music might cheer him up.

She was doing face-time with her 92-year-old father! “Broadcasting” the music live to him, so to speak. I had to laugh at that. Suddenly it didn’t really matter what it had taken for me to get to the show. Fighting the crowds. The hustle and bustle. The steps. The crazy stage electricity and the microwave oven. Or even the fact that I was going to have to pack up and haul all of that music gear back home on the crowded late night train.

I ate my Snickers bar and adjusted my second set of tunes while thinking of the daughter sharing the music with her 92-year-old father by cell phone. The thought reminded me that music IS special. Live music played for a live audience is very special. I guess that I marveled that these folks came just for the music that I would play for them. They came just to listen to a tune or two and to share it with someone to whom the music meant a great deal.

Those who know me, know that I don’t have too much use for cell phones and usually keep mine locked in the trunk of the car or stuck in the bottom of my equipment case. But seeing that woman, beaming with joy, holding up her phone so that her father could listen, might just be the best use of one of these phones that I have seen in a long, long time.

After the show, I packed up my gear, made my goodbyes and headed down into the subway, battling the steps and the crowds toward home, but I was smiling all the way. It had been a nice evening. Made all the better by those who came out to share in the music and the fun. And even with the lack of folding money in my pocket, the heavy lifting and the packing of two guitars, two cases of equipment and an amp; I knew in my heart of hearts that bringing joy to folks and being a musician, beat “working for a living” any day of the week!

So thank YOU for YOUR SUPPORT. Please keep on coming out. Shouting out. And sharing the music with the ones that YOU love. After all, that’s what makes the world go around.

I’ll save YOU a seat at the next show so, COME ON!

More details, in both English and Japanese (日本語), on the amazing Rambling Steve Gardner, including biography, concert schedule, and album list are here:

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