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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

(While writing my “Every Job I’ve Ever Had” show, I’ve had to reconsider my criteria for “job.” Initially it was “anything I’ve ever done for money, not matter how long I did it or how little money was involved.” I’ve since backed off of that criteria a bit. Below is the tale of one such “job” that was cut from the script as a result.)

It’s the summer of 1988 and I’m in Europe, alone, on a three-month tour. Before I left I asked a friend what you’re supposed to do in Europe, having never been there before.

He said, “Walk around and look at fountains, I guess.”

So that’s what I’m doing. My budget is incredibly tight and doesn’t allow for much else.

A few weeks into my trip I meet a scruffy guy who’s playing guitar on the street. We hang out for a few days, and I watch his guitar case fill up with change each time he starts to play.

A plan forms. A very bad plan: I’ll buy a guitar and become a troubadour, writing songs of my travel adventures and travel around singing them, thus having further travel adventures about which to write and sing. And I’ll make money, which I desperately need. Foolproof!

So I buy a cheap guitar, the cheapest guitar in the guitar shop, but still over a week’s budget. No problem. I’ll make that back in no time.

There are some flaws in my plan, of course. My lack of guitar playing ability is pretty high on the list, with my lack of singing ability being a close second.

I’d taken guitar lessons a few years earlier so I knew the basic chords (A, B, C, D, E and sometimes Y) and how to play a few simple songs, like “Silent Night” and “It’s A Small World.” My scruffy guitar-playing friend offers to teach me some songs, but I only get through the intro to Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My” before we part ways.

The other flaw: When it comes time to whip out the guitar and start entertaining the masses, I just can’t bring myself to do it. And despite all my travels I’ve only managed to write one troubadour adventure song, and it’s to the tune of “It’s A Small World.”

It’s a world of fountains,

A world of cheese,

A world of those,

And a world of these …

Oh, this was a bad, bad plan.

When you’re at home and you give up on the guitar shortly after buying it you can just slide it under the bed and forget about it. I’m living out of a backpack, so I don’t have this option. Even though I’ve abandoned my plan, I figure that by lugging this guitar across Europe I’ll be forced to learn a lesson about budgeting, and impulsiveness, and follow-through.

So I do. I drag this guitar all over Europe for the next two months, trying my best to forget that I have it.

One night toward the end of my trip I have some time to kill while waiting for a train. So I sit on the ground and take out the guitar, that cumbersome reminder of my failure. I start playing what I remember of the intro to “Hey Hey, My My.” I’m in front of the train station, so there’s a steady flow of people, people who obviously think I’m about to play an entire song, rather than just the intro over and over again. To show their appreciation they start to GIVE ME MONEY! A little puddle of change has started to form in my open guitar case. One guy stops in front of me, hoping to hear the entire song. Pretending to not notice him, I proceed to dramatically stretch and shake out my fingers. Yep. Been ripping it up for hours. Really need to give the old hands a break. He walks on after a few seconds and I go back to plucking the few notes I know.

By the time my train arrives I have enough change for a candy bar and a drink, which I purchase before boarding. After finding a place to stash the bulky guitar on the crowded train, I sit down and take a bite of my newly earned candy bar. Overjoyed with my success, I start humming “It’s a Small World.”

The person next to me asks me to please stop.


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