Street Performer. With a Twist.

Many years ago, an imaginative street artist, looking to make a few bucks, attracted a curious crowd outside The Water Tower shopping mall on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

He was not a painter or a musician or a mime, but a writer.  A caricaturist, actually, but instead of using a charcoal drawing pencil, he used a portable typewriter, which was perched on his lap as he sat on a small chair on a crowded sidewalk.  (Author note: for those of you who have never heard of a typewriter, you might equate it to an old-time laptop, but without a monitor and without really cool apps.)

For a fee, this street artist wrote quick, one page impressions of his subjects, poking fun at their appearance, humorously imagining their private lives, and, in general, simply having a grand time at their expense.  When finished, he would whip the printed page from the typewriter with a flair and give it to his subject.  (Yes, the typewriter had its own “portable printer!”) Most of the time, the subject loved it and gave him a tip.  But, even if the subject of the author’s ridicule did not like it, the crowd who peered over his shoulder cheered and laughed as he frantically typed each creative paragraph.

I have always loved out-of-context, imaginative performances like this – in fact, the quirkier the better.  I am not sure when I came to love these types of things, but perhaps it dates back to Woody Allen’s movie from the 70’s, Take the Money and Run, in a scene depicting Woody’s early years as a member of his high school marching band.  In the scene, the marching band is marching down the street playing a typical marching band song, and “young” Woody is shown in the middle of the band, BUT he is sitting on a chair… playing a cello!  This alone was hilarious enough, but the best part of the joke was when Woody, after trying to play a few frantic notes, would stand up, grab his chair and cello, run to catch up with the band, sit back down and try to play another few notes… then he would get up again, grab his chair, try to catch up with the band.. and do it all over again and again as the parade kept moving forward.

The Chicago street-performer-with-a-typewriter reminded me of of the young cello playing marching band member Woody Allen, so I guess that is why I was immediately drawn to him, and why he remains so memorable to me today.  Though I never saw or heard of the one minute biographer again, the image of him and his imaginative approach has always stayed with me. What a great idea!  He took a common street artist concept — drawing charcoal caricatures — and gave it his own spin, both visually and creatively.

Twenty years later, that young man still inspires me – what I take from that scene was to have fun — be imaginative — give it some personality —  be bold enough to look at things with a different perspective, and don’t be afraid to take chances.  And, whatever you do, make it interesting — if for no one else but yourself.  This is definitely something that appeals to me — whether or not I can even come close to that kind of creative approach, I am certainly drawn to it.

So here’s to everyone who looks at the world through their own lens, or anyone who dares to shake things up  and keep life interesting…

…may you someday achieve your dream of making your own, unique statement – whether it is playing the cello (or perhaps a harp) in a marching band, writing creative street bios of tourists on the streets of Chicago, or doing whatever inspires you to quirky greatness!


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