The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 3B
PLAY'A CHATY CULTURE COLUMN
I was L
for a ti
Mat Chavez hopes to earn enough funds to eventually make his way to Tennessee for the winter.
Home ess arti sts fn
*common musical ground
for a living on the
streets of A2
By PAULA FRIEDRICH
Daily Arts Writer
"I like the piano; I like the
sound of it, although the pedal
squeaks," Al Skinner said, run-
ning his hand along the top of
the piano in the Michigan Union
Art Lounge. "And it has squeaked
over the last two years. I don't
know why they don't fix it.It's like
a $200,000 piano. Why wouldn't
you fix the squeaky pedal?"
About 20 minutes earlier,
Skinner had sat down at the
piano in a silent room. A few stu-
dents perched on couches and at
tables, with their books and lap-
tops out. Every turn of a page was
amplified by hollow acoustics
until Skinner started in on the
piano. Next to him, Lou Rockin-
feller sang. Skinner covered the
squeaky pedal by playing forte
as Rockinfeller belted Journey's
"Open Arms." Their music envel-
oped the room as notes over-
lapped in echoes, bouncing off
the tiled floor.
Skinner and Rockinfeller are
homeless musicians. Skinner said
he has been coming to play at this
piano in the Union for about 20
years. Rockinfeller calls himself
"a drifter," just passing through
Ann Arbor. As the weather chills,
he'll move on.
They all got their start with
music early in life. Rockinfeller
said he started singing in high
school while trying a slew of
other instruments at the same
Skinner said his dad played
piano professionally, so "it's in singer than anything," he said.
(his) blood." But Skinner himself But Chavez's favorite instru-
never pursued a career asa musi- ment is his first: the guitar,
cian, though he'll play in bars which he started playing when
every now and then. he was 15. His relationship to
"I make money occasionally music is eternally evolving and
and sometimes I don't, but I play responding to what's going on in
anyway," he said. his life.
Rockinfeller said music's draw "There's been times in my life
is impossible to escape. "Once when my guitar has sat in the
you catch the bug," he said, it corner, and I haven't touched it,"
stays with you forever. For Skin- he explained. "But then there's
ner, it's a way to relax and a way been times in my life when it's
to meet people that "make his really all I've had to live for."
day." Right now, it's incredibly
He met Rockinfeller by chance important. Chavez was evicted
at one of St. Andrew's Episcopal six months ago and is still trying
Church's daily breakfasts. to figure out where to live. He
"He was just jammin' some said lengthy waitlists for shel-
SLionel Richie at first, and then he ters mean he'll probably spend
started busting some Journey," the winter in his car, unless
Rockinfeller remembers. "And he makes enough money to get
then I went, 'Hold on, guys - I down to Nashville. He said he
can't leave yet. I gotta go sing."' had $600 saved up until recent-
Skinner added,"I was playing ly, when his car got towed, and
a Journey song, and you came up he had to start his savings again
and started singing and I'm like, from scratch.
'This voice, are you kidding me?"' But music does offer him a
At the corner of North Uni- way to make money and help
versity Avenue and State Street, feed himself and his wife. It's
another homeless musician, Mat not always easy, especially as
Chavez, lets his notes drift into temperatures drop, but Chavez
the cold nighttime air. He sings said he's out playing every day.
and plays guitar, mostly per- He said he sets monetary goals
forming alternative songs from for himself, usually $40 a day.
the 1990s. He said he hopes to "Sometimes I do much bet-
finance a drive down to Nash- ter," he said. "My best day ever,
ville, Tenn. as winter moves I made $165. That was on the
in. For now, he's facing his first fourth of July. My worst day
Michigan winter with only his ever, I made seven bucks in six
car for shelter. hours. It was awful."
"I find it's what the people Chavez said panhandling is
with the money grew up with," often more lucrative than busk-
he joked about his song selec- ing - performing for money on
tion. the street. However, he still pre-
Chavez, too, said his own fers to play music.
voice is what attracts people "People might give a pan-
and, consequently, what helps handler money, but they kinda
him earn the most money. look down on them and a lot of
"I've always been more of a people feel like this is sort of an
honorable thing to do," he said.
Skinner, on the other hand,
thinks music brings out the gen-
erosity in people.
"People always take care of
me. I've never gone starving.
I've never been without what I
wanted or I needed," he said. "I
mean, everyone is always taking
care of me. Because people love
music and they love musicians."
Rockinfeller agreed. He said
music has helped him travel the
country and even international-
ly. He told of the time he toured
with a punk band on a two-week
tour of Spain. After the time
was up, the band's record label
said it was time to go back to
the United States, but Rockin-
feller said he and his bandmates
weren't quite ready.
"I don't even need your label.
I'm gonna do it just on the
kindness of the Spaniards," he
recounted. "And the Spaniards
kept saying, 'Dnde estis que-
dando?' Where are you staying?
And then I said, 'You know man,
we don't really have a place to
stay. We're going to stay in the
car.' And no, no, no, 'Tn vas a
quedar aqu.' You're going to
stay here. With us."
The three musicians all
agreed that music is special in
that way. No one can say they
don't enjoy some type of music.
It's a unifier, and Chavez said
that's one of the rewards of bus-
"When somebody comes up,
even if they don't have anything
to give, they're interested and
they're impressed and they seem
to care," he said. "I've never
been one to strive for attention,
but at the same time, it's fun to
go and stand on the street corner
and find the people who care."
Drake's latest video opens,
not with his own song, but
with the bluesy sounds of
Tenn. Royal E+
long joint Behavior
Drake and Drake
"Worst Behavior" gives us a
short but memorable tour of
Memphis as Drake lip-synes
in front of old houses and
A skit placed in the middle
of the video is the longest
segment, with one of Drake's
buddies awkwardly and hilar-
iously chatting up Memphis-
based rappers Juicy J and
Project Pat, trying to get them
to listen to his demo tape,
but unfortunately unable to
even get their names right.
hen my mom and I Alice Lloyd. Ihad absolutely no
drove to Ann Arbor idea how the Alice Lloyd area
for campus day four connected to the rest of cam-
tgo, the administration pus such as the Diag and the
liberately chosen a foot- Michigan Union and South Uni-
turday versity, which I had just spent a
event, weekend exploring. Of course,
the driving to Alice Lloyd can be
'of different than walking, but it's
y so strange how vividly wrong
entice my memory is. The graveyard
ctive isn't even present on that ride
ts. up Observatory. All I see is a
at I JOHN winding road lined by thick,
e was BOHN verdant woods on each side.
ht at There's a concept already
r and for what's going on here: cog-
treets, a guy jokingly nitive mapping. We develop,
up to the car holding out over time, a sense of connec-
encouraging me to join tions between different locals
pre-game festivities. I ina given space. But until that .
e I said something to my point, our understanding of that
long the lines of "Well, I space might look more like an
;o. See ya." archipelago. Welcome Week
not even into football, freshman year, Ihad no idea
ll this column be about how Dave's West Side Books
11, nor was that my first was tied to Alice Lloyd. One day
ence of Ann Arbor, even I got on my bike, and the last
I often return to it feel- vivid memory I have is passing
if it is. by the Dental School. At some
r a beer the other night, point, I cruise past a sign for a
amenting to a friend that bookstore and decide to make
rbor feels different these a stop.
've written before about Sophomore year of high
anging infrastructure school, I came to Ann Arbor for
city, how it has actu- an acting competition. So dis-
anged into a different connected was that experience
om even just a couple that, when I walked into the
go. But presently, I keep School of Education freshman
ing to how my percep- year of college for a psychology
td experience of Ann exam, I thought I was experi-
has changed over time. encing the building for the first
'mes more familiar, more time, when in fact, it was the
more used. The second location of that competition
to feel at home, I start three years ago.
g toward this nostalgia Now, in my senior year, a
me when I had no idea lot of that sense of excitement
was doing or where I and being lost in the world
town. has waned. Main Street, State
Street and South University
are pretty well connected in
The map my mind. Ihave a sense of spe-
cific directions of getting from
Comet Coffee, to Braun Court,
to Vault of Midnight and back
miliar worn to Backroom Pizza, a circuit I
have never actually taken, but
with time. very well could.
Yet, I still hold with me
that archipelago Ann Arbor
from my first days here. I'm
r recalling the declined sure everyone has his or her
t Hoover, which has some own map, unique in its lack of
cte to the actual layout resemblance to the city. And,
city - a row of houses lit- I'm sure, everyone has their
with people, red cups and own spots of knowing and not-
: fences - the light turns knowing. I still don't under-
and the memory goes stand North Campus. Perhaps
some landscape Ican't I'll keep it that way. Perhaps, I
ize these days. I'm pretty don't even have to try to avoid
e turned right onto Hill, cognitively mapping it. It'll
rmemory of the meeting just happen. I mean, seriously,
and State looks different. what's going on with North
t even sure what it is. Campus?
Months later, before leav-
ing the city after orientation,
my family takes a ride up to my
freshman year residence hall,
Bohn is feeling nostalgic.
To reminisce with him, e-mail