To gain support or to test the popularity of a piece, great names in music have taken to the streets in disguise to perform to the most demanding of publics: passersby who are busy with their daily lives. The street performance experiences of the not so anonymous were very surprising.
The father of pop art, Andy Warhol, had already predicted that in the consumer age, everyone would experience 15 minutes of fame. But those who already have a much larger share of success may travel the opposite direction in search of precious minutes of anonymity. Such is the case with celebrities who perform under disguise for the diverse street public.
Think about it: for people who can’t even go shopping without being recognized and having to hand out autographs or pose for smiling pictures here and there, those rare moments of anonymity can be very worthwhile. Why not leave the famous stages to try their luck in the streets? Freud may be able to explain it, but the fact is that famous people like Jon Bon Jovi, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and Pierce Brosnan have had their anonymous street performance moments.
One of the most curious cases was of violin prodigy Joshua Bell, who agreed to participate in an experiment proposed by the Washington Post. During morning rush hour, the violin virtuoso went to a subway station wearing a cap and carrying his 18th century Stradivarius million-dollar violin, and put his popularity and classical music to the test.
At the end of his 43-minute presentation, 27 of the 1,907 passersby contributed with a little over 32 dollars – less than a third of the admission price for his show three days earlier. Only one of the passersby recognized him; most simply ignored his presence. The videos in the original article are worth watching.
Another famous person who had an even less fortunate experience in a similar situation was Damon Gough, a British musician that goes by the artistic name of Badly Drawn Boy, who has even won the Mercury Prize in 2000, a significant award in the UK. After performing for a whole day at the exit of the Waterloo station in London, the musician made 4.90 pounds in donations. A fiasco that was even covered by the BBC in a piece about how to do better than him in the streets.
But the most famous person in such a situation may be Sir Paul McCartney. In the mid '80s, the Beatle took to the streets in a false beard to take it easy as a street performer, singing nothing less than “Yesterday” from the movie “Give My Regards to Broad Street”, which also was scripted by him. He gathered a small audience and even had a group of passersby dancing, but his disguise was not discovered:
With so many stories, there are plenty of reasons to pay attention when a street performer tries to put a little music in your day. Who knows, it may be that same idol that once adorned the walls of your bedroom when you were a teenager - it certainly doesn’t seem impossible.