I recently read a post on NOLA.com about a homeless man who was removed by the New Orleans Police Department. He was panhandling and “playing” a drum on the neutral ground on Carrollton Avenue and Washington.
The NOPD told him to move along because he needed a permit to play on the street.
The writer described the arcane ordinances that pertain to musicians and buskers playing on the street, and sort of made the argument that the homeless dude (“Memphis Mike”) should be allowed to continue. Because he’s a musician?
In an addendum to the story, another writer attests to the fact that the drum and music-playing is a gimmick to get auto drivers to give the guy some money to buy some cigarettes and food for him and his dog. (Memphis says if he draws in $20 a day he’s comfortable living under the Carrollton overpass).
Listen, anything that helps poor Mike make his nut every day is okay with me. A city ordinance that requires musicians to have a permit is lousy, but let’s call it what it is.
This fellow isn’t a musician. He’s homeless. If there’s a city ordinance that prevents him from panhandling, well, that’s another thing entirely. But he’s not a musician.
I daresay that OffBeat and others, including MACCNO (whose reps were quoted in the story) are trying to create an environment where real musicians make enough money so that they don’t become homeless (many do live close to the poverty level; that’s a fact). But we’re trying to create respect for an artist and keep musicians from being destitute, not give homeless people a couple of sticks so that they can declare themselves percussionists. That just muddies the waters.
But let’s not mix up panhandling laws and laws/ordinances that pertain to musicians who make their living by playing music (it’s not a gimmick to get a few bucks; it’s a living to pay for food, shelter, schooling for the kids, and taxes).
Separate the two, would you please?
And if you see Memphis Mike on Carrollton Avenue, slip him a buck or two so that he can get himself some drum lessons, and maybe get a real musician gig so he and his dog can move from under the bridge. Better yet, next time you hear a real musician playing on the street or in a bar that pays the band with tips, make sure you throw some money into his tip jar. He (or she) is actually making music for a living.