Late night at Tottenham Court Road tube station, returning from tonight's gig and transferring to the Central Line, I passed a busker with what seemed an unusual technique to try and earn money. He was playing his guitar, but instead of singing was quiet aggressively saying "Fuck off" and "Fuck you." Initially I admired his refusal to toe the line and his artistic decision to try and antagonise, rather than entertain. But then I realised that this was not performance art but that he was in fact addressing one particular commuter who had pissed him off for some reason. The man was standing further along the corridor, clearly rather drunk and swearing back at the foul-mouthed guitarist. Perhaps he had just heckled the busker or thrown something that wasn't money into his tin. I wasn't there to see it, but my guess is that the drunk man had started this and that the busker, maybe a bit tired and frazzled from his largely fruitless attempt to entertain people who had little desire to be entertained had risen to the bait. It's possible that the busker was insane and just liked to goad big drunk men to see what happened, but logically it seems more likely the the drunk man had been rude or aggressive in his crapulous state and that the busker had snapped and (perhaps foolishly) decided to give as good as he got. As I got round the corner I saw that the drunk man had an even drunker friend, red-faced and clearly feeling invincible in his invisible lager armour. Alcohol had also made him affronted on his friend's behalf and was encouraging him to release some of the pent up anger that had accrued due to whatever frustrations he had in his daily life. He was walking back in the direction of the busker, with some purpose and saying, "Let's go and fuck him up." He was 100% intent on smashing this busker's face in, placing me as a sober passerby into a quandary. It wasn't my fight, but I guessed the busker was only guilty of having allowed these guys to get to him. Did he deserve to be smashed in the face? Perhaps he was ready for them (I presume he has to deal with such incidents on at least a nightly basis) but if a fight began in this tiny enclosed space and guitars started swinging around, then some innocent passersby were bound to be hurt. And yet I also knew that in all likelihood the busker had done nothing really to promote this primeval anger in a stranger and that the drunk man's friend was just looking for something soft to punch and that an interfering busybody's face would be just as welcome a target for the jackhammering penis that was his fist.
Luckily the less drunk of the two men was not in the mood to spend the night in a cell and had not drunk enough to have lost his sense of reality and he talked his furious friend out of this course of action. Maybe the drunker man had known in his heart that this would happen all along. He got to look like an avenging warrior, but he didn't have to risk having to pick pieces of shattered guitar out his scalp.
I don't know if I would have intervened if the proposed assault had gone ahead. I am not sure I could have stood by or walked on, but would I have been able to prevent the assault without becoming the victim of it?
It was all over in under ten seconds probably, but what an exciting little drama in the theatre that is the world. A lot more intense, enthralling and thought-provoking than anything I've managed to write in the last three months. Though like my play I think it included a character who was a repressed homosexual, who decided to take his own self-hatred out on a relatively innocent person.
And maybe the busker secretly wanted to be attacked by the penis fists of a stranger. Why take the 11pm Friday slot at one of the busiest intersections of the tube system otherwise? At the very least you're trading off the fact that drunk people are looser with their money against the fact that they are also much looser with their fists.
I salute the brave buskers of this country. It might be the most dangerous job you can do.