Story by Aliya Hall
Photos by Debra Josephson
Strangely Doesburg & Crazy Fingers
Crazy Fingers is an older rock musician with long hair and glasses. He’s traveled most of his life and thinks everyone should as well. “If you stay in one place for too long, the environment that you’re in and the people that you’re accustomed to seeing and interacting with become your whole world and reality,” Crazy Fingers says. “That’s like living your life with blinders on.”
Traveling the world perpetually doesn’t come without its difficulties. Spending time between destinations, language barriers, and having enough cash are only a few of the challenges vagabond musicians face. Their reward is connecting with new audiences through the freedom of musical expression. “You go some place like Sweden or Ireland and people are hungry for something exciting and new. And they love it,” Strangely says. “But not everyone likes it. I was in Budapest and a woman threw a beer bottle at me from her window… She missed.”
Crazy Fingers and Strangely both agree that with life on the road, things will inevitably go wrong. Crazy Fingers believes that the unpredictability of the road has to be embraced; the worse things go, the bigger you have to smile. For Strangely, Sturgis Bike Rally taught him to accept the haphazard nature of street performance.
“I was breathing fire and I had a mouth full of gasoline and this guy comes out of the crowd holding a dog, it was like a Chihuahua, and he wanted me to balance it on my hand while I breathed fire. I had a mouth full of gasoline and eventually I did it but the distraction messed me up and my beard caught on fire and I burned my throat really bad. But that’s the amazing thing about street performing, anything can happen,” he says.
Despite the hectic nature of the vagabond life, Crazy Fingers wouldn’t say he has missed out on anything. “I don’t know any other way to live,” he says. “There’s nothing to compare it to. This is my life. Without the people who love me and my music, I wouldn’t exist.”
Banjo Youngblood & Bear Austin Bertak
Banjo Youngblood and Bear Austin Bertak spent their youth on the road, but as life progressed, they settled in Eugene. Banjo, with his red muttonchops, chose to start a family and Bear, with his auburn beard and septum piercing, went back to school. Although neither plan to travel now, for them, music will always be their passion. Banjo is looking for a sponsor for his musical career, and Bear is in a few local bands like The Pettichord Family and Swamp Sirens, and plays with other traveling musicians in Eugene. Although they have a different lifestyle now, their struggles on the road will never be forgotten. Banjo remembers train hopping on wrong train into Joshua Tree National Park. After the cops kicked them off the train, the group found themselves in a near abandoned desert town.
“We walked and wound up seeing another train that was sided,” he says. “The conductor came down and he says which place do you want to go, Las Vegas or back where we came from. And they all looked at me and I said Las Vegas. Forty minutes later we were there. And Las Vegas was hell.”
Living as a vagabond musician, the challenges faced are basic but monumental. Finding your next meal is tough. So is being constantly on the move. Although Banjo is now married and has a son, he remembers love on the road being short lived but heartfelt. Inspired by romantic encounters on the road, he wrote a song expressing the joys of “mutual masturbation” with “no contractual obligations.”
Vagabond musicians can’t expect much romance from the road, but Bear was lucky. He had a girlfriend for the majority of his travels named Karmen. “She’s noteworthy on account that she came from an incredibly wealthy family, but when she met me she was so swept away with the freedom and adventure, that she left all of the security and promise of a wealthy life to experience something that’s real and human.
Things that no amount of money or success can get you,” he says. Although his lifestyle may seem odd or undesirable, Bear wants people to know that vagabond musicians love what they do. “It may be irresponsible for me to recommend this lifestyle to people,” he says. “But I’d recommend it to anyone to try it.”
Vagabond musicians preserve a purist view of the American Dream that’s replaced in the mainstream by money or fame. For them the dream is searching for freedom and love of what you do. “Maybe I’m too political about this,” Bear says. “But, I believe that vagabond musicians are the last line of true Americans who have a dream of their own way of life. We’re the last goddamn fucking American cowboys.”