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(Un)Hidden Talents

Talent is an odd thing.  Some people long for it.  Others have it, but don’t use it.  And fewer still can match their talent with the drive and determination needed to truly succeed.  To be willing to do what ever it takes — to put their talent out there, on display, for all to see.

Think about what talents you have.  What are you good at?

Whatever it is, would you have the guts to go to your local mall, set up a stage and sound system, and begin to sing, or recite your poetry, or do your needlepoint, or stand on your head?

To take such a leap requires steely ambition, nerve, and the sheer belief that you will somehow — against all odds — triumph.

Not too long ago, we took the boys to Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, which I hadn’t been to in years. In my memory, the area had been filled with the usual, forgettable street entertainers, with far too many interchangeable Peruvian bands, pedaling their nicely-fluted, generic CD’s.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find on this random foray not one, but two, terrific performers. The first, John West, has been performing on the Promenade for several years.  Just Google any variation of “amazing 3rd street singer” and you’ll find scores of home-loaded videos by tourists drawn in by his subtle grooves.

What is really amazing is that we almost missed him.  He was performing next to a loud and energetic hip-hop dance troupe, which normally would’ve held our boys interest.  But just to the side of them, a guy sat quietly with his guitar, with another guy on drum.  Despite the frenetic show in front of us, the kids pulled us away, gravitating toward him and his really smooth sound.   The songs he played were the kind of hypnotic thing you’d want to listen to after-hours, drink-in-hand.  Music you linger in…

The other singer that we “discovered” has been trying to make it for just as long.  Originally from the UK, singer-songwriter Amy May felt like she’d gone as far as she could there, and picked up and moved to L.A., hoping, like so many others, for her big break.  Russ stumbled onto her, standing in front of a food court with her guitar and amplifier, and she was terrific.  Kind of like Sarah McLachlan — at times rocking, at others ethereal — but always interesting.

These two are not afraid to put themselves front and center.  They believe in their talent so much that they are willing to go to a crowded thoroughfare, in the teems of talking tourists, and sing their hearts out.

“One of the most important lessons I learned,” says Amy, “is that to make a living as a singer-songwriter, I had to learn to capture the hearts of my audience, whether in front of tens of thousands of people, or a handful on the street. It has been a humbling, yet gratifying experience to live as a full time musician, earning my keep from how well I can instill deep emotion in those around me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Due to their tireless efforts, both have sold their share of CD’s while entertaining the masses, but does that qualify as success? Is “just making it” enough, to have to up with the obnoxious hecklers, the tourists who walk through your “stage” in their quest for Starbucks, the injustice of having your tunes blasted out by a nearby competing performer?

Well, I’m happy to report, both artists are busy at work crafting forthcoming new CD’s, showing that persistence, talent, and the sheer power of the individual can indeed pay off.  And that is a lesson, I note, that I need to remember myself.

This isn’t the best quality video, but I like the way it shows the obstacles a performer has to deal with when entertaining in the streets:

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