There was this busker
in Wellington in the 1990s
they called ‘Kenny’ on account
of the fact that he always played
The Gambler and had a cowboy
hat and a frosted grin – he was like
a wax figure from the flea-motel
version of a celebrity-lookalike museum
and his leather jacket stank of bourbon.
He stood out on Courtney Place and
would field requests for The Gambler and
would bluntly play clipped versions of the
chords, his guitar buzzing badly through the
portable amp – his hipflask as prominent as
any of his talent.
If you asked he’d recite poems – and other
songs – or bits from them. He knew 200 songs
and poems, apparently. Though to say he knew them
seemed as much of a stretch as the skin
plastered across his face.
I got to know him on drunken nights as a student.
Not ‘really know him’ of course – but he had to field
my requests – and I would ring-lead a flock to him and
we’d beg for The Gambler and Girl You’ll Be A Woman Soon
(since Pulp Fiction was one of our reasons for being) and
once I saw his list of poems and speeches I’d get him to recite
“IF” by Rudyard Kipling, also Polonius’ Advice To Laertes
(from Hamlet) and he would give the few gathered his voice, those
that lent an ear. I would do my best to follow him (as the night
But eventually we’d be on our way – off to any other adventure
of that evening.
And then – some years on – the local apartment-dwellers complained
about the noise. (One of the benefits of wanting to live in the
city is that you get to complain about the noises of the city while
placing yourself, by choice, right in that zone and since
you don’t have a backyard you get to banish things from your doorstep).
The council seized ‘Kenny’s’ amp and he spent years standing on
the street in his mittens and hat with his thermos and hipflask and
a sign begging for signatures, his petition to take to the council to
get his amp back – but he never made it…
What he did make though, was a CD. It was under his own
name – John Adams (which I remember thinking was pretty
funny since that’s the name of a fully fledged composer). He called
the CD “Kenny” since he knew where his bread had been buttered.
No gamble there.
He got my number and rang me to ask if I’d review
the CD. And I said yes. And he sent me a copy.
It was pretty fucking dreadful.
Mostly some poems and prayers.
I wondered how I might tactfully say something about
this CD in the paper I was writing for at the time.
(I spent time looking up “tactfully” in the dictionary, and
wrestling with that – for example).
And then, John Adams telephoned me
again – seemingly out of the blue.
He’d changed his mind and would “like the CD
back please”. He had “done some research”.
He had “been reading” my reviews.
And he was sure that my
brain “had been infected by the devil”.
he informed me, was
“strong son!” And
strong in my work. Apparently.
He left an address for the
return of his album.
And hung up the phone.
I posted the CD back to him.
(“Take each man’s censure but
reserve thy judgment”)
And I only thought about it
again when I read the news, a year
or so later, that John Adams
had died of brain cancer.
Now Kenny Rogers – the
real one – is gone as well.
And so I remember busker ‘Kenny’
one more time.