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Ghost Busker by William Huhn


There was a summer in the timeless city of Brussels, Belgium, in the mid-1990s, when anyone who had ears would have heard my fiddle playing. Let’s leave out the exact year, since back then I placed little importance on years. While I could usually figure out the day of the week, I almost never looked at a calendar and didn’t have any set travel itinerary to follow. The circumstance of my being in the seat of NATO as opposed to another city or country meant little to me. Much more important was the naked fact that I’d escaped into the life of music. My fiddle sang along walkstreets to the


rhythms and flow of the passersby. I went at my tunes like nobody you’d ever heard and could attract a crowd. But of all the nights that summer when you might have spotted me perched on the cobbles, the one that stands out the most wasn’t the night I went home with the girl or the night I played my fiddle better than I ever had. It was the night I became haunted.


*** Given the heat that August, I usually


performed in the cool of evening, keeping to the walkstreets that begin and end on La Grand-Place, one of the great squares of Europe. I wanted to get


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in as much summer playing as possible. Before the fall and winter weather set in, I intended to take my trade down into Italy, keeping just ahead of the cold, till I reached the toe of the boot. From there I’d make my way southeastward by water toward the Greek Islands and beyond. If I saw the States again at all, I expected to feel like an unrecognized visitor to a land where I no longer fit in.


Although I’d only been at the rambling


life some six weeks, conformity and convention had already become like forgotten friends I’d never liked anyway. If all came off as unplanned, I’d follow my music to wherever it took me. If it didn’t, I’d remain confident in my talent. And if I didn’t make enough coin to survive, I’d lay my fiddle down and die. To live the heart-flame of song, you have to be ready to die for music. At that point in the season, quite enough


francs had landed in my case to keep me afloat. But I had to be careful not to miss my friends back at home and my parents and siblings too much. Or America itself. Any impulse to return had to be ignored like an irreverent child until it stopped acting up. The child might also be lulled to sleep by music or, in the extreme case, smothered quiet through sheer will. Artists can be cold people if need be. When you live for music alone, you can’t


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