I searched for Jack Kerouac Alley when I was in San Francisco. I wanted to see the quotes written on the concrete path. I found something else besides that. His name is Philip Jenkins. He was singing when I went into the alley. I took photos of the quotes on the path stones and the art on the walls. It was awkward because he was singing his heart out and we were the only two in that alley. It was awkward because I was purposely slowing down my picture-taking so that I could listen to him sing. Not to brag but I don’t get easily amazed by singing voices. That is because I grew up in a country wherein it is normal for a random streetwalker to lash out “I Will Always Love You” in perfect key. Even I can do it. Well, I used to. Your voice has to have a different flavor to make me stop and listen.
My lack of self-control kicked in by the second minute that he was singing. I just leaned against the wall on the other side of the street, listening to him sing and taking photos of him, hoping and begging that he does not turn around to see what I was doing. By the third minute, I got embarrassed at what I was doing and I walked away. He was still singing.
By the fourth minute of the song, I was standing by the end of Jack Kerouac Alley and was looking at the red lanterns of the crossing Chinatown. Who knew? I looked back at him as he sang. My feet was frozen. I wanted to talk to him but I was too chicken to. There is also this part of me that was pushing me to go back to hand him some money. Because if a street performer made you stop, you owe him a tip. I did more than just stop. I fished into my purse. Two dollars. Oh well.
By the fifth minute, I just thought. Ah, f*ck it. I walked back into the alley and towards him. Halfway there, his song ended. Sh*t. There was no turning back. He took out a cigarette and was lighting it. He has not looked my way yet. Thank God.
“Excuse me.” I started.
He finally looked at me.
I asked him if he was a street performer. I did not want to insult in case he wasn’t. He said ‘yes’. I handed him the two dollars, apologizing that it was all that I had and admitting that I was stalking his voice. It was better to admit your crime than to get caught doing it. He confirmed my assumption.
I could not help myself. I showered him with praise and asked in the end if he had a record or a playlist that I could listen to on the Internet or buy at a shop. He said he had one song with his band on Soundcloud. It was called “Getaway Driver.” I took out a piece of paper and asked him to write the details for me. I even asked him to sign his name at the bottom so that I have his autograph in case he gets famous. He smiled sheepishly, unsure what to do and just drew a few scribbles like how common signatures would look like. I made a joke about hoping he did not have the same signature on his bank account. I got him to laugh a bit as he answered that musicians don’t have much money anyway. Oh, starving artists. How I knew that.
After that, I left the alley, silence ringing in my ears as I turned to Chinatown.
When I returned to the Philippines, I searched for the song. I have to be honest. It did not give him justice. The song had potential but it was a poor studio recording. I could hear the echos. The sound capture was weak. The instruments were overpowering each other. Mr. Jenkins’ voice is better to be heard live. I did like the simple beat. I also liked the harmonica. Always wanted to learn how to play one. I wish that they would make more songs. This is their only recording. In their defense, I don’t know how old the song it. So, maybe, they could make another recording. I am sure it will be better. Practice makes perfect anyway.