Inspired by a New York City Street Musician to Live from the Heart

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

New York 374 We heard his drums on the Literary Walk in Central Park last week. They were strong and soulful, seducing attention in a city filled with noise and attention-seekers. He smiled as he played, even before we dropped a dollar in his bucket. I pointed to my camera, a universal sign between performers and photographers, and he nodded his approval. And then he stopped his playing and offered me a free CD in exchange for emailing him the photos. A conversation began and a story was shared.

Terry F Wicks used to be an engineer in St. Louis. Despite appearing successful, he says he was not “happy in his heart.” In 2007, with some encouragement from an unreliable economy, he headed to New York City to follow his passion.

His passion was music and he came to the city with plans to enroll in a musical school. He soon met other musicians who claimed enviable pasts working alongside the likes of Miles Davis and John Coletrane. These musical mentors advised him to put off school and learn first to play on the streets. “This is where you learn to play from the heart. To survive here you have to learn how to connect with people.”

And does he survive?

Terry says he earns between $900 and $1200 as a street performer on a good week in New York City, where he spends his summers playing in Central Park. A bad week, when the rain or heat keeps people inside, he might only make $400. Fortunately, Terry says he usually only pays about $150 per week in rent for rooms he finds on Craigslist. In addition to his days on the park’s paved paths, he also spends his nights playing clubs with other musicians. “My days start in the Park, but I never know where it will end up.”

Terry typically spends the summers in New York City, autumn in Las Vegas, and winter in Hawaii. When he’s not traveling or performing, he’s visiting family back in St. Louis, including his two sons, who he says he supports financially with his musician’s income. I asked him what his family thought of his lifestyle.

“At first they thought I was crazy, but now they see I’m happy and they’re happy for me. They see my stuff on YouTube and they’re proud of me. They ask me now where I’m traveling to next.”

Is it wise to take life advice from a man who makes his living on the street?

He certainly offered wise words to me and Devin as we listened to his story. He spoke of happiness and living from the heart. “You have to get to the point where you don’t care what others think of you,” he said, echoing a mantra I’ve heard over and over again from countless sources in the last few years, including reputable therapists. “People respect happiness.” New York 382 Yes, Terry, I think they do.

(By the way, should you be so inclined to take advice from a street performer, Terry recommended the book It’s None of My Business What You Think of Me. While you’re shopping, checkout previous inspiration Jane Devin’s book Elephant Girl: A Human Story.)

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  1. Your kids are meeting teachers everywhere!

  2. Michelle says:

    First – beautiful photos! Second – what a cool interview!
    “People respect happiness” – huh, makes me think… I believe it’s true! Maybe street musicians are onto something here… Have you ever seen the ‘Saw Lady’ in the subway? She ALWAYS seems so happy… This is a video of her from the subway.

  3. Karen says:

    he makes a good living at it, and he’s happy, so that works for him

  4. Penbleth says:

    Fantastic, he really does look happy, how many of us can truly say that? More fabulous pictures as well.

  5. Megan says:

    What do I always say? Never take anything personally. I believe the author of The Four Agreements (where this comes from) said something to the effect of “it’s none of your business what other people think of you.” Amen, amen.

    Terry makes my heart happy. And proves once again that everything happens for a reason. Maybe this crap economy is meant to push us all closer to the things that make us happy.

  6. Robin says:

    So cool! I’ve always hoped sometime when I take photos of people they’d request me to send them some.

  7. AMTIY says:

    Terry might be happy living out his dreams, but I gotta wonder how his children back home in St. Louis wonder about him living his dreams. Sounds selfish to me.

    I’m all about living your dreams and being happy and I think its incredible he is able to carve out a living playing music on the streets of NYC. His living a nomadic lifestyle sounds almost romantic until he talks about his children. Sure, he might support them financially but kids don’t care about that. And what about the ex-partner who is giving up something she no doubt would enjoy doing because she has HIS children to support — emotionally, financially, intellectually, and with love. I’m betting she might have a different to tell about Terry living out his dreams.

    Terry’s dreams should involve seeing his children on a daily basis and supporting them by being there — in their dreams.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Jared had the same questions, and they’re certainly valid. Of course, there’s a whole lot of story there that we don’t know, and I hesitate to fill in the blanks with judgments.

  8. i find it exciting that people can be “happy in their hearts” and make more (tax free cash?) money a year than i do. truly a pleasure to read about terry. i wish him continued success…and happiness!

  9. Nanna says:

    *grinning here*

  10. Jody says:

    Love the advice from his music mentors! Thanks for the reminder as I follow my path!

  11. AMTIY says:

    I’m not surprised my comment isn’t being published. After all, it takes away from the notion that living a life of pleasure out weighs living a life of responsibility. And hey, I’m all for Terry living out his dreams as long as it doesn’t interfere with the dreams his children might have which most likely include a parent who isn’t absent. Terry should have thought long and hard before bringing children into the world — and I get that not all marriages are prefect, nor do they need to be prefect because life isn’t perfect. BUT once you have children, your responsibility is to them whether it includes your dreams or not. Terry could just as easily be making sweet music on the streets of St. Louis, and at the same time enjoy his children. He chooses not to. I’m just tired of adults doing what it is that satisfies them, at the cost to their own children. What might be an “adventure” to an adult, most likely isn’t the same “adventure” for a child.

    • Miss Britt says:

      Your comment wasn’t published because you were a first time commenter and all first time comments are held for moderation until I have a chance to review and publish, which I do in my own sweet time.

  12. Deborah says:

    We’ve been talking about your beautiful family ever since our visit and always come to the same conclusion – whether we’d tour the country in an RV or not, we absolutely respect your happiness. We learned a lot that night, and I thank you for being our teachers!

  13. Ah, but he is NOT living on the street. He has a room and he travels! What an awesome man, doing what he loves, and providing support for his family. Great story, Britt!
    Bernice
    Making your to-do list work for you

  14. That is very cool. He earns far more than I would have guessed a street musician would make.

  15. the muskrat says:

    i’ve always wanted to take the time to get to know folks like this. i used to do it when i was younger and wasn’t in such a hurry all the damned time.

  16. [...] Britt Reints - Inspired by a New York City Street Musician to Live from the Heart [...]

  17. Rita Arens says:

    People respect happiness — never thought about it that way, but so, so true.

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