Interview with Prayformer S.K. Thoth

Thoth is a man like no other, in fact, he may not even be of this world. He has carved a name from himself from quite humble beginnings and followed his own creative path in life like few others are able to do.

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Here’s the full copy of our interview with S.K. Thoth from the article Buskers: Modern Day American Bards.

Wand’rly:
When you first began doing this, were you intentionally trying to be a street performer, or did you see busking as more of an avenue to getting into more traditional venues?
Thoth:
Before busking, I was a scooter messenger; and before that, a waiter with ten years experience. I was sick of working for other people. I began to realize that busking would be a better, more honest way of making money, than being humiliated by unintelligent bosses and restaurant managers. Although much has come from busking — a band, other venues, an Oscar, et al — I never thought of it as an avenue to get into more traditional venues, but as a viable creative path towards fully individuating.
W:
I take it that you’ve been doing this for quite some time. What can you tell us about what busking was like for you in the various phases of your life, such as before the 2002 documentary, immediately after, and now 10 years later?
Thoth:
In my early years, busking was all about finding my voice. I did covers of great classical pieces (mostly Bach) all the while experimenting with my own music. When I realized people were more interested in my music than the classical pieces, I stopped playing dead composers, saying, “I’m not going to be a necrophiliac anymore. If not me, who else is going to play my heart.” Around the time of the Academy Awards, I was in full inventive flight having just finished my three act solopera, THE HERMA: The Life and Land of Nular-In. Fully confident in my complex and powerful voice, I evolved a new, very physical method of playing the violin to accompany my voice. Right after the Academy Awards, the experience of the celebrities at the event taught me that they were not as energetic as the media projected (in fact less energetic than many homeless people I knew). This observation, shall I call it an epiphany, made me realize that a much bigger accomplishment was at stake — the death dance, to die while prayforming. At present, I have a partner who is my protege. Although as devoted as ever, I am now a mentor and involved in another’s creative growth. In addition, physical difficulties forced me to reinvent myself; it is either I re-invent or succumb, and “I will never put down my sword and shield.”
W:
I read an article where you mentioned that you were a street person before the documentary came out, and then how you were sort of catapulted to the exact opposite end of the spectrum as far as society’s concerned. When you say you were a “street person” do you mean you were homeless? Was this a choice as part of putting together your solopera and performing, or were you living in the streets for other reasons?
Thoth:
I think that I never referred or refer to myself as a “street person” (however I could be mistaken). I don’t even call myself a street musician, rather referring to myself as a public performer. In the documentary I did call myself homeless which my mother has taken issue with. However, I did lose my apartment to the inflation initiated by the late 1990’s dot com bubble, and she generously provided me with a room in her home to help me get back on my feet.
W:
As a street performer, you must get a wide variety of reactions to your work. On one hand, the shape you’re in, your attire, the quality of your work, it clearly says “I’m not asking for a handout, I’m making art here”, but a lot of people I talked to, and even many buskers themselves, they seem to associate street performing with begging. Why do you think that stigma has been attached to busking, and what are your experiences there?
Thoth:
The stigma of buskers as beggars exists because many buskers act like beggars. I on the other hand, unlike beggars who consider themselves powerless, know that I am powerful. That confidence gives me the responsibility to gift all my power to all and everyone as a public service. Unlike most who gain power and model greediness and excess (as we see daily both in politics and business), I do the opposite. I model altruism, compassion, neutrality and humility, not wielding my power for gain or subjugating others to my will, but to move and inspire others. Thus I am always grateful for any and all tips given from those who recognize what I am doing.
W:
You mentioned that you’re headed to Europe, and I gather you do a good deal of traveling. When you travel how do you get around?
Thoth:
In the USA we have been traveling by car. In Europe, we will travel by planes, trains, buses and walking.
W:
Did you travel before the documentary? How did you get around then?
Thoth:
I did not travel much before the documentary. I stayed pretty much in one place — San Francisco, then NYC.
W:
Where, for most people who try it, busking is a phase or a means to an end or they just eventually decide that a more “normal” job is the way to go, you seem to have made a career out of it. When you look back at the progression of your life, are you immensely satisfied? Do you ever wonder where you would be if you wouldn’t have stayed with this, if you’d have given in to pressure from society? Did you ever think about just dropping it all?
Thoth:
When I look back at my life, I feel immensely satisfied and fortunate: I am a conscious, fully activated, creative being. What more can I ask? Traveling shows me this truth the most. I have a perspective on life because of my work that allows me to see many of the lies and illusions people in general are embroiled in. Stopping was never an option, and no, I have never thought of dropping it all. Nothing moves, renews and satisfies my need to transmute and neutralize energy as much as prayforming. Why drop the truth?
W:
What might you say to young people just getting started with street performing, or really to any young artists with a vision that they want to see come together as a meaningful piece of work?
Thoth:
Success as a street performer or public performer requires gargantuan amount of self-discipline and dedication. This is not the path of a slacker (as most might think) but of a person driven to self-realization. Like no other profession one has complete control of one’s expression and business. Lack of self-discipline both creatively and financially undermines all potential artists. Few if any of the popular artists would have continued doing what they do had not the luck of fame supported them.
W:
When traveling, how do you decide where to go? What makes you pick Europe next week over South America or Portland over Savannah? Is everything bookings now or do you still just play out to do it?
Thoth:
We travel the world looking for resonant places that are not restricted by someone or something. We rarely book anything but always make our own venues since only we know what a truly good venue is.
W:
How do you meet the people you end up doing performances with? Is there a kind of a street performers circle, a community?
Thoth:
I am a rugged individualist in the ancient tradition. I don’t belong to any societies. I have yet to encounter any society that fully embraces all that I am. People who perform with me have to be willing to make music in the moment and reveal their entire hearts, know when not to play too. I am not interested in technicians and egoists.
W:
You have a lot of material online. How do you think it translates, seeing a YouTube video or just hearing an mp3, to what you do live?
Thoth:
No recorded media translates or communicates what we do better than seeing and feeling us live.
W:
How much Thoth are you and how much Stephen Kaufman? Are they one in the same, do you believe that you become your act and your act becomes you over time?
Thoth:
There is no act. Thoth is Stephen Kaufman in full regalia and full power without apologies to the greedy, weak-minded and frightened. Ruthlessly yet compassionately I am committed to inspiring humanity to evolve towards its true angel nature.