One of the outstanding features of living at The Shores apartments in Ocean Park, in addition to being across the street from the ocean, is that the complex has its own set of stores on the premises. There’s a dry-cleaner, an upscale hair salon and a post office. (For those who still use “snail mail.”)
At The Shores, there’s even a convenience market/bistro that, until a couple years ago, was owned and operated by Casey O’Day. (Add an Olympic pool, Jacuzzi and gym, and The Shores’ amenities are so complete that it’s tempting to never leave, which some accuse me of doing.)
The market/bistro was run efficiently and creatively by Casey, but the problem was he’s a musician in his heart and soul — not a merchant. The down economy didn’t help either, but Casey says philosophically, “In the end, it was a good thing I had to move on.” You see, one day Casey woke up and realized that playing the guitar and singing, however difficult to make a living from, is what gave his life purpose, not stocking shelves.
A musician for as long as he can remember, Casey had come to Santa Monica from Portland 14 years ago, trying to win back a former girlfriend who had moved here. Unfortunately, he didn’t succeed with that love but he developed a new one for our fair city.
Nobody ever said following your dream is easy. I suppose if it was, it wouldn’t be a dream. In any event, Casey sold the market and, a year ago, began playing his music on the Santa Monica Pier.
Here’s Casey’s schedule: Every morning, rain or shine, he wakes up early, goes to the pier and signs up for a lottery that the city runs to see if he’s able to get a spot to perform. (Reminds me of a musical version of Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront” where dock workers lined up each morning hoping to get a job. Maybe I watch too many old movies?)
If Casey doesn’t “win” the morning lottery, fortunately there are afternoon and evening shifts. He’s so determined that, in the past year, he’s only missed 22 shifts. It’s not uncommon for him to sing eight or nine hours a day. In so doing, he’s built up a huge repertoire of 200 songs that he can perform on request, including covers of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin to the more contemporary music of U2, Radiohead and Coldplay.
Primarily, it’s tourists who flock to the pier daily. (Although, numerous residents include the pier on their daily walks.) Casey has built up a following who will ask for a particular song. It’s akin to a live radio station as Casey obliges the requests. On occasion, he will play the guitar and the crowd sings the song in what he jokingly calls “Pier-aoke.”
Rising early every morning, Casey is devoted to his “job.” He’s not the stereotypical street performer with a beat up guitar, bad attitude and change bucket. In fact, he brings a pretty impressive set-up which allows him to sound unique and authentic.
My hat’s off to Casey. Some people give me credit for writing this column week in and week out and wonder how I do it. Some send nasty e-mails and wonder why I do it. Either way, as anyone who knows me well can attest, I definitely don’t rise early each morning to do it.
As tourists from countries all over the world gather ‘round to listen, Casey feels all the hard work and long hours are well worth it. In one day he sold (or gave away, depending on his mood) his CDs to people from Angola, Finland, Brazil, England, Canada and Australia. (Casey’s next career could be at the U.N.?)
“It’s flattering and rewarding to think they’re taking my music back home with them thousands of miles away,” he told me. Among Casey’s many appreciative CD “customers” has been the president of the Czech Republic and his family, who were surrounded by Secret Service.
Casey takes great pride in the shows he performs and hopes to land a job “indoors” at a local bar or night spot. But, even if he does, he vows to continue singing from his heart and soul each day on the pier. As Mickey Rooney might have said to Judy Garland, “That’s what makes a dream so great, just living it.” Forget “maybe.” I definitely watch too many old movies.
Casey O’Day can be seen online at youtube.com/pinheadtheband. To book him for your party, bar or club, call (213) 453-2379 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Jack can be reached at email@example.com.