“Yo soy El Hombre Torcido.”
“I am the Crooked Man,” says Marco Alvarez, full-time line cook and part-time busker.
Busking, otherwise known as street performance, is Alvarez’ outlet for expression and his survival skill. Dressed in an outfit that cost him $29 at our local thrift stores, you would not be able to tell that he recently came out of homelessness.
“I only like dressing nice cuz a year and a half ago I didn’t have that luxury,” Alvarez said. “It was cheap, but if you look like you know what the fuck you’re doing, people will think that too.”
He toys with a ring he found on the ground when he was 16 years old and talks about everything without mincing words. He proudly presents himself for what he is.
Originally from San Diego, it was a best friend that brought Alvarez to Humboldt County two years ago. He describes it as a storybook town for people with an imagination. But before long, one of his cousins died and he had to travel back for the funeral. While mourning, he had a falling out with his mother and she attempted to run him over with her car. He took this to heart and realized that his family was unreliable and ended up homeless in San Diego.
That is when he decided to return to Humboldt County. But before leaving, he met a man named Richard. Richard made a video of Alvarez in one of the public transit trolleys in San Diego. It was a place of nostalgia, heartbreak, and loneliness for Alvarez. Making the video was a new beginning for his music but the end of his time in his hometown. He sings three songs ending with “Ripped Pants” from the Spongebob SquarePants TV show.
Busking was his ticket up the coast. He traveled from town to town with the mentality “I’ll sleep on the floor and I’ll feed myself” until he made it back in May of last year.
His first couple months back were discouraging. He played the ukulele at the Gazebo in Old Town. His friends told him that no one busks here and he was not going to make any money.
“Exactly! No one busks here so, I will!” Alvarez said.
He learned the nuances of busking from other buskers. He left with two important pieces to the artform. Let’s call them rules of busking:
- Get attention by offering something for people to interact with that is not you.
- Perform near a source of revenue.
With these two rules, Alvarez chose to be right outside Livin’ the Dream Ice Cream and uses chalk as a means to draw your attention. He invites you to draw with it or play hopscotch all while he plays the soundtrack for your moment in time.
Eventually, Alvarez’ busking earned him enough to buy a guitar amp at Mantova’s Two Street Music.
“I needed something better, something portable so I can reach more people,” Alvarez said.
He has been singing since he was 17 years old but he sounds like he has been doing it for a lifetime. As it turns out, singing is part of his family history, but they reject it. His grandfather, uncle, mom and dad all sing but they hide it. As a matter of fact, they discourage it.
“My tio Juan starts singing at my grandma’s funeral in Mexico,” Alvarez said. “I heard him sing and I thought why don’t we do more of that!?”
This was the turning point for him to start singing and, in teenage fashion, to rebel.
His singing voice is filled with sharp exhales and lots of movement. It is somehow nostalgic but it is hard to pinpoint. In some ways, he sounds like Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta and Geoff Ricky of Thursday are sharing a microphone. Throw in a little bit of Shakira’s fluctuation then make it acoustic and we have El Hombre Torcido.
Regardless of any inspiration, intentional or not, maybe he is the first of his kind.
Each compliment and dollar he earned physically manifested into notes that he keeps in his pocket.
One is on a torn piece of paper that reads, “Thank you for your music! It’s just what I needed today to feel a little freer. You sing so generously. You don’t hold back any heart. I hope you keep playing always. Happy Journeying.”
Another came from a girl with blue hair who left him a note inscribed on a dollar bill, “Beautiful Voice! Made sitting in the cold worth it.”
Busking started it all but he’s aiming for more. He is now in two local bands and last month he had his first two shows with each. He played at Blondies in Arcata with Crash Monroe and at The Logger Bar with Don Quixote De La Mancha.
Crash Monroe fulfills his need for hardcore throat work — or, to put it plainly, it allows him to scream. The band takes care of the instrumental aspects and Alvarez writes and sings their lyrics. Whereas, Don Quixote De La Mancha is more personal and where Alvarez primarily sings in Spanish.
“Because I sing in English and Spanish, there’s always a few who really see you and appreciate you.” Alvarez said. “There is a power to my voice and I want to learn to master it.”
Alvarez has tons of anecdotes of his interactions with people all over California. But there is one in particular that will not leave him. When he first began busking in Old Town, there was an old homeless woman always sleeping in front of Eureka Books. She would listen to him until one day she decided to approach Alvarez as he was packing up.
She pulls out 60 dollars from her pocket and hands it to Alvarez. He would not accept her money but she insisted on paying him for his music. After a while she stopped showing up.
A year later, he was approached by a woman using a walker and she said, “You don’t remember me but I was homeless and listened to you. I’m not homeless anymore.”
That type of resiliency is what Alvarez preaches in his music and when you talk to him. His plan now is to make a name for himself in Humboldt County and beyond, while also continuing to busk with no end in sight.