End of an era: Street musician Richard Peterson calls it quits




Posted on December 25, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 25 at 6:53 PM

I’ve been his buddy 9 years. I’ve watched the 65-year-old savant conduct imaginary orchestras. I’ve seen Richard Peterson open up about his worst fears.

“So you’re afraid for your life?” I asked him. “Yes,” he responded emphatically.

He’s afraid what happened to another street musician could happen to him. Tuba man was kicked and beaten to death five years ago - on the streets.

I’ve listened to his stories about his childhood.

“When Richard grew up his father wouldn’t speak to him,” said Pat Cashman, a friend.  “And so we think Richard yearned for a male presence in his life.” 

And I watched his last trumpet performance on the streets. It was at the Apple Cup outside of Husky stadium.

“No more,” Richard Peterson told me.  “I’m tired. My heart isn’t in the trumpet solo. Because it’s just one note at a time.”

One note and then another, and another. Richard Peterson’s brain needs more. He needs chords.

“He needs to play the piano,” said Cashman, who is the co-creator and co-host of KING 5’s comedy show "The 206." 

Richard agrees. “I need more piano gigs.”  Indoors, and out of the elements.

Richard got his wish when he took the stage at the Moore Theater with Actor Jeff Bridges and his band last spring. Bridges was impressed with Richard’s piano playing abilities.

“We had a fun time. He kicked it didn’t he?” said Bridges.

Richard will never forget the day he met Bridges. “Yes, August 25th 1991.”

The movie star was shooting a scene from his film "American Heart" in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where Richard lives. The savant decided then that Bridges would be one of his ‘personalities.’ Richard’s personalities are the people he chooses to keep track of.

 “Once he decides on a personality he has to see them,” said Steve Wilson, Richard’s longtime friend. “There are personality days and non-personality days. On non-personality days he doesn’t want to see anybody. On personality days he wants to see 10.”

And every time he sees one of his personalities, it’s another story on the building he creates in his mind.

“He’s thinking of each personality as a building,” said Cashman, whose building is now 497 stories. I’m a 121 story building. Johnny Mathis is 141 stories. Retired newsman Bryan Johnson’s building is just short of 830.

“When I retired Richard said he wanted to see me seven times before I died, “ said Johnson. “Not before he died, but I died. “ We both laughed.

 “Once they die,” said Wilson,” the roof goes on the building. It’s done.”

Jeff Bridges became a 41-story building on the day the two performed together.

“The fella's a savant right? He has that special gift,” said Bridges. “And he’s also  completely candid, you know. There’s no artifice about him. He is who he is.”

And who he isn’t ? 

“I just hate the streets,” Richard told me. He’s not a street performer anymore.  He’s done performing the trumpet outside. Who he is? He’s the piano man, hoping to get more gigs in 2014.

His ‘personalities’ are rooting for him.  Pat Cashman. Bryan Johnson. Jeff Bridges.

“He’s refreshing. He enlivens you. I got a lot out of Richard,” says Bridges.

When you think about it, Richard is blessed. He knows what he wants, and he knows what he doesn’t.

“I just hate the streets,”  he said, repeating himself like a broken record. “I need more piano gigs.”