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Rest in Peace Luis, Adelaide’s own ‘Piano Man’

The gentle patter of rain was disguising the tears rolling down my face. I was soaked, my school uniform was letting off a smell reminiscent of wet dog and my teenage hormones told me that the world was ending, despite on reflection I can’t tell you what I was so upset about.

Walking through Rundle Mall – the main promenade of Adelaide – no one cared to look at the girl who was crying, too busy trying to race towards shelter, out of the rain. Preoccupied with my thoughts I didn’t have a destination, I just wanted to let out all of my anguish in the rain and no one was going to stop me; but the sweet sound of someone hitting tuned metal made me stop – a xylophone was being played in the rain.

After a short hunt it turned out that the player of the xylophone was not sitting in the rain but on the pavement in a shop front. He didn’t speak as I stopped to watch, mesmerised by the sound, and continued playing to his audience of only one.

“Hello!”
His voice snapped me out of my depressive thoughts when he finally spoke to me,  a soft Chilean accent and a big smile growing on his face. The gentle ting-ting of the xylophone continued even whilst he took me in, probably thinking I was a wet soaking mess; but instead he smiled a little more and begun talking to me about himself and his music – his name was Luis and he was known as the “piano man”.

I don’t remember much about our conversation but I do remember his smile, the xylophone and the tiny tea light flickering at his feet, a vigil in the quickly fading light. I also remember the deep want to buy him a coffee or something warm to eat, but I was young and wary of all strangers, even sweet smiling ones who played tunes on a xylophone which awoke me from my despair, and so instead I emptied the coins from my skirt pocket, took the postcard picture – a picture of a single rose with his name on it, printed at a photo store – that he offered me as way of thanks and I left him ting-ting-ing on his xylophone

I only saw Luis a few more times. Almost always in times when I needed a smile – after a night that had gone badly or when I was stressed about making a decision – and although I never bought him that coffee or a meal, I did always empty my pockets and give him all the change I had, the least I could do for the man who broke through my cloud of sadness and instead left me happy, all because of his smile and the gentle ting-ting of that small xylophone.

It broke my heart to hear that Luis had passed away around the New Year period. For a man who was always there with a smile it devastated me to hear that he had passed in his home alone, presumably from a heart attack.
What was worse though was that he was saving to return to Chile to live our his elderly life after immigrating many years before only to be unable to find a suitable job.

Travel bloggers and writers preach that being able to travel is simple. For some yes, it means little more than to cut back on all those Friday night benders and buying things that you don’t necessarily need; but for others it isn’t that simple.
The world is full of debt, recessions, and unemployment, no matter your background or how vast your skill set is. Many of us who will read this live in lands of real opportunity – Australia, the UK, USA, NZ – but we have to make the most of this leg up we are so luckily given and be thankful that we aren’t born somewhere far worse off.
I won’t lie – I am one lucky girl to be able to say that I travel – and it does make me sad to know that there are people out there who can’t and may never be able to afford to do so even if it is their final wish, like Luis.

Adelaide knew him as the piano man, but to me he will always the xylophone man – the purveyor of smiles and the person that helped me to remember to smile and be grateful for the small things we have in life, like tuned metal being played in the rain.

Rest in Peace Luis. I hope your spirit has returned to Chile and that wherever God has taken you, you have found true happiness, much akin to what you shared me on that night.

Adelaide busker, Luis Garcia, the 'Piano man'

Related: How to choose electronic piano.

Has a stranger ever touched your heart?

Post image: Adelaide’s Sunday Mail newspaper

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Wends of Journeys and Travels
    February 4, 2013 at 10:20 am

    this is a poignant article full of emotions chocking me as i read through. Luis touched your life and he has created for you a legacy others have been unfortunate to not have the same experience as you were.

    May Luis rest in peace and thank you for sharing this. In this life, we all need strangers who really are our angels and Luis is your angel as you are to me through this.

  • Reply
    George
    February 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm

    Incredible almost made me cry myself 🙁

  • Reply
    Sofie
    February 5, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    What a beautiful and yet so sad and true post.
    I’m really thankful of the country I and the family I was born in. Just watching the news in the evenings is enough to be thankful for that. I can’t imagine the impact it must have had to hear about Luis’ death.

  • Reply
    Scarlett
    February 6, 2013 at 12:00 am

    Ohhhh Nicole I had tears in my eyes reading this, What a lovely man and how beautiful that he touched so many people. RIP xx

  • Reply
    Toni
    February 6, 2013 at 9:31 am

    Awww this is such an amazing post sweet and so heartfelt. It’s lovely to hear that a total stranger could stir such emotion in you. RIP Piano Man xx

  • Reply
    Sam
    April 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    Oh wow! I wondered where he had gone ? I remember him when i was younger hanging around rundle mall and rundle street. He was a lovely man from what I can remember

  • Reply
    Roshanak
    July 4, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    feel guilty! Just recently I decided to go and have a coffee with him, instead of giving him coins! As he used to call me: My friend! I asked Rundle mall page, face book and then I found that it is too late! A big and painful lesson to me: Never let it to be too late! RIP Louis, my friend, I still have your CD and your cards!

  • Reply
    Cody
    July 10, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    I saw him first time in an English school in Adelaide in 2006, then I got a job and had forgotten about other migrant those who were not successful to secure jobs 🙁
    We saw each other from time to time in the mall and just exchanged hello!
    I was devastated, when I heard about his passing, he always reminded me my difficult & miserable months as a migrant without a job! good bless his soul and rest in peace!
    We may learn from his story and be kind to the rest.

    Thank you Nicole !

  • Reply
    M. C. Sime
    December 27, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Compelling story Nicole.

    Luis, dead? Heartbreaking. Make no mistake: we’ve lost another Adelaidian treasure. I’m old enough to remember his piano playing period: I think I read somewhere that some louts stole his electric piano. Unvanquished, Luis returned to the streets with the more modest xylophone. The notes he played on the xylophone would gently echo around Rundle Mall and this would tend to bring to me an almost zen-like feeling of contentedness.

    A few years ago I encountered this obscure man at the Barr Smith Library at Adelaide University, apparently he was enrolled in some course then. I recall I assisted him with a trifling problem he was having with the Library computer he was using at the time. His English was not great and but I was impressed that he was associated with such an august institution as Adelaide Uni.

    Without a doubt, every time I saw him playing his instrument on the streets I would flick him some coin and he was always grateful. I now remember in his final months he would use an upturned frisbee to collect coins and he would place three one-dollar coins around the edge (perhaps to invite more coin or stop the frisbee from blowing away – I’ll never know why).

    For past year or so I intended to present this meek person with a portable electric organ that I had acquired but what had slowed my progress was the power cord was missing and I was too slack find one. Only last night I was discussing with an acquaintance that it had been quite a while since I had seen Luis performing but I resolved to search for him on the internet to reach out and give him the organ, plus a stack of batteries to keep it powered.

    So I today, l entered “Adelaide xylophone man” into my favourite search engine and found this article.

    Riposa in pace.

  • Reply
    m. j. stam
    August 30, 2014 at 1:23 am

    i remember luis, i didn’t know him personally but i remember him playing his casio keyboard over the years whether it was out the front of the myer centre or in the lane way of james place just off rundle mall. he always seem to be a delightful human being. he had a photo display as well which he showed people. i saw him last in mid 2012 while i walked through the mall. i did wonder sometime ago if he still played in the mall it was only when i searched for something else did i come across that he had died and seeing his picture image did i remember this person. a kind and decent person who brought alot of life to the mall with his keyboard it was something i enjoyed seeing when walking through the mall. you are a legend mate. rest in peace.

  • Reply
    m.j. stam
    August 30, 2014 at 3:30 am

    i didn’t know luis personally but i do remember him playing his keyboard in rundle mall. it was always a real pleasure to see when walking through the mall. i found him to be a real likeable nice person as well. i hadn’t seen him for awhile since mid 2012 so i checked the internet when i found out that he had passed away which took me by surprise. quite sad to hear he died alone. all i can say is thankyou for being the person you were may you rest in peace.

  • Reply
    m.j. stam
    August 30, 2014 at 6:04 am

    nice story nicole. i never knew luis but i do remember him sitting outside the myer centre or in james place playing his keyboard as i wslked through rundle mall. i think he also carried around a photo album with some photos to show people as well. such a lovely person. i last saw him in mid 2012 on a late friday afternoon. i did wonder for a why he wasn’t around the mall anymore but only found out by this story. i was surprised to hear this was why. rest in peace luis you were a special person loved in adelaide.

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