The Keytar Bear Tells All

In a rare interview, Keytar Bear opens up about his time spent busking, his favorite tunes, and more.

Photo via Patrick

Photo via Patrick “Beard of Destiny” Hellen on Twitter.

All it took was an old keytar and a withered bear costume to launch one local man into underground celebrity stardom.

If you have the Internet, ride the MBTA, or know people in Boston, then it’s likely that you’ve come across Keytar Bear.

Known to perch on the platforms along various MBTA lines, strapped with his portable piano and donning the ruffled yet somewhat-fluffy animal costume, Keytar Bear has captured the hearts of the commuting public. Within months of first launching his busking career, Keytar Bear has already amassed a loyal following, and a Facebook fan page was created in honor of his musical talents—he’s even booking gigs outside of the tunnels and train stops where he’s usually seen rocking out with a portable amplifier by his side.

On April 22, Keytar Bear will join a set list of other musical acts at the Lily Pad in Cambridge, marking just one of a few appearances outside of his normal habitat. The concert, called “While U W8 #MBTA Late,” is a push to get Mayor Marty Walsh and the MBTA to allow acts like Keytar Bear to play on the weekends during the T’s new late-night service hours, giving riders an extra reason to utilize the new pilot program by offering additional perks in the form of jam sessions and performances.

“[It] will show the T what it takes to increase their passenger-base. Great entertainment for the cause of bailing the T out of debt, increasing ridership with satisfied customers happy to drop their wallets into the musicians’ hats,” according to event details.

Of course, once we realized Keytar Bear was rising to glory to rock the stage, we just had to get in contact with him. Below is an interview with the mysterious man behind the bear mask—just one of two interviews out there—who has become Boston’s newest, unofficial mascot.

The question everyone wants to know: what made you want to put on a bear suit and start playing the keytar?

I’d say, I’m trying to kill racism in my own way. I want to be responsible for the demise of racism. I’m trying to kill racism in my own little way, you know what I mean? You don’t know if [I’m] black or white, you just see a little bear. He’s playing music and he’s having fun.

The next obvious question: where did you find a bear suit and a keytar?

I bought it for Halloween when the movie TED came out. Like in 2011, or something like that…It was, like, an idea at first, and then I was like, ‘I’m just going to do this from now on.’ It was also from this racist ass cop. The idea came from a movie, but it was also from this cop that was giving people a hard time. Me and my peers, you know? So I was like, if I wear this suit, they don’t know who I am if I wear a bear suit. This guy always gave all street performers a hard time, and I took it upon myself to do something to just go to the next level. I’m already skilled as a keytar artist, but the cute teddy bear added the icing to the cake. But they don’t know who is under there. Someone told me it was horrifying, but at the same time it was cute.

The costume is a little dirty. Do you think it’s horrifying?

I think it’s horrifying.

Do you ever take it off in public?

I take it off in public. You know, I’m like, ‘people stop looking, it’s a mean little black guy under here.’ Traumatized for life. No, I’m not mean or anything. I just like joking a lot. I like playing a lot of practical jokes. And I wanted to do something to shake up Boston, because Boston people, they get bored quick. It’s a small town, and people start falling asleep at 8 o’clock at night.

Not anymore with the new T service.

Is that everyday or the weekend? I guess something is going to change. You gotta do something that will shake everybody up, and something that will shake yourself up.

Do you think you’re doing that?

I feel an impact, but I don’t at the same time, because I’m still a regular person at the end of the day. When I do stop wearing the suit, you know, I probably have T-shirts or buttons. When it’s 70 or 80 degrees out, Keytar Bear will definitely be long gone.

You won’t be doing this during the summer?

Nah man, I don’t think so, man. The winter is like, unusually long these days. I have been wearing a suit since October, and we are in April now, and it’s still cold out. On the T, it’s hot. I like outside. On the T, everybody walks too fast, everybody is in a rush. And I’m way too powerful down there. Like blast off, really loud.

Is your powerful performance a full-time thing?

Mostly at night and on weekends. Maybe really early hours, like 7 a.m., you might see me somewhere. I usually take a break around 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. because of the school kids, you know? They grab your ass during a selfie, they fool around. I used to be a school kid, too, but these little motherfuckers don’t want to go home. You have to turn off the music, like, ‘no more Keytar Bear for you, man, go home.’

How did you even learn how to play this? Seems like a strange choice in instruments.

I was versed in guitar, and I always wanted to play piano. So I really found a way to combine the two. I was watching old 1980s rock videos, and said, ‘that’s a keytar, let me bring that back.’ The music is also retro. It brings some people back to a time in their life that might have a particular girlfriend, or boyfriend, or memory—whatever. Those songs I play remind people of the good time in your life.

What are your top songs that you play?

I like to play Prince or Rick James. Danceable stuff that the person will be walking home, and they hear the music and they walk differently. They walk and put a pep to their step, and I remind them they are human again, you’re not a robot. You don’t just go to work, or school, or home—there’s a life outside of that. It makes me happy to make people happy, too. Life’s short, man.

Do you make a lot when you’re performing?

I usually make $25 a month. Yeah, man. Times are hard, bro [laughs]. I’m a dance teacher, though. I teach also in Philly, New York, and Boston. I’m a music teacher and a dance teacher. I teach hip-hop—like breakdancing. B-boying, hardcore.

So what happens from here? Won’t people be unhappy when you retire the suit for the summer?

Yeah, unless there are situations where I can get inside. I’m hoping I can get more of these things. That’s the only way you can keep Keytar Bear alive, if you keep him in an air-conditioned environment surrounded by girls. If someone can donate a condo—throw a condo in there for me—and I’ll be perfect. That’s all I need to survive: a condo, a bunch of chicks. Simple.

How do you keep your keytar lifestyle secret from your friends?

My friends don’t know at all, that’s the whole thing about it [laughs]. I stash the suit between my mattress in the bedroom.

It’s kind of like a superhero alter-ego. 

Yeah, exactly. Pretty much. It’s like an alter-ego, and everybody should have one.

And your superpower is getting people to dance and making them happy.

Yeah. I have seen people hook up, I have seen people break up when I play certain love songs, I have seen it all, man. It’s the best experience in the world. I wish I could put a little video camera, for like one day, just to see the scope of the type of people you run into. But at the end of the day, man, it’s all about putting people in a better mood.

Not this summer, though.

Everybody get your selfies with Keytar Bear while you can, while Keytar Bear is still out. Get your selfies while Keytar Bear is still hot. He’ll be back next year, though. I won’t let you guys down. I won’t let you guys go. Go Bruins! Fucking Bruins, man.