Retiring at an early age from the stock brokering business, Frank Lima became a street musician. Not just any street musician — he became the Great Morgani.
His act is more than accordion playing. He is the man in downtown Santa Cruz or at farmers’ markets with the most elaborate full-body costumes covering every inch of his body as well as his accordion. While many know of the walking, accordion-playing spectacle that is the Great Morgani, few know much about him.
City on a Hill Press: How did the Great Morgani become who he is today? What was the turning point?
GM: Ah, “the Great Morgani day”? Actually, boredom. Pretty much, I’ve done my career backwards. I was a stockbroker from age 18 to 35, then I retired, and then I did, well, nothing. I remodeled and traveled and traveled and remodeled for 19 years and then I was bored. So, 14 years ago I put on a funny hat, got my accordion out and played on the street. It evolved into this very strange character of 130 costumes and 42 accordions.
So, what are your crazy costumes inspired by? Why is your face always covered?
When I first started on the street, I just had a funny hat and some boots. My accordion case was my money box. But I just wanted to push the envelope a little more. So I thought, “OK, let’s see. I wonder if I can play with gloves. Then I thought I wonder what would happen if I cover the accordion in material. Well, then the only thing left showing was my face — might as well cover that up too. So it’s all illusion. I always say my act is a sort of alienesque Cirque du Soleil.
You make your own costumes?
Yes. I make all my own costumes on a 1943 Singer sewing machine. It’s as old as I am and probably in better shape. I like dressing in the most elaborate colors. I wish they’d invent new colors for me. People want to see the spectacle!
And this is why they are so extreme?
Yes. I love it when little kids come up to me and ask, “Are you a man or a lady?” and I say, “I’m an alien!” You really can’t tell what I am — I mean, I could be anything. It’s very, very visual, it’s got to be the entire package. It can get a little manic. I mean, now my business card has got to match the outfit and then the stage I stand on, and my money box has also got to be coordinated. Some of the really elaborate costumes can take up to 100 hours to put together.
What kind of events do you usually play?
I love street performing, but I do a lot of private parties too, like birthday parties. What’s terrifying is when I have to play kids’ birthday parties. I think people think that I’m a clown and I’m going to do a lot of interacting with kids. Little kids terrify me. They’re just spontaneous, and you have to be on your toes.
So no kids’ birthday parties…
No. I worked for a non-profit organization called Young at Heart for eight years. It sends musicians to play at nursing homes and convalescent hospitals and retirement homes. The interaction with the people was just incredible. I know tons of old songs and I’d get them to sing along. I had fun doing that.
Oh, no. If I did those in costumes there’d be wheelchairs burning rubber to get out of there! I usually would just wear a top hat and gloves, something that’s a little bit out of the norm. Not something freakishly disturbing.
So costumes and gigs aside, why the passion?
I’ve been in the downtown area now for 37 years. I’m representing myself as a musician performance artist, but I’m also representing the community. I would say now that I’ve established myself here I feel that I’m contributing something — I’m contributing an art form. The ultimate compliment for me is “Your music makes people smile and makes people happy.” That’s what it’s all about, you know?
So it makes others happy. And you?
I’m blessed. I love what I do, the area that I’m in, and it’s all here. You’ve got to pay your dues along the way. What I did as a stockbroker was to have the financial security to do what I want to do today. That sounds very preachy — I’m sorry. I get very preachy sometimes. See that’s Frank Lima, he’s an old poop. The Great Morgani is a lot more fun.