Back in the 1960s, John Carr was known as the “Bob Dylan of Smith High School.” He was a local boy, born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a gift for guitar-playing and gab. The gab led him into a long career as an insurance salesman, and the guitar accompanied him on travels up and down the East Coast.

John’s been married twice and has a 32-year-old son who lives here in Greensboro. John went into a deep depression when his first marriage ended; as his second one began to unravel, he was diagnosed with manic depression. He didn’t want to accept it—after all, he’d had both hips replaced and was suffering from fibromyalgia—how much more could a person take?

After a long internal struggle, John accepted his diagnosis; he is now re-embracing the music that’s always filled his soul. He takes his guitar and busks at strategic points in Greensboro: in front of the Green Bean coffeehouse, on the corner of Lewis and Elm, and at Beef Burger on Lee Street, where he used to hang out as a teenager. “I’m not playing for the money. I’m doing it for the passion,” he explains. “I play for the rich, I play for the poor, I play for those who are ignored.”

John’s upbeat philosophy is much like Beef Burger’s cheerful business statement

Whatever he collects from busking, John always gives seven dollars a week to the Mental Health Association in Greensboro. He says it’s a fair exchange for what he’s learned through the association’s Wellness Academy, especially its class on self-esteem. The knowledge helps him in his relationship with his fiancée, who is in hospice care. “I’ve learned that every relationship should be well-intended and mutually healthy,” he says. His strong spirituality combined with the academy’s teaching has given him energy that he compares to “vinegar mixed with baking soda.”

Busking requires shade and ice cream near at hand
John, always animated, has a song for every occasion and an occasion for every song

John is often found in the Mental Health Association’s quarters in the lower level of 330 South Greene Street. By a remarkable coincidence, he worked in the very same spot 45 years ago as an employee of the Southern Life Insurance Company.

“I’ve come full circle,” says John, blue eyes blazing, a smile of wonderment on his face, and—no doubt—a tune stirring in his heart.

Watch a video of John improvising a song about the Wellness Academy during a busking gig.