For obvious reasons I try not to work too, er, hard.
— The Naked Cowboy
Robert John Burck was born in Greenhills, Ohio in 1971. He earned his degree
in Political Science from the University of Cincinnati in 1995. He is also The
Naked Cowboy™. Now, Burck is not a cowboy. Nor has he ever, ever
appeared naked, live or on film (okay, twice in magazines). So what's up with
Our hero had always had a hankering for success in showbiz;
movies, television, or at least male modeling. His first big break came when he
won a Cincinnati radio station contest and was awarded with a 2.5-second walk-on
part on the television hit Baywatch. A little networking in California,
not to mention his infectiously photogenic good looks, also led to two shoots
for Playgirl magazine.
Among the things Burck does have are ambition, drive, persistence and
faith in himself. According to interviewers and Burck himself, his days begin
with 30-60 minute runs, are punctuated with meals ranging from regular diner
fare to week-long diets of nuts, seeds, water and coffee, and at
least two strenuous workouts a day. The results? The over-six-foot-tall Burck's
body is healthy, quite muscular (in a natural kind of way; no steroid-enhanced
over-the-top trip here), and very, very defined. What else does he do with his
days, one may ask? Well, he practices the guitar, practices singing, reads
inspirational books, and writes in his journal.
Poor Robert tried enlisting the aid of a talent management consultant, who sent him to voice
school with one of Nashville, Tennessee's finest coaches. Despite weeks of hard
work and an investment in an $800 guitar (that he couldn't really afford), his
family, friends, and coach all agreed he was certainly not destined to become
the next Country/Western superstar. By now, the dedicated young man with his
sights set on stardom had crossed country a number of times, tried everything to
break into entertainment, including stripping (at "Chippendales-esque" as
well as gay venues; both of which turned him off). A chance meeting with a
self-styled "entertainment promoter" landed him an all-expenses paid trip back
out to Hollywood, replete with limo trips, fancy hotel suites equipped with
marble jacuzzis and sumptuous fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And photo
shoots. Miles of film.
I was in Buffalo New York performing next to a hot dog
vendor on my first tour of the East Coast. A lady approached me and asked, "are
you advertising for the six inch or the foot long?"
— The Naked Cowboy
The amazing thing about young Robert was that although he could have made a
fortune in soft- or hard-core pornography, he'd have none of it. His nearly pure-as-the-driven-snow heart
belonged to his beloved Mindy, who awaited his returns to Cincinnati whilst he
pursued his career. Absolutely straight sexually, there wasn't a homophobic bone
in his body, however. If anything, he was fairly naive in his early days about
the wolves offering gifts and outright cash for at the very least a glimpse,
much less a taste, of the buff bodybuilder au naturel. Robert continued
his existence staying in cheap motels and crashing on friends' couches, working
as a waiter at T.G.I. Friday's restaurant, and driving beat-up cars because he
was true to himself and his self-respect. His body was a temple, and he'd do
with it as he pleased.
The writings on his website are very candid about how he turned down a life
of excess with a minor entertainment-business sugar daddy:
“Well, when you left on the plane, back to Cincinnati, you didn’t seem at all
hurt to go.” “I feel like you like what I can give you, but not me personally.”
We got into screaming fights over the following week over what this relationship
was all about. I was straightforward from the beginning and never once deluded
him. Somehow we always wound up not disagreeing, but he was definitely trying to
see where my comfort zones were in regards to my sexuality and his future role
in marketing it.
"...however this kook in Nashville began telling me that he’d need to know
when and where I was having sex, to know where his most valuable asset in the
world was and with whom. The final bomb came when he just bluntly said, “I’ll
have to be aware of every orgasm you have and they will have to be with me.”
He was staying with a friend in Venice Beach, California; going on tryouts
for bit-parts in T.V. and movies, spending his free time working out and taking
in the sun, and one day decided to muster up all of the courage he had. He
finished his workout one day, cleaned up and put on cowboy boots, jeans, a
skimpy shirt and cowboy hat, grabbed his guitar and walked out to the pier and
began singing. He made $1.02 for the afternoon. The dollar was from an old woman
who felt sorry for him; the two cents were thrown at him by hecklers.
He told his host of his bad luck singing that day. In jest, his host said,
"well, why don't you go do it in your underwear?" The gist was not to get him
noticed as a singer but perhaps as a model.
He got noticed. He arrived home with his boots stuffed with singles,
sometimes $50-60 a day. (Why his boots? In his own words "the boots, not
the briefs; this is a family show!").
Now, in Venice Beach, California, well-sculpted young muscle builders of the
male (and female) variety are a dime a dozen. The ever-enterprising Burck
realized that he needed exposure (pardon the pun) in a totally different market.
So he packed his car and drove cross-country to the Big Apple.
Stops along the way ranged from wildly successful gigs to nights spent in
"Do you ever perform completely naked?"
— talk show host
"No way! I don't want to cheapen my act!"
— Naked Cowboy
The night before his big debut, he used his nearly maxed-out credit card to
stay in a fleabag motel in New Jersey. The following morning, he parked his car,
dropped trou and doffed his shirt, and wearing nothing but a cowboy hat and
briefs (emblazoned with "The Naked Cowboy" in red, white and blue) and a pair of
white cowboy boots (upon which "tips" was written on each), strapped his red,
white and blue guitar around his back and walked toward Times Square.
His success was immediate. Once the police (who'd thought they'd seen
every manner of oddity) decided that to hamper his act would indeed violate his
right to freedom of expression, he was off and running, er, or, singing. The
crafty showman stood in the middle of Times Square day in and day out, earning
about a thousand dollars a day. His attempts at p/r have been
met with varying degrees of acceptance (David Letterman's security guards
immediately removed him from the theatre when he removed his tear-off shirt and
pants on-camera; and threatened to sue - the footage was used on the air and the
lawsuit never materialized).
The most amazing thing about The Naked Cowboy is his consistency. He's out
there in Times Square all four seasons. (But for when he's making private
appearances at $1,000 a clip or touring in warmer climates - including Japan). Yep, he's become a New York City icon.
(On a particularly frigid January day) "A dollar in the
boot, please. I've got medical bills."
— Naked Cowboy
Don't you get sick out here in the Cold?
Are you kidding? Do you think bacteria
survive in these temperatures?
— Naked Cowboy
Yukui Nakano posted a photo she attributes to "Yahoo News" on her website.
Out of the literally hundreds of photos of Burck that can be found on the web
(including his modeling portfolio - the stuff that dreams are made
of) this one in particular tells the story the best. There's The Naked Cowboy,
standing tall on a minuscule triangle in the middle of New York City Traffic,
strumming his guitar with his muscular arms. There's a light snowfall in the
air, accumulating on the ground. So far is this from the archetypal cowpoke
sipping coffee in front of a warm fire it underscores the surrealism of the
art of the photograph. Perhaps surrealism is the best way to define Robert John
Burke's performance art, as well.
Beside actually trekking to the City and posing with the extremely handsome Naked Cowboy most times of the year
in New York's Times Square, one can view his adorable visage and well-chiseled musculature (in various states of undress) in photos on his website. The site also
offers a cd for sale, as well as Naked Cowboy hand-painted merchandise.
All the hype and analysis of why he does what he does aside; this guy is one tough son-of-a-gun. The throngs of New Yorkers and tourists are enough to drive one stark-raving mad (I speak from experience) — and to do so whether the temperature is 95 degrees and sunny or 25 degrees and snowing takes balls (pardon the pun) made of steel. This is why I nominate The Naked Cowboy for true "Cowboy-dom". After all, how many bronco-bustin' prairie-livin' fence-ridin' All-American cowpokes would do what he does, at all; compensation notwithstanding? What say hats off to a true American individualist - The Naked Cowboy!
It occurred to me that if he were crafty enough to add to his act a naked
Indian, naked motorcycle cop, and naked leather-dude, he'd have "The Naked
"The Naked Truth: The Naked Cowboy of Times Square" Zitelli, Nicholas,
originally published in the The Hudson County Reporter, now at
http://www.littleviews.com/home/newyork/naked_cowboy.cfm accessed 12/5/06
Website of Yukui Nakano: "Day 2 With Naked Cowboy": http://www.kissui.net/mt/archives/000075.html
The Website of The Naked Cowboy™ http://www.nakedcowboy.com/index.html