Friday, September 12, 2008

Tour tales no. 1: The wages of profanity and political commentary



The Ws were always the kind of fan that any group would be honored to have. When they were still living in Bakersfield, they came to every show, talked us up to all their friends, bought all our records and swag, and even filmed many of our performances. (They would always follow up by sending me carefully annotated DVDs adorned with artwork of their own devising.)

Actually, for a few of our early Bakersfield shows, the Ws comprised nearly half of the audience. Yet they stuck with us regardless of the sort of turnout we got: they were just as enthusiastic about the "tumbleweed gigs" as they were about, for instance, our performance in front of thousands of people at the 2007 Bakersfield Jazz Festival.

So when we arrived at Eugene's Cozmic Pizza last Wednesday evening and found the Ws waiting for us (they had driven 40 minutes from Corvalis, the Oregon city where they had coincidentally moved in the last year), I was, to put it mildly, flattered beyond belief. Initial pleasantries were exchanged (the Ws took pride in knowing several members of the group by name) and we all prepared for the evening's concert.

Once things got rolling with our opening tune (our tribute to Keith Jarrett, which you will remember from the last tour), I sort of lost all perspective on the audience (as I tend to do when I go into conductor mode). So it wasn't until after the end of the first set that I discovered that the Ws were gone. And it wasn't until I had had a chance to speak with Matt (who, as usual, went way beyond the call of duty on this tour and worked the door for pretty much all of our shows) that I learned what had driven the Ws away.

In a nutshell, the Ws were offended by 1. our "filthy" language and 2. our anti-McCain song (which, I probably should have mentioned earlier, is called "Civility").

No, really! Apparently it is possible for someone who has only heard our earlier albums (which feature such wholesome tunes as "Mamas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboy-Presidents," "Full-on Freak," and "Baby, Shake That Thing") to assume that we are an innocuous, god-fearing, Republican outfit.

What can I say? On the one hand, I'm sort of proud that something we created actually pissed someone off enough to make them walk out of a show. I mean, isn't the ultimate point of political art that it have some sort of observable impact? That it move beyond merely noble-sounding lip-service? Isn't that the quality that purists long for when they (however bombastically) say that jazz (or punk, or whatever) is no longer a "socially relevant" music?

On the other hand, if that's a victory of sorts, it feels kinda hollow. I mean, this group is in no position to be losing fans -- particularly the sort of fans who remind one that the root of of the word "fan" is "fanatic." I genuinely liked the Ws, and I'm just as irritated by the fact that they failed to see the "offense" that they took as an opportunity for dialogue about art / politics as I am by the fact that their "fanhood" was very hard-earned over a long period of time. The situation sort of cracks me up and depresses me at the same time.

Not that I have any regrets (whatsoever) about the aesthetic / political directions the band has taken in recent years. The charts are what they are: the truest music I know how to make at the moment. I can't do much about that -- and in fact in some ways I feel that it is only recently that the group has managed to find its own voice. Why on earth would I want to dial that back?

* * * * *

Two addenda:

1. We had good reasons to edit our final two shows of this tour. Our PDX hit was an all-ages affair attended by many youngsters 10 and under -- so while we left the John McCain song in place, we had to creatively tone down the language in some of the other tunes, which truthfully added a whole other level of comedy to the experience (for instance, in "Big Ass Truck" we substituted the phrase "fiddlesticks" for "what the fuck"). And moments before our Yakima show -- the final night of the tour -- I got the talk from the series' artistic director: "Yakima is a pretty conservative town, they're not going to go for anything with the word 'fuck' in it, etc., etc." Again, we creatively toned down some of the language, though it wasn't quite as funny in this context for some reason.

2. A few days after the tour was over, I got a package in the mail. It was from the Ws. They were returning the CD and the T-Shirt they had bought in Eugene a few nights before, with a note explaining that they couldn't support offensive music.

What the fuck?

21 comments:

DJA said...

I am sorry to hear you lost some devoted fans. But I will never, ever understand the mentality of the Republican jazz fan. (Like, you are familiar with the history of civil rights in America, right? Who supported them and who fought against them tooth and nail, and has based their entire electoral strategy on exploiting racial resentment? You understand that there's a reason why 90% of African-Americans vote Democratic, right?)

The military bands always used to turn out in force for IAJE, so there were a fair number of servicemen and women at our IAJE hit in January. The ones who actually talked to me afterwards were uniformly enthusiastic, but I later received an email from a soldier talking about the heated arguments she'd been having with the Bush supporters in her unit about what I'd said before we played "Ferromagnetic" and "Habeas Corpus" -- which boiled down to, essentially, "mercenaries are bad" and "illegal rendition, imprisonment, and torture of innocents is bad." It makes me really depressed to think that these things are even slightly controversial.

(And okay, there's some chance I called Blackwater's Eric Prince a "heinous motherfucker," but in my defense, he really is a heinous motherfucker.)

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for your comment, Darcy!

I don't understand the Republican jazz fan phenomenon either. Though if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that it's a phenomenon that totally divorces the music from its historical context. (Or, like Ken Burns, treats that history as "ancient" and "unthreatening" to us post-moderns.)

But even if that's true, it still confuses me as a phenomenon. Even the "mildest" jazz I like and am inspired by seems, simply by its relation to "noise," "dissonance," "vocalized tone," etc., to inherently express some sort of dissatisfaction with the status quo. LIke, on a purely musical level.

Sometimes I wonder if people are really listening to the stuff they claim to like.

James said...

I don't really see anything strange about a republican who likes jazz. It's just music to most people. And of course, many Republicans are just conservative. Like the Ws I guess...

But the thing I never understand is when people get outraged over "offensive" art, especially when it is just a symbolic representation of something that actually happened. Like Darcy's 'Habeas' or the Keith Jarret song.

In general, I'd say most people's lives are probably rated R. The language we all hear and use suddenly becomes objectionable when used in a movie or a song.

It is probably reasonable to leave the word 'Fuck' out of a performance for children. I would feel uncomfortable for sure.
But people need to reevaluate what they consider to be offensive. Cuss words?

As for the Ws, I hear you not wanting to lose fans. But these are some seriously confused people. I mean---why not just throw away the CD and shirt?

Kris Tiner said...

I hate to get involved in this but I feel like I should, both to be the devil's advocate and to perhaps clarify a thing or two about the Ws, who are very good friends of mine.

Let me say this - Andrew's first three paragraphs are right on. I have never, ever encountered a person, let alone a couple, as dedicated to supporting and encouraging local creative music, art, and theater as these two. They're unstoppable. Mr. W in particular - while he was living in Bakersfield he came to every show I put on, bought up any CDs the artists had to offer, and remembered people by name whenever they came back through town. We really miss them around here.

And Mr. W knows a hell of a lot about the music, not only the mainstream history but all the tangents and offshoots and fringe movements, and can cross-reference obscure sidemen on out-of-print recordings like nobody's business. I was fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of part of his LP collection when he was packing up to move, and you'd never believe some of the rarities that were in there. Jazz, improv music, avant-classical, blues, rock, soul records - all well-worn, and he knew every cut by heart.

So in addition to all the gratitude for their years of support, I have a profound respect for this guy. His knowledge is tremendous. Which is why I watch my mouth when I'm around him, and I certainly don't talk politics. Like me, the guy is set in his political views, but he's not so naive as to assume that all jazz musicians are "God-fearing Republicans." So if he doesn't have a problem being a conservative and a jazz fan, I don't have a problem with it either.

Besides, it ocurred to me at some point that his showing up at an avant-jazz concert would be somewhat like me showing up at a GOP rally, which I am NOT going to do, so I give him credit for being the one who's actually stretching his horizons.

Anyway, I say all of that to say this - these two love music, they love musicians, and they're classy people. They sent the shirt and CD back not to create a stink, but in order to let you know how they felt, and in hopes that you could sell them again. They know we work hard at the music we do, and that these projects are all self-financed, and despite their offense at the lyrics they heard they'll continue to support the musicians, even if they probably won't come to another IJG concert. Mr. W sent me an email a few days ago saying as much.

So here's the devil's advocate part of my comment: I'm not so sure that people have to subscribe to the political/social/cultural/religious point of view of the musicians they listen to in order to authentically (or even appreciably) enjoy that music. Particularly with instrumental music (things get hairy, obviously, when we're talking about lyrics, notions of obscenity, etc.) - one ought to be able to appreciate an art form without having to adopt the philosophical world view of the artist. I like to listen to shakuhachi music, but I don't want to become a Buddhist. I love Hendrix, but I have no interest in using LSD. I dig African music, but I don't want to live there. Kind of Blue is a great album, but listening to it doesn't make me want to go strangle a white dude...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for the clarification, Kris, and sorry to drag you into this.

if he doesn't have a problem being a conservative and a jazz fan

Okay, but clearly in this case he did have a problem. That's why he left.

So here's the devil's advocate part of my comment: I'm not so sure that people have to subscribe to the political/social/cultural/religious point of view of the musicians they listen to in order to authentically (or even appreciably) enjoy that music.

Of course. I actually think that's obvious (I adore the Beach Boys, but not so much their Republican leanings). It's not like I expect that everyone in the IJG audience is going to agree with my political views, or the views expressed by the music. And it's not like we're pushing politics or profanity throughout the show. It's at most about 10% of what we do. Of course if you despise the word "fuck" then it may end up seeming like more. But there's nothing about what we do that presents a "be like us or else" vibe. We put it out there as honestly as possible, but we don't prostelytize. I may be surprised at the occasional conservative fan (let's face it, it's a pretty unusual phenomenon), but I don't scoff at it. I mean, shit -- I'm an agnostic who teaches music at a church. I'm used to these sorts of incongruities.

You have the advantage of knowing these folks much better than I do. So if you had been on the gig perhaps you could have warned me to intercede in the name of civility, and I may have been inclined to do that. As I mentioned, that was exactly what happened at Yakima. In other words, I have no problem editing things where it makes sense to do so. It's not like I'm invested in offending people. I want people to stay for the shows. That's the whole point, really.

But whether I edit or not, it really doesn't change the music one way or the other. And it doesn't change the things I believe, or the way I talk, or my lifestle, or any of that. So that's where my own issue is: on the one hand I want (nay, I need -- the time just calls for it) to be honest, and on the other, I want to reach beyond the same "stereotypical" avant jazz fans when building our fan base. If I can't do both, then the experience starts to either feel like a charade (to pick up on James' comment: why should the things we do / say / think in everyday life suddenly become objectionable when you put them in a song?), or like an exercise in futility (how on earth am I going to keep the band together if it's this easy to drive audience members away with a few naughty words?).

They sent the shirt and CD back not to create a stink, but in order to let you know how they felt, and in hopes that you could sell them again.

Thanks for interpreting that for me. I guess my assumption was that they were returning the items because they wanted their money back. I mean, didn't they communicate clearly enough to me how they felt by walking out of the show?

In the end, no stink was created. I'm not posting any of this to belittle anyone. People are entitled to their views. The experience is just depressing, is all.

Kris Tiner said...

Okay, but clearly in this case he did have a problem. That's why he left.

I don't want to speak for the Ws, but I do know them well, and all I was trying to say was that if they had a problem, it was most likely with the obscenity, not with the music or the politics. The discussion was starting to go in the way of "why would Republicans listen to jazz?" and I don't think that's what this is about.

Also, Andrew, you're one of the most incongruous guys I know, and I mean that as a sincere compliment, so nothing I said in that "devil's advocate" comment was meant as a criticism of you or the IJG music, only again to point out that often people enjoy listening to music where they wouldn't necessarily agree with or sponsor the artists' point of view. Which you obviously agree with.

I'm all for honesty in art, and I agree that "the time just calls for it." But when that honesty goes so far as to alienate, offend, or put off people who hold an alternative point of view, the dialogue is over, and we end up in a situation of preaching to the converted, playing to the "same 'stereotypical' avant jazz fans" over and over. So that's why I think this particular situation is unfortunate.

To speak personally, I do want my art to be as honest as possible. But more than that, I want it to express the highest possible reality I can conceive of. So I don't feel the need to include every mundane thing I think or say or do in everyday life. A lot of those things I would never say or do in mixed company, much less in front of an audience.

Every artist draws that line differently, of course, and we all have different notions as to what constitutes profanity, what's politically appropriate, etc. I completely admire Darcy for speaking out about something like Habeas Corpus, and for using his music as a way of furthering the point (indeed, his spiel at our Bowery gig last year was actually my own introduction to the topic). I know you'd agree that music has a unique way of moving the dialogue forward, transcending its own time and place, and even the realities of the musicians themselves.

It has something to do with the way people like Charlie Parker or Miles Davis could be such bastards in their everyday lives, but make such beautiful music when they were performing. Also how civil integration happened in music (e.g. Bert Williams on Broadway in 1903 or Teddy Wilson with Benny Goodman in the 1930s) long before it happened in sports, politics, and society in general.

Sorry if I'm off on a tangent there, but I'm trying to relate my earlier comments to the larger context you all are talking about...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Kris, thanks much for this.

I was trying to say was that if they had a problem, it was most likely with the obscenity, not with the music or the politics

It definitely wasn't the music: it was a combination of the obscenity and the politics. They were explicit about that (no pun intended).

But when that honesty goes so far as to alienate, offend, or put off people who hold an alternative point of view, the dialogue is over, and we end up in a situation of preaching to the converted, playing to the "same 'stereotypical' avant jazz fans" over and over. So that's why I think this particular situation is unfortunate.

Agreed, wholeheartedly. All of this dovetails with our various observations on the Obama phenomenon, right? The aspiration toward a post-partisan politics? I'm all for that if we can actually get there -- that much should be clear from my political commentary on this blog.

But political art is not the same thing as political dialogue. At best, the former leads to the latter. And at best, artists have more leeway with their role -- I thought that was understood. In general, a tenor saxophonist or a comic should be entitled to express outrage a whole lot more emphatically -- and with a whole lot more expressive liberty -- than a press secretary or a news anchor or a campaign spokesperson or a university professor. And then, if he or she is provocative in the right way, that at least opens up the space for more a orderly discussion. Ideally.

Of course, if people are alienated (a bad thing) when they ought to be provoked (a good thing), that's a different problem (and it's not one that can always be blamed entirely on the artist). For the record: in my own miserable way I'm always going for "provocative" over "alienating." But part of the trick with that is knowing the audience well enough to anticipate where they draw that line. Which is why I've asked you in advance of the last few Bakersfield shows which of our various improprieties might succeed or fail for that audience.

I think the bottom line with this experience (for me) was a feeling of being blindsided -- which is probably why my initial post had such a (regrettably) sarcastic tone to it. I must admit I wasn't expecting the response at all, and it smarted (even though it was only two people out of 20 or 30). Maybe that's just my own shortsightedness -- but I had been under the impression that even without the lyrics, our music itself conveyed a fundamental (if playful) irreverence toward the state of the world, and toward life in general. Not in a way that was meant to be alienating, but certainly not in a way that was meant to be understood as comedy for comedy's sake.

For someone to hear the music in a different way is fine. But to hear it in a different way and then to be offended by its linguistic equivalent and then to abruptly cut off an artist-audience relationship without even inquiring what on earth we were up to with this "new direction," as if the "meanings" were self-evident -- well, as I said, that smarts. I understand it, now (too late), but it smarts.

To speak personally, I do want my art to be as honest as possible. But more than that, I want it to express the highest possible reality I can conceive of. So I don't feel the need to include every mundane thing I think or say or do in everyday life. A lot of those things I would never say or do in mixed company, much less in front of an audience.

I appreciate and respect that. My approach is a bit different, though. This is getting a bit more philosophical, but I personally don't think you can get to the sublime any other way than directly through the mundane (and the profane) -- I think experience is a continuum in which all of these things are connected, and one of art's jobs is to express and explore those connections, even if that means digging up a little ugliness along the way.

I also suspect (and have suspected for a long time) that there's a good chance that the practice of habitually treating certain words as verboten is itself a metaphor for a greater, more widespread practice of self-policing / policing of others that can effectively close off (or at least mute) certain fertile tributaries of artistic inspiration (and human experience). Which is not to say that there is no place in art (or life) for discipline and self-control. Far from it. But art is not all discipline and self-control. There's got to be some dirt, some wildness in there too.

We still live under the shadows of the Puritans -- which translates into not only a cultural discomfort with words like "fuck," but a disavowal of the body and biology in general. We express our anxieties about these things through violence (from the personal to the global), oppression of difference, various kinds of policing, and fetishization (hence the eternal popularity of porn). I like a lot of different kinds of art, but I particularly like stuff that gets down in that unholy muck in order to try exorcise it a bit. Because as far as I can tell, as a culture we have this area of life exactly bass-ackwards.

Kris Tiner said...

We may actually be sketching out a real "philosophical" disagreement here, albeit a friendly one (of course). And the connection to the ideal Obama political world is interesting. I'd also like to address the mundane/sublime topic at some point. But I have to get back to packing, so only time for a quick comment...

Of course the profane (and the word "fuck" in this case) is often a "fertile tributary of artistic inspiration" - but I wonder is it fertile for any other reason than the fact that it is culturally off-limits? I think you and I are idealists to an extent, although perhaps in very different ways, but in your ideal world (hinted at in your last paragraph) would the muck be liberated to a point that it changes from profane to mundane (i.e., it's no longer usable as a source of inspiration)? Would we then have to dig even deeper to purge all of that fucking shit?

I don't know. Honestly, I don't know if I can see the value in it - for a great many people words like "fuck" will always have a very literal meaning, one that they don't want to, and will never associate with. I don't know how productive it is for an artist to try to engage them on that level. I don't want to make this a censorship debate, neither do I want to suggest imposing any kind of limitations on artistic expression. But we have to remember that historically, taboos have helped society to advance at least as much as they've held it back. In this case it just seems like a distraction from some otherwise very provocative music. That's my feeling anyway - I know that your feelings run in a slightly different direction.

But if we can all agree that certain elements of profanity are off-limits when children are present, or in front of more sensitive audiences (of Bakersfieldians and Yakimans, for example), isn't any other situation a lot like the "preaching to the converted" we were talking about above?

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks, Kris! And before I forget -- have a great tour. I look forward to reading about it.

Of course the profane (and the word "fuck" in this case) is often a "fertile tributary of artistic inspiration" - but I wonder is it fertile for any other reason than the fact that it is culturally off-limits?

I don't know. Maybe not. But I'm not sure why that's relevant. I mean, we live in the culture that produced these strictures, right? We're a part of it, yes? Does it make a difference that these tensions might be meaningless or uninspirational to someone on the outside? (Is there anyone on the outside?)

Or maybe the answer to your question is actually "yes." If we jump back into, say, the Renaissance, or the medieval period, or even the eighteenth century, in European history, anyway, we find that "the bawdy" was understood to be (and accepted as) a much more integral part of the totality of human experience. Clearly folks like Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Mozart were in touch with that part of their creativity, even though they weren't really fighting against a cultural norm.

I think you and I are idealists to an extent, although perhaps in very different ways, but in your ideal world (hinted at in your last paragraph) would the muck be liberated to a point that it changes from profane to mundane (i.e., it's no longer usable as a source of inspiration)? Would we then have to dig even deeper to purge all of that fucking shit?

I'm not sure I was describing an ideal world. I do think art should make the world better, and I do think our world would be better if people would, in general, lighten up. And I do think art can do some of that cultural work. But "ideal"? I don't claim to know what that would be.

Let me put it this way. There are two ways to approach the things that scare you about life. First, you can bury them. In which case they will almost certainly come back and bite you in the ass. In the US, I really do think there is a connection between various forms of repression, and, for instance, our obsession with war, and our lack of consideration for the natural world. And I think it's ridiculous that, for instance, we can use sex to sell every goddammed thing under the sun (that's the fetishization I spoke of) but people get all bent out of shape when a woman wants to breast-feed in public. And we've all noticed the fact that the more a politician or leader is focused on telling other people what kinds of sex to have, the more likely they themselves are to be having exactly the sort of sex they're trying to legislate against. And so on.

The alternative is to bring whatever scares you out into the light and take a good look. Not because you want to advocate anarchy, or because you want to initiate a global orgy, or even because you want to embrace that fear or what it represents -- but simply because you want to know and understand. So in a way it's about self-awareness, a healthy mental state, and maturity.

I don't want to make this a censorship debate, neither do I want to suggest imposing any kind of limitations on artistic expression. But we have to remember that historically, taboos have helped society to advance at least as much as they've held it back.

Maybe that's true (though the exact percentages of this elude me). But I never said I was interested in smashing every taboo. Only the ones that are, to adapt your term, "counter-productive." I think the taboo against incest, for instance, has legitimate reasons to back it up. And the taboo against murder is obviously just common sense and basic human decency. But I think it's an oversimplification and a mistake to put the taboo against profanity or against addressing uncomfortable subjects in a song in the same category as those.

But if we can all agree that certain elements of profanity are off-limits when children are present, or in front of more sensitive audiences (of Bakersfieldians and Yakimans, for example), isn't any other situation a lot like the "preaching to the converted" we were talking about above?

Well, it's more complicated than that. There's a gray area where you actually don't know what is off-limits, and you take a risk and see what happens. I mean, the Yakima thing was a special case because I was told point blank before the show: "don't say fuck." But as I recall, neither you nor I really knew what to expect when we played Bakersfield last time. And that uncertainty is kind of the area I'm interested in. It's not like it's an exact science, right? And in a way, this Eugene story is just an example of a risk that failed.

Another thing: isn't there a musical analogue to all of this? The simplest example is the "devil's interval" of the tritone -- wasn't there was a time when that was a big no-no (hell, go back even farther -- wasn't there a time when anything other than unison singing was a no-no)? Can't you imagine us having this same conversation in that context?

I'm not saying that my artistic interest in the word "fuck" is anything on the order of the shift into polytonality in terms of artistic importance. Just to be clear. I'm making no claims for the value of what I'm doing, I'm just doing what feels and seems right to me. But I think the impulses that drive me as an artist are very much the same as the impulses that (I imagine) drove the first musicians who decided to play around with the strictures against polytonality or diabolus in musica. In the world of the medieval church, breaking those rules was very much like getting on a stage and shouting "fuck you!" It was probably a little uncomfortable. But I'm still really glad someone decided to do it.

Ray Conrad said...

As a musical consumer and a political participant I see some discord. Politics is a dividing force, literally. Politics is how the resources get divided in a group. Music is a unifying force, bringing together folks of different points of view to enjoy something they have in common. When you use music to express your political views you use a unifying force to divide. Political music is "our" music, whoever "our" group happens to be and to hell with "them" over there.

I'd never suggest to an artist that they shouldn't use their art to express their strongly held beliefs. Neil Simon wrote that self-censorship is the first step on the road to mediocrity. Who wants to go down that road? But peaceful expression is a right here in America. That doesn't mean you will be free from consequences for exercising that right.

As long as the words you spoke were true, and not intentionally hurtful, then where is the harm? If you dropped a few F bombs and folks were insulted, well, sorry. I'm sure that Lenny Bruce suffered worse consequences than that. But, I will say that the McCain song won't probably get a lot of play next year or maybe in 5 years. Time will tell.

James said...

What a fucking great discussion!

Andrew---I think you just have to do your thing and not worry about whether your audience will be offended. I know it hurts, but just think of all the people who love your music for what it is. Probably thousands of people.

Swearing in front of children... that is a tough one. But not all swears are profane. If I said "I want to fuck you," that could be considered profane. But just the word "fuck?" FWIW, I think the FCC ruled this was not profane when Bono used the word at some awards show. "Fuck the Muck" doesn't really mean anything to me. How does one "fuck muck?" It doesn't mean "have sex with muck." Just like not all nudity is porn. So you bring your kid to the art gallery--do you skip the nudes? In that respect, I don't think Andrew's music is profane.

That is the idealistic argument.

The practical one is that you may not get asked to play at certain venues EVER again if you use bad words. Well---ask yourself if it's worth it. If these places pay thousands, then I say oblige them.
They give you something--you give them something. But if it is a door situation and you do all the PR, and you don't even get free drinks, and you are basically renting a room, what do you have to lose?

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for your comment, Ray!

As a musical consumer and a political participant I see some discord. Politics is a dividing force, literally. Politics is how the resources get divided in a group. Music is a unifying force, bringing together folks of different points of view to enjoy something they have in common.

I actually don’t think music is an unequivocally unifying force, although it has potential in that regard. It’s not like any given genre of music doesn’t have its detractors. Even “pure” instrumental music is never going to appeal to everyone. It will, like a political party, attract a group of people who are disposed to like it, and a few who may be willing to “try it out.”

When you use music to express your political views you use a unifying force to divide. Political music is "our" music, whoever "our" group happens to be and to hell with "them" over there.



I agree that some political music is like that. But as I said above, with the IJG, the intention is never alienation, even with the political stuff. I can't imagine saying "to hell with them" about any listener. Of course, I can’t predict how people are actually going to respond to our music – but as far as intentions go, I’m definitely not trying to get people to walk out of our shows.

As long as the words you spoke were true, and not intentionally hurtful, then where is the harm? If you dropped a few F bombs and folks were insulted, well, sorry. I'm sure that Lenny Bruce suffered worse consequences than that.

I’ll say he did! And so did a lot of other people. Which is another reason I find the “naughty words” controversy so baffling. Didn’t we fight these battles long ago?

As far as “where is the harm” – that’s a good question. I think if this had been an incident involving an anonymous person who just happened to show up at an IJG gig not knowing what to expect, I frankly would have been a lot less affected. Although I am interested in reaching beyond the avant-jazz ghetto for fans, I’ve never begrudged people their right not to dig us. That’s what makes the world go round, and all that.

I guess the reason the incident stuck with me was that it involved people who were always very sweet to us, and supportive as all get out (as I indicated in the original post). As a rule I don’t like pissing people off, but it’s particularly uncomfortable to piss someone off when they have shown you nothing but kindness. And to piss them off merely in the process of trying to stay true to your artistic nature – well, that’s tough.

But, I will say that the McCain song won't probably get a lot of play next year or maybe in 5 years. Time will tell.

Yeah! Of course, I wasn’t going for timelessness (but rather timeliness) with that one. Also, for what it’s worth, I should also point out that that tune is as much about negative campaigning itself as it is about McCain.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey James! Thanks for your comment!

Probably thousands of people.

Do you know something I don’t? (But seriously – thanks!)


Swearing in front of children... that is a tough one. But not all swears are profane. If I said "I want to fuck you," that could be considered profane. But just the word "fuck?" FWIW, I think the FCC ruled this was not profane when Bono used the word at some awards show. "Fuck the Muck" doesn't really mean anything to me. How does one "fuck muck?" It doesn't mean "have sex with muck." Just like not all nudity is porn. So you bring your kid to the art gallery--do you skip the nudes? In that respect, I don't think Andrew's music is profane.



Yeah. For me, the argument against doing the “fuck” version of the show in front of kids is not so much that we have to protect their precious ears from the word, but more that they wouldn’t get it. The power and nuance of the word would be completely lost on them.

Incidentally: in principle, I’m not so concerned with having Thandie hear “cuss words.” I’ve learned that the real problem in this regard is that she is going to be judged by the parents of her peers. I don't want them to give her a hard time just because her old man has some kooky ideas about profanity.

That is the idealistic argument. 

The practical one is that you may not get asked to play at certain venues EVER again if you use bad words. Well---ask yourself if it's worth it. If these places pay thousands, then I say oblige them. 
They give you something--you give them something. But if it is a door situation and you do all the PR, and you don't even get free drinks, and you are basically renting a room, what do you have to lose?

All good points. The Yakima show was the only real money show on this tour – it basically helped fund things to a large extent. Which was another reason I was willing to go along with the request to “tone things down.” But it was also the only show where I had the vague feeling that, because of this bowdlerization, I was "faking it" (even though the band played really well). This because, unlike the PDX show -- which had a lot of young kids in attendance -- the older crowd in Yakima really ought to have been able to handle what we were dishing out.

Mike said...

Hey Andrew... "curious," as Spock would sayeth. I liked the first part of the guy who said "what a fucking great discussion." let me be overlu simplistic and immature and selfish and uncaring if anyone likes me as long as "I" like me (totally honest, in other words.)
I aint from a small town. I aint got no small town values.
what the fuck is an F-bomb?
they mean the word Fuck, right?
fiddlesticks...hahahaha!!hahaha!!!
what the fuck! was the funniest thing I heard all night back at the temple bar last tour.

they can't all like ya.
sucks about the W's, pretty funny actually, Tany told me all about it.

what the fuck.
I can't afford to give a "fuck" if people are offended by me (like when at a steve reich concert at downtown la, the la phil "butchered" one of his pieces, I turned the old gal next to me and said "that wasn't too good." we agreed, somehow (ego) I started talking about my own steve reich cover band, from calarts, she asked me "does anyone at calarts care about the valencia audience?"
(..."here we go..." i thought)
her subsequent implication that calartians care about being as wierd as they can prompted me to somehow say something that is easily interpereted as an antisemitic comment, to which she said "Well, Actually, I'm a holocaust surviver." haha. oops.
well, I'm sorry, I said. haha. wow.
then I turned to my left, to a calarts professor who had JUST arrived that very second. her pal (a famous guy from the netherlands, said, aloud, as the lights went down for the 2nd half, "Please turn of all bombs. You may not blow up the building during the performance."

thats the kinda attitude I like.

the devil's advocate argument seems "conservative" to me.
preaching to the crowd???
dude, preaching to the crowd, in the additional presence of the non-crowd (not yet converted-or-not-converted persons in the audience)
as I was saying,
dude, preaching to the crowd in the presence of the non-crowd CREATES THE CROWD.
I'm for not offending small children, I guess, (or their parents, more likely,) but they should stay home.
maybe you guys advertise as political satire (so little kiddies won't show up, or their paranoid american parents?)
I aint hidin my immature biases, I do know.
and I can't spell.

but good luck, dude.

Mike said...

p.s. I should have added, on the thought of "they couldn't support offensive music."
the thought
"it's ok, you don't need to support 'offensive' music. there are people who will." find them

Andrew Durkin... said...

Hey Mike -- thanks for weighing in. I think you're right that, at its root, the whole situation is comical, in an absurdist sense. Not "funny ha ha," but you know, "funny fucked up." I guess it's just an example of the dance we do in this business...

Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew, remember my comment to you after the show when you revealed to me what happened?

"fuck 'em"

HA

These things happen, and the only you can do is keep doing what you're doing. I know you will. Hell, you'll probably write a fucking song about. I hope to hear it on the next tour...

Ian

The Dissonance said...

Andrew, you care too much...

Tim Kitz said...

Well, it may tickle your funny-bone to know that your swearing has actually gained you a fan. I'm probably no replacement for the W's, but it's something.

Here's the story. I gave one my girlfriend a couple of burned cds, one of them a jazz mix (she doesn't know much jazz but is interested, I'm no expert, but have fallen pretty hard for it over the past few years). She later e-mailed me to ask if the two cds were 'safe' to play at work (i.e. no swearing). I wrote a smart aleck reply asking "Is there jazz with swearing? Man, if there is I'd like to hear it!" (I mean, I know I know about Miles Davis' autobiography, and John Zorn certainly swears in interviews, and I imagine the daily vocabulary of most jazz players going back as far as King Oliver and Louis Armstrong was none to clean... but the vocal jazz I've heard all tends to be pretty traditional and flowery when it comes to language). I finished the e-mail and realized, yeah, I REALLY would like to hear jazz with swearing.

Anyways, a quick google search and here I was on this page, reading the dicussion, and listening to the mini-player. You guys are great!

A few comments on the actual discussion here. The simple fact is that there are a group of people out there that will be turned off by, and refuse to listen to music that has swearing. Some of them are even nice, intelligent people. It's possible some of them even turn to the world of jazz as a refuge from the boorishness of most entertainment and American culture, which for them includes the profanity that laces most movies, etc.

[Along these lines, I can relate to your incredulity that Republicans could like jazz, but, um, find it a little naive, to be honest. We might both enjoy the innovative, line-crossing, and earthy aspects of jazz. But somehow those tendencies also co-exist with the fact that jazz also has some'traditional' and 'classy' if not even 'elitist' associations in our culture. And for that matter, being a social conservative can be kind of countercultural in some contexts -- it certainly would be in the intellectual climate at my Canadian university, at least among the liberal arts faculty for example, (and I'm not one by the way, just grew up in an evangelical household, so I'm fairly familiar with these folk) -- so I don't think some sort of political or social affilitation necessarily contradicts liking avant-jazz.]

Anyways, like I said, these people exist. Do we want to just write them off, both as potential fans or perhaps even people who could get something out of what we're doing and saying? At the same time, sometimes being true to our experience of life and artistic intent would involve using those taboo words. It's a dilemna, that's for sure.

I just think if we're going to take the artistical high ground, we should do it with eyes wide open, realizing this will close our music off for some people. Being surprised or offended by that, again, seems kind of naive. (Not saying you are, from what I gather it was more the fact that you had a personal relation with this couple).

Anyways, I'll shut up and stop rambling now.

Andrew Durkin... said...

Wow, Tim -- you're right, I am tickled! Thanks so much for sharing the story of how you got here -- very funny! Gotta love google...

Re-reading the discussion, I see that (at least for the purposes of this post) I fell into the trap of assuming that I could have my cake (i.e., express myself honestly) and eat it too (i.e., please all audiences at all times). In retrospect, that of course is clearly unrealistic -- though you're right that my feelings on the matter were compounded by the fact that I had a personal connection with these folks.

The truth is that I can't help being "honest" (which partly means that the naughty words will inevitably slip in), but I also can't deny that it bums me out when people take that aspect of the group personally. It doesn't bum me out in the sense that I feel like I need to ban naughty words from our set. It bums me out in the sense of: "Wow, that's kind of silly and sad that people would get so worked up over a few lousy words." And then I move on to the next thing.

Anyway, thanks much for your comment!

Tim Kitz said...

It is silly, no doubt about it.

If you ever actually have a conversation with one of those silly people, and their silliness happens to be religiously motivated, you could always tell them that the Apostle Paul used swear words for rhetorical effect in his epistles. (Yes, your polite translation might call it 'rubbish' or even -- daringly -- 'dung,' but let's call a spade a spade here, or in this case shit, shit. It's the ancient Greek vulgar word for fecal matter for chrissakes, what do think the proper English equivalent is!).

Sometimes challenging the misguided basis of these peoples morality is the only way to get through to them. (Plain logic rarely works). I love how fundamentalists just take traditional/Victorian morality and assume 'God said so.' Not only did he not, most of the time the Bible didn't even say so.

Anyways, I'll stop ranting. I'm glad you enjoyed my story, and I'll definitely be digging deeper into your music.