Friday, February 22, 2008

I figured it out

I know I've been blogging an awful lot about politics lately. This is not an explicitly political blog, and I don't pretend that any of my own musings on the subject are on par with the hardcore political bloggers.

But I realized while watching the debate tonight why this election has become so personal for me -- aside from the obvious fact that we're talking about the future of the country.

It's not much of an exaggeration to say that trying to make "creative music," in this day and age, and in this country in particular, is a highly idealistic (and perhaps even naive, and perhaps even foolish, and perhaps even self-destructive) enterprise. Zappa captured the scope and power of the obstacles musicians face by putting these words into the voice of his sneering "Central Scrutinizer" character (in the epic Joe's Garage album):

Joe has just worked himself into an imaginary frenzy during the fade-out of his imaginary song. He begins to feel depressed now. He knows the end is near. He has realized at last that imaginary guitar notes and imaginary vocals exist only in the mind of The Imaginer, and ultimately, who gives a fuck anyway? [laughter] Who gives a fuck anyway? So he goes back to his ugly little room and quietly dreams his last imaginary guitar solo...

Yeah, that about nails it: who gives a fuck anyway? More immediate (and depressing) evidence of this brick-wall-in-the-face-of-art can be found in DJA's moving writeup on the problem of musicians without health care (in general) and the crises of Andrew D'Angelo and Dennis Irwin (in particular). As Darcy puts it:

As jazz musicians in America, we gamble with our lives, placing a sucker's bet every month: health insurance or rent, health insurance or food, health insurance or buying an instrument, heath insurance or renting a rehearsal space, health insurance or making a record, health insurance or hiring a publicist to promote your record, health insurance or going on tour, etc. Not to mention that even those who do mange to obtain heath insurance often still end up bankrupted by medial bills. [...]
And then if the unthinkable happens -- if you are diagnosed with a brain tumor, or a spinal tumor -- the system says, "Too bad for you, but it's your fault for not having gotten a real job. If you cared about your health, you wouldn't have become a musician in the first place. But, hey, don't despair, I'm sure your fellow musicians can raise a few hundred bucks for you at benefit show. That'll really put a dent in those six-figure medical bills."

Again: when shit like that goes down, how could you not come away feeling like nobody gives a fuck?

Anyway, I realized (or perhaps recalled) while watching the debate that there are a number of similarities between the political industry and the music industry in this country. Both are configured toward the interests of the powerful. Both reward deception (run the trend into the ground). Both discourage innovation or creativity (avoid the risk at all costs). Both are plagued by cynicism (whatever, nevermind) and superficiality (that sounded "pitchy" to me, dog).

And yet, ironically but importantly, both are attended by contituencies (audiences) that are hungry -- maybe even desperate -- for the opposite of all that. This, I think, is why the Obama campaign has gained so much ground so quickly. Once people began to get the sense that, at long last, somebody good finally got through the system -- well, how do you stop that? Maybe, just maybe, we're not fucked. It's like struggling to break free from a lucid nightmare. (And in that sense, it's not really about Obama, so much -- it's about us.)

Isn't this what keeps us going as musicians, composers, or artists of any stripe? Sure, there is the undeniable pleasure of making art, but isn't there an idealist in all of us, holding out for the possibility that someday, good people and good work will actually get through the system? (Why would we do it if we didn't believe that were possible?)

Wherever this election goes from here (and who knows, maybe we're all just kidding ourselves about Obama -- though I suspect not), it's nice to have a palpable, resonant example of the fact that things-that-seem-impossible (be they artistic things or political things) can sometimes actually get done.


Steve Lawson - Bass 2.0 said...


this happens to me occasionally with elections or particular political events - my otherwise fairly music-heavy blog becomes a seething pit of political hope, dispair, invective and confusion as I find my mind full of the 'what-ifs' of a particular event.

It's pretty clear to see why the Obama message of change and hope and the future - slightly wooly and ill-defined though it is just now - is hugely appealing and inspiring to musicians who see music as part of the process of change in their own lives.

So keep up the politics... :o)


Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for the input, Steve...