The Privileged are Taking Over the Arts

The Privileged Taking Over the Arts

Above is an interesting article from The New Republic which talks about how more and more popular artists are coming from a background of privilege.  (And really this could be for any art form.) It is an argument that I can’t help but feel has some merit.  That’s not to say that one’s art should be judged from where they came from, as at the end of the day the work is all that matters.  However, it may well be another reason why less and less music seems to speak truth to power.  I think it is a topic at least worth thinking about.  I am only just beginning to think about this topic, and will write more on this at some further point.  This article is definitely a worthwhile read.

Hat tip to William Michael Smith

Pandora Sues Songwriters

Pandora Sues Songwriters

I have said it on here before, but I can’t say it enough:  If you value the work that artists in any field do, you should support them by buying their work, attending their events, etc.  In the music world, listening to internet radio or using streaming services are not a substitute for buying an artist’s record.  That’s not to say that at some point they might not be viable financial models, but right now they are a joke.  Read the above article about Pandora’s latest attempt to screw artists.  If we want to have a viable culture in this country, one that doesn’t just reflect the lowest common denominator, than we need to make sure that the artists we value can earn a living.

Music Awards Are None of Your Business

Music Awards Are None of Your Business

The above link is a recently published Morrissey rant at http://www.true-to-you.net, his official site.  It’s long, but full of laughs.  It is an attack on the Brit Awards, though many passages could serve as attacks on any awards show and the modern music business in general.  A sample:

In short, Britain has been encouraged to become a nation of idiots (which, of course, is what it is not). But why has British culture become so debased? Why is it that only ideas-free and factory-farmed ‘personalities’ are encouraged? Is it simply because we are all easier to govern as long as we are free of any content? Well, yes. The sudden, manic rise in loud and overquick camera shots (for a populace presumed to have zero attention span); television sponsorship; persistent sports news for events attended by no one; the obvious lusty dictatorship of the “royal” family (the one and only British institution that we pray for the government to ‘sell off’ – preferably to China)… it all adds up to an underpattern of controlled obedience, and the notion of the BPI awards being handed out by genuine musicologists becomes as ludicrous a concept as witnessing someone on the Brit Awards coming perilously close to actually making a worthwhile point. Meanwhile, if we mourn the unlikely possibility of positive change in pop music, or if we dare suggest that change is even allowable, we are treated like mental patients.

A constant for me, is trying to figure out how the music business feel into such decline.  I not only mean in terms of sales that is partially, if not substantially, due to technology, but also why the artistry and cultural relevance is in decline as well?  To me, it is an endlessly fascinating subject, not only because I am interested in music, but because I, along with many many other people, can sense that aspects of our culture seem in decline.   What are the artistic, economic, political, technological, and cultural forces that are causing this?

Politics and Empathy

Reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals.  It is about Lincoln and his cabinet.  The book is endlessly fascinating.  I am only about a tenth of the way through and already I have learned an incredible amount about this country.  I read the following passage today, about Lincoln’s first major anti-slavery speech:

Rather than upbraid slaveowners, Lincoln sought to comprehend their position through empathy.  More than a decade earlier, he had employed a similar approach when he advised temperance advocates to refrain from denouncing drinkers in “thundering tones of anathema and denunciation,” for denunciation would inevitably be me with denunciation, “crimination with crimination, and anathema with anathema.”  In a passage directed at abolitionists as well as temperance reformers, he had observed that it was the nature of man, when told that he should be “shunned and despised,” and condemned as a the author “of all the vice and misery and crime in the land,” to retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart.”

Though the cause be “naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel,” the sanctimonious reformer could no more pierce the heart of the drinker  or the slaveowner than “penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw.  Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him.”  In order to “win a man to your cause,” Lincoln explained, you must first reach his heart, “the great high road to his reason.”  This, he concluded, was the only road to victory – to that glorious day “when there shall be neither a slave nor a drunkard on the earth.”

It is a hard thing to do, to change people’s minds.  Lincoln was such a great leader and was able to get so much done, precisely because he had empathy, the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes, even those he vehemently disagreed with.

Politics is a tricky thing, because you need people that are going to tell the truth no matter who it offends, to get the ball rolling a lot of the times.  Yet you also need people that can reach out and change people’s minds.  It’s a hard thing to know when to do what.

In George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, the second half of the book is his argument for socialism.  However, it is also a diatribe against socialists, because he feels that they are going about their cause completely wrong.  Even though he agrees with them politically, he feels that most of the socialists of that time are wrong in the way they approach people.  Orwell spent a lot of time with the working class in England, especially in the mining towns.  Orwell felt that if you wanted to bring the common man over to the cause of socialism you couldn’t do things like attack their religion, something that many people need to make sense of the world.  He felt that in order to influence people one needed to reach them where they were at.

I think different forms of communication require different kinds of tools.  If someone is a songwriter, for instance, you only have so many lines to get across an idea.  Music is also based on emotion.  I think because of this it is a form that is better suited to going all in and conveying something with passion.

However, politicians need to do the hard work of actually leading people.  I think they have to have more empathy in their approach.  Having empathy and trying to understand others is not to be confused with being wishy-washy, as so many politicians are.  I think one can take the moral high ground and at the same time extend an olive branch out to those that disagree.  Unfortunately we have very few leaders these days that are able to do both at the same time.

P.S. Although we all know prohibition was a nightmare and a mistake, one needs to understand how much people used to drink to understand, in part, the temperance movement.  Read up on it as it is a pretty good laugh.  I was just reading a passage in the above book where Senators in our government were described as being, “beastly drunk.”

David Lowery On the Immorality of Stealing Music

“Congratulations!, your generation is the first in history to rebel by unsticking it to the man and instead sticking it to the weirdo, freak musicians!” – David Lowery

David Lowery is in the band Cracker and also teaches business at the University of Georgia.  I just recently read a letter about about him that was sent to me by ASCAP.  (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers)

Afterwards, I found the following letter by him that is absolutely amazing:

Letter to Emily White at NPR All Songs Considered

I’m sure some of you have already seen this.  If you haven’t, it is worth checking out whether or not you are in the music business.  He not only gets at what is wrong in the music business right now, but also sheds light on some of the immorality that is in our general culture when it comes to doing right by artists.  I would also say that these issues that affect artists are also part of our bigger problem of capitalism run amuck.

A sample from the letter:

The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. (Since the works that are are almost invariably the subject of these discussions are popular culture of one type or another, the duration of the copyright term is pretty much irrelevant for an ethical discussion.) By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists. Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principals to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models.

This is an astounding piece of work.  He lays it all out in a way that is not only thorough, but also put in terms simple enough that pretty much anyone can understand.  A highly recommended read.

Why the Muse is Hovering Over Television

I read the following quote by bassist Jah Wobble today:

To be honest I am turned on more by the renaissance that has taken place in  USA TV and the TV of some European countries over the last few years. Great narratives , great writing multi layered meanings and fantastic social commentary. It’s almost reinventing the wheel; fiction that documents better than documentaries. Against all odds TV has become the medium that makes most sense in and of this crazy post modern, late stage capitalist, samsaric world that we live in. Music, and its intelligent use is obviously a part of that renaissance, but it isn’t the main thing any more. Right now, like the novel, ‘the album’ format seems a bit moribund. I still hear the odd tune that I like. It’s just that ‘the muse’ seems to be hovering over the likes of HBO script writers rather than musicians right now. That’s where innovative stuff seems to be happening.

You can read the full interview here:

Jah Wobble Interview

While I would argue that there are still great albums being made, and that there is obviously plenty of bad TV, it does seem that at its best, television is right now where some of the best entertainment is being made.  There are many reasons for this.  I think that special effects on TV have caught up with films.  TV doesn’t face the kind of censoring it once did.  Television no longer has a stigma for big name actors.  There are many different things in our culture at this place and time which are allowing TV to tell stories better than ever before.  However, I would also bet that economics play a large role in this.  The television industry has done a much better job of protecting their products than the music industry has.  While one certainly shouldn’t need large-scale fame and fortune to commit themselves to an art form, it does help if people can at least make a living at what they are doing.  Also, making really good sounding records is not cheap.  Even a self financed low-fi record can end up costing a couple grand.  I can’t say this enough:  If like me you love music, and you wish that more great records were being made, it is important that you buy records from the artists that you like.  In a capitalist system we vote with our dollars.  If enough of you invest in the artists that you love, you will see those artists make more records and many of those artists will also be given more freedom to create in the studio.

Southern Culture

I’ve been reflecting on my experience at Michael Berry’s Redneck Country Club in Stafford.  If you want to know what I am referring to you can read my blog on it here:

http://windupwire.com/2014/08/16/a-late-encounter-with-the-idiot/

Why is it that a certain percentage of people champion redneck culture?  There are rednecks in every part of the country, although many people seem to focus on the south when they think of the term.  For the time being, because of this, I am going to focus on the south as well.  

In my blog above I talked about how to me, being part Irish, saying you were proud to be a redneck was like an Irishman saying that he was proud to be an alcoholic.  It’s basically like saying you are proud to be ignorant.  

It’s not as if the south has nothing to hang their hat on.  Many of my favorite writers and musicians are from the South.  Below I will list just some of the many contributions to our culture by southern artists.  I’m leaving it at ten a piece as there are a ridiculously high number of people that you could list.  

Writers:  Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Tennessee Williams, Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Kate Chopin, Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry

Musicians:  Leadbelly, Hank Williams, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison

Those lists could go on and on and on.  Can you imagine American life without all of those contributors?  I wouldn’t want to.  

My point being is that there is so much vibrant amazing culture in the south.  Why do these people, who live amongst an extraordinary richness of culture, choose to champion the ignorant?