moments before the wind.

January 28, 2006

i don’t really think it’s a hallway at all

Filed under: architecture, authenticity, business, music, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 3:31 pm

One time, I wrote this:

First of all, you cannot create an unmediated anything. You cannot construct an unconstructed thing.

It doesn't really matter where it came from, but I wrote it and I sometimes have to remind myself that it's true. And then, when I really need convincing, I consult what is, in my opinion, the single most authoritative source of definition: The Oxford English Dictionary.

Here, I reveal my true nerdiness, I know, but thanks to the Seattle Public Library, I have access to what is truly one of my favorite pastimes. The OED will give definitions, etymologies, and quotations from earliest recorded uses of words. It's amazing. Some people play, oh, what was that computer game in college?- Snood. Not me, no; I look up stuff in the OED.

So, on with it then.

Art: Skill; its display or application.
Artifice: The action of an artificer, the making of anything by art, construction, workmanship.

Here's where it gets interesting. For both words, the second definition references the other:

Art: 2. b) Artifice, artificial expedient.
Artifice: 2. The product of art, work of art

Most of us these days think of artifice as dishonest, fraudulent. I do think that a contemporary interpretation is important. I also am fascinated though, by the basic interchangeability between the two words as recorded in the OED as early as the 16th century. At what point did art lift off into the realm of creative pursuit while artifice descended to the pits of deception? My guess would be the advent of consumerism, but I have nothing to back that up with, other than instinct.

So what's my point? Sometimes people get so caught up in authenticity that they forget the implicit impossibility of ever really achieving it. Read Derrida, or, much more interesting, House of Leaves. Our sense of reality is assaulted by so many forms of representation that sometimes everything seems fake, appropriated, or insincere. That's not my point, that's just leading up to it. My point is, I think, that only what you can touch is what is real. Everything else comes and goes, and comes and goes. Art, or artifice, because it really can be either/or, can serve as a bridge, an extended sensory limb. Art can also be other things. This point of contact, though, is how we define what succeeds and what fails. Hey, man, it could be MTV's latest, or it could be the next winner of the Newbery Medal, or it could be a blog!

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January 26, 2006

the choice is yours, don’t be late

Filed under: authenticity, business, distribution, indie, labels, marketing, music, news — alimarcus @ 1:54 pm

At PopMatters today, Ryan Gillespie has some interesting things to say about independent music (link here).

It's true that indie record labels work like majors. It's true that a whole lot of them, especially big ones, are subsidiaries of majors. It's true that they sacrifice artistic integrity for business purposes. I've seen it happen a whole bunch of times, right in front of my eyes. I mean, come on, what independent record label owner would protest if a major label wants to sign one of their bands? $500,000 later, masters properly in place, there's a lot to be said for hard work and entreprenurial success. And plus, as Gillespie responds to his own criticism:

Isn't having an audience important? Doesn't everyone want as big of an audience as they can get, a large forum for their ideas? Why should financial success negate artistic integrity? Couldn't it verify it? And as the bands get bigger audiences and more money for tours, music and videos, the world becomes full of better music. Where's the harm in that?

This article gives me hope, because somewhere out there, people are looking for something that means more than $15 well spent. I think that Gillespie is right; indie artists have to get better at business in order to gain control over their careers. What really gets me, from what I've seen with musicians and music biz people around me, is watching people compromise what matters most to them. I simply can't imagine what allows a person to…well, I certainly know what motivates people to "sell out," but there is a boundary between motivations and actual decisions, signatures, etc. On a personal level, there are some things that you can't compromise. On a business level, it absolutely must be possible to manifest these same instincts.

January 23, 2006

wrapped in grace and sin

Filed under: authenticity, music, reviews, writing — alimarcus @ 12:35 pm

I came across this great rant by Adam Duritz today, and in light of a recent mention of my love for Counting Crows, I think I'll devote some time to paying my respects.

Back in December, Duritz posted a lengthy communique to his fans in response to browsing their comments on the forums on the website. He berates them for buying into the media's penchant for "name-calling like a bunch of 3rd graders." Here's a slice of the attitude:

Why let that shit filter down into your lives? Do you really want to waste your valuable time trying to make value judgments about people you don't even know. You have to be aware that your opinion in that instance is meaningless. There are so many other areas where intelligent thoughtful people's opinions are important and valuable. Shouldn't you be more interested in that?

Apparently it's an extended defensive response to a lot of insults that he took personally, understandably I think. At one point he goes on about Ryan Adams, because they are friends and he doesn't want to be involved in Adam vs. Ryan debates. At another point he make a broader cultural statement:

I think there's a way in which music is a real status attachment for fans. It has a lot to do with the way you see yourselves and the kind of groups of people or cliques you identify yourselves with. Maybe that's where all this us and them stuff comes from. Maybe that's why it doesn't exist so much for musicians. We, at least musically, just identify with ourselves.

Now, there's a lot in that last sentence that rings true with me. As someone who is highly critical of mostly all music, I can understand the separation between self-involvement and interaction with others who are similarly self-involved. BUT, Duritz makes a classic mistake here. He condemns the posters on the forum for having an "us and them" mentality, claiming to be all open and accepting and non-judgemental, while simultaneously creating his own hierarchy: "musicians" vs. "everyone else." He's operating from an implicit "us and them" standpoint.

I don't mean to expose hypocrisy, only human nature, and precisely what I've always been attracted to about Counting Crows. Anyone who listens to Counting Crows' music would know immediately that the gray areas, the muddled, indistinct confusions of knowing something so truly on an internal level, are a defining characteristic of their work. Duritz sings it best himself, in almost every song. One that pops to mind is "Rain King": I belong anywhere but in between, although I know these sentiments are present across the board.

It's something I identify with, something I have understood since about 7th grade. And you know what? Like Ryan Adams, Duritz is notorious for a cranky, irrational personality. Shadows and tightropes and rain are stock characters in his lyrics. I admire his reactions, however skewed and conflicting they may be. You can read the whole posting here, and his previous writings here.

I think that there's a latent optimism in a lot of Counting Crows' songs. I honestly can't say whether it's intentional, and I can't call it hopeless romanticism either. I certainly wouldn't paint Duritz as a Byronic hero though. His advice, which could be applied in so many ways, still stands for me in the halls of important things to remember: for all the things you're losing, you might as well resign yourself to try and make a change…

January 17, 2006

just like the earth

Filed under: authenticity, business, indie, labels, marketing, music — alimarcus @ 12:23 pm

In an email from my dad, regarding Turtle Rock, he raises several important points. Allow me to expound on them further:

"Any service that is provided on the cheap or for free is deemed without value."
This is true. This is exactly what I am resisting. The whole problem is that "value" represents an economic construct, or at least part of a see-saw in which economics and inspiration find balance, at the point-of-sale. It's only a problem because I take it personally. It bothers me to think that people would be making these decisions with my artwork, so I want to ensure that the economic aspects, the consumer-orientation that pervades the music industry, is simply shut out of the equation. I fully realize that this will come off as undesirable to a lot of people because of the lack of monetary value associated with buying things, but that's OK. I want to change the way people think, even if it's just a teeny bit at a time.

"Value added is the key."
Well, duh. But value is more than dolla bills.

"But truly every business is the same (even philanthropy) in these respects, and in any place on the planet."
Again, I take this personally, because I just cant equate my product with hair product or something. Maybe it's a distinction between things that have spirit and things that don't. Maybe it's pure ego. Regardless, there are unique qualities to music as an art form, as a folk idiom, and as a source of things intangible. I can't treat it like an M.B.A., because it would seem disrespectful.

"You have to do something better than everyone else, or be more desirable, or more convenient, or whatever."
Maybe. Talk to Phil about New Sincerity.

"People are often bad."
People are more often lazy or ignorant than really bad. They don't know how to think for themselves. Should we talk politics?

"And it is easy to be fooled by what other people tell you."
Ah ha! There's the rub. I have to listen to what I know I want. So thanks for the advice, Dad, and keep it coming….but don't expect me to give in.

January 15, 2006

but we’re worlds apart

Filed under: authenticity, folk, music, writing — alimarcus @ 10:41 am

People often ask about main influences, favorite artists, and I continually find myself unable to answer. The question has far too much weight. People make too many assumptions based on the answer. I am constantly under pressure to define what seems to me to be an incredibly narrow set of parameters, no matter what is on the list. There is no way I can explain who my favorite artists are, or the work which has most affected me. Well, if I spent maybe a year doing it, then maybe I could have a list that approaches completeness, but then by that time there will have been more music to add, and so on and so forth.

At the same time, I understand that having no answer is the worse path. It smacks of condescending looks that say "I-dont-need-to-explain-my-art-to-you" and "I-dont-believe-in-Labels," neither of which are reasons why I can't readily provide a succinct list. It's more indecision than anything else. I'll admit, I definitely make judgements about people based on their music tastes (even if they remain on a superficial level, they're always there). Therefore, whenever I answer these kinds of questions, I direct that judgement back at myself, and feel this weird kind of internal protest.

I don't think I'm capable of conjuring up the majority of influential music in a ten minute period, much less an inquiring question from a new acquaintance. It usually comes off as a rambling free-association, involving Patty Griffin, R.E.M., Aimee Mann, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Counting Crows (although I have yet to meet anyone in Seattle who finds them a respectable band), Lisa Loeb (ditto), Bruce Springsteen, Dar Williams, The Nields (who no one's ever heard of), Eddie From Ohio (ditto), Carole King and Van Morrison. But even then, this leaves out a whole number of albums that have changed my perspective on a lot of things. Any Day Now (Joan Baez), Me First (The Elected), Cold Roses (Ryan Adams), The Globe Sessions (Sheryl Crow), Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morrissette), Sell, Sell, Sell (David Gray), Haunted (Poe), By The Way (Red Hot Chili Peppers)…I could go on. These just literally popped into my head, and I could keep listing albums for an hour probably without stopping. So you see my problem. I mean jeez, I didn't even mention Simon and Garfunkel, or Woody Guthrie, or The Shins, or Natalie Merchant, or grunge, which simply cannot be forgotten, and is possibly singularly responsible for attracting my attention to pop music in the first place.

For literally years, I have said to myself, "Man, I really need to take an hour, sit down, and come up with a carefully curated stock response for this question." I knew in college that I would be asked the same thing over and over and over again, and I know now that I could have avoided a lot of unsatisfying answers and critical unfulfillment by following through with it. But there remains something in me that find more value in spontaneity. Perhaps it's more interesting to speak what is on my mind at any given moment because of what it reflects about my current situation. I'd be willing to bet that if I had sat down in college to make a stock response, I would no longer agree with my self from back then. Maybe one day I'll think that I learned a lot about pop songs from classical sonata form. And another day, I'll honestly believe that Nirvana Unplugged changed my life. Probably both are true.

Influence is not a linear process, and each time I encounter a work of art it affects me differently from the time before. Revisionism is pretty hard to avoid. At some point I have to be able to stop worrying that people are going to pigeonhole me as "another Jewel-wannabe" or whatever. Mariah Carey's # 1's is a fantastic album, and you know what? so is almost every album Billy Joel has ever recorded. I am also inextricably linked to the soundtracks to Cats, Rent, Big River and The Secret Garden.

Ah, that feels good.

January 6, 2006

weigh you down

Filed under: authenticity, business, digital, labels, marketing, music, news, recording, rock, writing — alimarcus @ 1:44 pm

Jon Pareles makes some intriguing observations in today's NY Times article about the state of pop music in 2005. Relating the pop music output to the political climate of the year, he believes that 2005 was a year of retreat. In contrast to best-selling albums of 2004 (he cites "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" and "American Idiot"), 2005 was full of gang wars and personal problems and clear-cut commercial successes ("The Emancipation of Mimi", "Massacre"). The fact that no top-selling albums took any sort of chances in what was definitely a year full of political shame, worry, anger and unrest, means to Pareles that the music indsutry is playing it safe. His actual words were "timidity and calcuclation," which come off as piercing insults.

The fact that record sales slumped more than ever in 2005 (I think 8% is the final number I've found), is due not only to all the commonly-debated issues of the digital landscape, but also, as Pareles emphasizes, to the withering quality of the music itself. He writes, "major recording companies are still unable to stop the declining sales that they blame on the Internet rather than on their uninspiring products." He insinuates that they should be spending more time worried about their artists' skills and talent – or at least as much time- than on combating filesharing.

On a more esoteric note, this caught my eye as well: "mass-market hits felt disposable, like a momentary pleasure rather than like something worth owning." The word "disposable" really hangs on to me and is full of meaning, because of two references that immediately popped into my head. One, was a memorable quote from Syriana, which I recently saw – "Capitalism cannot exist without waste!" which, in turn, may as well be the 5 word summary of Don DeLillo's Underworld.

Read the article here for the rest of the good stuff, including a great little dig at Coldplay, which makes me smile.

January 1, 2006

it will only, it will only

Filed under: authenticity, music, writing — alimarcus @ 4:58 pm

I'm having thoughts about the universality of experience. If you take some time in a public place simply to eavesdrop, you will find that most people all talk about the same things.

What do I mean? Well, for a time-sensitive example, the proliferation of end-of-the-year music lists. –enter rant— Could they be more annoying? Maybe I spend too much time reading newspapers and magazines and blogs, so the fault is partly mine. This is where I include some kind of disclaimer about how I succumb to the pressure only because its the time of year, and a little indulgence cant hurt, and everyone else is doing it so why cant I, etc, etc. But no, I really won't post a list. How anyone could possibly come up with a top ten list of albums, much less songs, is beyond me. –exit rant–

But I guess everyone talking about it is better than everyone not talking about it. Oh, and this extends way beyond my highly critical opinions about music. How many conversations have I overheard about bad cell phone service, or the new smoking ban, or the truth about how much it actually rains in Seattle?

I've been known to sit on a bench or a stair, write down parts or wholes of sentences that I hear people speak as they pass, and then turn them into a song. What inevitably happens is that in some way, the song makes sense of what otherwise was an occurrence wholly unrelated to my experience. But, you'd be surprised how easy it is to take a random suggestion and bring some kind of meaning into it (or draw it out? not sure).

It's pretty obvious, then, that people really do find common threads of experience in each other's thoughts and words and everything else. When it comes down to it, we do all speak the same language. And we are all living lives made of the same stuff, in different permutations. This is what makes the power of music so important, because it provides ways for people to connect on a level of understanding that transcends everyday life. Or, if you're me, it actually sort of defines everyday life.

So anyways, the truth is, I think, that everybody's having the same conversation. It's like a fabric, woven of all these different materials that are interconnected in ways unimaginable but truly felt, all the time.

enough countertop philosophy for today. that'll be 10 cents. happy new year.

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