The Falsity of Struggle
I recently read an online post that went something like this:
“Here’s a notice that no one will read about my upcoming gig that no one cares about at a bar that no one will go to…”
I’m sure many of you saw the same post and can recite it better than I because it actually went on a bit longer. Although it was kind of clever and a little funny it was also really pathetic and contained more than a kernel of truth. I don’t remember if it said anything about “the money I will lose…” either.
It reaffirmed what I’ve been sensing for some time: That people in Madison’s music scene are losing a lot of hope. Oh, there are plenty of good people and there is inspiring music being made, that’s never the problem. But oftentimes it feels a bit like a hamster on a wheel. Things never seem to lead anywhere, there is no “movement” taking shape or any momentum being built. No one seems to notice. No one goes out anymore. People still bitch about a cover charge that breaks down to 25 cents per hour per musician on the stage. Artists accept that recording music is a losing proposition in a world that wants music for free.
This is especially true for those who don’t have the luxury of having even one member working full-time on promoting the music. Now I know promotion is a dirty word for some, especially those who wish it were still 1977, but we’re not talking about selling out, making it in the “big time” or any of that crap. We’re talking about getting the modicum of attention (and pay) that you deserve.
Anyone who tells you they don’t care if anyone hears their (performed) music is being less than honest. Music holds little value without eager ears. And while it’s true that the mere act of playing and singing can be a catharsis, it’s a real deflator to play for the same twenty friends who came to your last gig and the one before that. If private catharsis were the prime motivator for playing music, why leave the house at all? Even those creating bedroom sonatas dream of acceptance, affirmation or even retribution.
I talk to a lot of people about certain ideas that I have about working to make things easier for struggling musicians. We’re not talking about some kind of welfare, though I am a believer in civic-funded art; Just a systemized, coordinated way to ease the burden of promoting a show or (gasp) working together toward a common end.
A frequent divergence in these discussions goes something like this:
“You wouldn’t want to take the struggle out of it, because it keeps the music honest.”
When things get bad politically I will often hear this one:
“It will suck when things improve because the music is better when things suck.”
Although there is something to be said for passion, I find these arguments absurd, really. And I’ve heard plenty of angst-driven music that truly sucks.
Do we really sing songs about the injustice in the world, while we secretly wish it doesn’t get any better so we can continue to draw inspiration from our angst? I have trouble seeing how that is honest.
Do we fall into a self-perpetuating cycle of personal suffering just so we can say we’re paying our dues?
If our lives were made just a little bit easier by a mechanism that brought more support into local music would we really have nothing left to “angst” about?
It does seem that these are “easy way out” responses to change. Like a battered spouse we just don’t know how to live or create without the suffering. It becomes cathartic in and of itself, like hanging from ceiling hooks by your nipples. Okay, that was a bit extreme, but you know?
Somehow, I have trust that it will be a long, long time before the world’s injustices diminish to the point that all music lacks passion – or angst. And then there’s the mirror image of the argument: Isn’t there plenty of passion in justice and beauty; plenty of angst from having to wage a continuous fight to keep things from slipping into darkness?