"The most traumatic events ever to befall the longtime front man of the Traumatics had been (1) receiving a Grammy nomination, (2) hearing his music played on National Public Radio, and (3) deducing, from December sales figures, that Nameless Lake had made the perfect little Christmas gift to leave beneath tastefully trimmed trees in several hundred thousand NPR-listening households. The Grammy nomination had been a particularly disorienting embarrassment."
Once upon a time you listened to records to know which way the wind blew.
That’s a direct reference to the Bob Dylan song. Dylan grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota, which figures so prominently in Jonathan Franzen’s "Freedom".
I don’t think many people will read "Freedom". Certainly nowhere near the number who buy it. Because it’s long. And the paragraphs can be endless. And there are words you don’t know. And who’s got the time to spend with a tome in a world full of instant gratification, where stimulation is a click away on the Internet.
In the fifties, the goal was to write the Great American Novel.
In the sixties, it was to make a great album.
I’m not exactly sure what the goal is today. Probably to be a tech entrepreneur. Create an app that is on everybody’s phone that rains down millions. Or to make a YouTube video that goes viral. But it’s not to make a great album.
In the days of yore, musicians were on the cover of "Time" and "Newsweek". That’s an impossibility today. "Newsweek" is analytical, leaving the everyday news to the Net. And even though "Time" soldiers on, it means ever less. And why put GaGa on the cover to appeal to an audience that doesn’t want to read the magazine anyway?
And the reason musical artists were on the cover of newsweeklies was because they had something to say, honest and unfiltered. We were drawn to them for their truth in the hope it would rub off on us and inspire us to live better lives.
But now commercialization reigns. How can I get the largest audience and make the most money instantly? Values are irrelevant. Moral character is unspoken of, except in megachurches where the pastors live like the rock stars of yore, flying around in private jets, asking for donations while preaching that the end of the world is near, so follow me to salvation.
I didn’t love "The Corrections". And I read not a whit of the hype on "Freedom". But I decided to read the book because it was anointed as great, and Jonathan Franzen is such a hatable character.
I’m not saying I’d turn down dinner with the author, but I wouldn’t expect it to be good. I wouldn’t expect him to become all warm and fuzzy, reminiscing about the past, pledging to partake in some mundane activity in the future. It would be akin to meeting Jimmy Page. The old Jimmy Page. The seventies star who dripped candle wax on teenagers and had contempt for the media.
You see great art does not usually come from lovable people. Rather it comes from the hurt, the disenfranchised, those with something to prove. And most of these artists never make it. And most of those who do live sullied lives of drug abuse and financial misfortune. But wanting to be them, wannabes now take shortcuts, desiring the rewards and only tolerating the process.
GaGa’s outfits? Been done better before. Sure, kiddies may not be aware of Bowie and Madonna or even Alice Cooper’s theatrics, but that does not mean the latter were not innovators, did not stun us with their limit-testing that we couldn’t conceive of. GaGa’s building her career, cementing her success. And what is her message? Be like me? Sell out, change yourself, whore yourself out to get the rewards?
And I’m only focusing on GaGa because she’s successful, in the public eye. Worse are the complete wannabes, who haven’t practiced long enough to be good and are bitter that they’ve never gotten their just rewards. I can’t wait for these people to give up and go to law school. That’s where they belong. In the workaday world, earning enough cash to overpay to see their heroes in concert.
And most of these heroes are laughable. Especially the oldsters trying to look young as they play forty year old warhorses to fans nearing retirement age and their kids who they drag to the show to illustrate what great music is.
We live in a fucked up country. The level of ignorance is horrifying. The rich and powerful have their agendas and the poor are just pawns in their game. You don’t want taxes on rich people do you, one day you too might be rich!
And how exactly are you going to get rich? Be an NBA star? Have a role in a reality show? How many slots for that are there?
Or go to the state school where courses have been canceled and you can’t graduate in four years while the rich go to esteemed institutions that perpetuate the ruling class. The gulf is ever-widening. Even the right wing paper of record recognizes this, but the poor and religious don’t read "The Wall Street Journal", they just watch buffoons like Glenn Beck on Fox News and claim that the government is ripping them off, as if the government didn’t provide roads and schools… Oh wait, they don’t want to send their kids to the public schools, where they mingle with heathens and are exposed to left wing, delusional thinking.
Hate me yet?
Well, you don’t hate me half as much as you’ll hate Franzen after reading this book.
Grammys are a joke. But we trumpet them in the music industry like they’re Oscars, like they mean something. But they don’t. But it takes an author not in the business to speak this truth. That those listening to NPR, so smug in their hybrid SUV comfort that it makes you want to turn Republican, feel they’re better than you.
Well, this hatable dude, this author, Jonathan Franzen, has nailed the American experience. From the do-gooders and holier-than-thou to the rip-off Texan energy barons to the self-righteous Evangelicals. But since he encapsulates his beliefs in a book, it’s irrelevant. He should have ranted on YouTube. Got kids to dance. Gotten Snoop to rap. Then people would pay attention.
But attention wasn’t his only goal. His desire was to delineate truth. To the number who could handle it.
This used to be the desire of musicians.
Ain’t that laughable.
P.S. My inbox will be filled with people sending me their MP3s, saying I’m right, that they’re doing what I say and could I just give them a ride to the top? They’re too ignorant to see the contradiction in their behavior. So desirous of instant fame that they can’t reflect.
P.P.S. "Somewhere there had been a failure of imagination." Shawn Fanning can imagine the future, but the labels and artists who decried his efforts and their aftermath can’t.
P.P.P.S. "it’s a lot easier to turn a few billionaires than to educate American voters who are perfectly happy with their cable and their Xboxes and their broadband." So I’m at this music education dinner last Monday night. And the powerful Chairman says there’s plenty of money for music education. This has us all scratching our heads, so we ask this gentleman to explain and he tells us if we just get our house in order, our ducks in a row, create a simplified message, he can take it to Bill Gates and Eli Broad and they’ll rain money down on the problem. On one hand great, but isn’t it fascinating that the public can’t do this on its own, it in its own way? Oh, that’s right, we should pay no taxes, the government just wastes the money. So, it’s better to give it all to rich pricks like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina so they can buy power and truly rule us?
P.P.P.P.S. "Fighting had become their only portal to sex, almost the only way it ever happened anymore." Bruce Springsteen used to reveal truths like this, now he’s papering gigs and complaining about scalpers… Hey Bruce! Maybe if you created great new music the problems would evaporate, you could play to sold-out stadiums once again! As for scalpers… I don’t see you going to paperless tickets so fast. And I’m only singling out the Boss because he was great once, and on the covers of "Time" and "Newsweek" too. But that was thirty five years ago…
P.P.P.P.P.S. "It really was a lot like the deep shit that got stirred up when a married couple fought: once certain things had been said how could they ever be forgotten again?" Like that old girlfriend who made an anti-semitic remark. There’s no coming back from that.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. "Never been a washcloth user, no." It’s the little things that bond us, that make our hearts sigh and leave us pledging fealty to artists. I remember using a washcloth with my mother in the tub as a child, but since then I find them useless.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. About the people who come to New York City: "’The girls all come for publishing and art and nonprofits,’ he said. ‘The guys come for money and music. There’s a self-selection bias there. The girls are good and interesting, the guys are all assholes like me.’"
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. "yes, he had a fatal weakness for a certain smart depressive kind of chick," No, this is not me. But I’ve got a friend who married the same woman three times. Only worse-looking and more of an asshole. And another friend who rejected a compassionate mate to marry a shrew just like his mother. How to explain this? By reading stuff like this in a book.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. "You can Nexis me all night without finding one direct quote from my forty-seven years in business" It’s only the shameless wannabes who want press, accolades and fame. The truly rich, those who truly run our country, they like their anonymity. Hell how often do Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris go on the record? And if you think they’re powerful, you don’t know who truly runs this country.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. "She needed to feel extraordinary, and becoming an Emerson reinforced her feeling that she was, and when she started having children she needed to feel that they, too, were extraordinary, so as to make up for what was lacking at her center." If you’re well-adjusted, you’re not an artist. An artist is not captain of the football team, not class valedictorian, he’s not the most popular cat in school. He’s the guy or girl many deride…yet want to grab the coattails of when they finally make it.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. "even a horrible marriage was less lonely than no marriage at all." Loneliness, the scourge of humanity. But never mention it in public, you’ll become an instant outcast. Think twice before you get divorced.
P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.S. And now the piece-de-resistance. Slap your own back if you made it this far, I’m gonna provide a nugget that’ll make the effort worth it. You’re one of those people who persevere, who endure the bad times to get to the good, who don’t give up as soon as the going gets rough, even though the rewards may not be visible ahead. Anything not worked for is not worth having. And drumroll please… "People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily." This explains the current political environment better than any of the bloviators on either Fox News or MSNBC. That’s what artists have conventionally provided, insight. Tell me again what insight GaGa is providing? Case closed.