Death to Fans

Remember that time Led Zeppelin got a negative fan reaction upon first playing “Stairway to Heaven” in concert, and Jimmy Page cast a satanic hex on them, sacrificing a young virgin live on stage in the hopes that the Lord of Darkness would consume anyone who didn’t support what the band did 100 percent?

Or when Paul McCartney, upon hearing negative fan reaction to the Beatles’ Revolver album, called anyone who didn’t like it a “bloody tosser who lives in mum’s basement and is probably a closet fairy” as he sipped his tea and nibbled on a biscuit laced with LSD.

This also brings to mind John Hughes’ response to people who didn’t like Uncle Buck (yes, these people exist), when he hired actual hitmen to hunt them down and beat them within inches of their life until they posted ads in the newspapers talking about how his movies were the greatest things ever.

And lest we forget the time William Shakespeare famously told a crowd who booed the opening of Hamlet to “kindly fucketh offeth and dieth, thou fouleth Nazi-eths.” But then again, Shakespeare had a massive lisp, so everything he said sounded kind of funny.

(Note: I’m not too sure about all these details, but they probably happened.)

Oh wait, no they didn’t. Because artists from Bach to Rembrandt to Jack Kirby to Prince actually did care about their fans–also known as “the people who pay us money to keep producing our art”–and didn’t piss all over them. Because these people, and many others, for all their quirks, weren’t hate-filled and mentally unstable.

Okay, a lot of them probably were mentally unstable. But they didn’t take it out on their fans! Continue reading “Death to Fans”

What Joy?

nihilist_lives_dont_matter_462x385

A few days ago, I watched the first three or four episodes of AMC’s Into the Badlands–yes, I know I’m late to the party and that the show premiered in 2015. I’m uncool. Bear with me.

Into the Badlands, a modern take on the 16th century Chinese novel Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en, seemed right up my alley: A cross between post-apocalyptic survival, martial arts, and political intrigue among the feudal barons with a strong aesthetic that manages to combine elements of kung-fu cinema, Westerns, and even a 1930s/1940s vibe. Sign me up!

58e7f45577bb70872c8b665e-1136-568
Daniel Wu as Sunny.

Except . . . besides being visually stunning–which it is–the show is unremittingly dreary and depressing.

It’s another one of those TV shows where everyone is serious all the time (the acting is pretty stiff, actually), the world is run by the ruthless and the power-mad who will kill anyone who gets in their way, the rank-and-file seem hopeless and similarly bash each other senseless in order to curry what little favor they can, and save for one subplot there doesn’t seem to be any such thing as romantic love.

No thanks.

I know that these are standard tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre, and that nihilism is a hallmark–see, there’s not always hope! Maybe lots of people like this. To me, however, this trend has gotten really old and really flat. In short, it’s kinda beige.

We are what we consume. I’d rather not consume hopelessness, thanks.  Continue reading “What Joy?”

Institutionalized Entertainment

Institutionalized: “to make into an institution . . . give character of an institution to . . . to incorporate a structured and often highly formalized system . . .”

Presented without comment:

The Walt Disney Company is so huge that, absent a formalized structure, it wouldn’t be able to get anything done. But Disney is just an example of how this idea institutionalizing everything, including the content, is a firmly entrenched part of nearly every form of entertainment or escapism that you partake in. This idea of gatekeepers giving a patina of quality to something that has gone through some sort of rigorous, formalized process is pervasive in nearly every facet of life, and not just entertainment.

After all, a doctor who went to Harvard for medical school is clearly superior to one who went to, say, one who went to the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, right? I mean, just on paper, it’s axiomatic, isn’t it? Who cares about the doctor’s actual history of results, you know?

And so it goes with what you watch, read, and listen to. It’s all been filtered through a big machine in order to get a big, fat, institutional stamp of approval. And everything without that stamp is clearly inferior.

It’s obvious, isn’t it?

Of course it’s not. As author Brian Niemeier is fond of pointing out, the gatekeeper-controlled model in publishing is a dying proposition:

The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.

If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub’s thunder to the extent that you’re now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.

But old habits die hard, and industries that are still making money, without realizing that they’re surviving on legacies of past greatness, will continue to follow the old ways. Disney will keep churning out stuff with the Star Wars label slapped on it, year after year, heedless of the negative financial consequences due to viewer fatigue and failing product quality.

The music industry will keep reproducing the thing that’s selling records now ad infinitum for the next five minutes, until people get so sick of that cookie-cutter thing that they move on to the next cookie-cutter thing to fill the silence for the next five minutes.

The book industry, particularly in the science-fiction and fantasy realms, will continue pumping out massive doorstop-sized tomes of “epic” fantasy that will never be completed, as long as the stories are soaked in post-modernist thinking and contemporary political right-think.

As long as the wrong-thinkers get shut out. Because the stuff they make is bad. And it’s bad because it doesn’t have our seal of approval.

Continue reading “Institutionalized Entertainment”

When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care

You know what’s a real pain in the neck?

Starting a band. No, not just that. Being in a band!

First, you need to find other musicians who have the same tastes and ambitions as you. Then you need to find out if they can actually play. Third, you need to determine whether they’re reliable (you’ll soon discover this as rehearsals begin). A practice space is nice, too, If you can actually solve for these parts of the equation, then you need material. And in the untrained world of amateur rock bands, everyone wants the glory but never wants to do the work. And they hate the guy who does.

When you do get gigs, they’re late at night at some dive with awful parking and you’re probably third or fourth on the bill, near closing time, when nobody is there because all of your friends who nodded and smiled and said they’d “totally make it” when you told them about your show bailed on you because of “work” or something, and so you end up playing to another empty room.

What a hassle.

It’s a funny thought to have, though, because for a good fifteen years of my life music was the most important thing to me. I had always been fascinated by the way these vibrations my air molecules can be organized into shapes and sounds and structures. Composition and performance were my passions in equal measure, and I always thought I would have slides into orchestral composition and teaching after some years of performing in various ways.

Not my picture, but I’ve stood on an awful lot of stages like this.

The thing was, I didn’t finish music school. Nope. On some incredibly bad advice, I switched majors and ended up you-know-where. This was also, mostly, my own fault though. Lack of confidence, no real experience dealing with adversity, and growing up in a cage of safety really took their toll on my psyche and resiliency.

Fast-forward to the present. Some years ago, while I was back in school, I had to sell all of my instruments to pay bills. It was crushing, and still stings. But it was necessary, and stings less over time. And while I make rumblings about wanting to buy another bass eventually and maybe even play in a band, the drive just isn’t there like it used to be.

In hindsight, and this is weird to say, selling all my guitars might have been a symbolic letting go of the past, of dreams that won’t come to fruition.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Corinthians 13:11

Perhaps I’ve just moved on. And this is natural. Continue reading “When Dreams Are Dead and You Just Don’t Care”

Do the Thing

As I continue to work furiously at finishing up my novel (any novel; and yes, a different one than before–I’ve been doing this stuff forever!) an interesting thought crossed my mind: when is it ready?

(NB: As I’m planning to self-publish, this might not all directly relate to traditional publishing.)

  • Is it when an editor gives you the go-ahead?
  • Is it when you’ve reached a certain consensus among your beta readers?
  • Is it when you can’t find any more typos?
  • Is it when elements of your story meet the checklist for the market you’re trying to sell to?
  • Is it when you personally are happy with the result?

The answer, of course, is that you’re never fully finished with anything. Love him or hate him, Star Wars creator George Lucas embodies this philosophy, as seen with his different versions of both the original trilogy of movies and the sequels. Some might call this tinkering unnecessary–I am among those–but to be fair, they’re his movies: where we see masterpieces, he sees flaws.

Frank Zappa did similar things in the late 1980s, much to the chagrin of fans–again, myself among them–by replacing the bass and drum tracks on several earlier albums where he thought the performances were poorly recorded, poorly played, or both. He also remixed a lot of albums, with mixed results.

Which brings us to books. Sometimes authors correct errors, such as later editions of some earlier books in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. Believe it or not, J.R.R. Tolkien did the same with his books, correcting a few inaccuracies in later editions.

And authors like Stephen King have even Reese’s expanded and unedited versions of previously released books; The Stand comes to mind, which is either better than the original or a bloated travesty, depending on who you ask.

But aside from fixing typos, us regular folk are probably not going to be in a position to remaster and rerelease brand new shiny expanded versions of prior works, mostly because we’ll be too busy working on the next one. But I digress.

Anyway, when are you done? What are the indicators to look for? Continue reading “Do the Thing”

Hating What Everybody Likes

What is it about consensus that makes so many of us recoil? Why does going along with the crowd rankle?

I tweeted a question recently about which band or artist that seems universally loved that people can’t stand just for fun. But it got me thinking about why this is so.

I can speak from experience: sometimes consensus makes me dislike something more than the thing itself, even if I actually kind of like the thing.

There are two reasons for this, I think:

  1. Previous experience of being burned by trusting consensus; and
  2. The Dunning-Kruger effect: “Of course I’m smarter than everyone else!”

I can give you some personal examples of both of these, some musical and others not.

On the musical front, I resisted the appeal of The Strokes, even though the songs I heard when they first came out really appealed to me. What bugged me was the types of people who were pushing them: New York hipsters and the Pitchfork set. Blech.

A similar thing happened with some other, non-hipster bands. It took me a while to get into Coheed and Cambria, who I am now a huge fan of, because they were associated with emo. And I could not stand emo.

And yet I fell for the lure of the bands Vampire Weekend and TV on the Radio. I suppose I was trying to keep an open mind at that time, and trusted those who I thought knew better. Now, after realizing “Hey, these guys suck and I don’t actually like them!” I never listen to those bands. Live and learn.

I resisted the Harry Potterbooks for quite a while, but read them around the time the final book came out and quite enjoyed them, recent history notwithstanding.

Regarding Harry Potter, I suppose I had committed the youthful mistake of thinking I just had better taste than 99% of people in America. That’s arrogance, and it’s amazing what a little humility will do for you.

(I was totally right about the Twilight books, though. And to be fair, there is not always wisdom in the crowds. But I digress.)

Art is subjective. But peer pressure is incredibly powerful. What to do? Continue reading “Hating What Everybody Likes”

Yesterday’s Works, Today’s Eyes

I never liked the band Sublime.

For whatever reason, their 1996 self-titled third album became really popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s when I was in high school and college. And even then it annoyed the hell out of me. To this day, I can’t hear “Santeria” or “What I Got” without getting a twitch in my eye. And remember, this was the era of nu-metal and rap-rock–Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and their ilk were everywhere. Even in this morass of awfulness, Sublime stood out to me as particularly wretched.

So what in the world makes me think of them now? I’ll tell you what brought Sublime to mind: I’m a musical masochist.

See, from time to time I like to pop over to Pitchfork and see what’s new in the world of indie hipster music. I know, I know: I get what I deserve. But I check the site more for laughs because nearly every single review has to go into politics, and oftentimes the reviews hinge more on the politics of the artist and how they’re embedded in the work and less on the actual notes involved. 

It’s almost as though Pitchfork’s stable of reviewers is more convinced on the influence some music can have than on the music. But nah, art doesn’t influence people, right?

I love rock musicLove it. But its current state is pretty sorry.

Anyway, a week or so ago, Pitchfork, for whatever reason, decided to review Sublime’s 1992 debut album 40oz. to Freedom. And this review typifies a phenomenon I loathe with nearly every ounce of my being: judging past works as being deficient for failing to live up to the current year’s moral and political standards.

This is how you get idiots screeching that the entire Western cannon of art, music, and literature is racist and unworthy of learning because “Muh dead white European males!”

It gets classic Mark Twain novels like Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer–which carry a strong anti-racism, anti-slavery message–banned because they use the n-word.

Heart of Darkness. To Kill a Mockingbird. They’ve got to go.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the classic album by The Beatles, is blamed for making rock a “male” thing, as if (a) that’s necessarily a bad thing, and (b) is even true. So it has to be “reassessed.”

The works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis? Racist and bigoted because they’re too Christian. Out with them!

Even a video game like Kingdom Come: Deliverance, made by a Czech company that takes place in a historically accurate recreation of 15th century Bohemia, gets criticized by idiots for not having any black people in it.

This drives me crazy. Continue reading “Yesterday’s Works, Today’s Eyes”