Songs for the Struggling Artist


In Which Someone I Used to Idolize Harasses Me and I Learn a Few Things About the Music Business

Part 1

When I first heard who it was on my voicemail, I got excited. Really? Is this for real? One of my heroes from my youth was calling me? On my phone? The woman whose songs helped me through my teens and helped me again in the political upheaval of the last year? The woman whose unvarnished *REDACTED* album was the touchstone for me feeling like I could share some unvarnished music myself this year? The woman whose songs inspired me to keep going when I felt I couldn’t? Was that really her? And it was.

But, within seconds, the news went from amazing to terrible. Her message said something to the effect of “If you’re sensing hostility in my voice it’s because it’s there” and “I’m in New York, too, and I intend to raise a ruckus.” (I may be paraphrasing slightly here, as I could not bear to listen to the message again.)

So. My hero from my teens was calling me. (Yay!) But she’s calling to tell me she’s furious with me. (Yikes.) *REDACTED* knows who I am! (Yay!) But she wants to go to war with me. (Yikes.) It was a bone-shaking message to get.

See, over the last year, I’ve recorded over 40 cover songs in my living room. Three of those songs were hers. And when I decided to make them available to the public, I knew I needed to go through some hoops. This process is all new to me but I did a bunch of research and it seemed like the best way to assure that the songwriters received due credit and compensation was to use this licensing company called Loudr. I paid the licensing fee and preliminary royalties for each writer. It wasn’t cheap. And a lot of folks don’t bother. But how I engage with my fellow artists is important to me and I wanted to make sure I did right by everyone I owed an artistic debt to, both metaphorically and literally. Loudr calculates the preliminary royalties and so Elvis Costello got $9.10. ani difranco got $9.10. And *REDACTED* – because I recorded three of her songs – got $9.10 times three. Plus, I’m assuming, at least a portion of the license fee.

So *REDACTED* called me and declared that I was using her composition without permission. And she was pissed. She called seven times, several times a day for three days. She trolled me on Twitter. She doxxed me. She targeted my theatre company (which has zero to do with my music.) She clicked around in all the places I have digital media presence. And because usually those places are quiet and unvisited, that made a lot of noise.

It is a really heartbreaking experience to be trolled by someone you once admired so fiercely. I cried on and off for 24 hours. I didn’t do much sleeping either.

At first, I tried to figure out what she wanted. She didn’t say. Was it the profits from the songs? Because there aren’t any. Is she after a portion of my album sale? Because that’s a dollar. I mean – I’m a month into the first release of two albums and the only money I’ve made is the $10 I got when my dad downloaded it (which he really could have gotten for free.) That $10 is about a 1% recoup of my cost and her song was one dollar of that.

But I don’t think it’s about money – after all, she’s just made money on my recordings. I think she’s pissed that I recorded her songs at all. I think she’s pissed that copyright laws are such that I am well within my rights to do so. And I understand that, too. When I submitted to Loudr, I thought one of the things I was getting was permission from the songwriters to record their stuff. I thought that was why REDACTED’s songs took longer to process than the others. I thought they were waiting on her permission. Turns out – no – that’s not how it works at all. Copyright law gives anyone the right to record anyone’s song, as long as they pay for a license. It has been this way for decades. I have no idea if that law is fair or just or not. But I understand that it’s weird that anyone can just sing your song that you made up out of your head. I have felt weird when people tell me that they’ve been playing my songs without me. I get that. It is weird.

But music – particularly folk and pop music – has this interesting quality of becoming part of the public imagination once it’s released into the world. I mean, with folk music, that’s kind of the point. Folk doesn’t just mean a conversational voice over a pleasant acoustic guitar. Folk music is so called because it is for the folk. It is Woody Guthrie playing for Okie migrant camps. It is Pete Seeger sailing a boat down the Hudson River, singing, to convince Congress to clean up the polluted river. It is Odetta singing at the March on Washington after being introduced by Martin Luther King, Jr. The song “We Shall Overcome” was the soundtrack of the civil rights movement and has continued to bubble up whenever there is need, like a couple of weeks ago when, heartbreakingly, the Virginia Senate voted down the ERA. Folk music is meant to travel. It is meant to move from person to person to form a collective voice.

I mean, I love a finger-picked acoustic sound as much as the next person (probably more) but the real power of folk is its place in a collective. That’s how pop music can slide into folk sometimes. The crowd singing “Don’t Look Back in Anger” after the Manchester bombings transformed Oasis’ pop hit into folk music. And it is tremendously moving to see/hear. Are the guys from Oasis models of indie folk generosity? Hardly. But I thought REDACTED was. I mean, her music functions as folk music for me. But I’m sure for her, it feels more personal. Like, those are her friends she’s singing about, her life. It must be weird to have other people sing them. Granted. I’m pretty sure, though, that trolling someone who loves your songs is not the way to address that weirdness. It is a pretty good way to lose a fan, though.

I’ve always been a folkie. I come from folkie folks. I come from a place where people getting together to play music is a regular event. I grew up in a world where people traveled with instruments and might pull them out at any moment. I sang around a lot of campfires and in living rooms and porches. For me, that’s where music really thrives.

Where I live now, though, we don’t really have the space for that. There are no porches to gather on and few public spaces where a group of people might pull out a guitar or a concertina and shake the night. With so much privatization of public space happening these days, it gets harder and harder to gather. If I want to sing in public, I have to book a gig. And unless I can guarantee that 30 people will turn up for that gig, I probably won’t be able to do that. I can’t guarantee more than a handful of people so I play by myself in the living room for the new public commons, the Internet. It has felt like this is where the folk are and so in solidarity, I’ve been singing songs that are my folk music.

But the Internet is not a boxcar or a union meeting. It is not a rally or a protest. I know.

Even before this dispiriting phone call from REDACTED, I was thinking about how the digital landscape just flattens everything out, how music is mostly just aural wallpaper for cafes and supermarkets or background for videos now, how it makes me feel acutely, even though I intend for these songs to help rally the resistance, it is all just background noise, that despite all this social media, we are less engaged with each other, less able to share our art, less connected.

And I can understand the frustration an artist like REDACTED might feel – with the means of distribution all flattened out like this – anyone with a computer and a microphone can have their music next to someone who’s spent their entire life in the music industry. I mean – how is anyone going to know that “REDACTED” is her song, not mine?

I’ve got liner notes that make such things clear but in the digital music landscape, authorship is completely inconsequential. There is no way to indicate what is original and what is cover. In the old days, an album’s notes would contextualize something like what I’ve just released. But while I made album covers with liner notes – there is nowhere to put those notes in any of the digital distribution channels. There is nowhere to put any of that information.

And while that may be all fine and good for actual folk music – for folks at a campfire or at the rally – authorship and artistry are important and need to be recognized. Musicians, writers, producers, everyone disappears into a digital file. Everyone disappears into the background. Everyone becomes wallpaper.

PART 2

The thing of it is, REDACTED is pissed at the music industry. With good reason. The music industry is imploding and horrible for women. (More on that in a minute.) But I am not the music industry. I’m an indie artist who makes art. I make lots of different stuff but this last year, among other things, it was music. And after all these years of people asking when they’d hear me sing again, I figured I’d just go ahead and share the stuff I was singing at home.

I think Jaron Lanier was right about musicians being the canaries in the coal mine of the future. He said to watch closely what happened to musicians and journalists as they would show us what the rest of the middle class would be in for. In the big data transformation that our culture has been seized with, “content” gets disconnected from its creators and things that travel through digital space, even when they become viral, don’t necessarily credit or remunerate the creators. Musicians are the canaries in the coal mine of a nameless faceless data mine – and REDACTED may be a great example of what happens to those canaries.

I wouldn’t presume to know what happened to her during her time in the arms of the music industry. But I know that the industry generally chews women up and spits them out. Since the 80s, most women singer-songwriters, if they have a hit, it’s one and then they’re done. Maybe you get a second one, if you’re lucky but mostly, women in this genre get embraced for a minute and then chucked out the door. And I have to wonder if the toxic atmosphere of multi-national conglomerates trying to control your creativity (and probably your body as well) made for a particularly toxic coal mine that led to REDACTED’s very public psychotic break a few years ago.

I’m thinking it might have gone like this: right, here’s the coal (that’s the recording industry) and here’s the canary (REDACTED, watching the industry erode, implode, become data driven and more corporate) and in the coal mine, the canary starts going crazy – because, toxic fumes, man, and everyone goes, “Hey! That canary’s going nuts! Probably there’s something wrong with the canary! Let’s get rid of it and get another one in here.” But it’s the fumes, man, the data driven fumes. The sexist fumes. Or maybe this particular canary just happens to be particularly crazy.

But I digress. Because I’m not even IN the coal mine, folks. I’m just a canary singing in a tree because it makes me feel better and I had hopes that it might make a few other people feel better too. And I sure feel bad for my sisters inside – but also a tiny bit envious because they’re the “important” ones, the ones with awards and recognitions and record sales.

The thing that’s breaking my heart about this is that REDACTED is likely attacking me because so many of her avenues have been closed. Since she seems surprised by this Loudr thing, it would seem that no one else has requested licenses from her before. That means a struggling artist in Queens is the only one that wants to play her songs. Or at least the only one who paid for the rights to do so.

She’s punching down because she’s gotten nowhere in punching up. She’s been flying around the coal mine, going crazy and the miners swat her away – so she goes after the first free canary that comes into view.

Aside from my parents, a handful of friends and some guys in Sweden (Spotify stats are so wild) no one cares about the music I just put out. Like – really. No one really cares. And that is a pretty normal experience for me. Pretty much those same people come to my shows or read my work. It’s normal for me to fly around the margins and have only a handful of people notice. Ironically, the person most interested in me was the person harassing me. I’ve never been tweeted at so much.

Would I like more recognition? Of course I would. For just about any of the many things I do. But I have, for decades, operated at the invisible edges of things and I have made peace with that. I do it even though no one is asking for it.

What’s harder for me to reconcile than the world’s general indifference to me is how no one cares what REDACTED is doing either. Like – someone with her history and experience and recognition should not be calling me herself. She should have people for that. If Paul Simon didn’t like me recording his stuff (yes, he got $27.30 in preliminary royalties, just like REDACTED) he for sure would have his lawyer call. Or his agent. Or anyone. Paul Simon would not call me up to tell me he was about to raise hell. Probably, if he didn’t like it, he’d talk to his lawyer about it and when he heard it was all perfectly legal, he’d forget about it and go back to relaxing in his chair made of money.

So it’s bracing to realize that someone I once admired has been sent to the same margins I’ve occupied all this time. How is it possible that I have more Twitter followers than her? (Probably the bots. Also – activism.) But also – how is it possible that someone with name recognition making a stink has no real impact? When I initially told my friend about this call, he joked that his inner PR person was thrilled. “What could be better for your album than a famous person making a ruckus about it?”

But, despite REDACTED retweeting my blog and Patreon links and lord knows what else (I don’t know, I muted her,) it has had no impact whatsoever. No one has clicked her links. No one retweeted her. She’s shouting into the void, just like me.

And if it were just her and just me, I might not have all this to say now. But it isn’t. Everyone is shouting into the Internet and only a few are heard. I have been stunned to see tweets from national organizations, with millions of members, with no likes on their tweets. To be heard, either with music, or activism, or art of any kind, you need a giant algorithm behind you. You need millions of people to like your tiny donkey videos, you need the data driven winds to blow your way.

You need 30 people to play a gig in New York City and you need a million people to follow you to make a living in music. Luckily, I’m not really trying to have a full-on music career. (I have other arts to struggle mightily against in this way.) But I am incredibly sad that there is no middle space for music anymore, that a brilliant artist can disappear, or go crazy, or slip away into the void.

One of my principle skills as an artist is an adaptability to inhospitable arts climates. If a door closes, I slide over to the window. When the window closes, I’ll go out the cracks. If I can’t get a gig, I’ll play in my living room. I don’t give up. I get discouraged, of course. But I just try another way when things get crazy. And last year things got really crazy, did they not? So I decided I’d record it all because I really wasn’t sure what else to do for me or my people.

I listened to funk and blues and I played folk. For the folk.

PART 3

The funny thing about all this is how entirely resistant to the idea of recording I used to be. My former bandmates could tell you how hard it was to convince me to record our album back in 2001. I had a theatre-maker’s preference for art that burst into being for a moment and then disappeared like a firework. I also felt that if the recording wasn’t perfect, I didn’t want it out in the world, haunting me. But somehow, now that recordings no longer need to live on a physical object like a CD or a tape – they are a bit more ephemeral. A recording can both live forever and disappear into the vastness of the internet. A recording can be both permanent and impermanent all at once. I somehow flipped some switch in my mind that allows me to imagine that digital recordings can have the evanescence of theatre. Or maybe in my later years, I just value authenticity and immediacy more than perfection. Each record is really just a document of the moment I recorded it in.

Ever since I went to the Grammys, I have been thinking about a line in ani difranco’s song “Fuel.” It goes, “People used to make records as in a record of an event, the event of people making music in a room.”

Now no one even makes records, we make digital downloads. Just like your PDF from work or the photo from the party. Everything is flat. Everything is a digital download.

So my attempt to share the music I recorded at home one day is sitting in the same basket as the multi-billion dollar corporation’s property. That is, one of the three major label’s artists. (Yes, we’re down to three. And only one of them was the big winner at the Grammys.) And there are mechanisms in place to push the big guy’s “properties” forward and silence others.

I’m not trying to be seen by the big guns. I don’t think I have it in me to sell my soul to the corporate engine. Would I like to make a living wage from my art? Like ANY part of it? Like music or theatre or fiction or any of it? Of course I would and if there’s a way to recoup the cost of sharing all of it, I would like to. But I don’t think I’m suited to having a corporate boss. So ultimately, I just wanted to share a little bit of indie folk punk raucous spirit with anyone who needed a dose of it the way I did.

It is heartbreaking that THE inspiration for sharing it is also the person trolling me for it. I would have thought she would have understood. I would have thought that she could have taught me something about channeling righteous anger into folk pop anthems. And she did teach me – about thirty years ago when I first heard her music. She taught me that music could be by a campfire and out in in public. She taught me that women’s anger could sound great over a guitar. She taught me that you could sing about social issues and still be cool. That you could be folky and tough.

Part 4

Since I got that voicemail, I have been wrestling with how to reconcile all I got from her, all I learned, all I’m grateful for, with the person who would harass an artist like me. Some people advise killing your heroes (metaphorically, of course) and at times I have found it useful to think about. In this case, though, it’s a matter of my hero wanting to kill me. Not literally, of course. (Though doxxing does make me vulnerable to the nazis on Twitter.) It does rather feel like Superman went bad and is now going after Jimmy Olsen. And Jimmy Olsen has to be his own hero now. I have to be my own hero.

This seems to be a lesson that I keep having to learn. Every time I encounter an artist I looked up to, I find they are not who I imagined. Every time I meet that one lone artist who seems to do things in an original way, they disappoint me. And each time, I have to learn again that the time to look up is over and it has become time to be my own hero.

What I discovered this time around however, was that I am no longer alone in this. I discovered what a tremendous well of good will I have to draw from. My friends and family lovingly gathered around me when I felt under attack and I felt seen in a way I hadn’t before. I realized that a lot of people really do understand what I’m about and what I’m trying to do. A lot more people support that vision than I realized. It would appear that, though I often feel invisible, my values and intentions have been visible to my friends and family for some time.

And visibility is a major part of this story. In part, I have, historically, kept a fairly low profile in the flattened digital sphere out of fear of being attacked. The blog doesn’t have my name on it, for example. As a woman on the internet, I expect to be harassed, doxxed or dragged. I assumed the digital Nazis were going to come for me at some point or another. They’ve come for every other feminist I admire. But instead of Nazis, the call came from inside the house. It came from an indie feminist folk icon which somehow made it worse. But it also made me braver once I was through the worst of it.

*So why have I redacted this post? Why have I obscured the artist and her work at the center of it?
1) Because I don’t want my own visibility to be at the hands of another artist’s bad behavior. I’d really rather not have my name associated with hers in this way.
2) Because I think this artist is genuinely battling a mental illness. Googling her leads directly to many public accounts of concerning behaviors. Howard Stern thought she’d be a great guest in the middle of her public melt down. (Piers Morgan got her instead.) I just can’t get on board with adding to that exploitation of madness no matter how upset she made me.
3) If my folk are enjoying her songs on my albums, I don’t want to taint them. I, for sure, will never want to sing them again – so I’d rather leave those songs untouched by her behavior in the minds of my listeners.                                                                                           4) I may be braver now but I’m also not too keen on the harassment picking back up any time soon. I don’t want a stray google alert to mean the recommencement of the whole unpleasantness. She may read this. She may not. Probably not this far down though. So – better safe than fielding multiple mean voicemails a day. Just because I’m braver doesn’t mean I’ve suddenly lost my baseline conflict aversion.*

 

I made all this messy folk music for the people know me, who understand what I am trying to do, who have my back and will send me all the hugs and cute animal images I need when I don’t feel able to withstand the cruelties of the world. I’d rather have all those people in my life than my old heroes. My people are the folk and I will sing for any one of them whenever I am called upon. And as my therapist said, “One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show.”

You can help this canary keep singing for folk

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

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Some Very Competitive Rejections

“It’s very competitive,” they said.

The rejection notice, for a residency at U Cross, informed me that their applications are very competitive. I find this a funny thing to say. Partly because I can’t imagine it would take the sting out of rejection for anyone but also because I sort of feel like, if you have to say that, it’s not actually that prestigious a situation. This is a thing I haven’t applied to before so it’s a relatively unknown organization for me. I’m sure I learned lots of things about it when I applied but I have already forgotten them.

What’s also funny to me is that I received an actual acceptance from an actually prestigious organization recently and there’s none of this sort of self-inflating language in their materials. This is generally true that those with actual power and prestige (almost) never feel compelled to self-advertise. This is why having Donny Twimp in office is so baffling.

*

In other rejection news, at a friend’s suggestion, I have begun to explore the possibilities of doing voice overs for games. It is super fun to investigate. I submitted for the first time a few weeks ago. I recorded a couple of different characters. It’s a relatively steep learning curve but a fun learning curve! They did not call and I was not surprised. It would be crazy to get an acceptance on the first voyage out.

*

There’s a program to work at senior centers in the city. It need to be called Sparc and now is called Su Casa. A couple of years ago I did it in Manhattan and we put on a Romeo and Juliet at Lenox Hill Senior Center. I applied to Su Casa in Queens this year to work on devising a piece around “The Angel in the House” with seniors – particularly senior women – but my proposal was rejected. I’m not particularly surprised – generally the visual and literary arts do better in this context – but I do think it’s rather a shame as I have a bucket of experience on this front.

*
And finally, the Drama League says no again. I never remember what I applied with for them but whatever it was – it ain’t happenin’.

*

*Wondering why I’m telling you about all these rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

You, too, can help me ease the sting of continual rejection

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

 

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



The Glamour of the Grammys
February 2, 2018, 12:40 am
Filed under: business, music, TV | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the old times, the fairies roamed the green hills. They were powerful and mischievous. There were many varieties of fairy – with different specialties but the power they principally possessed was something called glamour. It was an enchantment that placed a sparkling illusion over a human’s eyes. The glamour made the ugly beautiful. It made the empty full. It turned a pile of old shoes and tin cans into a pile of gold shoes and diamond glasses. It turned a heap of ashes into a scrumptious looking cake and murky dirty water into rich red wine. Fairy gold is not real gold. It is something that has been glamoured.

Most humans are powerless to resist the glamour and some are trapped in Fairyland forever, having eaten a mouthful of ashes or followed a trail of gold right into a trap. But a few humans see through the glamour, past the shine over their eyes, to whatever lies behind it. Perhaps those humans have a little bit of fairy in them themselves, so they see the trick. I imagine myself as one of those with a little fairy in my blood, stumbling into fairyland with my friends and watching, in horror, as they all fall under the enchantment of the glamour. I imagine I’d try and stop them, like Caliban in The Tempest, trying to convince his colleagues that finery they see “is but trash.” But it’s no use. They are lost. Perhaps it’s better to be under the spell, to be convinced that the shine around you is real and beautiful and all for you.

Grammys 2018.
“Music’s Biggest Night.
Glitter and glamour on the red carpet.”
Emotional Star-Studded
Powerful Moments”

I was there. And yes, there were some beautiful dresses and fancy suits. Yes, awards were given and received. Yes, there were famous people there. And it was all very shiny. From my seat, I could see the crew on their hands and knees polishing up the stage.

There was so much glitz. So much glamour. And maybe it’s because I have a little fairy in my blood but I saw it as glamour and not as gold.

The Grammys are fairy gold. And the people in the room watching it are probably also fairy folk in some way. The illusion was made, not for us, the people sitting in the seats, but for the TV viewing audience.

All these years, I’d thought it was the reverse – that the REAL experience was happening in the theatre and we, at home, in front of our TVs were getting a taste of it. I had thought it was a show documented by TV. Turns out, it is a TV show that is creating an illusion of a live event. The audience at the Grammys is primarily just part of the set. They are something to pan to, or place performers in front of. During the commercial breaks, there was not some continuation of the show as I had previously imagined. There were no additional awards given, no secret performances, no warm-up comics or up-and-coming bands to keep the audience engaged. Nope. They cut to commercial, turned the cameras off and the whole thing ground to a halt. It was a total stop. Over and over and over again. When the commercials finished, the disembodied voices instructed the audience to return to their seats as the show was about to begin again. Every time this happened, I felt as if we were being carefully stage-managed. I found myself saying, “Thank you, one minute” just as if I were in a show, getting a call for places from a stage manager.

The cameras showed the real show. We found it was almost impossible to stay focused on the actual people. Instead, we watched the screens that broadcast the close-ups. It was “live” but we often watched the video instead. After all, the performers are shooting a TV show, not giving their audience an experience. Those onstage look directly into cameras, act for the camera, dance for the camera, sing for the camera. The glamour is for the TV viewer, not the people in the room.

And what about the people in the room? The audience rushed back to their seats for the camera. And throughout the building, the audience members were creating their own glamour. Throughout the evening (and the afternoon – this experience began at 3pm) the audience spent most of their time on their phones, taking selfies, taking photos of what they were watching and then tweeting, Instagramming and Facebooking those images. I saw a man take photos of the screen of Lady Gaga singing and then post them, claiming he’d been THIS close to Lady Gaga. The glamour is created not just by the event organizers but by all the participants as well.

Myself included. Listen – an event like this has social currency. The woman next to me who brayed out her commentary throughout the night (“He’s fat.” “She’s skinny.” “She looks rough.” “That suit looks better on him.” “She’s old.” “Who’s that?”) will get her Facebook likes just like the rest of us. Her visit to the Grammys will earn her the ears of her peers, who will get all of her thoughts (inane they may be.) She may be a hit at her next cocktail party. But I’m no better – I may have more awareness of the social currency that I’m collecting in this scenario – and rather than tell you who is fat and who is skinny, I’m telling you how this glamour stuff is all bullshit – but I recognize that even exposing the glamour of such an event gets a little bit of glamour on me.

I may relish in telling you how incredibly weird it is to watch someone who has JUST won a Grammy award be compelled to sit on the floor of the Madison Square Garden concessions hall to eat her burger because, like the rest of us, she was not allowed to leave between the two ceremonies. I may get some weird cynical charge out of revealing how watching about eight hours of award show is about as exciting as watching any well-oiled machine do its thing. I mean – yeah, a widget making machine is pretty cool and smooth but it’s not terribly human. It’s just clean and precise and a lot of professionals did their jobs efficiently and got the stuff made. I may get a little pleasure out of pulling back the curtain on the man pulling the levers to create the Great and Powerful illusion.

As an artist interested in authenticity, exposing the clockworks of such a thing is one of my specialties, as is digging in to unexamined underlying mythologies. But I recognize that simply by being in a room that people perceive as glamorous, I get a secondary glamour boost even if the actual event was like watching widgets get made. But once I get some glamour on me, people who know me get a little glamour on them, too. It doesn’t even matter that it’s all an illusion, does it? Or does it?

If you watched the Grammys this year, you may have noticed how few women were nominated and how only one won during the TV show portion of the event. The Grammys have a gender problem. The music industry has a gender problem. And has had for some time. Probably forever. If you don’t know this yet, you haven’t been paying attention. (*Sure is curious this pattern of teen girls paired with middle aged men to make hit records! I bet there’s no predatory behavior in those dynamics, no sir!*) What’s funny, though, to the point of absurdity, is how the Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow responded to the questions about this after the ceremony. He said:

“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”

The range of ways this statement is absurd is so wide. All I could do when I heard it was laugh and look forward to the moment when this guy gets his inevitable comeuppance. How is it possible that, after all these months of watching the movie industry implode, that he is still so clueless?

But at the heart of his cluelessness lies the biggest glamouring of all. That illusion is not the lights or the costumes or the TV trickery but an underlying assumption. The Big Glamour is that the Grammys are a meritorious, equitable and ultimate arbiter of the best in music. The glamour this guy has over his eyes has him convinced that the Grammys prove that the best music wins Grammys because, look, all the people who won them are great! They have awards! His glamour tells him that the best people in music work within the “industry” and that those people voted and out of all the music recorded in the world, they chose the very best. And if no women were nominated that’s because no women were the best this year. He knows that’s true because they weren’t nominated. The glamour over his eyes prevents him from seeing the machine that churns out market-tested beats under algorithmically satisfactory melodies. His job depends on him never seeing the inequities, the audience-optimized packaging or the cross-marketing motivations that take precedence over art. His job depends on his never losing the glamour that keeps him from seeing sexism, racism, ableism and ageism at work. And his glamour is the glamour that CBS broadcasts around the world.

The big glamour is convincing the world that this contest is actually significant, that it represents the interests of music, rather than the interests of a handful of multi-national conglomerates that continue to control the distribution of music. Even though technology has made the means of production more available to more people, thus allowing more people than ever before to record music, the Grammys continue to promote the music that comes through their usual (and ever narrowing) channels.

The big glamour is convincing all of us that winning a Grammy is the pinnacle of musical achievement. It’s not. It’s the pinnacle of recognition from a very narrow band of people. It’s a nod of acceptance from a privileged few. But it is not the real achievement. Making good music is the real achievement. The Grammy is a nice piece of metal on a stand. And a useful marketing tool. It is a useful bit of glamour if you’re trying to sell your album. In this attention-saturated world, getting a glamour boost like this is very significant. And I want for every musician I know to win one so they can get the glamour that will translate to sales and streams and so on. A Grammy gives you a thick layer of glamour that you maybe can capitalize on. Maybe.

What I saw at Madison Square Garden had nothing to do with music as I know it. It had nothing to do with the music I make or the music that people I love make. The only moments that seemed connected to my actual experience of music happened in the ceremony earlier in the day. While that “Premiere Ceremony” also seemed to be built for the audience that was watching elsewhere (it was live streamed and filmed like a TV show) there were a handful of performances that actually brought music into the room. India.Arie. Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’. Jazzmeia Horn. Those moments felt like a breath of fresh air in a weirdly corporate environment. All day, I felt as if I were at a sales event and what I was being sold was the thing I’d already bought. I’d bought that the Grammys were a meaningful prestigious glamorous event. And it is one piece of glamour after another.

The fairy in me knows when I’m being glamoured and I was glamoured all day long. Sometimes I saw some actual gold shining through the fairy shine but I left my journey to the Grammy fairy hills exhausted and baffled. How is it possible that all these mega media award shows have us all fooled? And for so long? The Grammys celebrated their 60th anniversary this year. Is that 60 years of worldwide glamouring? It’s possible.

And this Grammy glamouring feels awfully similar to the packaging of politicians and the news and is it possible that being habitually glamoured led to our fairy gold president? What can I do to become more awake to the work of mischievous fairies? And how do I help my friends see through the glamour in their eyes?

This woman won a Grammy about an hour before she had to sit on the floor to eat.

*

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs and an album of Love Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

**

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



View from the Women’s March NYC 2018
January 25, 2018, 1:16 am
Filed under: feminism, Leadership, resistance | Tags: , , ,

The woman at the table next to us at dinner said she’d checked out the Women’s March that afternoon, after her spin class, but it wasn’t as much fun as last year, so she left. Aside from finding this whole way of thinking completely counter to the purpose of the march, I also found it baffling. Why on earth would she think a March was going to be fun?

I did not want to go to the Women’s March. I did not think it would be fun. I don’t like crowds. I don’t like shouting. I don’t like waiting in large groups of people. But I went anyway. Because I knew I’d want to have been there. I knew my future self would be glad I’d gone and I knew I’d feel better for having added my voice and my moving feet to the movement. I knew it would feel good to have done something but that did not mean I wanted to do it. And it did feel good to do something and it was maybe even a little bit fun at times. More than fun, though, I found the experience to be moving and surprising in several different ways.

First, it was surprisingly cathartic to walk by the Trump Hotel, giving it the finger, singing “Ole, ole, ole, ole, Fuck Trump, Fuck Trump.” And chanting “New York hates you (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.)” I mean. It felt good to give directed voice to the fury I’ve been feeling for so long with so many other women. But that was a relatively brief moment of catharsis (repeated, when we passed the next Trump property.)

However, most moving to me was the way I saw the crowd around me take care of one another. For a crowd averse person like myself, this is no small matter. It struck me that a women’s march is full of people who have been socialized to look after one another and so it was an unusually conscientious way to be in a large group. When problems arose, they were quickly solved. For example, a woman behind us was looking a bit frantic and apologized for moving a little too quickly through the crowd. She’d lost her son. She described him and we all looked around. She called his name and within seconds, every woman around her had added her voice to the call. We all shouted for Ziggy together and before too long, the lost boy was found.

Over on 6th Avenue, a woman in a pink coat was hurrying alongside the edge of the route and tripped over the leg of one of the metal gate blockades. Within seconds, every woman around her had stopped to make sure she was okay. She was fine and hurried along ahead but we laughed at how immediate the response had been. It was like a flock of sign-carrying, concerned birds had suddenly surrounded her.

All over the march, children were welcomed and given pride of place. The photos of the march on the event’s Facebook page are dominated by adorable children with their home-made signs. It made me wonder what a world run by women might actually be like. Would there be more places for children to be a part of the lives of their parents? Wouldn’t the participation of parents and their children in our most important affairs make for a more compassionate and considerate world?

Boys with their mothers, girls with their fathers, whole families marching together, all made me feel hopeful about the future for the first time in a year. We had a sweet moment with two little girls and their fathers. The girls were very interested in our percussion instruments and wanted to know why we had them, what they were for, how they worked. We let them play them and they developed this hilarious move where one of them would hold the rattle in one hand and the shaker in the other and jump in the air to create a flurry of sound as she descended. Then the jumper would hand them to her friend and then the friend would jump and then she would hand them to us and we would jump and finally to the shy boy, holding on to his dad, so shy we hadn’t even noticed him, encouraging him to play too.

That part was fun. Watching two bold, curious, caring girls explore a new thing and share it with everyone nearby was absolutely fun but also inspiring. Because if we don’t blow up the world before they get there, it will be girls like those who might one day rule the world. They will be inclusive, compassionate, caring leaders – who look out, not just for themselves, but for the vulnerable, for the marginalized, the mothers, the fathers, the other children and they will express gratitude to those that shared with them. I marched so that that future stands a chance of coming to be.

And what about that woman, fresh from her spin class, who didn’t find the march fun enough to join? Did we need her there? You know, as much as I’d like to say no and never have to march alongside such a person, I think we probably need everyone right now. We’ll none of us ever agree on absolutely every issue, or every methodology, or how much fun it is or isn’t to go be heard on the street, but if we cultivate a kind, caring, compassionate future, we can make space for even the people we find distasteful. We can call for their children if they get lost. We can help them up if they fall. And if it’s fun, while we do that, that’s nice, too.

**

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



To Sing Is to Survive

I thought I was going to die. I was clinging to the side of the boat, absolutely sure that this was it. We were on a ferry from Naples to Capri, in what could reasonably be called a tempest, because my friends and I had thought it would be romantic to spend Christmas on the island of Capri. And as I gripped the rail, as sea water washed over me, I sang. The storm was loud so I sang, loud, until we reached the shore.

When the sea gets rough, I sing. When times are at their toughest, I sing. I do lots of other creative things but it’s singing I turn to when it feels impossibly turbulent. And so, this past year, I found myself singing a lot. I had to. The waters have seemed so high, as if they would rise up over our boat and wash me and all my loved ones overboard.

I had not played my guitar much in recent years. There was dust on it when I pulled it out of its case. There’s no dust on it now. There hasn’t been any dust there for months. I’ve leaned on songs I loved decades ago and been comforted by songs I only learned this year.

I recorded them for the handful of people who listen to my podcast, just in case these songs might help them through these turbulent waters, too. I gave them to my patrons on Patreon, as a thank you for being a railing to which I’ve been clinging. And now, if you could use them, I offer them to you. I recorded them in my living room. They are not perfect recordings but they are the sound of an artist singing through a tempest.

This is the first batch, in honor of the Women’s March this weekend. They are songs of Resistance. Click here to hear them on Spotify.  Or if you’d like to help me recoup the cost, you can buy it directly from me via my website. You can download them from iTunes or listen on Apple Music. (And something called Deezer?!)

In any case, I’m singing. And surviving.

Resistance Songs Square copy2

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You can help me through the turbulence

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

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Generation X – Part 8 – the Coda: We’re Not Gonna Take It

Y’all. You guys. I was done. I was totally done with this piece. I was not going to write another word about Generation X but I’ve just realized, in the midst of the current river of men being called to account for their years of harassment and abuse, that the majority of the women who kicked this off were Gen X women. Harvey Weinstein harassed, abused, raped or assaulted women in their twenties when they were young and no one cared what they thought then but those women are in their 40s and 50s now and I don’t think that’s insignificant. I would also like to point out that Meghan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, the two women who broke the Weinstein story that jumpstarted this moment, are both Gen X, as well.

Gen X women have stepped out of our victim years and are stepping into our power. We thought were the Only Ones but have woken up to the fact that we are not alone.
These aren’t our middle aged years – these are our power years – our witch years. We’re not going to take it. We are sisters who twisted ourselves into knots for too long and no, we’re not going to take it anymore.

Look at who is at the forefront of this movement – Tarana Burke, Alyssa Milano, Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Salma Hayek, even Gwennyth Paltrow. These are all Generation X women. And now, with the Time’s Up initiative, Gen X-ers Shonda Rhimes, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston have picked up the baton.

This watershed moment was kicked off by Gen X women. But I have heard nary a peep about that. In fact, on the Brian Lehrer show, there was a segment called The Generational Divide in the #MeToo Movement. It was a conversation between a Baby Boomer and a Millennial – how differently those two generations see this moment. Gen X barely got a mention throughout the hour long discussion. That’s when I knew I had to come back to this Generation X opus.

I do not think it was an accident that there was a twenty year gap between the crime and the reckoning. In part, it’s the changing of the times, sure – but it is also that women stepping into our 40s and 50s are stepping into a new power. I suspect that young women are still dismissed when they make claims today. I suspect that young attractive women are still less likely to report harassment or abuse – not because there’s something “weak” about them as I’ve heard some people say (WTF?!) but because young women are in an incredibly awkward position. They have a whole lot more to lose – they have not much career behind them and a great deal to gain in the future. Predators prey on young women precisely because of that vulnerability of position. Young women have historically had no real authority and are judged almost exclusively on their ability to be pretty and compliant. Disrupt either of those and your currency as a young woman goes down dramatically.

As we’ve seen, even just rejecting advances causes tremendous consequences – Mira Sorvino was blacklisted and had her entire career derailed because she fought off Weinstein’s advances. Rose McGowan was called crazy for years because she said something at the time. Young women are believed less than older ones. And now that the majority of the actresses who were abused in their twenties are now in their 40s and 50s, there’s nothing to lose and no reason to hide the truth anymore.

That is, Gen X women are no longer really seen as bankable young women so are now in a key position to call people on their shit.

I also don’t think the fact that many of these women are now mothers is insignificant. Every woman I know who became a mom became more fierce and stronger and determined to fight for their children to grow up in a better world. I know that that’s a  part of why my Baby Boomer mother is out resisting every day – to make the world a better place for me. And Gen X moms are fighting, not so much for themselves, as for their children. Many Gen X women waited a while to have children and are now not only entering their power years, but are entering their power years with the ferocity of young children to defend.

I think the moment that this movement will really soar is when all the Dads join in, too. Some are already on it. But, at the moment, men are mostly still leaving the heavy lifting of social change to the women. While women addressed #MeToo and #TimesUp at the Golden Globes, the extent of participation from men at that ceremony was to wear a button.

Gen X women kicked this off and while I don’t want to see us left out of the conversation, it is my hope that the cause gets lifted up by all genders from all generations so that Gen X won’t have to keep this movement afloat by ourselves. We’re good at going it alone but change works better with everyone involved.

In part, I think Gen X women are leading this movement because, at our age, we are suddenly confronted with, not only the sexism we’ve endured for decades, but also ageism. The culture wants to put us out to pasture and Gen X is just not having it. We won’t accept invisibility. We won’t accept things the way they’ve always been. Suddenly our ability to call bullshit is coming in very handy.We’re not going to take it anymore. Time’s Up.

You can support this Gen X woman

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 




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