Songs for the Struggling Artist


Three Hundred Episodes. Horn Blowin Time!
April 18, 2022, 9:01 pm
Filed under: music, podcasting | Tags: , , ,

As I surely have said before, I am not fond of tooting my own horn but only a handful of others will toot their horns for me so if my horn needs tooting, the task generally falls to me. I have to seek out the milestones, keep the markers in sight and just generally seek out opportunities for self horn tooting. It’s tooting time again. I’m writing this in anticipation of my Three Hundredth Episode of the podcast version of this blog.

The blog is almost 14 years old. The podcast turned six this month.

I don’t have any special episode planned for this nice round number. It’s not an interview podcast so there’s no bringing on very special guests. I could edit together some clips but I feel like listening to me talk about 300 different things really quickly, one right after the other might not be a fun listen and it would be a hell of a lot of work.

This blog, this podcast, is about a lot of things but I always return to the source in the title. It is always grounded in the challenges we artists face in this artist unfriendly world.

In the six years I’ve been doing the podcast, I’ve recorded 226 covers, pulled 35 songs from my archives, recorded 10 old songs I’d never recorded before and 12 new originals. It’s a lot!

There’s been drama. There have been surprises. There was cake for the 100th episode.

The practice I got from all this podcasting led directly to my being able to make the leap into Audio Drama. Having made one season of The Dragoning, I’m now making a second, with actors on three continents.

And the thing is – 300 is actually a lot of episodes. One of the most famous successful (and lucrative) podcasts of all time has only 185 episodes still. I have done significantly more episodes than Reply All. Granted, their shows are a lot more complex than mine. But they also have a staff with salaries and Spotify money to back them up.

I do this for free. Sure, my patrons help support me doing it for free but it is not a money making endeavor. I tried an advertising scheme a few years back and in the two weeks I had it going on, I made $1.38 so…you know. There’s no profit in this work. The company that makes Reply All, however, was sold for $230 million. It also pretty much imploded last year. I mean – I think a lot of people aspired to be Reply All but sometimes just steadily working at something, year after year yields results too. I’ve got 115 more episodes and no major reckonings.

When I started the podcast, it was really an experiment with the form. I know it seems like everyone has a podcast these days but in 2016, it was still a little bit new. I started on Soundcloud. Some episodes are still there. One of them because more popular there than any other episode before or since. That episode (Art, Entertainment and SpongeBob SquarePants) is also the most popular on my current podcast platform, though it is not even in the top 150 of the blog. The second most popular episode is the Harry Potter/Hangover which has even fewer views on the blog than SpongeBob. I guess this says to me that in podcasts, people like popular things that are already popular, especially when they are things Millennials grew up with. (Pssst – Millennials, what else are you into? Maybe I should do more podcasts about stuff you like!)

I’m on all the podcast apps now. I’m available on the podcast apps you’ve heard of and many, around the world, that I’m guessing you have not. I love increasing the possibility that something I say, or sing, might speak to someone thousands of miles away.

When people say “Everyone has a podcast these days,” it can really make me feel like these three hundred episodes are not such a big deal. This isn’t really horn tooting material when any old schmo can record a podcast! But it’s more than Reply All! And recording something once a week like this does add up to something eventually. It adds up to three hundred!

Maybe I should get a uniform like this for my horn tootin.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me make another hundred episodes?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Macintosh in Tick, Tick…Boom!

In the first couple of minutes of the film, the character of famous theatre writer, Jonathan Larson, introduces us to the year (a pan shot of a Calvin and Hobbes calendar that reveals it is January 1990) and a lot of his stuff. He tells us about his two keyboards, his music collection and his Macintosh computer. My brain did a little record scratch of “Huh?” at this but I had a movie to watch so I watched it, occasionally squinting my eyes at his machine when he’d type a single word on that computer, throughout the film. Then I went to bed. And I started thinking about the Macintosh computer. I thought about how odd it was for a struggling musical theatre writer to own a computer at all in 1990 and how extra odd it would be if he had one that was new like that. I mean, I didn’t know the exact dates, but I knew most people didn’t start really getting these things for another couple of years.

So this computer in his apartment in 1990 could only mean two things. One – Jonathan Larson was also a computer nerd, in addition to being a musical theatre nerd. And in 1990, this was just highly unlikely. Like, it’s like a computer nerd and musical theatre nerd could not have been the same person. They might meet at a party and make out but those two circles of being were probably closed at that time. I knew both of those types of people then and they were not the same. You could find one now, no problem. But in 1990? No way. So – given that this musical theatre nerd was not likely to also be a computer nerd, the only other reason a man who cannot afford to pay his electric bill would have a fancy new computer was that his parents bought it for him. This would mean that his parents had some cash to burn and the other evidence for the privilege his family must have returned to me as I went over some facts I learned from the film. His family lived in White Plains (a wealthy suburb of NYC) and they have a summer place on Rhode Island. This would mean that this composer cannot pay his electric bill, not because he has no access to money but because, very likely, mostly others had taken care of those things for him before. (Again, there is evidence for this in the film when it is suggested that his friend and former roommate, who had only recently moved out, used to take care of these things.) Suddenly a story about a struggling artist becomes the story of a man with a certain amount of privilege, carelessness and entitlement. I have a feeling this is not the myth the filmmakers wanted to make.

Anyway – the next morning I looked up when the Mac Classic came out because the (two second long) shots of it made me think it was like the computer in the 90s I knew best. I wanted to find out how weird a choice it would be for a musical theatre guy to get a Mac and when I saw that the Mac Classic came out in October of 1990, when the movie takes place in January of 1990, well, now I had a THIRD explanation for how Jonathan Larson, a musical theatre writer, had a Macintosh computer in his struggling artist apartment so many months before they came out. He’s a time traveler. He went to the future, not super far, just far enough to pick up one of the first Macs and brought it back to his present moment in January 1990. I’m sure he could have probably done some more useful stuff than picking up a computer a year before other people got them – but that’s like, a whole other movie.

I sort of liked this explanation best, fantasist that I am, but then I looked at the film again to grab a little screen shot of the computer and it turns out the model in the film is NOT the Mac Classic but the earlier, more expensive model, the Macintosh Plus. So at least it’s clear that this character is not a time traveler. (Alas!) But now I know that someone spent $2,599 on this computer in 1990 or before. And that’s almost six grand in today dollars. This becomes an even more unlikely item for a struggling composer to have in his apartment.

What is he using it for? Ain’t no internet on that thing. He’s not emailing his agent from it. He COULD be using FINALE, the music software, which was invented in 1988, but if so, he’s a really early adopter. Like – is a waiter at a diner likely to be using cutting edge software to write his rock musical? In 1990? I’m gonna guess no.

I know what those 90s Macs were like. It’s not a thing you want to write a song on. Not in the early 90s anyway. I can say that as a person who was starting to write songs at about the same time as I got my hands on a Mac. You can check my floppy discs; I didn’t do my songwriting on the Mac.

Based on the screens on the Mac in the film, he’s not using any kind of music software. He’s using that Mac as a word processor. Just like I did at the time. He’s using it to type “Your” and “You’re.” This movie did not need a computer of any kind. Pen and paper would have done the same job.

I’m trying like hell to understand why this Mac is in this movie. Like, was this in Larson’s original show? Did HE want us to know he had a Macintosh in 1990? If so, why? Well, I looked at the script for the 2001 version of this thing (This is the version that’s available to the public. It’s adapted by another playwright.) and there’s no mention of the Macintosh. It’s possible that in earlier editions that the screenwriter had access to, Larson mentioned his computer but I think it’s most likely that the screenwriter made this call. The screenwriter (Steven Levenson, writer of Dear Evan Hanson) was born the same year as the Macintosh, 1984. He has never known a Mac-less world. Perhaps he cannot imagine a world where someone could write a musical without one. So maybe he’s added this Macintosh without realizing. It’s understandable. It’s just a mistake then. That gave me a kind of peace.

I thought I’d hit the bottom of this rabbit hole and just found a mistake but then I happened to see some production research for Larson’s apartment and there is a photo of Larson’s actual desk from the 90s. There IS a computer on that desk. It’s not a Macintosh Plus, though. It’s not even clear that it’s a Mac. But the actual person had a computer. It was not just added by a young contemporary screenwriter who hadn’t done historical research.

Screenshot of the Macintosh Plus which occupied my thoughts more than, perhaps, it should.

Emily, you seem really worked up about this tiny detail in a sweet little movie about a fellow struggling artist theatre guy. What’s your problem? Are you trying to get a job as an historian for films or something?

Meanwhile, I know there are several among you who would like to know my thoughts about this film. I would like to know my thoughts about this film but all I can focus on is that Macintosh and why they thought they needed it. Did Lin Manuel Miranda get a Mac as a young theatre dude and he wrote his stuff on it, so it’s like, meaningful for him in tying his own legacy to the legacy of Jonathan Larson? I’m making stuff up here because that little Mac is just sitting in the middle of this whole experience for me.

Did this movie give me some feelings I might be just funneling into this silly prop and I’m making a big deal of nothing? Possibly. Maybe I’m just reeling from some nostalgia for the period? Could be. But I also think that details like this ARE important because of all the side stories they tell that we, as storytellers, might not be aware that we are telling. Others might have seen a loving tribute of a bio pic musical. I saw a confusing movie about a Macintosh.

Oh why do I care about this? I guess I know something about being a struggling theatre artist. I’ve done it a long ass time. The lesson he learns in the movie is that he should write what he knows and the stuff he knows, I know, too. Having watched the rise and fall of many struggling theatre artists, my eye is pretty finely focused for spotting the secret advantage someone has. The reality is that this guy is not doing nearly as badly as this movie would like us to believe. Sure, he forgets to pay his electric bill but he clearly has a financial safety net, he has the phone numbers for fancy famous people and they take his calls. He has an agent, two keyboards, a mixer, a microphone and, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten, a Macintosh computer. The actual person has, at the point that this play takes place, won an extremely prestigious award, though the film NEVER mentions it. For a 29 year old, he’s actually doing amazing. Like, really super well. The film wants to make us think it’s a super sad struggling difficult life and from this struggling artist’s perspective, his “terrible life” is actually as good as it gets for some folks. To see a film romanticizing the struggle, made by a bunch of guys who are multi-millionaires, is just a little hard to swallow when their vision of the hard life is way better than my actual life.

I mean, sure, I currently have a Macintosh computer, too. It’s nicer than any computer Larson ever had his hands on – but that’s because technology gets cheaper and better as time goes by. A Macintosh in 2022 means something very different than it did in 1990.

We now live in a world where a computer is a necessity to do most any job but particularly any job in freelancing arts. In Larson’s time, it was still a rarity. You might find one in a family’s house, with parents trying to give their kids a leg up in the coming computer age. But struggling artists would mostly have had other priorities then.

I’m still confused by the discrepancy in the computer from the research photo and the set they came up with. I watched a video interview with the set design team and I gotta tell you, these folks cared about the details. They got the sag in the bookshelf. They searched for just the right model of Yamaha keyboard. Why would the computer be any different? I mean – these people got their hands on Larson’s cassette tapes and they didn’t put the actual tapes on the set, no, they scanned the covers so they wouldn’t lose, or damage, his originals. They cared about getting his exact copy of Led Zeppelin IV.

And maybe this is part of what gets under my skin about all this. Like, we all had that Led Zeppelin tape in 1990. I’m pretty sure I still have mine in a box in my mom’s house somewhere. To watch a dude, who is basically like a lot of people I know, get canonized like this is super disconcerting. I have known many musical theatre writers more skilled than this guy who will never have their tapes lovingly scanned by a set decoration team. Nor would they like to, really – they’d just like to have gotten even a hint of some of the opportunities that Larson got, or to have started out with some of his privileges. Obviously, this Macintosh in the movie is standing in for more than just a computer. I know it. You know it. But I really do want to know what it’s doing there.

I was sent the booklet with this page in it. Little did I know, this piece about the production design would lead me further down the Mac rabbit hole. I mean, look at that research photo. If it’s a Mac, it’s one of the few models that didn’t look like a Mac.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me write more 90s rants?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a “coffee” (or several!) on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Lessons from Italian Media

Back in 1993, I got my first passport and moved to Italy for my junior year abroad. One of the things I was most excited about was getting to see the culture and art of an entirely different country. The internet was in its infancy then, so going places was really the only way to see what other nations were making. I was hungry for Italian pop, Italian TV, Italian cinema, Italian theatre, whatever I could get my eyes and ears on. I understood, too, that watching and listening to these things would help me improve my language skills. I listened to the radio but the pop music was pretty lousy. I watched TV and the shows all seemed to be tacky variety shows full of show girls. I went to Italian theatre and mostly found translations of works in English. Only the cinema managed to deliver high quality contemporary art.

Meanwhile, I was studying the old stuff, too. I learned incisione (metal engraving), solfeggio and read incredible works from Italy’s past. In 1993, the great works were the old works, the Renaissance works, the great art of the past. I don’t regret a moment of it. I’m built for the classics.

However, I was baffled by how a people who were raised at the feet of such classical greatness could be inclined to make such trashy art. I found it very confusing.

Recently, I learned a lot more about Berlusconi, who was not yet in charge of the country when I moved there, but who WAS in charge of the media. I suspect there were a lot of tits on TV because Berlusconi was a fan of tits on TV. There was a lot of trashy pop on the radio because Berlusconi was pretty trashy and he had tremendous broadcast power. I mean, imagine if Trump were in charge of every single TV station and most of the radio. Now imagine what he’d put on those stations. That’s what Italian media was like in 1993 – 1994.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve been watching Italian TV shows lately and they are a world away from what I saw while I was there. They are artful. They are thoughtful and some of them feature really good Italian pop, which I’m delighted to discover has also radically improved in the last few decades.

I watched my first current Italian show by accident. Honestly, if I’d known it was Italian at the start, I’d have been a little wary. However, Netflix has worked out that I love a show about witches so it was selling me pretty hard on Luna Nera, which featured gorgeous production design in the trailer and was very thoroughly witchy. As I watched the opening scene, I realized that the sound was not matching their mouths and so I clicked around to see about turning off dubbing and – ecco – non ci credo – it’s in Italian. And it was great. It’s like a medieval Charmed with a power-hungry, witch-hunting bishop and a witch-hunting club. The design was glorious. The performances were excellent. The premise and the writing were very engaging. They left us on a cliffhanger and there is still no word on a Season 2. It may be cancelled? Or not? Anyway, I would like to see more Italian witches.

And then my friend wrote an article about another Italian show – one I’d put on my list and forgotten about – called Zero. You should, for sure, read her piece about it. It places the show in context and lays out why it’s so innovative. I’m generally a sucker for a show where someone has powers of some kind but the fact that this one is also about the real estate take-over of a poor immigrant community makes it all the more powerful. There were immigrants from Senegal living in Florence when I was there but most Italians and tourists behaved as though they weren’t there, as if they were invisible – except when it rained and you needed an umbrella, as they were often on the street selling them then. It’s telling that this show is about a young Senegalese immigrant who can turn invisible.

I feel like this show makes the best argument for why diversity in the arts matters. It’s not just that we get to see a story about a community we rarely get to hear stories about – but the immigrant influence feeds all strands of the artistic experience. The Italian music in the show seems to have an African influence and it makes for the best Italian pop I’ve ever heard. Also, it’s just really well done. Beautifully shot, engagingly written, surprising and exciting. This show, by the way, also ended in a cliffhanger and is also, as yet, not renewed.

And now that Netflix has my Italian TV number, they sold me immediately on Luna Park, which just came out. It’s a fun period drama that owes a lot to Italy’s Fellini past. I mean, you can’t watch a show about a carnival in Italy and not think of La Strada or even I Clown. I enjoyed so much of this show (aside from the contemporary music moments. Whyyyyyyyyy?!?!) and could feel my language skills seeping back into my brain as I watched my third Italian drama. And then, for the third time, the show ended on a cliffhanger, almost literally. The show only just came out, so it has not been renewed. But it’s good, you know? All three of these shows that Netflix has made happen, are good. They’re not in the least bit trashy. There were some boobs but they were in good taste, in that they weren’t on showgirls and they made sense in context.

So why am I telling you about all this Italian media? Do I just want you to watch these shows so Netflix will make more? Sure. Maybe. But really, I am not here to pat Netflix on the back. (This is definitely not the moment for that.) The cultural skill was clearly already there in the people who made these shows. Italian cinema is evidence of that. Italian artists know how to tell a story – it’s just that the media landscape was controlled by a buffoon and so they got buffoon art, for years. They needed the resources to make better art. Diversity matters, not just in the stories we tell but in the places we get to tell them. When you only have RAI 1, 2, 3 and so on and they’re all the same network, run by the same guy, it is very hard to get any interesting variety going.

I’m thrilled by the way Netflix is opening storytelling doors for Italian TV but I also worry, that as time goes by and Netflix begins to dominate the world’s watching experience, will it also lose the incredible global diversity that it’s currently tapping into? Will it become one of only a handful of places we can watch something? Will they control the narrative? Will they cancel all these shows that they left on a cliffhanger? And will they make any more or is it just these three and then they’re done investing in Italy?

Italian pop was terrible in the 90s in part because it was controlled by the same powers that controlled TV. It created a same-i-ness of sound and quality. Italians in the 90s mostly listened to pop in English. My Italian friends found my affection for Italian rapper, Jovanotti, kind of hilarious. I can still sing/rap along to large swaths of “Penso, Positivo” and “Serenata Rap.” So you know, I enjoyed some Italian pop but we couldn’t call it good, really. Now, here in the US, we have just three record companies and so much of American pop sounds the same. I fear we are headed toward an Italy in the 90s kind of world and I’m here to tell you that was not a good time for music or TV there.

But it is an exciting time for Italian TV and music now – diversity is coming in and making things cool and interesting. Though, there are way too many cliffhangers.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me make variety in the arts?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



The Time Machine of Music

Music can be a time machine. Play Duran Duran’s “Rio” and I am instantly transported to a carpeted spot in front of the Barbie doll mansion I’d created in my closet in the mid 80s. Put on Primus’ “Nature Boy” and I’m in a cargo van in 1997 with several Shakespeare dudes who are wildly flinging themselves around, while the Shakespeare dude driver nods his head in time. I did not like this song at the time but now I do, not just because I’m angrier these days, but because of how quickly it can return me to the past.

Music can evoke a time and place more directly and precisely than just about anything. (Smell can be a direct line to the past. It’s maybe more immediate but, it’s also often less specific about time.) Music is an incredibly powerful tool – which is why I’m entirely flabbergasted at a trend I’m noticing on television. Why would you use music from a different era than the one you’re trying to evoke?

The otherwise delightful Pursuit of Love mini-series used 80s and 90s tunes throughout, despite the fact that this show takes place in the 30s and 40s. I enjoyed hearing that Joan Armatrading song after so many years but I couldn’t tell you what happened in the show during it as I was pulled into the late 80s for its duration. (It’s from 1977 but it was much later that I discovered it.)

Then there’s the show that got me all fired up about this. 45 Revoluciones or 45 rpm. It’s a Spanish show (surprise!) about a pop music business in 1962. I enjoy a lot of things about it, like the way the woman music producer and her assistant deal with some overt sexism from her tech crew or the way it models a male boss fighting for his female “mano derecho.” But…the music is a disaster. The pop star’s hit song, the one we hear over and over again, is not a song from 1962, nor is it a contemporary song written to sound like it’s from 1962. It is, instead a song from 2012 that went to number one in 24 countries. It is a hit song from 7 years before this show was aired and 50 years after the show is meant to take place. Where exactly do they want to take us in that music time machine?

I hate this song choice so hard. I think they’re trying to say “This artist is so ahead of his time he sings songs from the future!” Or they’re trying to connect contemporary music listeners with this period drama? Or they’re trying to evoke some kind of blend of time periods? I don’t know. But the story of the show is a singer who nobody’s seen the likes of before playing fresh new music that blows everyone’s minds. Then to represent him, the creators choose some of the most middle of the road music from the last couple of decades. “Let her go” may have gone number one around the world (Number 3 in Spain) but it is a song so banal that I only recognized it from hearing it in the grocery store on occasion and found it entirely unremarkable. No disrespect to lovers of this song but it does not represent a stunning innovation in pop music.

Similarly, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” which also makes an appearance on this fictional Spanish rock star’s album from 1962 is not a pop revolution in any way. Lady Gaga is glorious but she’s not out here busting up pop norms. She IS pop norms, albeit with wild costume and style innovations.

As I continued to watch 45 rpm, it got even more ridiculous with its music, careening wildly through time, moving from “Total Eclipse of the Heart” to “Shiny Happy People.” I shouted at the screen more than once.

I’ve learned that this show had the lowest viewer ratings EVER on that channel – and I don’t know if the music was what tanked it but I feel pretty confident it didn’t help.

Here’s the thing. All of that music featured in the show must have been VERY EXPENSIVE. With the money they spent to clear several worldwide hit songs, they could have hired multiple songwriters and composers who could have written them songs that evoked the period and ALSO felt a little modern. They could have had a soundtrack of new and exciting music that might have been a hit and might have drawn people to their show. Look at “That Thing You Do” which is a movie about a hit song from a similar period. The title song that Adam Schlesinger wrote for it became a hit and was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Hit movie. Hit song. Could have been you, 45 Revoluciones!

Or alternatively, they could have used actual music from 1962. They name checked Los Pekenikes – which is such a great band name, I had to look them up and listen to them and apparently, a band called Los Brincos was an inspiration for the story. They’re really fun to listen to! Is there some belief that the youth won’t respond to old music? I’d like to direct you to the soundtrack of Stand By Me (which I played relentlessly as a teen) which came out in the mid 80s and was filled with mostly old 50s tunes. Because of that film, the title song (from 1961) made another journey to the top ten in 1986. All that music placed that film firmly in its period and it was a giant hit. It’s happened before that contemporary youth get super into music of the past.

But maybe the youth of today are different from the youth of yesteryear and somehow can only tolerate banal contemporary pop? Somehow I don’t think so. I do think they’re being fed an unusually dull music diet, though. There is a flattening of sound, of genre, of time that has been happening over the last 20 years and it can’t be good for us. As Jaron Lanier has pointed out, there hasn’t been an innovation in pop music since Hip Hop and Grunge  – several decades ago. Can you distinguish the sound of something from the first decade of this century from this last decade? I sure can’t. It has a timelessness in its consistency and conformity. This is weird, folks. Can you imagine not being able to distinguish music from the 70s from music of the 60s? Or the 40s from the 50s? There’s a little crossover, sure, but you can make a kind of generalization about pop sound decade by decade until you get to this century. I suspect that one of the reasons this weird time bleed is happening on TV has to do with that strange sameiness of music: Who cares when music is from, when you have no way to tell any of it apart?

I start to wonder if this is connected to the conglomeration of the music business. There are currently really only three music companies. Warner, Sony and Universal own pretty much everything. Things like the Grammys are company celebrations of those three corporations. With a distinct lack of diversity in the business end, is it any wonder the music has had all its edges smoothed over? (The same thing is happening in publishing, btw. There are three major players who just eat up the little guys.) I suspect all this leads to an ahistorical music business which bleeds into an ahistorical film and TV business and now we have TV shows where the music time machine takes us to all the wrong places. You set it for 1962 and half of you ends up in 2012. That is a problematic time machine.

And it may extend beyond just the music in the shows. 45 Revoluciones, which, I’ll remind you, is set in 1962, made casual references to both The Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the dialogue. Now – I was not yet born in 1962 but even I know that neither of these bands was a worldwide sensation yet in 1962. You know how long it took me to confirm that fact? Less than a minute. I didn’t even have to go to the library. The Rolling Stones hadn’t even heard of the Rolling Stones until July of 1962 so there’s just no way a Spanish rocker would be excited to open for a band that did not yet even have a single recorded. (This sort of error, btw, is a great example of why it’s important to have age diversity on a team. I cannot believe NO ONE on this show flagged this highly irritating detail.)

I think being cavalier about music’s role in time is a huge mistake. It’s a mistake for broken time machine purposes in that you might take your audience to a different place than you were aiming and it’s also a huge mistake in making it harder for all the other elements in a scene to establish the era. The costumes can’t do all the work. Neither can the props or the production design.

If you want to pull the audience in two directions time-wise, okay, but if you choose only really popular songs, then your audience will inevitably have prior associations with that music. The odds that something bad has happened while listening to that song for any of the millions of people who have heard it many times before are very strong. Just…you know – triggering someone’s memories of their assault is one reason why you might not want to use super popular songs in your TV show. Hire a composer! The average song on Spotify has 8 listens. Maybe use one of those?

I don’t mean to pick on 45 rpm – everyone is doing this dumb music flattening – but there’s something particularly ironic about a show that has the word revolution in its title that shows us music neither historical nor revolutionary. The show takes place in a moment in Spain where pop music was creating some interesting cracks in the regime of the fascist dictator. The show gives us glimpses of what the collision of rock n roll and Franco’s Spain was like. It shows us the big dilemma of being obliged to sell out to a dictator and how people resisted, either directly or covertly. (Ironically, this show has literally sold out to an entirely different sort of regime by virtue of the flagrant Coca Cola product placement.)  The regime creates real problems in the lives of artists and record execs alike. Apparently, instrumental music, as well as music in French and English, escaped the censors in those early years or rock n roll just because the regime didn’t take any of it seriously. I’ve been listening to the actual music from that era in Spain and sure, it doesn’t sound revolutionary now, because we’ve had 50+ years with things that sound like it.

But since no one’s invented a new genre in decades, since we can’t experience a current music revolution, why can’t we take a trip in a musical time machine and discover, at least, what a revolution sounded like in the past? When The Rite of Spring was first performed, it was so new, so revolutionary, people rioted. We’ve lived in a world with that music in it for over a century, so it’s not a revolution for us, but if you make a show set in the early 20th century about modernism and you don’t use The Rite of Spring, you better play us something that sounds like a modern riot. Maybe you’ll even find us our modern Stravinsky. But why not take us on a trip in your music time machine? It’s a mellifluous way to travel.

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I reference a lot of music in this post so I made a playlist of it so if you’re curious to hear any of it, it’s here.

Concert à la vapeur by J. J. Granville
It’s not technically a time machine but wouldn’t it be cool if it was?

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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A $5000 Grant Would Be a $5000 Problem
July 5, 2021, 6:24 pm
Filed under: art, Art Scenes, Creative Process, dance, music, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , , , ,

A day after applications opened, the email notifications of the grant’s existence came out. After a lot of hype, the City Corp Arts Grants applications were live! I waited until midnight to look at the tab I’d left open all day. I confess I didn’t have high hopes for it. But around midnight, I finally got the will to check it out. When I finally understood what its parameters were, I cursed and shut it all down again. There was no way I could do what it was asking. Another opportunity that I was just too uninspired to take on. Sigh. I’ve been here before. Ah well.

But then we started talking about this “opportunity” and I started to realize what a mess it was. It’s not that I’m uninspired. It’s that this grant is ridiculous. First – it’s been billed as a way to support artists after a devastating year with no support and, for performing artists, having our entire field shut down. It’s been pitched as a parcel of funds to help counteract the losses we endured. It is $5000 for 3000 individual artists. That’s nice! It’s a lovely idea. If I had $5000 to give to 3000 individual artists, I absolutely would do it. What a boon for those 3000 artists! But the catch is – they’re not just giving 3000 artists 5K. It’s not a gift. For 5K, they expect a return. They want live performances. They want murals. They want workshops and celebrations.

They’re trying to buy a summer full of art with a last minute investment. Because it’s not just that they want a show of some kind; They want it starting immediately. These performances have to happen between July and October. This timeline and this budget are impossible. I can’t make a show for $5k in NYC. I don’t know anyone who can.

If I were to sign up to try and get this grant, I’d be signing up for a $5000 problem. First this $5000 would not go to me, the artist (though this is the stated goal of this grant). The first place it would need to go would be a rehearsal space. And if we need to rent a performance venue, that’s it. The grant money is already spent. But let’s say we’re going to do this outdoors, guerrilla style – maybe on one of these Open Streets they set up this year – then maybe there’s enough money to pay some of the performers. If we want it to look good in the photos we’re required to provide for the city, we’ll need to hire some good costume and scenic designers, not to mention a photographer to document this street performance. I, personally, the artist who applied for this thing that is meant to help me, will likely not see a dime. Not to mention that I’ll have had absolutely zero time to prepare. I’d be expected to find a venue, cast a show, find a place to rehearse it, and put it all on, at warp speed. On top of that, I’d, for sure, need to raise more money to get anything really done. It’s not a great deal for me.

Now – if this grant gave me 5K and a free rehearsal space and just wanted a couple of photos of whatever I came up with, that might be something. That would be a grant that encouraged the creation of art rather than demanding some kind of product. A city that gave its artists funds to just do whatever would yield some really exciting interesting art. I fear the opposite is about to happen with this grant.

One of the requirements for this grant is to provide evidence of sustained art making here in NYC. This seems very reasonable. But it would be much better for the state of the arts here in general if instead of the asking those NYC artists with a track record to come up with a product with no real budget in a hurry, they just had a lottery for those artists and checked in with the winners after a little while to see what they came up with.

I’m sure everyone involved in this grant has the best of intentions – but it does feel a little bit like, after a brutal year, we emerge from our caves, our entire field blunted by dis-use and tears, and the city of NYC says, from the audience, “Showtime!” and we’re just pushed out on stage with no preparation. I don’t know how to say, “I’m sorry but I’m depleted and discouraged and I’ve got nothing for you.”

I would like to receive $5000 from the city of New York. I have been making art here for over two decades. It would be nice to receive a little something in honor of those years of contributing to the culture. But I just don’t have an idea for how to pull off this impossible task, for not enough money.

It’s not me, it’s this grant. This grant wants to see us dance and we are still limping back from the wars. Do we want to be dancing? Of course! There are just certain realities that we have to acknowledge. Dance costs money and it takes time to create. I feel quite sure the grantmakers imagined a summer of dozens of dancers, leaping through the streets, actors staging epics on corners, murals being painted everywhere. It is a beautiful fantasy.

I think it’s more likely that there will be a lot of solo artists, doing whatever they can in random corners. There are going to be poets and magicians and lone cellists in the streets and if we have an abundance of poets and cellos this summer, that’s cool. But I feel fairly certain that’s that this grant was not meant to be exclusively poets and cellists. And as mad as this “Dance, Artist, Dance” grant makes me, I’d still apply for it if I had even the barest semblance of an idea. I try to imagine it. I picture getting sparked by something – but then I have to find a rehearsal space and I can imagine making those calls, discovering who is still here and who has lost their space. I picture trying to find a venue and confronting the same difficult reality. None of it gives me any joy or hope, really.

I’m sure there are artists among us for whom this will be very helpful and I am very glad for them and look forward to seeing their work. But for those, like me, who might feel demoralized by these grants that were theoretically created to help us, it just feels important to acknowledge that these are not helpful for everyone.

In thinking about this, I found myself weeping harder than I have in months. And while I appreciate a good cry, I’m not sure I appreciate a grant whose very existence makes artists feel inadequate and uninspired. Intellectually, I know that I’m not artistically dead. I know that not being able to come up with a show for an impossible grant for not enough money does not mean I’m empty forever. But – it sure feels like that. I just can’t seem to stop crying whenever I try and access the inspiration well. I know that the inspiration well depends on my feeling safe and secure and stimulated and after this year I am none of those things. It is not the job of the City of New York to be concerned with my inspiration well. But – the safety and security of thousands of artists here have been compromised and I would wager that lots of artists might be in tears about their inspiration wells today. The City of New York missed a big opportunity to actually help artists, to give us a sense of safety and security that might actually make space for inspiration and instead it just wants us to smile and put on a show.

This is one empty inspirational well.
Too bad the city of NYC won’t be giving me $5000 to help fill it.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Kittens and Fluffy Clouds
October 21, 2020, 9:03 pm
Filed under: music, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: , , ,

There’ve been times when I’ve seen people respond to my work with, “You’re just looking for problems.” They want me to look on the bright side. “See the good in the world!” “There are roses and sunshine!” That’s why I decided to write this piece about kittens and fluffy clouds. Who doesn’t love kittens?

The problem is – there’s not much to say about kittens except the fact that they are awfully cute and there’s not much to say about fluffy clouds either, except to say that that one looks a lot like a whale.


That’s why this piece is actually not about kittens or fluffy clouds.

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This piece is actually about my stalker/harasser/troll and since she does tend to lurk and look at my headlines, I felt it would be safer to give this one a title she would be unlikely to click on. I mean, I don’t know, maybe she’s into kittens but she does not tend to actually read so I’m burying this text beyond where’s she’s likely to look. Many a social media post will put out the first few lines of text of something, so to be safe, I went ahead and started with kittens and fluffy clouds.

If the news of this semi-famous troll stalker of mine is news to you, I’d recommend you go back and read this post to catch up. It’s a doozy.

So…that was about 2.5 years ago. After a pretty terrible couple of weeks, after I blocked her on Twitter and she finally stopped calling, I didn’t hear from her again. She continued including me in mad rants for a while where I couldn’t see them, but it stopped eventually, as far as I knew. I thought it was over.

As my phone was dying last month, I made a last push to get at least get her voicemails copied from it so if I ever had to provide evidence of the harassment, I could. I thought the whole thing was probably over – but I felt I couldn’t be too sure. I wanted to be prepared for a reappearance.

Turns out, I was right to be concerned about a reappearance. A few weeks ago, I got notice of a new patron on Patreon at a $10 per blog post level. (Amazing! My second highest pledge! That could be $50 a month!) But it turned out to be her. For a minute I thought it could be a friend playing a not so funny joke on me – the way someone bought her song on my website using her name, even though it wasn’t her. But then I saw the nasty message that came along with the pledge. It banged on the “You stole my songs” drum and several other nonsensical things that signaled her actual presence and I straight up did not know what to do.

It was Yom Kippur. She’s a born again Christian, I think, but maybe she was attempting to make some extremely ass backward atonement? Why is someone who hates me pledging to give me money every month? Aside from a weird attempt at apologizing, what could it be? On one hand, it seemed like a dominance move, a way to say that she has money and I do not. It could have been a way to gain access to me and power over me. It could have been attempt to invade a safe space. It could have been an attempt to target my income. Maybe she was planning to cancel the payment right as it was about to charge to pull a nice financial rug out from under me. I asked around and no one seemed to be able to guess what her game was.

I have no way of knowing what her thinking was (which is hard for me, because I like to understand why people do things) but I have learned that trying to figure that out is a fool’s errand. Since my initial experience with her, people came out of the woodwork to share their horror stories with me about their experiences. Tales of her not paying her musicians, harassing people selling her used CDs, forcing someone to stand in a garbage can, and much much worse (which I have promised not to publicly divulge). No matter how much I could have used the money, I knew I had to block her.

I know from my own experience that there is no rationalizing with this person. The guys at the company who helped me with the licenses tried to explain to her how licensing worked, how this aspect of the business went and found themselves surveilled and vilified, as well.

As I watched well-meaning people try to appeal to her reason or humanity last time around, it started to become clear how impossible that would be. It would be like trying to have a reasonable conversation with a tornado made of jellyfish. Not all of the jellyfish will sting you but you will end up with a jellyfish to the face at some point – and certainly the tornado will never stop to listen to what you have to say. A lot of people who tried to reach out to her with kindness ended up with a face full of jellyfish.

You might have seen a similar example of this sort of behavior in another context recently. It is not really possible to debate a jellyfish tornado.

I blocked my jellyfish tornado on Patreon, which triggered an automated email notifying my jellyfish tornado of her blocking, which, given the clicks from admin.Patreon on my blog, fairly likely triggered a retaliating accusation of some sort. In this moment, I do not know what the tornado is going to do next. But I do know that it will be neither reasonable or rational. Hopefully, it’s just moving on. But I can never be sure when she’ll be in the mood to dredge this all up again, for no particular reason.

That’s the thing that is the hardest to understand – that not everyone is reasonable – that even if the jellyfish tornado can use words and form sentences, that does not mean it is reasonable. I did not know that at first. I think I half hoped she’d read my blog, realize it was all a misunderstanding, call me up to apologize and then invite me to come sing duets with her in her studio. (I don’t think I truly believed this but my inner teen fan from 1988 might have.) But instead, she tweeted out something nasty in response and outed herself as the redacted troll mentioned within. It was an extraordinary self-own.

But see, I know she’s a jellyfish tornado now. I’m still scared of her but mostly I try to stay clear of her path. If I have to go inside and lock the door until the tornado has passed, I can do that – and I’d rather do that than go outside and end up with a face full of jellyfish. I can often tell who has run into some kind of jellyfish tornado before. They are the first people to tell you, “I can see why you think that reasonable appeal will help. But you might want to just skip ahead to locking your door because it probably won’t work. And definitely don’t invite that tornado in your house.” Once you’ve been in one jellyfish tornado, you get a feel for these things. I’m one of those people now.

I don’t know what we’re to do with all these tornados. Are they inevitable? Is there no way to neutralize them? Or stop them showing up in your neighborhood? If there are answers to that, I would like to know – because this is not the only jellyfish tornado in the world. The only thing I’ve figured out how to do is call a jellyfish tornado a jellyfish tornado when I see one and do my best to not get caught up in it. I may be tempting fate by telling you about all this. Maybe I’ll draw the tornado back in my direction by writing about it. But I’ve also learned to reach out to friends and ask for cute animal photos when the tornado appears for whatever mercurial reasons tornados have. Hopefully, I won’t need more photos of kittens anytime soon. Or fluffy clouds.

Such cute kittens. Probably looking up at some fluffy clouds, don’t you think?

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Frustrated Artists and Tyrants

From listening to the Bunga Bunga podcast, I learned that Silvio Berlusconi started as a singer. He was reasonably successful and having a great time when, apparently, his dad shamed him, asking him if he was really going to be a singer for the rest of his life. So Silvio Berlusconi quit singing. Even though he loved it. And became a shady ass real estate developer instead. This led him to becoming a shady ass media mogul and then the shady ass prime minister of Italy. Did that go well for Italy? No, no, it did not. Would Italy have been better off if Berlusconi had just continued to do what he loved and just kept singing? I think so. I blame Berlusconi’s dad for the problems of Italy. I also blame the world that denigrates the arts and deems them not enough.

This makes me think about Hitler, of course. Hitler wanted to be a painter. He was rejected by the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna, where he’d moved to pursue his dreams. He had a go of selling his work and found a few people to buy it. He was fucking serious about painting. Was he any good? No. But some people liked his stuff. They even paid for it – so hey – that’s something. But his failures in art led him to politics and the world ended up with a disaster. Do I blame the Academy of Fine Arts? Nope. No one wants to go to school with Hitler. And he was bad. So. Of course they had to reject him. But someone, somewhere might have encouraged him. I don’t know who but somebody could have kept that man painting and it would have saved millions of lives.

The stories of frustrated artists going on to do terrible things are many. And there are many frustrated artists who ruined the lives around them when they took their own. What I’m trying to say here is that I think we need to take frustrated artists seriously.

Think of all the tyrants we could have avoided if we’d just managed to be supportive of artists or even just gave them some time, space and resources to do their thing. I mean – good lord – Just give artists the space to be artists and the ones who would have turned out to be tyrants can just happily paint in their basements or sing in the clubs.

But – golly gee whiz – what if they’re no good? What if they’re a terrible singer or a lousy painter?

To that, I say, wouldn’t you rather have a gallery full of shitty paintings than the fucking holocaust? Live with the shitty art, for crying out loud!

Embracing art and artists is a great thing to do, just because art is great but it ALSO could be seen as a preventative measure. Prevent a tyrant! Support an artist! Even a shitty one! I swear everyone is so concerned with whether things are good or bad when, really bad art is entirely tolerable in a way that, say, genocide is not. And I say that as someone who, when I’m watching something terrible, acts as though I’m being quite melodramatically tortured.

I’m not trying to say that all frustrated artists are genocidal maniacs (if so, watch out for me!) but an awful lot of genocidal maniacs really wanted to be artists. They would have rather been singers and painters or authors or actors or whatever. I think a culture that encouraged these things would see a lot fewer genocidal maniacs. Support an artist! Prevent a possible global catastrophe! Buy that weirdo’s ugly paintings! You don’t have to hang them up. Go to that terrible play! Listen to that awful album! Do it for the world.

I feel like sometimes when people talk about supporting the arts, they really want to make sure they only support the really good stuff. Organizations have extensive applications to make sure they get work of which they approve. They require references or degrees or resumes to try and insure quality. If you propose running a lottery, they worry about how they will weed out the bad stuff.

But true support would mean supporting all of it – the wonderful, the good, the mediocre and the terrible. It’s like trying to save a forest by just saving a couple of the tallest trees. The forest thrives because of all of the trees, even the fallen rotting ones and to support a forest would mean supporting the widest variety of forest life. The same is absolutely true of the arts. The more supported the entire ecosystem is, the more good art we get out of it.

And if just having a robust arts culture isn’t enough of a reason for you, just think of investment in the arts as tyrant insurance. Support all the arts, even the bad, and maybe you’ll save us from the ravings of the next frustrated artists.

Again, I’m not saying artists are uniquely poised to be tyrants; Surely someone who had potent dreams in another field that were thwarted and discouraged, would be equally likely to turn sour. Anyone with their dreams dashed upon a rock might be likely to turn bad – but artists have their dreams dashed more often than most and there are few places in the world where an artist’s ambitions might be realized to their full potential. I think a world that encouraged its artists, whether they be good, bad, mediocre or genius, would be a much more interesting world. And if my theory is correct, it might also have a lot fewer tyrants in it.

Look how happy young Berlusconi was singing.
Coulda saved everyone a whole heap of trouble if he’d kept this up.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Toilet Paper and Art

My improviser friend used to talk about his craft being toilet paper – that you pulled off a square and then threw it away. It was impermanent and that was its appeal. It was a uniquely disposable craft.

In our new toilet paper obsessed society, I’m not sure this analogy works anymore. No one is hoarding improvisers. They’re stuck at home like the rest of us – their skills going wanting.

But I had already been thinking about this analogy fairly often, even before the coronavirus made us fetishize toilet paper. I was thinking about it in relationship to things made on the internet, which often feel like toilet paper art as well. That is, we make something, we put it on the internet and the internet does whatever it’s going to do with it and then it gets washed away in the flow of whatever happens next. Almost nothing has a sense of permanence.

The first website I was a part of making was back in 2002 and it really felt like we were constructing a building. Our designer created a bit of art out of the art we had made and we felt it would be around forever. When I made a MySpace page, I thought of it as a place – and a place people would visit and spend time in. I thought they would click around and listen to everything.

I continue to have this old fashioned view of what happens on-line. When the virus sent everyone home, I thought, “Oh, now’s the time that someone will start reading the back catalogue of the blog. Someone’s about to go very deep into the library of Songs for the Struggling Artist.” But, of course, no one’s doing that. They’re not even reading the most recent blogs. In fact, the views on both my blogs have never been lower.

I suspect that this is mostly because everyone is panic reading all they can find about the virus and shutdowns and quarantines and such but ALSO because everything on the internet is disposable. We don’t go looking for interesting corners to click around in anymore. We don’t read anyone’s entire oeuvre or listen to anyone’s entire repertoire. We just watch the stream of information and ideas go by and pick out whatever looks interesting to us. Sometimes something comes up from the past – but for the most part, we consume our internet in an ever present present. It’s all toilet paper now.

As a person who makes things that live in this digital space, I don’t love this. I don’t find it encouraging. It’s hard to put one’s heart and soul and sweat and skill into something and watch it sink into the stream never to be seen again. It can be just as discouraging to, say, put on a play and have not many people come to see it – but at least in the live medium, you have the moment, you have the exchange. One of my favorite performance experiences ever was a show we put on for one audience member. No one showed up but her but we didn’t cancel and it was extraordinary. In remembering watching her watching it, I am transported to the sense of wonder on her face. That look is sustaining, even all these years later, in a way that a few likes on a post that disappeared into the internet ocean are not.

And now everyone’s livestreaming because what else can they do? It feels like you could fill a day with all the live concerts and performances that are suddenly popping up in a Facebook feed. Now, it seems, with everything shut down, the disposable nature of making things on the internet becomes even more disposable. We do it today and forget about it tomorrow.

The endless scroll of many social media sites makes it feel like the internet happens in front of us and it is seductive and hard to break free of. I know it’s hard for me to stop watching the flotsam go by to go purposefully look at something more permanent that I want to know about. But I suppose that’s my plea, that while we’re stuck at home, largely on-line, that we all go clicking around in the weird places on the internet like in the old days. Go investigate somebody’s entire web comic. Watch all of a choreographer’s recorded dances. Explore the back catalogue of someone’s writings. There are so many stories that got placed hopefully up on the web never to be seen again. It’s not like watching someone’s live performance in a theatre by yourself, of course, but taking a deep dive in some artist’s pool might offer something a little different than what floats by every day. It might all be toilet paper but some of it has been carefully sculpted into something wonderful somewhere. There are a lot of undiscovered treasures that have sunk to the bottom of the internet ocean, hoping to one day be revealed. Go diving, if you can.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me find a more permanent place in the internet ocean?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Performing Arts Going Dark

Have you all read Station Eleven? I mean, don’t, if you haven’t. Even the author recommends waiting a few months to read it. It’s a little too relevant right now. It hits a little too close to home. It begins with a pandemic that leads to the radical upending of civilization. You can see why you might want to wait a minute to get into it. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week – not just because of the pandemic – but because of what happens after the pandemic. The heart of the story is a traveling Shakespeare company that tours the devastated country. When nothing is left, we have the arts.

At the moment, with all the performing arts cancelled, it can feel like our work is unimportant or inessential. Suddenly, it is, technically, palpably dangerous to do what we do. Suddenly, it has become reckless to gather people in a room and share things with them. Suddenly, the very thing that makes the performing arts so magical is the thing that makes them dangerous. Almost everyone I know in New York works in the performing arts in some capacity and almost everyone I know is in a state of absolute disarray. As show people, we are built with an intense drive for the show going on. We are used to pushing through any numbers of difficulties in order to make it to the stage. To have the stage pulled out from under us is counter to everything we feel in the very fiber of our beings. The show must go on! It can’t be cancelled! It goes on! Isn’t it better to do a show? Isn’t it always better to do a show than not do a show? Won’t the arts save us all? Not in this case, no. Not in the way we’re used to.

What’s happening for us is not just a crisis of economics (though it is that and quite a serious one at that) but also a crisis of faith. If the shows don’t go on, who are we? What is all this for? How can it not be good to gather a group of people together and share art with them? To laugh? To cry? To tap our toes to the beat together? To have our heartbeats sync up as we watch? How? How? How?

But, of course, in a pandemic, it is very bad for us all to be in a room together. I am interested in the connections we share with other things that have had to shut down recently. Sports and religious gatherings are experiencing the same unilateral canceling. We are all shut down together – all the things that bring people together, that unite us, are dangerous.

But this does not mean they are inessential. Things that bring people together, like the performing arts, like sports, like religion, are key to our survival, to our thriving as a species. It feels to me that in losing that ability of being all together in a unified state, I’ve come to appreciate it anew.

Sometimes, you may have noticed, I get a little cranky about theatre. I see shows and they make me angry and sometimes I tell you about it. I get mad – partly because I want shows to be better and partly because my ability to make shows has been hampered over the years so I get mad about shows that have a lot of resources and squander them.

But here we are in the middle of a pandemic and almost all theatres have been shut down. And it becomes instantly clear that I would rather watch the worst show there is (It’s Bike. You know it’s Bike.) over and over and over again than have no theatre at all.

For all my ranting, I do love the stuff and I’m sad for even the worst show that has closed. It suddenly feels very important to me to know that shows are running, even ones I’ll never see, even ones I hate.

I hope that when this is all over, there will be a renewed appreciation for the performing arts and their important place in our culture. We were all shaken by how quickly the entire theatre business was shut down here in New York. It was as if someone flicked a switch and thousands of people lost their jobs and thousands more lost their dreams. Like that. In an instant. But this doesn’t mean the arts are a frill that get dropped in a time of crisis. It’s just that being with people is what the performing arts are all about and suddenly being with people is dangerous and so the performing arts become the most dangerous. And not because theatre people are some of the most touchy feely people out here, either. It’s because a bunch of people breathing the same air is the heart and soul of the work – and right now that air is treacherous. So we have to stop.

But maybe, once this has passed, we can come to appreciate what we lost when the theatres went dark.

Maybe it doesn’t need to be as extreme as Station Eleven – where survivors form a community building Shakespeare company. Maybe we don’t have to wait for the destruction of civilization as we know it to support the performing arts. Maybe we can support them right now so that theatre spaces will be able to open again, that shows can continue their runs, that freelancers can survive this terrifying downturn. As this article in Vulture says, “As concert halls, theaters, and museums around the world go dark, we all need to move quickly to ensure that when it’s finally safe to emerge from our lairs, we still have a cultural life left to go back to.”

Personally, I’ve come up with a project to keep some theatre folk creatively engaged with a project that we can do from our homes. I was working on it prior to this disaster in another form and it just happens to be possible this way. So I’m just rolling forward on that and it’s already delighting me.

The skills that help us bring people together in real life are stepping up to help keep us together while we are separated. Here are two that I know about – The Social Distancing Festival and Musicals from Home. Many many theatre folk are going to find this social distance thing very very difficult (as I’m sure most people will – but I think it hits our community driven community especially hard.) I feel quite certain this will drive a lot of them to become very inventive to create distance community and whatever those inventions are will benefit us all in the long run.

There will be theatre when this is all over. And concerts. And dances. And hopefully we will all appreciate them and being with each other all the more.

Look at all these theatre kids touching each other. We can’t do this right now. And it sort of made me tear up just looking at them. Photo by Mauricio Kell via Pixabay

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me get through this no theatre time?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



A Bereft, Heartbroken, Furious, Hopeless, Bad Mood

 

The morning after Super Tuesday, I woke up with a song in my head. It’s a song I put on my feminist playlist a while ago and every time it comes around I think, “What is this? And what is it doing on this playlist?” Then the line about the glass ceiling comes along and I understand why it’s there but then I have to see who it is. Many times I have said, “Miley Cyrus? Really?!”

But now, I know “Bad Mood” so well, I will never forget again. I’ve been listening to it on solid repeat and I’ve been crying. I feel ridiculous about it but I am in a bad mood and feeling very discouraged about the possibility of any glass ceilings ever breaking. Miley Cyrus is, weirdly, helping me through it.

I know I shouldn’t take Warren’s losses to heart but I just can’t help it. I was invested in her and her candidacy and I hoped she would win. The good news is that I apparently haven’t lost the capacity for hope in this current climate. The bad news is that feeling hope can lead to a big let down. I’m accustomed to hope hangovers but this one is a doozy.

In this case, the hope led directly to a feeling of hopelessness. To see a candidate, as qualified and capable and clear and prepared as Warren, be rejected by so many American voters, and specifically Democratic, liberal voters, is just devastating. I think if it were just the rejecting, I’d be alright. But it’s not as simple as American voters rejecting my candidate. I’m here listening to “Bad Mood” on repeat, crying and trying to piece together why.

Sometimes, it’s little things – like some dumb Tweets before Super Tuesday suggesting Warren would make a good Secretary of Education or Secretary of the Treasury and should therefore have dropped out of the race. Those jobs may technically be prestigious but mostly it seemed like a way to suggest that a lady shouldn’t be in charge. Why can’t she just be a secretary like the other ladies? Why does she want to be President? She could serve the president instead. Maybe bring him his coffee.

There’s also the Methinks-They-Do-Protest-Too-Much-ers who say “Why do you have to bring gender into it? I’m not sexist, I just didn’t like this one.” If you think gender isn’t playing a role in your choice to choose man after man, you are fooling yourself about that “something” you happen to like over and over in men. (It’s unconscious bias and Rebecca Solnit wrote a great piece about it last year.) What you see as “leadership qualities” are actually gendered. You’re just missing it. I know there are plenty of people who chose the white man they did for very important reasons but a lot of people chose the white man they chose because they thought other people would choose him. This is called pluralistic ignorance and it’s basically everyone assuming everyone else is going to make the less sensible choice so they all make a choice they didn’t want together.

“Would you vote for someone just because they were a woman?” People love this one. And obviously the answer is no. I would not vote for Tulsi Gabbard or Marianne Williamson. I did not vote for Sarah Palin. But when a highly qualified woman shows up who could do the job better than I can even imagine, you bet your ass I’m going to vote for her. Millions of people DIDN’T vote for her because she’s a woman. Not because they’re sexist, no, but because they’re sure their neighbors are. In other words, while feminists get hell for voting for women, people are, en masse, choosing candidates because they are men. So, yes. Warren’s womanhood was a big factor in my enthusiasm to vote for her.

But guess what? I can’t. I couldn’t. Because our voting system is so ridiculous and disenfranchising, I didn’t get to cast a vote in the presidential primary and my choice was eliminated. And I feel absolutely cheated. (My sense of disenfranchisement is, by the way, nothing compared to people who lost their polling places and had to wait eight hours to vote. We have a lot to fix. Help Stacey Abrams defend voting rights here.)

When I started writing this post, it wasn’t yet clear what the Warren campaign was going to do. But, even before the nail was in the coffin of her candidacy, I knew a lot of people were going to be jerks about it. They were jerks about it immediately. Many of them are still being jerks. Almost every woman I know is grieving, deeply, and the internet is not helping the situation one bit. I started snoozing people on Facebook when someone implied that if we weren’t tough enough to take some abuse on the internet, then maybe our candidate shouldn’t be president. Oh, don’t get me started on the ways women are targeted on the internet. I don’t have the strength to break down how attacks on a female candidate can feel like surrogate attacks on her supporters. Suffice it to say that this shit is personal. Sometimes women can be afraid to say who they are supporting for fear of these much publicized attacks. It happened in 2016 and it happened just now, too. I’m struggling with how much misogyny there is to go around.

I mean, the guy most people voted for is a guy who has a LOUSY track record with women. And you might roll your eyes and say, “Oh, that touching thing? He’s just a touchy feely guy. Big deal. MeToo has gone too far!” But it’s more than him not respecting the bodily autonomy of women and children. He has, in his many positions in government made women’s lives harder. He threw Anita Hill under the bus and thereby threw women experiencing sexual harassment around the country under the bus and got a serial harasser on the Supreme Court – the repercussions of which we are still dealing with today. He sold out women’s reproductive rights in so many ways. Aside from his vigorous support of the Hyde and Hatch Amendments, he named an amendment after himself that would have limited foreign aid to biomedical aid that might connect to abortions. He liked that bill so much he named it after himself!

I mean, of course I’ll vote for him if he’s the nominee, of course I will, relax, ok? But for all the talk of women making progress (women getting elected to Congress, Women’s Marches, etc) – this is one area there’s been not even a hint of progress. For all the talk of #MeToo “going too far” – only a handful of people have experienced any real consequences. There’s just as much sexual harassment to go around, it’s just that now it includes the extra “joke” of a “I hope I don’t get #MeToo-ed!”

I’m just so mad. I’m mad, again, about the voters who said “I’m not sexist but I think other people will be.” Which is just…You’re right. They were. But you just voted for sexism. You were like, “Sexism, I see you and rather than fight you, I will encourage you by voting for you.” Thanks a fucking lot.

People are out here voting like it’s a horse race and they’re worried about the money they have on the winner. Actually that’s what IS happening for the democratic donor class – but if you don’t have actual money riding on these people, you can just vote for who you want! That’s ideally how it should go. But, no. Hordes of my fellow democrats felt that they needed to bet on a winner and now I’m not going to be able to vote for my choice in April. Thanks. Thanks a lot. You strategized my vote out from under me. And now I’m not just mad about Warren. I would love to have had a chance to wonder if I should vote for Julian Castro or Kamala Harris or Kirsten Gillibrand. But this system chewed them up, too.

I’m taking this all very personally. It feels like the world keeps inventing new ways to tell American women that we don’t matter. The 2016 election was the first major blow, the Kavanaugh hearings were the second and now this loss feels like the patriarchy held up the football for us and told us to kick it, go ahead, and then knocked us down like Charlie Brown.

Go ahead girls, you can do anything! You’re strong, you’re smart, you can achieve anything you set your minds to! Go for it! Except we’re going to put every possible obstacle in your way and when you fail we will make a long list of all the ways you failed. Girl Power! #GirlBoss #WomenOnTop

In addition to the Miley Cyrus song, I’ve found myself listening to Taylor Swift’s “The Man: as well. (Maybe because of this video of it featuring Warren. Don’t watch it if you don’t want to get sad.) I’ve been thinking about how odd it is that two of the major female pop stars of the last decade are expressing feminist ideas. It’s not that I thought that they didn’t experience sexism – more that I thought their success within the system would make them unlikely to challenge it. But age and experience makes feminists of even the strangest beneficiaries of the patriarchy. The rest of us might look at Swift and Cyrus and say they’re at the top of the pile but they know all the ways they have been held back and they’re old enough now to be brave and sing about them. What I’m trying to say is that even the world’s best #GirlBoss is still being held back by the patriarchy and she knows it. Taylor Swift may already be The Man by some standards but she knows how much more The Man she could be. I don’t think these are the ladies who will provide the anthem songs when American women finally reach absolute capacity for sexism and start a bloody revolution (Is it now? It’s not now, is it? I didn’t buy a machete yet!) but for this moment, when we’re looking at these large scale losses, they’re doing some #GirlConsoling.

Anyway – I read this article that came out this week that demonstrates that 9 out of 10 people are biased against women. So that’s nice. There are only 5 countries that have equitable sensibilities. America is, no surprise, not one of those countries. Not even close.

I don’t know what to do with this information. We are losing ground. Even the countries that experience equity are losing ground. It feels like there’s not much to hope for now. We can hope one of these white guys defeats the horrible white guy in the president’s chair and thereby maybe regain some of the footholds we had before – and we will, of course, work to do that. But –


Personally – and this is, really, all very personal…all I can do is write through it. This is long and messy and that is surely how my healing and mourning will go. I have less hope now than I did but it’s good to know I CAN hope after the blows we’ve experienced.

I could start falling into the conspiracy theorist’s tunnel here, if I let myself. You know the theory? It’s the one that recognizes how incredibly terrified of a Warren presidency so many special interest groups were. Warren’s plan to cancel student loan debt on the first day of her presidency was simple, clear and lays out exactly what would happen. When I saw the headline on her website, I thought, “Wow. That’s a big promise. How could she possibly do that?” Turns out, she’s spotted the way to use executive power to do it and she explains it step by step. It’s so clear, any president who doesn’t do it now is going to look like a real jerk. If the potential to have student debt canceled didn’t make the loan companies quake in their predatory boots, I’m not sure what would. The same is also true for a multitude of immoral businesses – like health insurers and Wall Street brokers. Many of whom are political donors. My conspiracy theory brain leads me to suspect that a lot of these places made sure that Warren’s campaign didn’t get coverage in a lot of media outlets.  So much so that they just left her out of their graphics of primary results. (What, is she the Gen X of Presidential campaigns?)

Or it could just be sexism. Just regular old boring sexism. Just everyday, every minute, every second sexism. Others have documented the many ways sexism tanked this campaign but for me, the bits that are most painful are the ways Warren’s language was so willfully misunderstood by the sexism machine. It feels like an attempt to gaslight voters – to tell them: “No, no, you’re NOT listening to a reasonable clear speech suggesting how we might change the world for the better, you’re listening to a shrill harpy with boundless craven ambition.” I think you’d need an Orwellian level of denial to see her that way but we are maybe moving ever closer to the 1984 style of denying your own eyes and ears so I guess that a little of that messaging actually fucking worked? And I suppose, one of the things that shakes me most is how it makes clear that this funhouse mirror is happening to all of us – even the ones who aren’t running for president. That is, even at my most reasonable and clear, I will be seen as bitchy and shrill. No matter what is actually happening. I used to think I could sweet talk my way out of gender bias. But now I understand that a lot of people have a filter that hears women’s voices as duplicitous, annoying and overly ambitious no matter who is speaking or what we are saying.

The bulk of the terrible media coverage was mostly just erasure and not the old school “but her emails” sort of thing. Leaving her out of highlight reels and lists and things was seemingly the most effective strategy. Maybe that’s because we’re not actually at peak “deny your eyes and ears” levels yet. So maybe that’s the good news?

There’s been a lot of great articles and a lot of press now that it’s safe to talk about Warren without risking actually having her give us health care. Here are some of my favorites from Lauren Duca, Megan Garber, and Elie Mystal. Warren is the most popular she’s ever been, now that she’s lost. Apparently this is a thing we do. In the closing of her book about the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister points out that women only win when they’re losing. Clinton’s popularity soars when she’s lost something. Gloria Steinem explained it to Traister this way. “It’s always been okay for women to sing the blues, just not so good for us to win. We all know deep in our hearts if we want to be loved we have to lose.”

Rachel Maddow managed to make me feel a little better when she asked Warren about all the women who are just “bereft” at this development – because that’s me, that’s so many women I know. Maddow included us in a national conversation – which felt sort of monumental in a moment wherein I feel as though I’m being reminded (again) of how little I matter. Warren’s loss made me feel as though I don’t matter as a woman and it made my actual vote not matter because I live in New York. I know I do matter and that my vote in April WILL matter to the man I choose to give it to – but wow, do I feel tossed aside! And learning that so many other women I know were also bereft, also paralyzed, also weeping, also raging, also just done, done, done…well, it helps.

I get it. I got it. The GOP have basically taken the country hostage by saddling us with this administration and blocking witnesses for the impeachment and refusing to vote on vital legislation. With this many guns to our heads, Democrats are not inclined to take risks. Rather than thinking about who would be the best at planning and negotiating our escape from our captors, American voters are just trying not to get shot. We’re all huddled together and Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan to get us out of here.” And a lot of people say, “Shhhhh. Why do you have to be so shrill?” and Joe Biden says, “I think I know these guys. I can talk to them.” And a lot of people seem to have made the calculus that the captors would like the candidate most like the captors themselves. And I don’t know. At the moment, I’m not thrilled about our odds of getting out of this hostage situation. Nor do I have any hope that I would ever be listened to with my lady “school marm” voice.

One of the reasons I find Warren’s loss in the primaries so distressing is because I hoped her competency, her passion and skill would shine through the sexist ocean we swim in and the country would follow her light out of the murk. I take this personally because I also have competencies, passions and skills that get obscured in the sexist ocean and if Elizabeth Warren can’t shine through, what the hell hopes have I? I’m not running for president but trying to survive in the arts has pretty low odds as well. After so many years of struggling and the patriarchal set backs of this hostage situation, I’ve lost a lot of my fight. I felt like I was just starting to get it back watching Elizabeth Warren take on the bad guys. I know she wants us all to keep fighting and of course, we will – but I don’t feel very up to the task right now. Which is why I need “Bad Mood,” I guess. The lyrics aren’t particularly deep but they do the job. Here are some of them.

And you know I’m never giving up
I ain’t stopping till I know I’m free

Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
Oooh, I wake up in a bad mood
The glass ceiling’s gotta break
All together, want to hear you say
I don’t know how much more I can take

You know it’s gone on way too long
And you know it’s wrong
But I know I’m strong
I don’t give up
And when it gets rough
I get tough
I’ve had enough


This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me keep fighting?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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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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