Songs for the Struggling Artist


One Woman’s Dystopia Is Another Man’s Utopia, I guess.

The day that Frat Boy McRapeFace was confirmed to the Supreme Court, when my dining companion asked me what I wanted to eat, I said Senator Grassley’s heart. Not that I’m 100% sure Grassley has one, but assuming there’s at least a little dried up something there, I would like to take a big bite of it then spit it out on the Senate floor.

I’m a little bit upset, I guess you could say. Earlier in the day, I watched the police mobilize and prepare to arrest the women who were protesting on the steps of the capital on the Women’s March livestream. I watched the police line up. I watched them strategize. The troops were mostly men in uniform with their zip tie cuffs – the protestors were mostly women, fully prepared to put their bodies between a rapist and the supreme court seat.

It was a stark illustration of who has authority and who does not. All day and all evening I tried not to sink into despair about the continuing kleptocracy in our country. It feels better to rage than to despair – but despair is close the surface. Living with corruption in every corner of the federal government is taking a bigger toll than I ever imagined.

Anyway – it was already hard. Then that night, at 1 am, these guys somewhere outside who had been indiscriminately yelling for a while started chanting some racist stuff. They chanted: (“F— you, Obama. F— you, Obama. F— you, n—-s.”) I was shocked. And terrified. I mean – I was safe in my apartment, of course. They were out there and I was inside and they weren’t coming for me. But groups of men engaged in hate like that are terrifying for a lot of us – even from a distance.

I felt like I’d stumbled into some horrific dystopian novel that I absolutely did not choose. I mean, I moved to NYC in 1999 and I have never heard anything like that anywhere before. I have heard people shout all kinds of hateful things at each other but never like that. And it felt like the events of the day had unleashed this horrific behavior that had somehow lain dormant, even these last couple of years. It was the final release valve, I guess. I went from fierce dragon to terrified maiden in a minute – not because I thought this pack of douchebags would come for me – but because so many of them have just been empowered – with no obvious check on their behavior. I later learned that that same weekend, hateful anti-immigrant posters had gone up all over Sunnyside, Queens. Were the perpetrators celebrating their racist postering back in my neighborhood? Was that their victory party? Or was that an entirely different group of racist douchebags? Then, too, similar propaganda popped up at liberal arts colleges, where, like in Queens, they are decidedly unwelcome. It all feels of a piece. The final release valve of douchebaggery has been let go. They can take their misdeeds all the way to the Supreme Court apparently.

Roving packs of douchebags have always run rough shod over America but any sense of consequence on their behavior has just been removed. That is why I cried my face off when I heard them across the courtyard.

But if they have been released, they have also been revealed. We know where those racists live. The GOP can no longer pretend to care about women. They can no longer get away with their Benevolent Sexist Protectionist bullshit. They have revealed their cards and they have hands full of bluffs. It is clear that the America they dream of is one where we let the white men do all the shouting and governing, where they can rape and rob with impunity, where consequences only exist for the rest of us. They remain the kings. The rest of us are only here to serve.

As I watched this vision of the future dystopia emerge, I wondered if this is really what they want. Is this the Republican dream? Maybe it is. Maybe white supremacists shouting in the middle of the night is utopia for them. Maybe a depleted environment full of polluted rivers and flattened mountain tops is their fantasy. Maybe all the dystopian stories we read, they see as utopias. The Hunger Games? A story of a pain-in-the-ass girl who disrupts a perfectly balanced authoritarian state. The Handmaid’s Tale? A manual for how to create and maintain a religious autocracy – disrupted by a woman who just won’t obey.

Their dream of America is my nightmare. In their dream, women lose all bodily autonomy, immigrants lose their children and only old rich white men have power and resources. Prior to the last couple of years, I would have thought that the holocaust was a universally dystopian time. But even that horrific hellscape was and is utopian for some.

And very probably my utopian dream for America would be a nightmare to them. In mine, women finally gain equality and have total ownership of their own bodies. Women are believed and respected. There is wage equality, racial equality, economic justice. In my America, people come together from all over the world and are welcomed. Trans people and people with disabilities are especially honored and cherished. We delight in diversity and put our resources in things like the arts and education. In my utopian America, we care for each other. We look out for the most vulnerable. We prioritize caring for the natural world.I know it won’t be easy to get there – especially now – but it does feel important to hold on to a kinder vision of the world I want to live in.

Kavanagh’s confirmation may have signaled to everyone, white supremacists and douchebags included, that we’re headed to that dystopian future. But maybe just, just maybe we can pull it back – to hold tight to a sense of possibility even as the racists and sexists emerge from under their rocks with celebratory screaming.

The thing of it is, a week later, I have figured out what I ought to have done. Instead of trembling and not sleeping for hours, I could have sung into the night. I had gotten all caught up in trying to come up with a scary sound – a dragon roar, a wolf growl – but my voice can be just as loud as the douchebags – particularly when I am singing. I’m sure my neighbors hear me singing all the time (though I try to pretend they don’t) and I know that in the same way that I know there’s an opera singer in an apartment nearby. I know she can be louder than those racist douchebags. What I’m trying to work out now is what exactly to sing in these dystopian situations. It feels key to sing something, if not for myself, then for all the people in my neighborhood who are more vulnerable to attack.

My first thought was to make up a song – something to call to my fellow women outside, something they could join me in singing. I found myself inventing a little ditty called “Ladies, Don’t Fuck a Racist.” However, I realized as I walked past my neighbor’s door, that there were quite a few young children in the buildings near us and maybe this wouldn’t be the best way to support them, even if it might feel vaguely cathartic.

But what is the answer? How to drown out the voices of racist douchebags with the voices of women and their allies? How can we make the racists know we hear them and do not approve and empower our targeted neighbors? What song invites joining in to defeat the forces of hate? I feel like I want a plan in place, in case we really are in a dystopia and this keeps happening. I want a song ready to go so I can skip the maiden trembling and the visions of dystopia and go straight to raising my voice.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one on Anchor, 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, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to help me raise my voice against the rising dystopia?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Advertisements


Art by the Numbers (or Six Ways to Really Support Artists)

When I stepped away from my acting career, the first arts project I got into was my alterna-folk-pop band, Bright Red Boots. It was the first time I’d had to ask for people’s attention, the first time I had to gather an audience. It wasn’t easy, but between the four of us, we managed to pull in enough people to keep getting booked at a handful of venues. Handing out and sending postcards made me uncomfortable but that’s the way we did it, really. There were a lot of venues we couldn’t play because we couldn’t draw a big enough crowd and that has been the story of my life as a generative artist ever since.

When I started a theatre company, the problem of bringing in an audience wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at first and also, at first, it wasn’t that hard. With a fairly large company of actors and creative team, we managed to fill up our first small Brooklyn house most of the time and didn’t do badly at filling up a big theatre in an out of the way venue during the Fringe. But as time has gone by, pulling audiences in to see anything has become more and more challenging.

Around about the time we had to cancel two shows in Edinburgh because no one showed up, I started to dream of not having to worry about bringing in an audience. I wanted to just make things and not worry about who received them. I tried posting things on the internet, thinking this is just how we do things now, thinking that it’s all just clicks and likes and maybe the digital realm will be less concerned with popularity than the time-based live performing arts can be.

And, well…I discovered a kind of indifference I never thought possible. Despite the vastness of my POTENTIAL audience on the internet, I generally draw just about the same numbers that I used to draw in person. Very few people give a damn about what I get up to.

How few? I have two podcasts. One averages 13 listens per episode. The other averages 15. This is almost exactly the number of people I can manage to get into a theatre these days if I put on a show. This blog is definitely the most popular thing that I do because, occasionally, when some post is a hit, the numbers rise into triple digits briefly. (Once, they went up to 4 digits. Once.) But then it goes back down to my usual 6-16 readers. Music? Hmmm. I put out 4 albums this year and sold 5. Not 5 per album. 5 total. I would probably have sold a few more but my main supporters (my 16 Patreon patrons) got them for free as a thank you gift for their support. Songs on Spotify average 15 plays. I’ve written around twenty plays and probably 15 people have seen more than one of them. And I want you to know how much I appreciate those 15 people who have viewed or listened or bought or come to see shows. Those people are my heroes. Those people know how to support the arts. They know how to support me. (If you’re one of the 15, I thank you!) And truthfully, I know it’s more than 15 altogether. It’s more like 15 people at a time. The total is probably more like – I don’t know – 50? 60?

But I’m not going to lie – sometimes I get very discouraged that generally only 15 people at a time care about what I do. This is why I had to write a post for myself called No One’s Asking for Your Art.

So much of the artistic world these days is valued by the numbers. The box office numbers of movies are reported like important news stories. We measure if a movie is good by how many people go to see it on opening weekend. (Which is absurd, by the way. The only thing those numbers are an accurate reflection of is how effective the marketing plan was.) We have a 1% problem in the arts, just as we do in greater economics. There are a small handful of artists at the top, with big numbers (millions of downloads, books sold, tickets sold, etc.) and the rest of us limp by with our 15.

Here in America, we treat popularity as if it’s quality. (And of course this is a factor in our politics as well.) We assume that if lots of people like a thing then it must be good. (All over NYC, taxis advertising the musical Frozen proclaim it “a serious megahit” – which tells us nothing except that a lot of tickets were sold.) And we ALSO assume that if very few people like a thing then it must NOT be good. And if you think we artists don’t internalize that metric and make ourselves miserable, you probably don’t know a lot of us artists.

I have to constantly check myself on this point. When I’m disappointed that only 15 people looked at some thing I made, I remind myself that numbers are not a sign of quality. I remind myself that there are hundreds of thousands of white supremacist assholes. Those guys are very popular. Before his account was suspended, Milo Yannopolis had 300,000 followers on Twitter. Popularity has NOTHING to do with quality. NOTHING. Not one thing.

I always think about this episode of This American Life where they interviewed these conceptual artists who hired a market research firm and then made art by the numbers they received. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before (I am obsessed) but the deal is that they polled people about what they liked most in music and in visual art and then made pieces that were the MOST popular things and the LEAST. And the most popular song is bland and unmemorable. It’s about love and features a saxophone. It sounded like everything else on the radio at the time. The least popular song is a tour de force. I think about it all the time. I get parts of it stuck in my head. The opera singer rapping cowboy lyrics over a tuba is extraordinary. (It’s here if you need to hear it.)

It feels as though so many aspects of our lives have just been reduced to numbers, to how many clicks something gets or units sold or whatever. Even our journalism is caught up in it. Have you wondered why the New York Times has been posting so many kooky opinion pieces the way I have? Well, as Michelle Woolf pointed out – a share is a share is a share. (Seriously watch her video about this – it’s illuminating and funny.)

We make no distinction of quality – is this a good piece of work? A good show? A good movie? A good song?

If lots of people clicked on it – it must be, right? It’s the free market, right? Don’t we live in a meritocracy where the cream rises to the top? We don’t. Sorry. And it’s not even a free market. Let’s take music, for example. Watching this video made it crystal clear to me why songs became popular. (Short version – it’s extreme exposure coupled with audio manipulated for maximum loudness.) They became popular, not because people liked them but because executives decided to make them popular and so they are.

Which, you know, that would all be fine with me if the folks making work at the other end of the spectrum weren’t limping along with only 15 views or whatever. I feel like there should be room for all of us but somehow there isn’t.

I have no idea what’s to be done about it but if you’re wondering how to make the most difference to those who continue to make work in the face of impossible odds, I do have some suggestions.

1) Read, Listen to, Watch, Go to people’s work. Even if you don’t love it. The support you give now to an artist may lead to work you do love in the future. Or it may not. But your view, your click, your ticket sale, your presence will make a huge difference to someone who is used to indifference. Subscribe to their email lists, click on their links, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter and Instagram.

2) Respond to what you see with love, kindness and support. Even if you don’t love every aspect of what you see. Just some acknowledgement that the work’s message was received means a lot.

3) Boost these folks as much as you’re able. I know it’s exhausting sharing stuff all the time. But know that your cheerleading for a struggling artist has a much bigger impact than cheerleading for something everyone is already talking about. Example: You loving a Marvel movie is great. But everyone’s already going to superhero movies. They really don’t need the boost. You’re one of millions. You loving your friend’s short film? You’re one of 15. Be that person. That’s impact. I’m not saying you shouldn’t post about how much you loved Wonder Woman but maybe complement it with another post about an actual wonder woman you know.

4) If you hate something, you don’t need to say anything. Obscurity will take care of it, believe me. It’ll take care of the good stuff, too, unfortunately but —a share is a share is a share. You’ll actually boost the thing you hate if you talk about it.

5) If you can afford to: buy their book, buy their album, buy tickets to their show, even if you don’t particularly want to read the book or listen to the album or see the show. As I learned form this article – even super well established published authors have trouble selling their books to their loved ones. If someone you know wrote a book – buy it. And give it to someone if you don’t want it. Impress your friends by giving them a copy of your other friend’s book!

6) If you have some extra cash, you can go to the top level of support with something like Patreon. Helping an artist pay their rent is one of the most supportive acts of kindness. Patronage doesn’t have to be big. Someone giving a dollar a month to an artist gives not only the $12 a year but also a gesture of faith – of belief in the value of whatever that artist does. My Patreon patrons have made the things I’ve made in the last couple of years possible. They are why I can write these words now.

 

If you can only do one thing – start with number one. Just watch, show up, go, listen, view. (I heard about someone who sets their Spotify account on their friends’ albums and sets them to repeat all night while they’re asleep.) It’s exponentially more valuable to an artist like me to see that someone clicked on my work than it is to Taylor Swift. She deals in millions. I deal in multiples of 5. By the numbers, your share is more valuable to me. And a share is a share is a share.

Am I great at this? Nope. I’m not. I’d like to be better though. I actively try. But most artists I know are better at this than others – mostly because we know how it feels. Unfortunately, us liking each other’s work doesn’t always translate to the wider world. We need fans. We need cheerleaders. We need advocates. You don’t have to do it for every artist you know. Maybe pick one and be that one artist’s champion. It will mean more than you can imagine to that person. I have a couple of people like this and I appreciate them more than I can possibly say.

I’m not trying to say that only 15 people are ever interested in what I do. Sometimes I get a hit. But most of the time – 15 is the average. And I feel like I’m telling you this now because I know I am not the only one. Many of the artists I know are in a similar position but most of us work very hard to create an illusion that our numbers are much higher than they are. We’re not doing this to con anyone. We just know that human beings tend to gravitate toward popular things. To sell tickets to a show, tell people it’s selling out fast. Every theatre producer knows this.

Here are some reasons that people have given me for reading, watching, listening to my work: “Because you’ll be famous one day,” “because I want you to thank me in your Oscar speech,” “because I want to say I knew you when.” These are all investments in a future where my numbers are so big that the person is glad they got in at the ground floor. I used to try and capitalize on this instinct – to try and project an image of “I’m going places!” But I find I can’t get on board with this idea anymore. Not because I don’t have faith in my work but because I think possible fame in the future is a lousy reason to support artists.

It is unlikely I will be famous one day. But something I do might influence someone who will be famous one day or who is already famous. Or, more important to me: something I do might contribute to the culture, might influence another artist to make something great, might inspire someone to create extraordinary things.

In order to get just 15 views, sometimes we will create an aura of success. I have been known to say things like “bloggers over on WordPress love this!” when three bloggers have clicked the like button. I’m not lying. Three bloggers is more than usual for me. But I also understand that I’m putting a little bit of a shine on a situation while trying to boost my views.

When I began in theatre, I didn’t know almost everyone was bluffing. I thought everyone’s career was really going great! I didn’t know that theatre people are always having a great year no matter what is actually happening. I also didn’t know art wasn’t meritocratic yet. I didn’t know how much more important process and artistic integrity would be to me than “success.”

But I digress. I’m telling you about this because I want you to understand that even the artist who is projecting an air of cool, could probably still use your support. Unless your artist friend is Beyonce, they’re probably struggling to get more than 15 people’s eyes or ears on each of their things. Click, show up, be a patron. It’s good for artists. And good for art.

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 Anchor, 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, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to be a top supporter?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Sometimes I Need Applause

My life in the arts began with performance. I also wanted to be a writer but it was theatre that tipped the balance. From the first time I stood on a stage, I was besotted. As the tightrope walker in the first grade circus, I pretty much just tiptoed in a line on the stage but pretending to be doing more was a thrill. The applause was intoxicating. I loved performing. Passionately. Talent shows were MY time. I got into plays as soon as I possibly could. The response was immediate and applause felt better than just about anything else ever.

Having a performing career however did not feel as good as I had hoped it would. The moments onstage and in rehearsal were sometimes euphoric, sometimes routine and sometimes devastating – and all of that was the best of it. The rest of it was the worst and it’s why I more or less gave it up.

I started recording songs in my living room when I didn’t know how else to comfort myself in 2016 – but despite the performative craft and context, singing for a microphone is not, in fact, performing. There is no audience in front of me. There is no immediate return on the energy given. There is no applause.

I started to think about this distinction of experience after I released the albums of the songs that came out of my podcast. As I prepared to send the first one into the world, I had a sense of excitement, an anticipation. I wondered what would happen.

And then I released it. And nothing happened. Like, no response. Not for weeks, actually. Dropping an album was less like dropping balloons into a party and more like dropping something off a cliff. For a performer used to working in a live medium, the lag time between sending something out and seeing a return was shocking. I did it 4 times this year, with four albums and each one was a similar non-event. The same is true for podcasts, my fiction and the blog. The response tends to happen on its own time. If people say anything at all (and they probably won’t) it will be weeks or months down the line. This is an aspect of making things that is taking me some getting used to. It is a completely different model of creation.

I’m very happy to not have to depend on an audience’s immediate reaction to something anymore and to not have to first gather a large group of people into a room to do something is great but I do miss applause.

I feel silly about it but I have a performance’s heart. I felt sad a few weeks ago and I was trying to understand it and found myself telling my partner that maybe I just needed some applause and he gave me some and darned if I didn’t feel better.

I mean, maybe sometimes it’s just that simple. Sometimes I just need applause. Not everyone does. My partner, for example, has no interest in applause – but luckily was happy to provide some for me. I’m curious to learn how those of you who work primarily in non-time-based media handle the lag between release and response. Do you have methods for managing the wait as people listen or read, slowly, at their own pace (as they should, of course!) Or do you just find nice people to applaud for you occasionally? Or maybe you don’t need applause at all? I wish I were like that. But I have to acknowledge just how valuable applause is to this former elementary school pretend tightrope walker.

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 Anchor, 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, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Want to give me some consistent applause?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 



Mature
July 20, 2018, 9:27 pm
Filed under: age, art, clown, comedy, music, theatre | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have arrived at the point in my career wherein people are starting to call my work “mature.” It has happened with my playwriting. It has happened with my singing. And I do not like it. In both of these instances, “mature” seemed to be meant as a compliment. “Mature” is not (yet) code for “old” – but meant to suggest a kind of complexity and evolution. I think. So why don’t I like it? Surely I want my work to mature, right? I want my work to age like a good cheese or a fine wine, don’t I?

Don’t I? I don’t know. I’m trying to understand why “maturing” doesn’t please me. At the heart of my discomfort of it is the dismissal of what came before. If this play is mature, it suggests that the plays that came before were immature, just little adolescent saplings running around untethered. It implies a kind of linear artistic development and I just don’t think such a thing exists. An artistic life does not travel in a straight line. It circles. It comes back around to ideas from the past and brings them to the future.

It’s like this conversation my partner and I had about Shakespeare. He noticed that sometimes when scholars don’t have definitive evidence for when a play was written, some of them will group the plays thematically. That is, they think because Shakespeare wrote a play about fathers and with disobedient daughters in one year, that that would suggest the undated father-daughter play would be around the same time. To me, that’s bananas. While certainly we all have our artistic phases where we obsess over one thing for awhile – we also have artistic touchstones, ideas that we return to again and again, ideas that we investigate anew from a new place in the life circle.

And maybe that’s why I find the idea of maturity so uninteresting. I mean, Shakespeare, again, is a good example of this. Some might say Hamlet is his most “mature” play. It sits at the top of achievement in Western literature. And yet it sits right in the middle of his career. Probably written in 1600, Shakespeare had many more plays to write after that one. Some of those plays are very silly and some of them are quite wild (including my favorite, Cymbeline.) Which are the most “mature”?

Maybe it’s my clown training but I am not particularly interested in maturity. Maturity has airs of seriousness, waves of severity that just don’t connect with my sense of play. When someone calls me immature, they are usually pointing out my irreverence, silliness or non-conformity. I value all those things tremendously.

I know maturity doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve lost my irreverence but maturity smells like mothballs to me. What I hope people who tell me my voice has matured (either metaphorically or literally) mean is that my stuff is complex, layered and interesting. I sometimes get called “wise,” too. And I like that just fine. I like it a lot, actually. Because there is always space for a wise fool.

I suppose, too, that I can’t help but keep returning to the idea that labeling my current work as “mature” suggests that my previous work is less than. And I just don’t appreciate any compliments for my newborn that insult my previous creative children.

I don’t mean to make anyone self conscious about giving me compliments. I don’t receive quite enough of them to start getting picky about them. Believe me, I sincerely thanked every person who called my work “mature” because it feels appropriate to accept a compliment in the spirit it was given, even if it has an odor of backhandedness about it.

I will say, though, that no one has seen enough of my body of work to make such a judgment. The only human to have a thorough enough experience of my oeuvre would be my mother. She’s the only one who’s seen enough of it to make that call. And I think the last time she called me “mature” was when I was a teenager. (I was very mature then. I’m not sure I am anymore! )

So, if you are tempted to call someone’s work mature, maybe dig a little deeper. What do you mean?

Is the work complicated? Layered? Deep? Rich?

I mean – let’s look at wine and cheese. We don’t stop at describing a wine or cheese mature. We call it nutty or grassy or robust or smooth.

I would be so delighted to have my work described with the subtlety of wine or cheese descriptions. Some of my work may be mature. It may be immature. Neither of those categories is useful to me. Call it robust or nutty, though? I’m gonna eat that up.

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 Anchor, 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, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help support both my maturity and immaturity

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 

 

 



Why I’m Thinking about Lullabies So Much

There was news of a juvenile detention center, where horrific abuses of immigrant children had happened. It’s happening in many places – but this one was in a town twenty minutes from where I grew up. It was in the same town that my play (about a community in the midst of an immigration clamp down) might have been produced had I made it out of the finals. I asked myself: What would I do if I was there in that place? How could I respond if I lived in that small town? And I thought – well, I guess I’d go sit outside and sing lullabies to those kids locked up in there.

Why lullabies? Children who’ve been separated from their parents are traumatized and a lot of the things I’ve read suggest that protestors going and shouting only makes things scarier for them. They have no way of knowing the shouting is in support of them. A lullaby is the most basic expression of support and safety. Those kids mothers’ would want them to at least be able to be soothed or go to sleep.

A few years ago, a friend told me she wished I was nearby so I could sing some lullabies to her son. So I recorded the songs she wished I was there to sing and after meeting her son, I wrote one especially for him. As more babies were born to my friends, I have written more lullabies for those children and each of them was directly connected to that particular child and their parents. A good lullaby can speak directly to the unique bond between parents and children as they go through the rituals of going to sleep.

I thought – maybe I should learn a lullaby or two in Spanish, add it to the repertoire and have it at the ready should I ever need to go sing outside a detention center. I wondered what a separated family would want to hear or would want to sing. And then a song just floated by me and I caught it. I had not intended to write a song for lost children but I imagined what a mother would sing to a child who was lost, if she couldn’t be there herself. And so there was a song.

Simultaneously, I can’t stop thinking about Salman Rushdie’s novel, Midnight’s Children, and how all of the kids, born at the moment of India’s Independence, share a common bond, a common thread and are connected telepathically. I thought – these separated children are like that – torn from their families in the same awful time and all the experts say that reuniting them with their families will be next to impossible. But maybe they’ll somehow find each other in ten years – and that is, children will find other likewise traumatized children and there will be a powerful uprising of spirit. Maybe there will be a Central American Saleem who connects them. I don’t know – that’s a YA novel or TV series down the road. But how could they come together, what could unite them? Probably music, I thought.

Anyway – I recorded the song that came to me, set it up to donate proceeds to the Women’s Refugee Commission. I asked my friend in Uruguay to help me translate into Spanish and figured I’d just record that (maybe with her) when we finished. I’d learn a few Spanish songs, record them, maybe sing them somewhere and that would be extend of it.

I swear I thought I was mostly done with this. But then I thought of activists around the country outside of foster centers and camps and god knows where and thought wouldn’t it be great if we had an album of lullabies they could sing or play for the children inside.

And then I thought – even better – we get the parents to record the lullabies they sing to their children and play THOSE outside centers. Because there is no sound in the world more powerful to anyone than the sound of their parents’ voices. They are our first sounds. Their lullabies are our closest link to them. Perhaps it could even help to re-unite a family or two.

I was about to tweet out a request that people record separated parents’ lullabies – even just on the voice apps on their phones and send them to me and then I’d make an album of Lullabies for Lost Children.

But then I realized how enormous such a project could become. There are thousands of missing children (or missing parents, depending on which side you’re sitting on.) And it’s not just this current crisis either. Families are separated around the world and I suddenly wanted a lullaby bank where we stored lullabies worldwide and helped bring together the singer and the sung to.

Anyway – I don’t (yet) have the resources for a lullaby bank and I’m not Alan Lomax so I’m not trained in collecting songs from people. But perhaps the next Lomax is out there and maybe someone with more resources than me and better, more mobile recording equipment than I have, wants to help me make this happen.

But meanwhile, if you know someone who has been separated from their family, maybe ask if you can record them singing a lullaby they sang their child. I’ll happily be the custodian of such a treasure until such time as the treasures grow beyond my scope.

For now…I’ll continue my project of learning Spanish lullabies but I hope one day to get to hear lullabies in indigenous languages and in Syrian Arabic and sub-Saharan African languages as well. And I will continue to hope that the music really could bring people together. Given that so many millions of people around the world listened to “Despacito”, for example, we could probably reach someone. Even one re-united family would be worth it.

You can donate directly to the Women’s Refugee Commission here.

 

 

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 Anchor, 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, an album of Love Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me catch the ideas that float by

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



Spotify for Good or Ill. For Good and Ill.

For a little while, I felt righteous and superior because I didn’t have or use Spotify. I knew their reputation for underpaying artists and felt I had the moral high ground by not participating in it. But then I saw it in action. I saw how it was an incredible library of music. I saw how it was more expansive than any music library I had ever spent time in (and I have spent time in a few.) It is an incredible resource. And while it fails to do it adequately, it does, unlike many other platforms, attempt to give back to the artists in its library.

I think Spotify is actually a useful example of an increasingly urgent crisis point developing in our new modern world. It has all the good and all the bad rolled up in one.

For the good: As a person who cares about music, Spotify offers a world I would never have access to without it. While researching material for my children’s book, I explored the music of Mesopotamia, Somalia, Lithuania, Sudan, Iran and more. All of which was available to me within seconds. That so much music of the world is at my fingertips is an absolute miracle of the modern age. My new favorite artist thanks to exploring on Spotify, is a Malian woman who lives in France.

Is it possible I could have stumbled upon her at a local record shop? Sure. That’s how I fell in love with Cuban hip-hop band, The Orishas and got into Afro-Peruvian music – by hearing them played at The Tower Records I was browsing in.

But. Tower Records is gone and my CD player isn’t even plugged in anymore. I don’t think we’re going back – even if there is a revitalization of vinyl and the kids listen to cassettes ironically or whatever – I don’t think Tower Records is coming back. I think we now have to reckon with a digital musical world. For good or ill. For good and ill.

The ill is how Spotify‘s dominance in music means the extreme diminishment of musicians. People don’t buy albums of music anymore because they don’t have to. Why pay for something when you can hear it on demand for free? It’s easier, it’s less fussy, you can just listen to everything you love in one place. Why would you pay when you don’t have to?

And many a listener comforts their feeling of guilt at listening via Spotify by thinking about Spotify’s pay per listen situation. They’re thinking – well, an artist is getting compensated every time I listen to a song. Having recently joined Spotify as an artist, I too, thought I’d be pulling in a little bit of something that way. But Spotify doesn’t tell you how much you’ll get. When they gave me my artist page, they said nothing about money. From my band’s previous digital distribution deal, I know we once made .01 per listen. It’s doubled now to .02.

I read about an artist who just retired from music. Her quarterly statement was for around 14,000 streams and she made around $15. My digital distributor just sent me my first earnings statement for my current music on multiple platforms. For 126 streams, I made 55 cents. It’s going to be a long long time until I pay off the $20 per album I spent to be on the digital platform. And to keep an album on Spotify next year, I’ll need to pay double what I paid this year. It is definitely a money losing proposition to be there.

As an artist on Spotify, I love that it tells me where people are listening. It delights me to know that, this month, people in Sweden, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, South Africa, Finland and more are listening to stuff I recorded in my living room. That is very cool. It makes me feel like a citizen of the larger world. Spotify has a way of making the world smaller.

That smallness of the world is one of the major changes the digital age has brought us. We can’t pretend that what we do in our small corner of the world doesn’t have an impact elsewhere. Donny Twimp is happening to everyone all over the world – not just us Americans. Those who voted for Brexit might be said to have voted for a return to their pre-digital village life. Perhaps they wanted to return to a world where they could pretend that only those within their immediate area mattered. But there is no putting this global genie back in the bottle, for good or ill, for good or ill, for good and ill.

That’s why the “America First” idea is so absurd (not to mention a slogan from the Nazis in America during actual Nazi time.) Anything that happens here, happens everywhere just the way a company like Spotify, started in Sweden, can change the entire landscape of music in the world. We have to figure out a way to embrace the wonders and the ease of this new emerging world and also support the unintended consequences. Spotify has played a giant role in the elimination of the musician middle class. The CEO of Spotify is now a billionaire. People who once could make a living from music have had to stop. This means that the bulk of money being made on music is coming from one of the three remaining record corporations – and most of the hit songs are written by the same handful of guys.

While music still means big money for those corporations, it is not good for music as a whole. And Spotify’s business model makes it worse. The music it pushes via its individualized playlists are the songs paid for by the corporations. Spotify suggests what the corporations pay it to suggest. Playlists are how Spotify makes the wheels turn. When someone puts you on a popular playlist – that’s when the wheels start turning. So what is the solution? Opt out of Spotify? You could. But at this point, it’s like opting out of an iPhone or social media. It’s not unheard of – but I’m not sure it makes much difference. In a way, the die has been cast. The musician middle class is already decimated.

Can we count on a corporation to do the right thing? I doubt it.

Should we shame people into buying music they don’t want to own? I see people trying that strategy and it doesn’t seem to work. I also feel like maybe the notion of owning music in the first place is kind of odd. We’re trying to downsize our things and our environmental footprint, right? Consume less. Make less plastic, etc. So. No. Shaming people into buying instead of streaming doesn’t seem like a great way to proceed.

It seems to me that aren’t a lot of good options here….and this problem isn’t just with music – this is for so many other things. But as Jaron Lanier pointed out – musicians (and journalists) are the canaries in the coal mine. In the last year or so, we’ve seen a revitalization of journalist outlets – but I don’t expect that that surge is a lasting change and I don’t know if such a thing is possible for music. I think this moment probably calls for a radical restructuring of how we do everything. Idea: a Universal Basic Income – everyone can have all the music they want for free if musicians could live and create without worrying about basic survival.

One of Jaron Lanier’s books offered a technological solution – and I’m not a technologist so I don’t have an idea of how this would actually work. But he proposed that digital code include a little tag back to the creator of that thing so that when that thing were shared or played or downloaded, its creators would see a bit of a return on that. There’s something about this idea that has really stuck with me, though I read the book years ago now. There is a sense of justice to it that we don’t have in the current model of things.

More and more things that we used to have to pay for are now free for us to use. We can listen to music for free on Spotify (and not just Spotify. Amazon, Google and Apple are now in the streaming game as well.) We can use a free robot lawyer via DoNotPay. We can access therapy via digital therapists. We are entertained for free via YouTube or our trial subscription movie/TV services. We read our news for free (as long as we clear our caches.)

And once people can get a thing for free, they are then unlikely to pay for it. I don’t think we can expect people to suddenly start donating to their newspaper of choice or paying for TV shows. We’ve tried to fund the arts through crowdfunding but it’s about as effective as trying to crowdfund an entire nation’s healthcare. Single companies have tremendous power to change the landscape of entire swaths of the world in record time. Spotify, a Swedish company, is making massive amounts of money while artist make massively less.

In my own artistic practice, I benefit greatly from a handful of extraordinary people who subsidize my work for the others who get it for free. It’s a bit like the Public Radio model – a handful of listeners donate so that the others can listen. My patrons keep me going so I can live to write another day. Which might sound a little melodramatic – but that’s essentially what’s at stake. If you like music and like to be able to hear more than the manufactured beats of a handful of Euro dudes – you have to help keep those musicians alive. Dead musicians don’t make music. And hungry ones don’t make the best music they can. If there’s no money to be made in music, then your musicians will be too busy trying to scrounge up a living to be able to give you the music you love.

But what are we supposed to do? Spotify is a great way to hear music but it’s destroying musical cultures around the world. Facebook is a great way to connect with the people we care about but it’s destroying our democracy. Amazon was once just a great way to get books your local bookseller couldn’t carry but now it’s destroying one brick and mortar business after another, gutting Main streets and shopping districts. It’s not as simple as deleting Facebook or not using Spotify because whatever digital behemoth we take down, another will rise in its place.

We are in a very sticky situation and have been for some time. Me? I look to the people who were part of creating the digital world  to help us out of it. They are at the forefront of both recognizing what trouble we’re in and offering ideas about how to fix it. For example, governmental regulation is very high on a lot of their lists.

New York magazine just published this extraordinary article about all this called The Internet Apologizes and it is bracing and important reading. We don’t have to delete Facebook or Spotify or Amazon or Twitter or whatever – at least not yet – but we do have to figure out how to hold them accountable for the changes they create in our greater world. And we need to stay awake and aware and get really creative about how to have things like the world’s greatest music library without destroying the lives of some of the world’s greatest musicians.

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, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help keep me going

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Keith Richards Wouldn’t Worry About His Bra

Like magic, a sparkly pink electric guitar came into my life a few months ago. It came to me with no amp, no chords, no case – just its sparkly pink self. And even though I’ve played guitar for a couple of decades, I had never played an electric before. It was a whole new world. I learned power chords, y’all. Before I started messing around with this, I did not even know what power chords were. I think I thought they were just regular chords you played real loud. I was stunned to realize that a lot of what all those big hair guitar dudes were doing on TV was not actually that hard. It was a whole lot easier than the finger-picking folk guitar I was used to, at least.

Anyway – the guitar was one thing. But then I got an amp.

I had been playing plugged in to my computer– and you know, it was cool – but when I got an amp, well, the whole world just cracked wide open. And it wasn’t just the amp, y’all – no. See, what happened was, on the morning my amp arrived and I plugged in, my in-house sound guy helped me set it up. He turned some dials. He nodded when I played some power chords. And then he turned up the volume.

The apartment is small. There are neighbors in every direction. But he turned up the volume to LOUD. And when I played, I giggled with so much rebellious glee. I mean – is this okay? What if I upset someone with my neophyte electric stylings? And then suddenly, I really didn’t care if I upset anyone. I felt the power of playing loud, no matter my skill. I didn’t have to be the best player in the world to turn that amp up and play loud. I could be the worst and still play loud. That’s the gift of rock n roll guitar, in fact. And it is a powerful gift.

This is an experience I want every woman to have. I want every woman to have the opportunity to have her sound amplified beyond other people’s comfort level, maybe even beyond her own comfort level.

At a Shakespeare panel discussion years ago, I remember Liev Schrieber talking about how transformative it had been for him to play Hamlet. He said he thought that everyone should get to play Hamlet once. He didn’t think we should have to see them all, because that would be awful – but everyone should get the chance to do it. I think everyone should get a chance to play Hamlet and ALSO everyone should get a chance to play an amplified electric guitar. (Maybe even at the same time. Go crazy!)

Playing like this is so antithetical to my feminine socialization that it is both challenging and exhilarating. It feels like seizing the reins of male power that I had never had access to before.

There are a lot of reasons that guitar playing can feel like a masculine kingdom to which I am not entitled. For example, I cannot think of a single guitar shop I’ve ever been in that was not populated almost entirely by men. Nor can I think of one where I felt completely welcome. I am always an interloper in male territory in a guitar shop.

But – in discovering the thrill of playing loudly and not particularly well, I felt like I understood something about male privilege that translates across media. A dude playing electric guitar loudly and badly is like a clueless mansplaining dude at a meeting; he’s not worried about how he sounds, he’s just enjoying the power of his amplified voice. And now that I’ve played my electric guitar loudly and badly, I too understand how I might enjoy being bold and loud in uncertain circumstances. It will be harder to turn down my volume than it once was and I may be less concerned about saying exactly the right thing. Turn me up, y’all. I’m ready to rock.

Are you wondering what Keith Richards has to do with this?
Well, the same morning I played loud for the first time, my in-house sound guy took a little video of my amp’s first outing. I objected to this video, when I saw it, as I was still in my pajamas, my hair was a mess and I was not wearing a bra. And then my kick-ass, supportive, rock n roll sound guy asked me, “Would Keith Richards worry about his bra?”

And the answer is of course not. Keith Richards does not care what he looks like. Most guitar rockers are similarly disinclined to style or grooming. And almost all guitar rockers are men who, of course, have no bras to worry about. That is rock n roll male privilege, man. But rather than rail about it, I’m going to turn up my amp and channel it. I might worry about my bra sometimes but whenever possible, I want to access the loud, messy, imperfect soul of a male rocker with endless swagger and a reckless audacity. I want us all to feel that sense. May we all have the opportunity to speak Hamlet’s perspicacious text and play Keith Richard’s bra-less rock n roll lifestyle loud.

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, an album of Love Songs and more. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me be of service

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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 (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist




%d bloggers like this: