Songs for the Struggling Artist


My Genius Idea for a Book
December 8, 2021, 6:44 pm
Filed under: space, writing | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I just remembered this absolutely genius idea for a book I had about 25 years ago. When you hear it, you’re going to be like, “Yeah! What a brilliant idea! What a shame you didn’t put that together! You’d be a millionaire already!”

Here it is: A guide book of cafes around the country, with reviews and photos and maybe little drawings and scraps of writing I’d done in them.

Can you believe I missed out on this golden opportunity?

I’m kidding of course. I know this idea would have gone absolutely nowhere. And it cracks me up thinking about it now.  It was not long after I had this idea that people started creating multiple review web sites for all things, all around the world. But at the time, there was very little café culture to speak of and as I made my way around the country, finding a little spot where I could happily drink good coffee and write, was like finding little jewels scattered around the place. I thought I might go on a little search and seek them out, like an old school explorer.

Now you can find a Starbucks in every town and a laptop on every table. Café culture has simultaneously grown and practically disappeared.

I wanted to write such a book because I wanted to be able to use such a guide. And despite the fact that Yelp and Trip Advisor and Google exist, I sort of still do.

For one thing, these web services are hardly even good for what they should be good for. For example, while they may alert me to a café possibility in the location I am searching, they often do not tell the whole truth. Especially lately. Yelp, for example, has a handy filter feature that allows you to search for only places that are open now and/or have outdoor seating. I got all excited! Hooray! This place looks cute, is open now and I can sit outside, where I feel safer! When I arrive, though, usually after a good long walk to get to this miracle spot, I discover that they have no seating or just one (occupied) table out front. Or – even worse and also more common – the place, reported to close at 7, closed at 3 or 4. So this modern, up to date, technology is, in fact, no more up to the moment than a book would be. With a book you’d at least know the hours might have changed. You’d plan for that. With Google, you expect it to be accurate. Or at least I did before.

More significantly, there are things I want to know about a place that these websites rarely tell me. Will it bring me inspiration? Is the atmosphere rich in ideas? Can you feel a history in the walls? Is there art there? Is the art good or just for sale? Are the baristas artists, too? If we paused in our work, would we end up talking about philosophy or the fascinating musical history of Ziad Rahbani? The fact is that the Starbuckification of cafes has meant that there are a lot of chairs at tables that will give you a cappuccino but there’s not a lot of soul out there. There’s no soul rating on Yelp. There’s no box I can check to let others know I got hit with an inspiration wave at the table by the window or had a life changing conversation under the skylight. My book would have told you that.

But unfortunately, given the way the internet has worked, historically, it tends to collect things into boxes of popular and unknown and there’s nothing about this book of mine that would have been popular. It would never have sold. Even if I could have magically popped it into existence when I thought of it. It mostly makes me laugh to think of how unpublishable this idea was, how of its time it was. It’s a funny sort of unfulfilled dream – the kind you know would have been a failure but you’re still a little sad you didn’t make it.

Why, yes, good sir, I’ve gone back in time to publish my genius book idea and I wondered if you might sell it here in this 19th century bookshop.

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 pounce on any future genius ideas?

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 Internet Is Not a Friend
October 10, 2021, 9:47 pm
Filed under: community, Social Media, technology | Tags: , , , , ,

In the throes of my grief, I thought I’d just go along as normal, just get on the internet, see what’s what. You will be stunned to learn that the internet did not make me feel any better!

Over and over, I turned to the internet and over and over, it did not help. Not Facebook, not Twitter, not Reddit, not Instagram. Shocking, I know.

None of those things could do the heavy lifting of distracting me or providing comfort. Of any kind. I do not know why I turned to them, except that it has become habitual. Also, I guess I don’t have websites I just visit for fun or whatever anymore so the internet is no longer a series of places to check out, but weird social media plazas that I visit regularly.

I don’t really use any of these places in a personal way anymore. Most of them are where I put arts or career news, or occasionally promote the blog or podcasts. When big things happen, am I meant to put out a personal press release on my social media? Should I say something about what had happened? I do nothing personal on Twitter, Reddit or Instagram. But a lot of my personal friends are also my Facebook friends and it’s where they share their news – so it is confusing.  Also, I have over a thousand Facebook friends. I did not really want or need a thousand condolences. I thought it might make sense just to skip it. After all, in the first few days after the news of my brother’s death, all I wanted was to just pretend it hadn’t happened so I hung around Facebook, watching all the people go on about their lives as if there hadn’t just been an enormous earthquake in my world.

But then I started to make my way out of the denial stage and into something just as sad but realer. There is something so terribly clarifying about this sort of grief. It was just so clear what did me good and what did not. Hugs, good. Social media, no good. Not bad, necessarily – just not good.

I have thought this before. I’ve known this. And yet these weird tools have somehow become so ubiquitous in my life, I find it hard not to engage with them. Now I have to relearn how to be, not only without my brother – but also, without my old crutches because they are useless in this scenario.

I’ve found it challenging to write anything of substance while riding the roller coaster of grief but managed a little fantastical interlude about saving my brother with a time machine. I was wary about sharing the news of his death on Facebook but I figured that since Facebook typically shows my blogs to only a handful of people, I could probably covertly share the news to a handful or people without too much fanfare. It didn’t really pan out that way, though.

In the past year, when I posted a blog on my personal Facebook page, I got a handful of views, around 2 or 3 on average. When I posted this one, Facebook boosted it up to 331. This led to 50+ comments on the post and almost a hundred likes. I suppose I had a sense that Facebook might be programmed to promote a death post. For a while there, in the past few months, it felt like my feed was exclusively death announcements and ads. I chalked it up to my age and a time in our lives when we tend to lose people. But now I realize that death drives engagement so the algorithm is trained to seek it out even when it’s not obvious. I said nothing about the content of the blog post in my description in the feed but now I realize that the algorithm is likely trained to respond to words in the comments like “loss” and “condolences.”

Is it good to hear from friends in a time like this? Absolutely. But like the stream of Happy Birthdays on one’s special day, the comments do tend to blend together after a while. I found I had to be very deliberate about how I took them in so I didn’t lose the individuality of each person who kindly took the time to comment. Meanwhile, direct messages regardless of the medium did not require such diligence. Texts, emails, even cards in the mail. These things opened up conversation or gave me something to touch and look at instead of feeling like I was fording a river of condolence.

Then Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp all disappeared for a day and the crash and the whistle blowing that proceeded it seems to have prompted many of my Facebook friends to leave the platform. Some are migrating to Instagram (not sure I get that one, it’s the same company) and some are migrating to Twitter and encouraging their friends to join them there. Over on Reddit, everyone gleefully watched this crash and then Reddit went down for a day or two. Despite all the ways none of these platforms make me feel good, this migration does make me think about why Facebook, in particular, has a hold on me. First and foremost, most of my friends are there. I go where my friends are. I moved to NYC because my friends were here and I got on Facebook because my friends were joining. I want to be where my friends are – full stop.

The problem with Twitter is that while some of my friends are there, Twitter never shows them to me. I see endless posts for political analysts and public figures but only once in a blue moon do I see a friend and they rarely see me. And while it was weird as hell to be discussing my brother’s death on Facebook – there was not even a like on my blog post about it on Twitter, where it gets auto-shared, and there’s not even a way to share a blog post on Instagram. It’s all very weird and confusing. Because while the Facebook river of condolence was overwhelming, it was an outpouring of kindness and support in a time when it is needed. It is nothing to sneeze at, even if it’s challenging to take in.

Facebook has squandered so much of its potential by turning a place that used to be cool, full of our friends, into a political cesspool whirling around relentless advertising peppered with people’s saddest moments. Is it any wonder folks are leaving? It’s just not fun to be there anymore. And it used to be. Really! Is it awful? Of course. Are we prepared to do without it? I’m not sure. We need an alternative and I don’t think Twitter is it.

Also – we’ve tanked all the other ways we used to let people know about things. We don’t have everyone’s phone numbers. We don’t have their mailing addresses for our show postcards or life announcements. Facebook has become the town square where we tack up our announcements for passersby and somehow there’s no better way to get out the news. And that doesn’t make me feel good either.

I see, though, in the saddest moments, that there’s really nothing the internet can do. It is clear, again, that it is not the place to go for comfort. That place is actual people, with actual bodies who can actually hug you.

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 outside of the internet?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



Would I Go Back to the 20th Century?

There’s a Reddit question I can’t stop thinking about in which someone wanted to know what life was like in the 20th Century because they were born at the top of the 21st and couldn’t imagine it. They particularly couldn’t imagine life without the internet. They asked those of us who’d been around for the previous century if we would go back to the way things were before.

Would I? Would I give up the internet and my mobile phone? Would I surrender my laptop? Sometimes I think I would. I started writing this outdoors at my local coffee shop. Just as I was finding my groove, the woman nearby got on her phone and started talking about her family life very loudly. I would give that up. I really would. People have always talked to one another in coffee shops – but there’s something about the private phone calls in public spaces that I still find jarring, even though they’ve been around for a couple of decades. Would I give up my phone? My text messages? My personal voice mail? To just have a clearer distinction between public and private space? I might. I really might.

I don’t want to get all Grumpy Old Man here and start droning on about back in my day. But back in my day we didn’t have cell phones and we didn’t have the internet. We had to go to the library to look stuff up and we liked it! We loved it! Nah. I mean. We did go to the library – and we did love the library but being able to just look stuff up with a thing we keep in our pockets is amazing. I remember when I first got a computer that would allow me to dial up and use the internet. My grandmother asked me why I was so thrilled, why I found it so amazing. I remember explaining that it was like having the biggest library in the world in my apartment. I was a little overwhelmed by it, truth be told. What should I look up when I could look up anything?

I think this must have been RIGHT at the turn of the century. I’d just moved to NYC. It was an exciting moment. The future was in the air. But it also wasn’t really the future yet. I was still sending my friends and family letters then. In the mail. Receiving letters was unremarkable but it was also, in retrospect, special.

Sitting down to read a letter was a quiet moment, separate from the hum of life. It was an occasion. There are still letters I remember reading because I remember the rock I was sitting on, the chill in the air or the feel of the paper. No email has ever been as special as even the most banal letter.

When we first got email, it was a thrill. We got email my senior year of college, something I’d been wishing for since First Year. I had a hot email romance with a friend of a friend at another college that eventually taught me a swift and important lesson about chemistry and the massive power of projection over internet communication.

But even so, I was so so excited about email. I didn’t have it after graduation but two years later, I got a Hotmail account. I was on tour at the time and every so often we’d find ourselves in a place that had internet access and the only person I remember emailing was a Canadian improv guy I’d had a little romance with in Edinburgh during the festival. We were very excited to expand our communication beyond postcards and I remember finding a library with computers in some college town that could help me do that. The first few years of digital communication for me were very romantic. Mostly literally.

I find this hilarious now because email has become such an onerous burden. No one finds email romantic. I bought a book called The Tyranny of Email because it so aptly described how I felt about it by then. A few years ago, I turned off all visual and sound notifications for email because I noticed I was having a stress response every time I heard/saw it. (Actually, I turned off the sound when someone ELSE’S email dinged a notification like mine and I had a stress response.) There was a period in which I had to imagine putting on armor before opening my email, so stressed out it made me.

The same sort of journey happened with the phone, actually, now that I think about it. Back when there was nothing but a land line, I’d get excited when the phone rang. We’d race to answer it, sure it was some good news. At the sound of it, I’d think, “Finally! My big break!” Now, when my cell phone rings, I think, “Oh no. Who is that?” And yet there is rarely a mystery; their name is on my screen when I look at it. If it’s a friend or family, I feel relief – but generally, it’s just trepidation I get from my phone. Is this due to the technology? I have no idea. Maybe it’s just me becoming more anxious and cynical in my 40s. But I wonder. And yes, I would give up my smart little phone to be excited to answer a phone again.

That feels like the crux of the changes for me, the journey from cool fun romantic new technology to tool of anxiety and/or oppression. I signed up for Friendster and MySpace because they seemed fun. They were cool new ways to interact with people. I posted my music on MySpace which was a convenient way to share it without having to pay for the cost of CD duplication. Facebook was exciting and fun at first! Look at all these people I lost touch with, now back in my life! It’s like a high school reunion I didn’t have to pay for! It was all so much fun until it really wasn’t anymore. It all goes from fun to compulsion so fast. I remember a fellow theatre maker telling me she couldn’t sign up for Facebook because she didn’t have time for it. Then came a point where she had to join because everyone else was there, if only to promote her work. That’s why I’m still there – even though the days of sending each other digital flowers is long gone.

The thing I miss most about the previous century is just a fuller sense of being present with people. When we were together, we were just together. We were with the people we were with. If we wanted to be in touch with someone who wasn’t there, we had to find a telephone, or send them a letter, or just stop by their house. These days, whenever I sit with someone, I’m sitting with them and the thousand people they’re connected to by the device in their pocket.

I remember sitting on a rock on top of a hill that my friend and I had climbed and she was thinking about getting a cell phone (because it was starting to become necessary for the theatre biz) but she was worried about it. She was concerned about being on call everywhere, about being always available, that her life would be constantly interrupted. I said that was silly – she could always just turn it off if she didn’t want to hear from anyone. But she was right. She got a phone anyway at some point and at some point so did I – but she was right to have been worried about that. Just turning it off is not a solution for most people. Not in this ever connected world.

But we can’t, individually, just not have a phone or not be connected. This is how we live now. If you want to be a part of the community of humanity, this is how we’re doing it. I’m grateful for a lot of the benefits of this new world. I’m able to maintain relationships with people around the globe. I can share my work widely and without gatekeepers. I have developed all sorts of technical skills I never imagined possible. And all this has probably made important progressive social change possible. I wouldn’t want to give that up.

But – if someone came to me with a Time Machine and said I can take you back to the previous century and you can just live there if you want, I might do it. (I mean, I would like to see a lot of other times, too. Can we go traveling first? Also, I’d probably really miss my loved ones, so can I bring them? And…this fictional time machine fantasy may be getting out of hand at this point.) It would take me a long time to readjust to going to the library and writing letters and meeting people in person, but I think I was happier then. It might be worth the loss.

Our internet was out for about a week last year and it was a nightmare, of course. So much of our lives depend on it. When you’re not on it, you feel like you disappear. But that’s because everyone else is on it, and you’re left out. Back when there was no internet (or really, when the internet was only for the privileged few) it was just quieter. Everything was just quieter. You weren’t missing anything. You just did what was in front of you. The world was more local.

So, yes, I do miss it. But I know we can’t go back. We can only go forward. So I suppose I’m looking forward to the next development in technology – the one that will feel romantic and exciting before it becomes compulsive and oppressive. And then maybe, maybe, we’ll get past this sort of adolescent stage with our devices and find a way to really be present with each other again. I hope we can figure out how to be quieter, even with the whole world in our pockets.

This pocket watch is apparently from an Arctic expedition at the beginning of the 20th century.

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

*

Want to help me keep making stuff in this century?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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



And Then the Internet Went Out

While I was polishing up my blog about the power outage, I googled Tropical Storm Isaias to double check I was spelling it correctly. The request timed out but I figured it was just this thing the wifi does in our apartment where it gets moody about the distance between my computer and the router. After bringing it closer and then plugging in the ethernet cable and switching everything off and on again a million times, I had to accept that there was no internet. I found it ironic that I was trying to post a blog about the power of power, in which the power of the internet played a role, and could not because, while I did have electricity, I had no internet access.

The next day, the company said it would be fixed by 5pm, and then within 24hrs and then by 5pm the following day. Concurrent to all this, my phone had begun to switch itself off at every opportunity and would only rarely turn back on for a moment or two. My access to the world, beyond my physical presence, was largely cut off.

I didn’t know what to do. Every task I thought about tackling seemed to require the internet. I spent the first couple decades of my life living in a world without internet. It was fine! There were a lot of great things about those times! Why was it so impossible now?

Late Monday night, in order to maintain my weekly podcast posting, I realized I could potentially access the internet via these LinkNYC things – the structures we call “propaganda sticks.” I was 100% sure they were a privacy nightmare, in addition to being corporate tools – but I had a deadline – so I took my laptop and a little stool I’d bought for a cowboy clown show I made a few years ago and went to sit next to the LinkNYC column.

Just as soon as I’d gotten the blog posted, I saw this stream of liquid emerge from the other side of the column. Some guy was pissing right next to the thing, like it was a tree in the woods and his piss was flowing downstream right in front of me. The splash got very close to me and I scooted quickly away, swearing loudly. I found a new spot closer to the closed-up Greek travel agency office behind me. Later, as I got the two podcasts uploaded, the guy from the Mexican restaurant next door brought me some chips and salsa because he liked my “set up.”

There’s a way that having to go out into the street to reach the wider world really put me in touch with the immediate world in ways both pleasant and unpleasant. When the real physical world was all I had, it all got very physical very fast.

In wrestling with my world without internet, in addition to pushing me out into the street, I found myself really noticing how blended my creativity and the sharing of it had become. I could practice a song. I could even record a song and podcasts but without the internet, all of that could go no further than the room they were made in.

We finally got a little green light suggesting our internet was back but in various computer tests, the signal could go no further than the internet company itself. It’s as if we could communicate a tiny bit but we could only reach one person and even then, it was just to wave. There could be no meaningful discourse.

There’s something about this limited signal that I found poignant. It felt a bit like my entire artistic career. I make something and put it out but only a few people have the tech to receive it.

We have these internet connected light bulbs, for example, which I was astonished to discover could still work, even with the area outages preventing us from interneting. It turns out it’s because they’re local. They communicate just within our apartment. But we cannot reach beyond our local network. Our internet problem is a communication problem.

It cannot take us beyond our apartment. And a lot of my struggles as an artist are similarly about an inability to get beyond my apartment. The work makes it around the apartment, no problem – and even to a few points beyond – but the signal always seems to run into an obstacle somewhere. Out there in the physical world, I do alright. I might get pissed on occasionally but I also get free food and warm greetings.

In the internet world, which, more and more, given the lockdowns, seems just as real, there are many places I can’t reach.

And like, power, when someone is without the internet, their lack is invisible. To the one who has been cut off, it feels as though they are cut off from the bulk of the world – but the world will never notice their absence.

The local is the only bit that remains. It can involve piss and salsa – but it is real and where the action actually is.

*

This post was brought to you by my wise 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

Want to help me expand beyond my local connection?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

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

 



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

*

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

*

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



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

Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

You can help this canary keep singing for folk

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

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

*

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

 



Devices in Auditions and Rehearsals

My company’s auditions for our project were meticulously planned. I did a group audition because I care about how people work together. I started with drawing, because it’s a script-flipping task that tends to calm jumpy actors down and it tends to signal that we’re doing things differently. I did a bunch of low exposure group acting explorations to get a comfort level going in a room full of strangers and then I had them play with materials to take everyone out of the context of performance and into creating.

Then I took a break. A long one. Because I wanted the group to have some time to chat and get to know one another without someone controlling their experience. It’s useful for me to see people with their masks off for a minute while they talk about their cat, or whatever. As in rehearsals, a lot of the art actually happens in these cross-pollinating moments.

But. In my recent auditions, this whole plan went completely off the rails at this point because rather than chatting and getting to know one another, almost every single actor took out their cell phone and sat against a wall. The room was silent. I was shocked. And scared for the future.

Technology has changed all of our lives in so many profound ways but until this moment, I hadn’t noticed it intruding on my art-making experience too much.

I think this is because in smaller groups, it is less obvious, this disconnection. When working with one or two other people, when someone steps away to take a call or write a text, it is an event. Someone says, “Excuse me, I need to check on my son,” or something like that. And when they return, there hasn’t been a major break in our momentum.

When everyone’s first impulse at a break is to unplug from the group and plug in to Facebook or emails or whatever – the entire momentum of a process shifts.

Theatre making is delicate. When I make something, I work very hard to create an experience that takes people out of the every day and into the world of the play. I want my shows to have this quality and I want my rehearsals to have it as well. Every intrusion from the outside world is a disruption. At our break, one actor checks Facebook and sees that an ex is getting married. Another gets an email about an audition next week that makes him nervous. And so on and so on – and so on everyone’s mind is somewhere else – and it takes effort to bring them back.

This isn’t a judgment on my actors. I fully understand why in an awkward moment, surrounded by strangers, everyone reaches for a phone. It is almost automatic. And I suppose it is that automatism that concerns me.

Back when I was an auditioning actor, no one had a cell phone to turn to in a break, and so we turned, however awkwardly to one another. I made some life long friends this way.

And those relationships led to making more art which led me here to auditioning new performers – and their phones. It’s like everyone’s a package deal now – the actor and everyone they’ve ever known, to whom they are connected via the internet. I am curious about how others handle this landscape. How do you negotiate the phones in your art-making midst?

Help me sort through this new world of creating

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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

*

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




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