Songs for the Struggling Artist


I Also Know Victoria’s Secret
September 6, 2022, 11:58 pm
Filed under: feminism | Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s a song by a young woman, that has emerged via Tik Tok, that is extremely popular, called “Victoria’s Secret.” In it, she (she goes by Jax) reveals that the secret of Victoria is that she was made up by a dude. It’s a fun pop tune about body empowerment, with Victoria’s Secret at the center. Here are some of the lyrics:

God, I wish somebody would’ve told me
When I was younger that all bodies aren’t the same
Photoshop, itty bitty models on magazine covers
Told me I was overweight

I stopped eating, what a bummer
Can’t have carbs in a hot girl summer
If I could go back and tell myself
When I was younger, I’d say, psst

I know Victoria’s secret
And girl, you wouldn’t believe
She’s an old man who lives in Ohio
Making money off of girls like me
Cashing in on body issues
Selling skin and bones with big boobs
I know Victoria’s secret
She was made up by a dude

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It’s a super catchy song and I recommend the video on her Tik Tok which is a flash mob video in front of a Victoria’s Secret.

I’ve had the song in my head pretty much since I heard it.

And every time it comes around again, I think, we should have stopped this a long time ago. What a terrible power this dumb store has had on the psyches of girls. I don’t think I realized before because Victoria’s Secret is just another store to me. I remember when it showed up at the mall. We mostly just made fun of it. We bought our bras and underwear at places like Kmart and department stores. Victoria’s Secret was flimsy and fit badly and had cheesy angel marketing, like Playboy but with wings instead of bunny ears. I maybe went in there once? We thought it was mostly men who went in there to buy cheesy lingerie for their wives and girlfriends. And I feel like there was some evidence that that was true in those early days. I think it may have even been the impetus of the founding of the store. But something happened as time went by. I really don’t know what it was that happened because I was not paying attention.

Victoria’s Secret somehow turned from being a cheesy underwear store at the mall to a foundational place for girls. If I’m reading the song right, children are growing up trying to model themselves on the marketing of Victoria’s Secret. It’s become some sort of twisted guide-star for girls looking toward womanhood. And I thought it was just a dumb store.

I have always known Victoria’s Secret was made up by a dude. It is not news to me but it seems to be powerful news to the young girls of the moment.

But I get it, I suppose. We don’t like to think about the objectification and sexualization that girls are drawn to, interested in and exploited by. We like to think of girls as innocent creatures who have no interest in sex or its trappings, who will remain untouched by the culture until they are old enough. But it’s not true. If it’s not the culture teaching them how to pose and present themselves, it’s their own interest and curiosity that will lead them to places like Victoria’s Secret long before we’d like for them to notice such things.

I didn’t grow up with the spectre of Victoria’s Secret’s unattainable ideals but when I was little, I found some copies of Playboy magazine and spent some quiet mornings examining them, trying to understand the sexy grown-up world. I was discovered, so my exposure was pretty limited but I did see enough to build a belief system that this is what being a grown-up sexy woman should be. Luckily, I didn’t buy into it too much – but things like Playboy at least had the advantage of being somewhat hidden. It wasn’t at the mall and it wasn’t a part of my every day exposure.

There has been an extreme objectification movement in the culture since around about the time Victoria’s Secret first opened in the mall. It feels like it gets worse and worse every year – what with the Instagram filters and the Tik Tok beauty trends and now everyone has to look camera ready all the time. Things like nudie magazines seem quite quaint in comparison.

All this to say, I’m sorry I didn’t catch what damage Victoria’s Secret was doing when it first came out. I would have gone to the mall and held our Take Back the Night rallies there instead. We could have made a lot of noise, twirled sports bras around our heads or something. Instead, it’s this next generation, after decades of Victoria’s Secret marinating in the culture, that finally begins to shift things. Apparently, the Victoria’s Secret corporate office has reached out to Jax to have her help them make the brand more inclusive; Jax has told them where they can stick it and asked her fans if they have anything to say to the corporate office, since they’re listening. Girls and young women are speaking their truth to power. That seems like progress somehow. Pointless to talk to those powers now, perhaps, now that so much damage has been done but still, maybe the needle is moving.


I thought Victoria’s Secret was just a crappy store where I couldn’t get a bra that fits (I send away to Poland for my bras, btw, that’s how bad the American lingerie system is) but I think we just never really know what is taking up so much space in the brains of the generations that follow us. I’m sorry Gen Z. I wish I’d known where this was going. I’d have fought harder for you earlier

I tried to find you a photo of this place from the 80s at the mall and I failed. Just imagine a much trashier place with angel wings and you’ll be close.

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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Lessons from Italian Media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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

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Want to help me make variety in the arts?

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The Time Machine of Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

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

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

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

*

Want to help me make more time machines?

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 Arts Save the Children

We had a hopeful politician come to our door, campaigning, and so we asked her about what she’d do for the arts. She said she understood the value of the arts, that they kept kids out of trouble, the way sports had for her as a kid so she supports them. It’s a sweet story, really.

I enjoyed that story and I like this politician a lot but I hate this reasoning. First, supporting arts programs for kids is not supporting the Arts. It’s great and I spent many years in those trenches but Arts Education is not the entirely of The Arts. This is a common conflation, though – and artists do it as much as anyone, usually when they’re trying to raise money for an arts program.

The other part of it I hate is the way it sets up art as just a method of keeping kids busy. It’s like an after-school job or a club or something. This framing also tends to travel hand in hand with setting art up as a savior for troubled children. I’m particularly sensitive to this one because I used to believe it. I used to be in classrooms trying to SAVE THE CHILDREN with Shakespeare or music or whatever. In some cases, the people who sent me into these classrooms also wanted me to SAVE THE CHILDREN with my theatrical magic.

Nope. Nope. Nope.

I’m not saying it’s not possible for a child to discover an art and find their way to a new future that might be seen as saving them. That sort of thing DOES happen. I have seen it happen myself. But it does not happen often. And it can’t be planned for.

But it’s also not unique to the Arts. Anything could save a wayward child. It could be sports. It could be cooking. It could be knitting. It could be watching Wheel of Fortune. Basically, anything that lights a person up and gets them going can “save” a person. The arts are perhaps more likely than Wheel of Fortune to engage a child but it’s all really up to chance.

Why should we support the arts if not to save wayward children? What are they good for besides keeping kids out of trouble?

The arts are good for our souls, okay? Maybe we’re not supposed to use words like that when it comes to finding funds and government support – but that is fundamentally what is at stake. When the going gets tough, people turn to the arts. During this last year of trauma and lockdown – when so much became inaccessible – many people turned to music, turned to stories in multiple formats. It’s not a hug from your mom but it’ll do you good.

A culture is judged by its arts and a culture that doesn’t support its artists is going to lose them. They’ll emigrate or cease to be artists or their wells will dry up and the faucet that pours out stories and meaning might not deliver like it needs to at some point.

What do we need to say to our politicians so they understand? How do we help them see artists as more than an after-school program? For years, our arts leaders have been attempting to make the economic argument about how much the arts contribute to the economy and if, after this year of artistic devastation and all the economic devastation that surrounds that, they still don’t get it, I don’t know that they ever will. I think we have to just talk about the source. That arts are good for our culture, our souls and our social identity. The politician who came to our door was elected while the more Arts forward candidate lost – so now the task becomes how to help her do more than just say she supports the arts. Now we have to help her learn how to actually support them.

The Arts can do a lot but I don’t think they’ll save these boys from those bees!

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 actually support the arts?

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



Performing Arts Going Dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

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

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

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Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Be the Weirdo You Want to See in the World

Look – I’ve always been a LITTLE bit weird. I wore my tutu with pants and an engineer’s cap to school when I was a kid. (I might still wear this, given a chance.) I don’t care much for social conventions or fashion trends or behavioral controls. I’m sort of constitutionally an artist and a certain amount of difference discomfort is just a normal part of my life experience.

But recently, I’ve been feeling like I’m much weirder than I used to be. Or rather, I’m as weird as I’ve always been but I seem to seem weirder to the outside world.

I get a lot more quizzical looks than I used to. I get more heads turning in my direction if I make a sound. I feel like I’m weird everywhere I go. Even in weird New York, which has not historically, been worried about weirdos in its midst.

I’m not concerned about it for myself. I’m a comfortable-with-myself woman in my 40s, I don’t really worry about what most people think of me. But I am concerned about the weirdos behind me. I am concerned that if even my lowest level weirdness is drawing attention, the less comfortable weirdos, the young ones who are still finding themselves, will feel less and less comfortable becoming their full weird selves.

It feels like the world is bending toward a conformity that makes me very nervous. The current bent toward the collective sometimes means more policing of behavior, I think. People seem more inclined to try and fit in somewhere than to just rock who they are wherever they are. This may be a generational preference. Much of my generation would rather walk into the sun being 100% true to ourselves than conform to the crowd.

There are absolutely advantages to the group choice – but I worry about the loss of those sun-walkers. It feels like it makes the world less interesting, less vibrant, less alive.

It’s not just my feelings that are signaling that I am weird. I got a notice at the end of last year – a sum up of my listening on Spotify. They described me as 100% different. This tells me that the bulk of Spotify listeners are playing highly conventional tracks – that there are not nearly enough people venturing down the less traveled hallways there. Because, sure, I like to explore music from around the world and will happily venture into unknown musical territory but there are surely musicians with more adventurous tastes than me. At least I hope there are because I am really not that weird, musically. I don’t want to be a lonely weird music listener.

I’ll give you another example. I went to an author event. It was a big crowd and while the subject matter was intense, the author and interviewer were making jokes and being engaging humans. Being the human I am, I laughed at the jokes, gasped at the astounding facts and clucked at the reported bad behavior of some. But I was literally the only one making ANY sound. People turned to look at me. I was a sound-making weirdo laughing and responding instead of sitting in the silence of the rest of the room. I know I seemed like a weirdo in that room but to me the room was weird. Who just sits in silence while someone makes a joke? They’re just going to let them flail up there on the stage? A laugh after a joke is polite, especially if it’s genuine. (My clown training prevents me from laughing at theatre folk who aren’t actually funny but I will still laugh as a social lubricant in a social or lecture setting. Clown rules do not apply to the general public.)

Anyway – I walked away from that event feeling as though the world had changed in a way that has made me less welcome in it. It has become a world wherein I’m weird everywhere I go no. Not just because I wear asymmetrical dresses but because I bring all my human self with me wherever I go.

Those kinds of things seem to happen more and more and I don’t know what to do about it. Luckily, I am already comfortable with being different, with being weird – but I want to make space for all the other weirdos. I want to find a way to support those who want to laugh but feel silenced by the group. I want to live in a world with more fully human humans and a whole lot more weirdos.

BTW – the image they used for this is of Fatoumata Diawara whose music you should definitely listen to.

 

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

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

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

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

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

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Want to support this weirdo?

Become my patron on Patreon.

*

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

 



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.

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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

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You can help me catch the ideas that float by

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (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



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

Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

You can help this canary keep singing for folk

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

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

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

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

*

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

One way you can help me see through the Glamour is

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

kaGh5_patreon_name_and_message*

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

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

*

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




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