Songs for the Struggling Artist

Melt the Guns

Whenever I see a story about gun violence and it makes me feel sad and angry and helpless, I tweet a link to the XTC song, “Melt the Guns.” I don’t say what it’s for. I just tweet the song. It’s not a project. I don’t feel like I need to stay up to date with shootings so I can catch them all or anything. There are too many for that. If you tracked all the tweets, you could probably connect them to the news story fairly easily. Not that there’d be much point in doing that. It’s just, you’d be able to see what a lot of gun violence I have responded to since I started doing this.

I tweet this particular song because a) it’s a really great song and b) it’s a pretty clear directive. What should we do about all these tragic shootings? Melt the guns and never more to fire them. Clear enough. I know it would never work in this world where guns have more rights than women or children. I fear we’ll never find a way to tear the guns from the hands of killers – but as an aspiration, I feel pretty good about the idea of melting the guns. I do not give one solitary fuck about peoples’ guns. Melt them. Seriously.

We’re always trying to compromise. The NRA is always sending people into a panic that we are coming for their guns. A guy I went to high school with posted that he was stockpiling his guns when Obama was elected. Every time there is horrible tragic school shooting, gun sales go up. The NRA have made people absolutely paranoid that every liberal policy will involve taking their guns away. It has never been thus. But, fuck it. Let’s do it. It’s never been on the agenda before but if the gun nuts are so afraid of it, it must be what they secretly want us to do. Maybe they’re pulling a Brer Rabbit and crying out, “Please, oh, please, whatever you do, don’t take my guns away!” Okay. You got it. Time for melting. I don’t care anymore. I had to tweet “Melt the Guns” twice in one day when that asshole shot up the grocery store in Buffalo. Once for that nightmare and again when someone started shooting somewhere else. I can’t even remember where now. That’s how many of these there are. And folks, folks, I wrote this whole piece before Uvalde happened. When I retweeted “Melt the Guns” for that incident, it was still just an unconfirmed rumor that was breaking my heart.

Every other country in the world understands that having a lot of guns around is a problem. If you read a travel advisory for this country, it will warn you about the potential for gun violence here. There’s a Kids in the Hall sketch from decades ago that I’ve never forgotten. It features a tourist explaining he’s from Canada and defines a Canadian as “like an American without a gun” and the other person finally understands. It’s funny but horrifying, of course. The majority of Americans are not into guns. But the ones that are…oh boy. Well, they’re willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of children to keep buying them so….they have a different calculus than the rest of us. I mean – the average number of children shot per year in this country is a little under 8000. PER YEAR.

And, of course, I know, I know, not all gun-owners. The farmer who needs a gun to shoot wild feral hogs or whatever – that’s fine. I guess I won’t melt your gun since you’re going to save us from marauding porcine creatures.

But the culture that encourages young clueless men to buy guns and then go use them? That culture needs to be melted down. I keep thinking of the odd little explanation for the shooting in The Front Page/His Girl Friday. Have you seen these films? Or the play? The reporters work out that the odd little sweaty man ended up shooting the gun because he believed in “production for use.” That is, as a communist, he believed that things should be used for that they were built for and the gun, being built for shooting, must be shot. I think a lot of gun-owners are like that communist. They shoot their guns because guns are made to be shot. I bet all those gun-owners wouldn’t like to be called a bunch of communists for shooting their guns.

We have a lot of guns in this country and like Chekhov’s famous gun – if you show us a gun in the first act, it’s just got to be fired by the end of the show. The one surefire way to keep people from getting shot up is to not have guns around with which to shoot them.

Like, let’s go back to the feral hogs for a second. Let’s say there were a group of people who really wanted to have some around the town and every time someone suggested that maybe they were dangerous and attacking people left and right, they’d threaten to sic a feral hog on them. A country full of feral hogs is now Feral Hog Land just because some zealous hog lovers felt entitled to them. You can’t domesticate a feral hog, that’s the whole deal with them. They are feral. Same is true for an assault rifle. An assault rifle is an understatement for what it actually does. It is a mass murder rifle. They have to go. And the more folks threaten to use them against those who would seek to take them away, the more apparent it is that they have to go.

Melt the guns and never more to fire them.

I did a search for Melt the Guns and this was the only readily available image. It DOES melt things. And it IS a gun. In the future, our only guns will be the kind that melt glue for us, okay?

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Generation X Part 6 – Selling the Drama

We are the few, the proud, the brave members of Gen X who continue to make our way through the world while many of our peers have given up.

Do you remember, before we were Generation X, when we were the Pepsi Generation? Right about that time that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire? We were told that Pepsi was the choice of a new generation and there were videos and apparently our generation bought into it hardcore. We were also Peppers. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too? But that Pepsi Generation technique was actually a marketing campaign for Baby Boomers first and it worked so well for Pepsi when Baby Boomers were kids that they thought they’d try it out on us, too. And all the generations after. How you like Pepsi, Generation Next? Feel like joining the conversation since you “are the movement, this generation“? A lot of the conversation about generations is actually driven by advertising.

I read an article about an ad campaign for Lululemon wherein they’re targeting “the Yoga generation.” And which generation is that? As far as I can tell, every generation is doing yoga. My grandmother was doing yoga in the 70s and she was the Silent Generation. So that’s dumb. But…that’s what I mean, they’re trying to put you in a generational category so they can sell you stuff. I say you, not me, because advertisers are apparently not targeting Gen X-ers, because there are so few of us.

And here I think we have the heart of why Gen X tends to resist being labeled. We somehow have always known that once a marketer could label us, they were getting ready to sell us shit. But what’s hilarious is that marketers worked this out about us anyway – so they got sneakier with us when they still cared about us. I once bought a record almost entirely because of it’s ironic cover.

What’s ironic is now that Gen X is older, some members of Gen X have more money to spend but advertising has (mostly) stopped trying to reach us. Which probably explains why there’s been a recent bubbling up of Gen X articles. Marketers are perhaps getting interested in us again. For good and ill, I imagine. Just google anything to do with advertising and Gen X and you will see such an extraordinary trove of weird articles about how to advertise to us. Actually, search how to market to any generation and you’ll see some eye opening stuff about what’s going on behind that advertising curtain and where you might be vulnerable.

So Millennials and Gen Z, just in case you’re still here…I think it might be useful to recognize that when you see articles and listicles and so on and so on that reference your generation, you are probably being marketed to. The condescending pieces about you that make you mad may be designed to encourage you to spend your money on something or just click on something to get an ad near your eyeballs. The imaginary rivalries between Gen X and Millennials, or between Millennials and Boomers, are essentially clickbait for the people trying to sell you stuff.

As we now carry devices that have the capacity to market to us everywhere we go, we all need to become savvier about our vulnerabilities to advertising. As marketing becomes more personal and more direct, it will become harder and harder to remember our humanity. It might be helpful for all generations to take on some of our good ole Gen X skepticism.

We seem to now live in a world of relentless marketing. And it’s not just businesses who are marketing at us. The new norm seems to be a kind of marketing of self. People have become brands instead of individuals.

Most of Gen X has a gut response to this trend and it is a strong-armed revulsion. To us, this branding of people carries all the horrors of the origin of the word – the branding of cattle with a hot iron. For most of Gen X, this branding of the soul is relentlessly uncool. We liked our icons reclusive, uninterested in self promotion, and intensely private. Prince once gave an interview to the BBC wherein he neither spoke nor showed his face. Both Kurt Cobain and David Foster Wallace were incredibly uncomfortable with their own popularity.Can you imagine a Cobain clothing line? A David Foster Wallace cologne? For us, as soon as a band became popular, it ceased to be cool.

But we live in a gig economy now and if we want to survive, we must do as the digital natives do and put out all of our goods for clicks and likes. We cannot be the reclusive geniuses we want to be because the world doesn’t work that way anymore – And maybe it never did.

Every Gen X-er I know is deeply uncomfortable with self promotion. We recognize that we need to sell our book or our record or our blog or our podcast or our show or our theatre company or our business or whatever it is but it is highly problematic for us.

If we do it, we tend to see it as a necessary evil. I’ve taken multiple marketing classes and despite having a lot of knowledge and skill at my disposal, I have generally yielded next to no results. While attempting to sell my show in the highly crowded market of the Edinburgh Fringe, I discovered that the only real marketing skill I had – that is, the only thing that would reliably bring people to the theatre – was making friends. Like, actual friends. This is the only successful marketing I have ever done. I made some friends who showed up for me because that’s what friends do for each other.

I have had a podcast for over a year and I am so bad at self promotion that most of my best friends don’t even know about it.

And maybe it is just me. Maybe I’m the only one (see part 4) that is unwilling to trade my authenticity for more likes or hits or shares. Maybe I’m the only one that closely guards my best work until I’m ready to share it. Maybe I’m the only one that would rather share my truth than a promotional photo. I don’t think I’m the only one though.

Gen X tends to see the world that has emerged behind us as a life-sized version of that SNL sketch “You Can Do Anything!” We see that kind of self-promotional vibe as not only terminally uncool but completely at odds with authenticity, which is one of our core values.

I really do admire the hutzpah of Lena Dunham in having her character announce at the beginning of her show that she is the voice of her generation (or “a voice of a generation.”) This is something that no Gen X-er would ever do, even if she wanted to. Even as a joke. And Dunham was definitely joking. I dig the gutsy self-aggrandizement of it and I dig that it made her extremely popular.

Most of Gen X would rather be authentic than popular. We would rather be true to ourselves than just about anything else. I wonder if, in addition to the small numbers of us, our general lack of interest in self-promotion is a factor in our invisibility. In a world where everyone seems to be shouting about how great they are, Gen X is sitting in the corner, making something totally cool that few people will ever see.

I wonder if this is part of why there have been so many think-pieces about how Gen X is going to save the world, how Gen X is our last hope, etc. I think this is how we like to be seen – as the quiet secret heroes – chronically underestimated but swooping in at the last minute to save (and astonish) a grateful world. This image appeals to us. But frankly, even after reading dozens of these articles, I have yet to be convinced that somehow Generation X has the secret world-saving serum. I’m pretty sure we’re going to all have to get together to get that done. Generation X would like to do it alone but this is a job that’s going to need all generations on deck.

This is Part 6 of a multi-part series. To read the next part, Part 7, click here.

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Part 5 here

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