Monday, October 21, 2013

Byrned Out

A musician friend of mine put out a CD in the '90s, at a price that covered all his costs so he could break even. After production, shipping and incidentals he landed on a sticker price of $32. If you bought it from him face-to-face, he let you round it down — or up — at your own discretion. I gave him $40, and wished him success.

The monetary value affixed to music — or any art-form, really — has always struck me as arbitrary. I've dropped an unconscionable sum of money on a concert in which the performer informed us that he wasn't enjoying the night any more than we were. And I've parted with a pittance for tunes that make me happy I'm still alive. At the intersection of art and commerce there is no equity, and there never has been — only artists who have garnered enough success to be comfortable can persuade themselves otherwise.

Which brings me to David Byrne. If Amanda Palmer is Indy Rock's Joel Osteen, Mr. Byrne has assumed the mantle of Grocer of Gloom (just as well, since Leonard Cohen seems to be getting lighter of foot and mood the closer he gets to his grave). I find I'm both surprised and somewhat depressed at Mr. Byrne's slipping into codgerdom, even if said slip is both punctual and well-deserved.

It's not Mr. Byrne's tone that bums me out so much as it is his content: “Starving artists can no longer afford to starve in New York City”; “Interweb streaming is killing art, so I'm pulling out my entire digital cache in protest.” Really? Geez-Louise, man: those horses haven't just left the barn, the barn's been levelled and paved over for a few more precious slots in the enormous Theme Park parking lot that's replaced the Farm.

It's the naivete that kills, the almost whispered expectation that maybe somehow the Powers That Be might do something to entice those edgy arty types back to the now-gilded Big Apple, or come up with a sliding scale to protect aspiring musicians like St. Vincent from putting on the blue smock and greeting customers after the tour has wrapped up.

You can curse the darkness or light a candle — or, better yet, do both! And so I refer you back to Godspeed You! Black Emperor's “acceptance note” for Canada's Polaris Prize — here. It has a refreshing clarity of perspective that I find lacking in Mr. Byrne's laments. The simple fact is there is no more valuable characteristic we can cultivate in our post-Gutenberg youth than the perspective of a free-lancer, because it doesn't matter if you play guitar, sell books or lay bricks for a living — we're all free-lancers now.

And if you happen to be one of those arty free-lancers, you have one small advantage over the rest of us: you can appeal directly on behalf of your most pertinent needs. Production funds, food and lodging, medical care, shoes for the kids — there's no longer any point to being coy about any of this. Go ahead and ask. Your most ardent fans will want these things for you as badly as you do.

And if they don't, you can always join me in the Blue Smock Brigade.


DarkoV said...

While, as per the usual, I agree with your stack of eloquent words and the always interesting manner of construction you utilize with the building blocks, I just wish you'd laid in the adjective "colorful" preceding "codger". There are quite a few of us heading down that one-way street and an acoompanying adjective of lightness eases the trip.

Darrell Reimer said...

Agreed. Though Codgerdom may be inevitable, colour is a welcome leaven.

paul bowman said...

Just saw this:

Darrell Reimer said...

"Come back to Baltimore" - damn straight.