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