Friday, February 15, 2008

Vote for the Purse

OK, today I am stealing, but I got permission to do it. Eric, my husband, wrote this great blog yesterday about the Carly Hennessy/Smithson controversy on American Idol, and there is something inspirational about it. He posted it on his MySpace page, which you can view at Here it is:

OK. First thing: I hate the show "American Idol" and everything it stands for.

Now that I've said that, I'll admit that a certain Web site called "Vote For The Worst," which rose to some prominence last year, makes the show a little bit more palatable as a guilty pleasure for me. Every week, the Web site prompts its readers to phone in and pick the most comic, clownish or freakish contestant. It is not merely a ploy to ruin the show, as worthy a goal as that would be. No, the writers on VFTW say that their true aim is to play up the entertainment value--to throw the spotlight on shtick--which serves to illuminate the utter artifice of the whole affair, to illuminate it as prefabricated melodrama, to limn the preconceived nature of the suspense.

The site has recently stumbled upon the past history of one of the show's new contestants: Carly Smithson, nee Carly Hennessy. This woman has already had a failed career as a teen pop star at MCA, which flushed millions through the glory hole on her debut album, trying to sell her as the new jailbait on the block--Britney Spears from Dublin, or a Gaelic Liz Phair--only to sell fewer than 500 copies and send the girl home packing where she got a tattoo and an attitude. If I were a paranoid person, this would seem like somebody's still trying to recoup a bad investment by putting her in a reality TV show setting and not telling anybody about it.

The truth is, I don't give a frog's fat ass if she wins, fair or unfair. I'm only bringing it up because it's illuminating to read her story, which you can find in the Wall Street Journal here. If Courtney Love's similar article in Salon
hadn't already convinced you then the WSJ article certainly will that the music industry in this country is evil and that you'd be better off playing the lotto than ever signing a recording contract with a major label. With few happy exceptions, most people who get to the major labels do so with wildly unrealistic expectations, and for that they are not simply crushed by the overwhelming competition, they are robbed blind by people who exploit youthful narcissism and like to turn a buck off silly dreams. I used to write about bands in Austin, Texas, all of whom sought the brass ring of a label signing, and it's demoralizing to see talented people, the people you think you want to be, the people whose most important asset is their fecund imaginations--completely lose hope because they were unwise. They sadly came to realize that all the accouterments of this strange lifestyle--the videos, the recording costs, etc.--are costs that they will have to shoulder themselves eventually before they see any real money. The advances and living expense money usually disappear quickly, and when pro rated out over a few years, don't do you much better than a job at the post office would have. Meanwhile, the most valuable item--the intellectual property known as the songs you write--are robbed from you and become the property of the record company. Adults don't sign away things that could make them money later. Only kids do.

The good news is that I think this is the best time ever for musicians, because now we have the Internet. We can write, produce and sell (if there's demand) our own music without middle-men. What we lose sometimes is professional polish and a bit of legal protection (say, if your music was so good it was pirated). But I think the long-awaited goal of creating an artistic middle class is much closer than it used to be, and I'm happy to think that the music industry, buffeted by piracy and declining sales) is close to dying the death of the bloated gorgon that it is. If you need more money than that offered by the life of a middle-class artist, then I would suggest that you are just greedy and also recommend that you get a real job--specifically as a stock broker, where you can make shitloads of money without being terribly bright. If music is your whole life, I would also politely mention that there's more to life than music, and that learning about something else would probably round you out as a person anyhow.

Since suffering many artistic disappointments in my 20s, I've become a lot happier since I stopped looking for approbation from other people to legitimize my creations. My wife and I make a lot of art and put it on this space, and sometimes you don't know who's out there rooting for you, if anybody. But at the end of the day, if the work is not making you happy, then maybe you don't really want to be an artist in the first place. If you want to do it, you just have to do it, and therein lies the key to most spiritual happiness. It's also nice to patronize those who are doing the same thing. It gives a little power to the masses and offers hope, which is not always a four-letter word.

Holy fuck! This turned into a rant. Something funnier tomorrow, eh?

And there you have it! - stephanie

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