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Friday, May 02, 2003
Actually, not very many. For every message from an individual person to me alone (not all the batch mails and gig spam etc.), there are 20 with those nonsensical "message filter override" headers ("Xmrawfbng Mohenga, Mcvouty! Free trial") or promises to add inches here and remove inches there. Usually a half dozen from Biff Rose, bless him, whose wit has been sharper than ever lately. Here let me thank those of you who continue to write despite any misgivings about the state of my mind, annoyance at my recent tone and topic or the tardiness in replying that's become chronic. You have no idea how good it is to hear from friends these days.
But I got one from a well-meaning oaf who shares mild praise for my first and third cds while (typically) putting down the second, Magic Beans, and closes with "condolences on your music career." Again, not to fuss too much, since the guy obviously didn't mean to insult. But he did. Let me demonstrate the effect: "Hey, guess what happened to me at lunch today ...and where'd you get that swell tie? By the way… your mother is a whore."
Do you suppose you'd follow the chatty drift of the questions after the blunt force trauma of the statement? Well, this is how it feels to read such impertinent criticism.
You CAN'T comment freely to me on work I've made, uless it's invited and remains respectful. Does anyone think Magic Beans is no good because it "sounds weird" and not "nice" like Willoughby and - to a lesser extent - Uncle? You are not the first. Others think it's too smoothed over; other others think it's too dissonant or too sprawling or too silly or too this-and-such or not so-and-forth enough. Fuck 'em all and all the sad nags they rode in on. It's MY album. I made it the way I chose to. If the other two albums fit anyone's criteria of "nice" then it's an accident I regret. I never wanted to make something "nice" to provide wallpaper for lazy ears. If you bought my record, thanks, but the few bucks you spent buying my cd does not entitle you to insult me with such commentary any more than reading a few words on my blog grants you any sort of intimacy with me. I would not go to someone's place of employment and say: "I don't think you shoveled that pile of shit with very much style" or arrive at your home and remark "I'd never live here... what's with that carpet, dude?" Some people get paid to write their opinion of other people's work. They're called critics: a necessary annoyance in the process of album promotion to whom companies send products for evaluation. Some are disciplined and informed; most are complete clowns whose interest and involvement in the work they review is comparable to the romantic fancies felt by a prostitute toward her client. Then there are friends, who are entitled to have an opinion of one's work, which they may then share if ASKED. Usually a measure of civility and support can be expected, or at least tactful silence. In the future - and this goes for everyone - I will post, verbatim, any offensive emails I please, along with full email address of sender.
And most of all... You CAN'T close your letter with "Condolences on your music career..." in place of "Sincerely yours..." or "Kind Regards..." or likewise. I write about my life, among other things, here in this blog. It's here for the perusal of anyone interested, just as my albums are. I'm as honest, whimsical, melodramatic, deranged or inane as I please. Such content may be disregarded or considered by anyone in the group of friends for whom it is intended (and by "friends" I also mean strangers who've taken an interest in my music). Sometimes people mention specific entries to me when we're talking, or touch upon them in the stream of an email. Some of these friends even take issue with stuff I say here, and good-natured exchanges/arguments often follow. I'm cool with anybody saying "your comment on Gene Simmons was stupid" or "quit putting yourself down" or "I'm happy with the NYC smoking ban, so go eat shit" or whatever, but there is a limit. Anybody close to me who'd have the audacity to include "condolences on your music career" would cease IMMEDIATELY to be my friend. It's an act of utter hostility. The words I post in this personal journal are a means of expressing nothing more than my individual experience living this particular life and nobody has the right to diminish them with such a crass little "toodle-oo."
While I understand that many people would not choose to "lay their souls bare" as I seem to have done here in the blog, the fact is that these shifting feelings are a small part of what I think on any given day. The reason I share such unflattering thoughts and moments of weakness so openly is not because I care what anyone else thinks about my problems, but exactly the contrary. I START caring about what one other individual thinks when that individual responds in kind. I'm sure many of my best friends find much of what I write disagreeable or even embarrassing, and that's fine with me as long as they don't bust my balls about it. These are my dreams and my woes. All my life (as is true of the life of anyone who has had the chutzpah to pursue a dream) some have derided them, ignored them, impeded them, belittled them, attempted to co-opt them, attacked them with pea shooters or bazookas and tried to make me feel foolish for dreaming them. But I've never done that to anyone else, and cannot fathom the depths of insecurity and cluelessness motivating such behavior. My hands are fuckin' clean and my eyes have remained fixed on what I consider important even when human scumbags and the hellbitches of fate distract my attention from the higher things I'd rather concern myself with. Whether I continue to make music or not is entirely my choice, as it's always been. I've never asked for anyone's permission or approval, and if I get frustrated with the work's reception, I ask nobody for sympathy... I just voice my pain as willfully and shamelessly as I sing my joy. It's how I regurgitate poison so it'll stop infecting my daily thoughts. No claims of importance are made for it. No more than anyone else deserves for his or her own. If I piss and moan about my "career" it's my business; if a person says "I'm too fat" or "I can't sing to save my life" that's his/her prerogative and it doesn't entitle anyone else to say: "yes... you're too fat and you cant sing." Anyone who does so is beyond my ken whether the intention is benign or otherwise. Even those friends who are revolted by my whining (as I often am) are usually smart enough to let it pass until my mood drifts to the more pleasant polarity.
In recent years my loved ones and I have been hit with a succession of horrors that would break most people in half. I know others who've borne comparable burdens more gracefully than I have, just as I know plenty who've complained more loudly over far less. The fact is, through all our trials - which I've only touched upon in these casual reports - I've remained creative and productive. I have made albums and artworks, given performances and participated in the personal and commercial work of others. I've supported the work of other creative friends as much as possible, celebrated their achievements and comforted their afflictions, just as they've done for me. I've often done so with humor, and sometimes the darkest confessions are the subtlest jokes. Respect me or piss off. When I dismiss my own work it's because I aim for a standard too high for most monkeys to grasp. I know fully well that those aspects of my favorite work that reward and resonate with me most deeply are usually regarded as flaws by even fairly savvy auditors. The things that make Cassavetes films "boring" or "formless" are where I see excitement and focus. The things in Ives that seem "amateurish" or "unlistenable" are where I find the greatest mastery and sweetest music. Where Scott Walker starts turning rockists and other microbes off with "pretense" is the place his genius begins for me. All these things and so many more have helped form my work. If I were to compile the weakest moments of all 3 of my albums, it would still be one of the greatest albums in your collection. If the genuine majesty of my finest work were to be revealed to the vast herd of douchebags who flatter themselves on cultural astuteness, all would fall, blinded by awe and dumbstruck with humility. They'd form a fucking religion around me, just as I have. And I'd loathe them for not devoting their devotion to themselves, as I have.
Magic Beans is, to say the least, the best album released in 2000. I could have made it more "friendly" to the ears and sensibilities of asswipes, but I made it the way I wanted to. No conventional unconventionality, no coolness, no pandering to expectations of any sort. After having had some success with Willoughby I could have adopted its sonic / songwise aspects as a formula without ever repeating that remarkable album's content. While my renaissance-man versatility would have assured another wonderful work in the style I created for that opus, my searching soul deliberately avoids such redundancy just as it avoids letting stuff "pass" that sounds merely "perfect" by standard measures. I've reworked many things because they'd please people for the wrong reasons. Any moderately talented fraud with a pot of glue and an exacto blade can rework accepted forms to impressive effect. All the year-end critic polls are full of such superfluous crap. You should hear the cut songs, rejected mixes and abandoned ideas for these albums; most bands and artists would sell their souls to arrive at the places I begin, should they be blessed for one moment with enough vision to see just how colossally über-vouting is my every artistic gesture. I stand, godlike, surveying infinities of possibility undreamt by the other dabblers, and select my tools and topics to suit my mercurial mood. As finely as I slice these immensities so as not to overwhelm the listener, the resulting Art is so dense with ideas and inspiration even the most keen observer is only capable of digesting a fraction of the banquet. If it's a crime to serve the food of the immortals to clone-cattle who'd rather eat astroturf, then hang me, but blow me first.
To drop this comic pomp for the sincere kind for a moment: I go further because there's more here. Naturally, I get less back. Naturally, I remain dissatisfied with myself and my position. Satisfaction is a hammock for hacks. Praise is a bonbon that tastes yummy for a second. Artists live to create... the price is steep and the castoffs are unsightly. But I made the shit, and If NOBODY gets it now or ever, that doesn't diminish the accomplishment. I've made majesty, guided by the example of my great teachers and my own innate, promethean genius (yeah, here we go again). If you've been lucky enough to perceive a portion of that accomplishment, then your response should reflect nothing but abject gratitude. If you are possessed by a comparable passion, then you should share yours with me so that we may celebrate one another in a Valhalla of kindred souls unknown to the happier grunts below. I know some such titans, and we comprise a pantheon to make the prophets weep.
Now just look at all these words I've hammered out. That is what I've done all my life: taken nothing and made something of it. You really think I'm done? Even if I say it myself, it's impossible. I fart clouds of gold dust. I spit gobs of ambrosia. The darkest corridors of my benighted mind gleam with treasures rare and beauties grand. Take any amusement you like from this here grandiosity and operatic defensiveness... I'm laughing even louder at it and myself. Astute readers may sense that something "touched a nerve," because I don't adopt some cool stance that I'm immune to this shit. Of course it hurts and riles me; I am a human. But what's happened is that something troubling arrived at a particularly tired-out and sad time and put a useful thorn in my paw. It's the kind of thing albums are made of, and it has roused me out of defeat - just as every single kicking prick in my life has done before. It simply serves as a spur toward the furtherance of the creative career of a great artist. Whatever else you think you hear in these words, rest assured that it is the sound of a man pulling himself once more from the mire to continue onward. It's a Gulliver pissed off just enough to once again snap the tiny ropes of Lilliput.
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