The World is more stuffed with the ghosts of things that could, or should, have happened than it is filled with real objects. That’s an eternal matter: the daydreams are willing but the focus is weak. In the specific case of the subject of this sermon, the Devil, my Nemesis, is Pop.
Pop is just another mask for Power, and Power is a seductive trickster. Pop’s prophet on Earth, when I was a young adult, was MTV. It was soon after the debut of that Loki-like manifestation, with its bootlegged Beatleisms, that great bands became harder and harder to find because talented musicians stopped focusing on the goal of performing Great Art for local audiences, and were tricked into lusting, instead, to leapfrog the grueling process in order to land, fully formed, overnight, in the golden (pyrite, piss-like) spotlight of “Star Search” and all of its tawdry fucking Art-killing iterations. The last time I checked, not even one of the judges on the oil-slick TV show “Fatherland Searches for One Bloody Native Who Can Kinda Sing” could sing.
Then Social Media came along and joined up with Garage Band, and various i-phone apps, to turn every kid, musical or not, talented or not, into a monster of self-absorbed fame hunger. The ability to work within the clockwork of a canny division of labor, in a self-directed team, toward a targeted goal of Crafty Expression, seems to me, now, like a relic of the 19th century. Like a quaint sociological detail from a Jane Austen novel. Everyone in the 2020s, apparently, is the Total Package All The Time. My humble sensibilities (matched neatly by my humble goals) are as overwhelmed as lightning bugs blasted by a Riefenstahl klieg light.
As I once wrote, to a musician, in response to her response to an ad I had placed in the classifieds (which were, from c. 2008-2012, full of world-class players wonderfully displaced, like Boat People, by recession, from their home-countries):
“But it’s the whole “Pop” worldview/ mindset I’m hoping to completely avoid now. Working with musicians in Berlin has been both interesting and frustrating: too many people are aiming for “hits” and “fame” and have no idea how to rehearse until a piece of music, or a set of songs, can actually begin to live. I have no ambitions for “world fame” but I do aim to run a project that could be described, reasonably, as inspiring.”
Before my aria hits the heroic high-“C” of misunderstood genius: a caveat. I am not saddened by the ghosts of things that could, or should, have been. I remain, rather, at worst, slightly irritated. Sometimes pissed*. I have gotten nearly everything I have ever really wanted, thus far, out of Life. My days and nights are spent thinking, writing, running a business (Wife and I, when time allows, are working on a duo-or-trio, too), raising a genius and fucking my beautiful Wife: what else could one ask for? Besides, that is, people not being (as my Daughter likes to put it) random.
It’s just that, as a musician and a songwriter with a decent head for organization (and a track record of turning ideas into a living wage), I never enjoy watching talented players (inevitably) falling for the same ridiculous traps. Is to pick up and master an instrument also to become the plaything of discount Voodoo enchantments? The standard delusion of talented players is that they “deserve,” by default, to be paid for music, and are militant about nothing for free, but the tactically clever alternative to that attitude is to get a shit job that pays one’s bills while affording one time to rehearse: when rehearsals are done, and the songs are good and a proper money-making machine has been developed, there is, then, finally, a chance to be paid adult wages for playing music. Ah, but no! Too logical; not sweat-free enough.
I recall the time that our fabulous bass player (grooving on the couch in the clip) had to cancel rehearsals because he was “going on tour to earn some money“. Fair enough, I thought, at the time, but when he came back to Berlin (after having effectively subverted the momentum of the project), I learned… I shit you not, Gentle Reader… I learned that he had been paid €100 for touring the two weeks! “Ramon!” (not his real name), I nearly shouted, “I would have given you the 100 to stay!”
Or, here’s the other trap. Traditional. The age-old favorite (second only to attractive lead-singers getting pregnant c. 3-6 months into rehearsals, which has happened to me a whopping four times): Singers run off to The Big City to “follow their dreams” … without stopping to think that big cities like LA, New York or London are dreamkiller-magnets crawling with 16-year-old super-model-types who will do anything (a dozen times) to Get Ahead (no pun intended). Not only are most of these 16-year-old Fame-Droids ruthless but many of them have wealthy parents, which increases their infernal stamina by orders of magnitude that will far outstrip your own. No, the clever tactic is to live in a small town near a major metropolis and develop in the small town, and, after studying the battlements of the major metropolis, attack and retreat and attack and retreat, in a well-planned pattern, from the safety of one’s base in the small town. That’s how Napoleon would have done it if he’d been lucky enough to live in the small town of Berlin.
The singer in the clip below was so fetching, so smart, so coltishly innocent. Mid-20s. Her Greek-accented English (which essentially barred her from the killing fields of Anglophone Pop) was quite charming (certainly better than West Coast vocal fry) and I wrote an entire set of songs that suited her well. In the studio recordings her performances are delicious: smoky, seductive, teasing, deep. “Do this for a year,” I said to her. “Promise me you’ll stick with it for a year.”
Ah, but, oh well. What can you do? Logic is but a tinfoil hat against the titanium cudgel of compulsion. “Penelope” was mesmerized by the rotten allure of snobby old London, its bright lights sizzling through the murk and where, as the cliché has it, “everything is happening”. I’ve never been much of a fan of “Everything”.
The project with “Penelope” singing and “Ramon” on the bass and “Gabriel” on guitar, featuring rakishly handsome sax prodigy “Dirk,” possessed the required potential to exist, earn a living and assert itself. To, in turn, assert the plausibility of my dream of the catchy-but-substantive. If only people were, at core, more rational than their artificially-inseminated dreams are compelling, eh? Penelope ran away to London (from where she tweeted, years later, quite proudly, no irony intended, that she had appeared as a hand model in a Festival Film), Ramon fled to Spain to “earn real money” (erm: no) and Gabriel decided that he’d rather slip off on his own, like Lucifer, and go “viral” with guitar-and-loop-station vids (which are really cool; very musical; I like them: the view count on his latest, which is not terribly recent, is exactly 34). Dirk is the success of the bunch, doing cruise ships and resorts in Thailand, napping on beaches with money in his pockets and fucking far too much! (Dirk, we salute you!)
Ten years ago! We tried it almost ten years ago.
Watch this enchanting little clip of the ghost of (one of) the never-band(s) that haunts me.
I Frankensteined these people together, wrote and arranged a bunch of songs in a style that suited them best: the direction was the ’60s… but the OTHER ’60s… not British or American garage bands but the sexy café ’60s of obscure filmmakers and finger-snapping poetry readings and b&w photos by William Klein. Rehearsed them for a few days and got this video (and a few others) out of it. Two months later the thing was scattered, like Orpheus in bloody chunks, to the sarcastic winds.
I blame Pop and its fucking lies, which is so much like Porn and its fucking lies: imagine attempting to use Porn to learn how to make love with a human one actually adores!
As it turns out, people do.
Well, pay me no mind! All of the above was merely an introduction to this performance…
*In the Murrkkan, not Limey, sense.