Some people worry about the moons of Saturn. Is that perturbation in the orbits due to gravometric interaction with the debris that makes up the rings? Some people worry about tiny bacteria that live in the mud of the deepest seabeds of the oceans of the world. They seem to live for hundreds of thousands of years. Is that even possible? How do their incredibly slow metabolisms affect their perception of time? If they have such a thing. They worry: do they have such a thing?
Other people just worry about everything, indiscriminately. That would be me.
Why do certain people, who may or may not have talent in some artistic field of endeavor, set out to make a living with whatever talent they have and perhaps become famous in the meantime? What gives them the courage to unleash their talents upon the world? I'm sure that they would prefer praise, but they may receive only obloquy or indifference. Some money would be nice. They must be very impressed with themselves, pleased with their work product. It may all be crap, but it may be sufficient to pay the bills and achieve that foothold on wealth and celebrity. It may even be good, or great, but how will it be received? What will happen? Who has the nerve to go down that road?
Sometimes they know that they have no talent, but they are somewhat good looking and they really want in on that music money. They gather some actually talented people around them, preferably people who are also good looking but not as ambitious as them, and set it up so that the money is channeled mostly to themselves. I don't want to name names, but in many famous groups, the name on the marque just hires the rest of the band, one at a time, to contracts that offer them a weekly salary and little more. They may get a small split on live gigs, like fifteen percent, to be divided among them. If they write a song, the leader's name must be included as a co-writer. In some bands, members write a song and it just becomes the leader's song.
Other musicians practice at home, for fun or distraction from life's many tribulations. They are often very talented individuals, but they lack the personality for business. I am not referring to myself here, by the way. As an amateur musician, I was enthusiastic but untalented.
These things also happen in the fine arts world. Lavishly talented academically trained painters paint in their spare time, unnoticed and uncompensated. I met a woman one time. She was about fifty-years-old, and quite attractive. She did not speak English. Her son was a client of mine for some small law job. Her paintings were leaning against every wall of their spacious apartment; some were on the walls. They were wonderful, and shockingly original. Something like Robt. Williams, but with apocalyptic religious themes. The paintings were a few feet by a few feet. I thought many of them were museum quality. Her tenuous mental state denied her access to the marketplace.
In every field, however, there are the ones that just push through to the front and wave their flag until someone throws them a bone to shut them up.
There was a visual artist that I got to know pretty well. A painter. He was very famous, nationwide, and his stuff was selling like hotcakes. Big, that's one of the secrets, his stuff was big. All oil on professionally stretched canvas, noble materials, mostly eight or ten feet by fourteen feet or so. I am not a connoisseur of art history, but I do have a bachelors' degree in the History of Art (with honors!), from a respectable institution that has a very good Art History Department. As a critic of the current art scene, I barely have a license to have an opinion. I found his work repetitive and pedestrian. There was a narrative in each piece, but nothing that you could put your finger on, nothing that you could point to and say with certainty, “that is a window,” or, “that is a doorway.” There was generally the vague echo of a figure, and it had all been represented with the lights out. Very dark.
This artist was amassing a fortune selling these things, and I found myself wondering, where does one find the nerve, call it courage if you wish to be kind, to devote all of this time and space, and invest all of this money in canvases and paints, and do all of that publicity, all of those gallery openings, talking all of that serious talk with high-status individuals, where does one find the gall to do all of that for crap like this? I guess that I mean the nerve to get started. And how, in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger, does one make such a grand career out of it?
School is my guess. He probably learned to hook up the materials at university. Many writers also use this excuse. If you have an MFA in writing, people say, sure, he can write. He can TEACH students how to write. Same for an MFA in fine arts. The guy can paint. Doesn't that make a lot of management types sound very gullible? The MFA should be ridiculed out of existence. An academic degree in any of the productive arts is a contradiction in terms. It's not science, it's emotion.
Other people just do it. They figure it out themselves and just do it. If you have the nerve, that's one way to go. If you do it enough, for long enough, people will think that you know what you're doing. Most people lack the critical faculties required to spot the phonies.
This self-promotional artist-by-declaration phenomenon was on full display in Laurel Canyon in the 1970s.
As Bob Dylan was hitting the big time, the genres of singer-songwriter and folk singer began to fill up alarmingly. I'm never 100% comfortable about holding “trying to make a living” against somebody, but there was a lot of awful music floating around. There was money being spent, and sure as you're born, the companies wanted some of it, and were willing to sign some contracts in that pursuit. Clouds of young people with clouds of hair and a guitar were smiling out from album covers. New York City and Los Angeles started to fill up with wannabes.
Los Angeles has better weather, so many of the wannabes were already there. There were only a few clubs, and a “scene” on Sunset Boulevard, so the wannabes all knew each other. Many of them gravitated by some kind of flocking instinct to Laurel Canyon Boulevard. That is one of the roads that will allow you to drive across the hills from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley, and there are a lot of smaller streets running off of it where geology permits the building of houses and roads. Many of the wannabes rented houses there, or just couch-surfed their way around. It was its own scene, and movies have been made to describe it.
Make no mistake, there were several supremely talented people among them. Joni Mitchell was up there, and she's as great as anyone who ever wore the singer-songwriter label. Jackson Browne was up there, and the world would be a poorer place without his catalog of excellence. Now here the nature of the problem takes a turn.
For people like Joni and Jackson, they seem to have known that they had a treasure to share. Joni moved heaven and Earth to get from the frozen wilderness to stardom, and she was doing us all a favor on the way. She gave up a healthy daughter, for Christ's sake. She made sacrifices. Did she do it only for herself? Or did she know that the world needed her gift? What if she had been a shy girl? Stayed home, settled down, became a librarian, raised her daughter. When personal drive is coupled with fabulous talent, we must be grateful. But what of the fabulous talents that stay at home in shit-holes like Wisconsin and remain unknown? I'm sure that the country is full of them.
Other wannabes just shoulder their way in with no real credentials to be there. Many of them achieve great financial success. They are trespassing on the fields of greatness, and they act like they belong there. It's like you came home and some guy is sitting on your couch watching Netflix. You say, “what the fuck are you doing here?” and he simply replies, “oh, suck my ass, and go get me a beer.”
I really liked the music of the Byrds. Roger McGuinn; Gene Clark; Chris Hillman. They were Laurel Canyon guys. Those first three or four LPs were just great. What a sound! I remember seeing photos and TV appearances of the band, and there was this one guy who didn't appear to be doing much of anything, kind of a goofy looking guy. When I see guys like that, I figure, “he must be somebody's brother-in-law.” Maybe the label told them, “we'll sign you if you carry my sister's kid along for the ride.” This individual got a few minor writing credits on forgettable songs for the Byrds, and in 1968 he got kicked out of the band.
All of a sudden, in 1969, he worms his way into a new group of Laurel Canyon denizens. Talks his way in and forces them to put his name first, because, “my band sold lots more records than either of your bands.” Crosby, Stills and Nash. Where do people get this kind of gall? It can only be pathological.
Okay, Buffalo Springfield didn't sell a lot of records, but they were an unqualified artistic success. And Stills is a fucking musical genius. Graham Nash is one of the greatest rock group singers of that or any other era. His band, the Hollies, had like fourteen Top-Ten hits, but in England. The Hollies were by far the best band that any of them had ever been in, and Nash was by far the best singer among the three of them, but his name goes last BASED ON SALES? Alas Babylon! We live in a corrupt world devoid of common sense or moral judgment.
To lift the veil here and be honest for a moment, I am only angry about all of this because I have spent my entire life avoiding doing anything and afraid of incurring any possible kind of criticism or rejection. Nothing at all is what I seek. I want only to smile my way through another day and get a good night's sleep. Ah! Sleep! That blessed time when people leave you the fuck alone. It's bliss. I don't even mind the nightmares, unless they are personal, and naturalistic.
The sad part is that I do possess, or did possess, talents in several areas that could have led to success, monetary success and career success. Not necessarily artistic, unless you consider language abilities or winning trials artistic. The unfortunate truth is that “self-sabotage” is my middle name. My parents even left a blank space on my birth certificate for “middle name,” to be filled in at a later date.
Sure, I'm sorry about the very talented among us who kept their lights hidden under a bushel. Their lives would have been easier with some proceeds to make a nest-egg. I love and appreciate the geniuses, and it pleases me if their great work has brought them wealth and comfort. Excuse me, however, if I resent the untalented assholes who parade around like they were hot stuff because they made some money peddling their second rate goods and have met many famous people. Pirates! Vampires! Thieves! I am not in any of these categories, so don't cry for me, Argentina. I'm fine.
God obviously extends his hand with assistance to fools like me. I've made it this far. I'm comfortable. And there's not much further to go.