Rockers are Doing It for Themselves
Writer and interesting guy David J. Skal once wrote that different personality types can be represented by well-known monsters from film and literature. For example, a guy who treats you like gold at first but turns on you once you’re hooked is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The lazy user with no ambition who gets by on his charm and his willingness to leech off people is a Dracula. Those are egregious misrepresentations of Skal’s writings, but you get the idea.
When walking contradictions who can be both sympathetic and right-bastards are labeled as Frankenstein’s Monsters, I reflexively reach up to tighten my neck bolts. My parents stitched up a horrible, conflicted monster, and today’s technologically infused, do-it-yourself world is my personal Ygor: It would be quite fun to break Ygor’s neck, but he has that torch, damn it.
that metaphor too weird? Let me make it worse… I’m talking about a world in which releasing an album and writing a book no longer requires millions of dollars or approval from The Man. I find that wonderful and awful.
Back in the day, going into a recording studio without a contract from a label meant you were buying a demo for your press kit. Those of us in the rock-and-roll trenches had to spend absurd amounts of money to get a decent three-song sampler: $50 an hour at a studio that started charging the second your knuckles rapped on the door, where you were eight hours into setting up equipment, placing microphones, and doing level checks before a single note was recorded. $4000 later you had a 10-minute master (mixed down from a $150 reel-to-reel tape) that then cost another $1500 to turn into a small stack of CDs. All so you could make a desperate grab for the fleeting attention of some son of a bitch at a record company who might, if you made sweet sweet love to him under his desk, pass your sampler on to someone who actually makes decisions.
Unless you were a rich, vain idiot, that is.
Decades ago, a drummer friend handed me a full-length album by some dweeb in a skinny tie, saying, “Hey. I played the drums on this.”
I said, “No way! That’s great.”
He said, “Not really. The guy’s parent paid for the whole thing because he is a rich brat. Give it a spin.” 15 seconds in I realized why my friend refused to allow his name to appear in the credits. Trust me, it was the worst thing you’ve never heard.
That was a different century. Today, both I and the rich idiot can make an album, only mine will be good because of the only difference maker that matters anymore: I have talent, and inexpensive technology lets me prove it. I don’t have to pay anyone by the hour to smoke cigarettes and spend 20 minutes plugging in a cable. I don’t have to buy $700 worth of reel-to-reel tape. And, most importantly, I don’t have to win approval from The Man. The Man can go pleasure himself with a cactus. My album is on iTunes.
Really. Here’s the link: Eric’s album. (More after the jump)
Recording that album was the joy of wringing Ygor’s neck from the earlier metaphor. Self-publishing is fear of the torch.
Why do I have such contradictory views on self-recording vs. self-publishing? Really, that wasn’t rhetorical. I’m at least a few decades behind on my psychoanalysis, so if you know a good therapist, please get me a business card to I can avoid calling for an appointment… As if I didn’t have enough stuff to put off, you selfish prick!
Where was I before you interrupted me? Oh, yeah. Mood swings. So why am I gleeful that no one is standing between my music and people’s ears, yet I’m so reluctant to self-publish my novel (that I haven’t written yet)? Because it’s been beaten into me that one’s writing can’t be any good unless it meets with approval from the publishing gods on high. It must be validated by the parking attendant before it is considered legitimate.
That is the same dumb shit I don’t believe as a musician, yet here I am accepting it as a writer. I see two reasons why. One, because agents and publishers are arrogant and expend most of their own writing telling writers they suck and need to study this and practice that but who cares, you’ll never be good enough anyway. At least record-company people are shallow enough to say, “You’ll give me a hand job? Cool. I’ll see what I can do.”
Two, because you can tell a real musician from a fake one almost instantly, but brilliant writers are identical to hacks until you open the book and start reading. If a person can’t keep a beat, he’s not a drummer. If a guy can’t form a chord, he’s not a guitarist. If a woman can’t carry a melody, she buys Autotune software and calls herself Paula Abdul. In any of these cases, your ears quickly report to your brain that bad vibrations are being emitted. You don’t need a guy in a suit on the 27th floor of the Capitol Records building to tell you.
But your average high-school student can write a coherent sentence and describe events in a way that is comprehensible. If that average high-school student has the attention span (ha!) to keep it up for 300 pages, you slap a cover on that puppy, upload to Kindle, and call the kid an author. People will assume it’s true until they try to read the thing. So maybe those mean-spirited publishers and agents are simply trying to keep the average high-school students of the world from writing crap novels.
As a Frankenstein’s Monster, sewn together from one guy who flips the bird at authority and another guy who didn’t get enough hugs, it’s hard to reconcile the dichotomy of self-recording and self-publishing. Perhaps I can take inspiration from this: At the end of Frankenstein, the monster is finally consumed by the flames he fears… only to rise up in Bride of Frankenstein, stronger than ever.
In other words, up yours Simon & Schuster!
This week’s post is dangerously short of pretty pictures, so here’s a lovely one of British actress Jenna Louise Coleman, who long-time readers will recognize as petite and brunette: