Saying Goodbye But GOD WHAT A RACKET!

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The things that stay with you are strange. Memories thought forgotten that are just lying dormant but there, waiting for a trigger. Such is the case with me today as I learned of the passing of DAVE BROCKIE, the singer of gore-rock band GWAR. For many GWAR was just a gross metal band that lived to offend, and there was definitely that aspect of them. You can’t argue that point. The thing is though that beneath that there was more going on. GWAR was a very political and opinionated band that just happened to use shock and awe to get their messages across.

And you know what?

They knew what they were doing.

Sure, the messages the band was conveying would be controversial to say the least but if you want to get the disaffected and angry kids to listen you go to their level, ergo punk music and bands like GWAR, which brought theatricality to their performances and personas and truly WERE, for all intents and purposes, a band of outer space miscreants.

There’s a sort of defense mechanism the disaffected have where you hate everything and fight everything because many times you care about everything. It’s easier though to put up the front, the wall, so you are better defended. GWAR’s music was like that. To listen to the lyrics they hated everyone and everything.  Nothing was sacred. Literally. The thing is though that when someone does that it forces you to start looking at what YOU care about and gets you more invested in those things. They were truly a throwback to the classic Punch and Judy form of theater mixed with the grand guignol – the band perverted reality, mocked it to prove a point. One of those big points was we really need to get over ourselves. We need to stop treating everything and everyone as if they are untouchable. We need to hold leaders accountable. We need to question things.

And we need to have a darn sense of humor.

That was the thing, they were SO funny.

So funny. So ridiculous.

I discovered GWAR as a teenager when my friend bought their second release SCUMDOGS OF THE UNIVERSE. They were so weird, so over the top, so GORY that you couldn’t ignore them. The record was fantastic and I remember singing along with it in the car as I finally began to drive at 18 . It was a perfect summer record. They had taken this schlocky sci-fi horror and mixed it with Lovecraftian lore and did it all with a punk DIY attitude. So much was missed about what they were doing. Such as – THEY MADE THEIR COSTUMES and everything they did. These were artists and art punks who had taken their creativity and used it to make this larger than life rock band. A band that GOT BIG, even just for a second. They were so outrageous that the popular culture couldn’t resist them. They were at once a firebrand for the religious conservatives to rally against and a lightning rod for young people to rally around because they were everything that adults hated about rock music but turned up to eleven.

And the music was fun. It was loud, silly, offensive, but it was solid and they used it to create this mythology about the band and the world, a mythology that the fans ate up. Again, these were terrible, freaky, horrible people…who were terribly creative, talented, and were doing what they loved. OH, and they loved their devoted fans right back.  Be honest, how many famous people give a damn about their fans? How many rock musicians honestly care? These folks did. I recall running into Brockie after a show and he was the most laid back, down to earth guy you could meet. Heck, he was pretty funny as he hit on a friend of mine. And that was the thing, as brash as he and the band was they cared about the people that invested their time and money into them. They may hate the establishment but they loved the people that made up the machinery.

So many memories flood back about this band. I remember countless shows and standing far enough back as to not get gory but kind of regretting that I was built that way, built to stay in the background. I recall their doing a number of shows in Flint at the Capitol Theater and how beloved they were in this area. Even if you didn’t dig the music you LOVED the band because they put on an incredible show. And it was always about the show. It was always about the outrage. But you know what…love the modern pop stars as much you want but this was a band that made their stuff, wore huge outfits, played an aggressive show, and put ON a show all as they played live. To think that more and more performers can’t or won’t sing live is shameful when you see what some smaller performers did. And why? Because they loved their fans and they loved performing.

They were a phenomenon in the ‘90s. The music, the videos, and so many appearances on anything that would have them. And here’s the thing. Even if you hated everything about them you had to respect how they stood up to the establishment. How they kept doing what they did as they were denounced and derided and decried. They would appear on talk shows as themselves and talk about censorship as they also were utterly ridiculous and silly. They mocked the system that hated them as they took it on. They never once backed down and even ramped up their attack using their music, shows, and their home videos to show how ridiculous the people behind the censorship issues were.

Nothing was sacred.

And we needed to hear that.

I am still in shock over hearing about the passing of Brockie. In shock that such a firebrand is gone, his last Tweet as outrageous as any that came before them. I hope this isn’t the end of the legacy of GWAR. The band will probably disappear but I truly hope that their music, their act, their influence and legacy live on. They deserve it. They were such a weird, fun band that the industry never quite figured out and which the mainstream grew bored with but they never stopped doing what they had always done – entertaining the hell out of their fans. There is a sort of legend that is befitting people who work hard on projects and ideas even knowing that though their work won’t reach everyone, won’t affect everyone, do it just the same because it matters to SOMEONE.

GWAR is a part of me and my past, a part of time that was happier than I thought back then and part of that happiness came from this ridiculous band from outer space. I never knew Mr. Brockie personally but I admire his being true to himself and to his band and doing what he did for almost thirty years. That’s a heck of an accomplishment. That’s a heck of a legacy, and one which is blissfully covered in fake blood.

Thanks for so many good times and so many good memories.   

Rest In Peace

 

Dangerous Arts

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There is something that we tend to forget in our modern world of safe, mass consumptive art.  Our world of art for the masses.  We forget that art is dangerous.  That at its heart, art is barely restrained chaos.  Is a thing with teeth that, while usually tamed, can bite.

I need to bring up the wilder modern art such as works like ‘Piss Christ’ when you can look at something as simple as the work of street artist Banksy, who lays claim to public space that are owned but taken for granted by the average passer-by.  Banksy stakes out these spaces and creates art that is as clever as it is challenging.  Rubbing your shoulder as it slaps your face.  And these are but two examples of what could be hundreds, hundreds to counter the thousands of pieces of art that are ‘safe’ in comparison.

But is any art safe?

Not really.

Even the most mass produced art can find its way to controversy.  We forget so easily how something as simple as the rock and roll of Elvis was considered lewd and overtly sexual.  Or the controversy of a song as silly as ‘Louie-Louie’.  What we may not find offensive or intrusive can be quite the opposite to someone else.  Me, I fancy horror art, which would turn the stomachs and haunt some people because the images are too grotesque and macabre.  Or heck, take the world of Thomas Kincaid, who is a household name, a rarity among artists.  He is literally hated though by many artists because of how popular and how measured and deliberate his art is. He is a professional artist, and one who makes quite a living creating art that is for sale.  Not something many higher thinking artists appreciate.

The list can go on and on and all it does is show how anything, everything can have an edge.  Can be a blade.  We forget how dangerous it is because we prefer to surround ourselves with things that please us, that comfort us, that make us feel good, which makes good sense.  Why would you surround yourself with things that upset you.  But there’s the rub, while the art we love soothes us, it doesn’t challenge us.  It doesn’t force us to examine and re-examine our views, the views of others, and issues we sometimes choose not to face  That is the power of art – to make us see issues we otherwise overlook.  Even the simplest image can have layers to it, hidden at first but there to be found, for those willing to look.  And that is why art is so important, and dangerous – because it challenges us, and that is dangerous.

We cannot control art.

We cannot contain art.

We cannot confine art.

And when it comes to the art of other people, we can never hope to love or appreciate all of it.

And that is where we get so many problems – taste.

We are all so different, our tastes, our interests, and our thresholds and when someone impinges on our space we get angry.  We don’t like someone pushing in on us and forcing us to see and do things we don’t like.  The thing is though that if you are going to love art, accept art, and advocate for it you need to do it with open arms and an open mind.  You won’t love it all but you have to respect it all, at least the passion behind it.  This isn’t easy.  It won’t be easy.  But if you are asking someone to accept your passions then you need to do the same.

In saying that though you need to understand the power of what you are doing and creating.  Even the simplest and silliest thing can have an impact, both negative and positive.  I know this first hand from when some people decided to target an indie art show some friends and I put together when they took offense to our use of the term ‘guerilla’ to describe our show.  Instead of speaking to anyone they invaded the show dressed as zombies and disrupted the art, the artists, and the patrons and almost started a fight.  While I can appreciate their intention it was their actions that bothered me because none of them cared about the art they bumped into and knocked over, or the people they bumped into, or the chaos they created, no, their message was too important.  And that’s something that can’t happen.  The message is never more important than the people in front of and behind it.  Life is not a message.  The world is not a message.  And we are never fully aware of every side to the story, whatever it may be.  It is one thing to be passionate, but another to wield that passion as a weapon and to use it against people.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our vision and passion that we forget that what we do may impact other people.  We feel so right in what we’re doing, what we’re trying to say, that we disregard any feelings of empathy for other people who will have to deal with the art.

And it’s all a shame.  As artists we are underfunded, misconstrued, and are often put into boxes that don’t quite fit us and that’s why we need to band together and work together and support one another as much as we are able to.  It won’t always work that we can, that we have the same vision.  I am not naive.  Yet, we can work together more than we do, and when we do things to simply be outrageous, to shock people, with no further meaning, it starts to alienate both artists and patrons of the arts.  And if outrage is what we’re after then by god we need to own it, to revel in it, and to try to explain why we want it. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, from something as base as wanting to paint a pretty picture to something as lofty as trying to examine the roots of poverty then how the heck will anyone else take us seriously?

There is a divide in art and between its artists because art is dangerous, and it thank goodness for that.  It is this dangerousness that challenges us, that challenges the public and forces all of us to look at the world in new ways.  While we may prefer the comfort of art when we pick it for our homes and public spaces, we must never shrink from the power of art and the danger of it, we must just always be mindful of what it is we’re trying to say and why, because if we don’t know, how will anyone else.  And that’s not dangerous, that’s just waste.

c

Free For All

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I mentioned in my last post MY theories on why the Arts have been in a slow motion decline.  There’s no science or research in my opinion outside of simply being in a small scene and seeing how things seem to be trending.  One of the issues I brought up was the idea of cost.  Art and Art Shows are too expensive.  In being expensive this limits the artists that can/will participate when charged for space and it limits the patronage when you charge for events.

Now, money is a necessity when it comes to the Arts because the venues need to survive and so they need money and artists need to make SOMETHING for their art or it becomes too expensive to keep creating the art.  So money is part and parcel with the Arts.  There is no escaping that.

But…there is a way to make economics make sense.

Here’s how I always looked at shows -

1. If I get the space free I am not going to charge artists to show.  Now, I am not running a gallery, I am ‘borrowing’ space and using minimal resources so there isn’t a need to charge.  I just don’t believe in charging unless you have to.  There is a point where the Arts ARE for the people, and for the Artists and you can’t nickel and dime people.

2. If I do have to charge I charge as little as reasonably possible.  Some shows, like paid events, you have to make the choice – charge the Artist or charge the patron.  These are shows where there is so much going on that paying to attend is something people will do because they want to see the show.  But you have to be reasonable.  For me, if the event is going to cost more than a few dollars and I need to make the money back then I look at the balance of what I can charge Artists/Vendors and what I can reasonably charge at the door.  I prefer to make my money with volume – lots of patrons – and keep the entry cost as low as possible.  It’s a gamble but it’s better to risk that than to out price yourself and alienate the people who may have come out for the show.  So this is where you lean on the Artists a little more, charge them a couple dollars more for space with the understanding that by keeping the admission low you can get them more potential customers.  It’s a trade-off that usually works.

The thing is though, you have to create events people WANT to come to. Especially if you are charging for space and admission.  It’s not as simple as telling people it’s a great show you have to CREATE A GREAT SHOW.  Something that warrants charging.  It’s more than having some poured wine and crackers, it’s creating atmosphere and fun.  It’s creating value.

There’s a trend lately though for people to charge Artists for space they already have.  These are venue operators/owners taking advantage of the Artists and the patrons they’ll pull in.  If it’s an event spearheaded by Artists and they are coming into a space that may not be open otherwise then it makes sense to pay the owner of the space.  It’s fair.  But there’s a fine line involved.  Same with charging for events.  Like I said, some wine and crackers isn’t enough. You have to build something that people want to attend.  I know the cost of a box of wine and so do those patrons.  Give the people a show.

And if the show is the art, then you better have a lot of artists, a lot of art, and a lot of interaction.  And this better be stuff that people don’t see every day.

Money isn’t an evil, its a necessity.  It only gets evil when people abuse their power, and take advantage of other people for money.

Me, I prefer the free shows.  Sure, with the horror con we have to charge but that’s a show and a venue we pay for, otherwise, for me, it’s about the Art and the Artists and building a sustainable infrastructure for the future.  We need that more than a few dollars and places need to learn that or alienate the public further.

c

(I write books – MEEP!)

Save the Books!

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With the recent news that the Borders book chain is going to soon be closing it gets one to thinking about the future of books and bookstores. It really is a scary, strange time for books, for authors, and for the fans of the physical reading medium. The thing right now is that e-books and the digital medium has such a spell over us that a lot of people lose sight of what has existed and not really changed a whole lot since its inception, and that is the book. Sure, sure, it evolves, it always evolves, but in essence it is now what it has always been. E-Books and the digital medium are great, and we need to embrace this buuuuuut we need to do it in the right way. I guess I can see why the digital medium is gaining ground but we need to keep in mind that there may come a time when the ‘cloud’ and our personal backups fail us. There may come a time when we lose all our photos, movies, music, all of it can disappear if there’s a system failure. And sure, a book can fall apart, a CD, DVD, or Blu-Ray can break but it is a lot heartier and a lot more substantial than something that you cannot see and touch. The thing is this, the digital and physical can co-exist, there just has to be a meeting in the middle.

And the meeting in the middle is where we, and the book store come in (I am leaving music stores out but honestly, you can swap music store for book store and music stores are in worse straits right now but that’s a different story). The best thing about the digital media, in music AND in books is that it can resurrect the dead. All of the old books, the old music, all the forgotten things can get life again as free and inexpensive downloads. A new generation can discover the roots of today’s stories and music. So much has been left behind and never reprinted or pressed to CD it is frightening. Sure, it’s fun having newer stuff digital but the old stuff is where we need to focus. The stuff we are losing. In our rush to make bookstores everything the library wasn’t we took the emphasis away from the books and so the books became the last thing people worried about. They came for the coffee, the magazines, the movies, the music, the poetry readings, and the hang out spot and the books, well, they were just books.

Just books.

I love books. I love bookstores. I love the chance to discover the world there. As much as I love them though I admit I don’t buy a lot of books. A big part is price, books have become too pricey. And another part is time, I don’t have time to read a lot. Wait, I don’t TAKE time to read a lot. There is a connection to books, the art, the physicality, the layout, the ART of what a book is, that we cannot duplicate. Just as we cannot duplicate it with music. We try but we cannot do it. It is more than the object itself, story or music, that makes the thing magical, it’s the full package. Bookstores lost that connection. They, like music stores, were the refuges for those of us that are in love with the art of books. They were the churches of the book. Libraries are the museum of books, but the church was the bookstore. That was where you went to get the new book, to get a cheap paperback, to thumb through the weird things you found but would never buy. Bookstores needed to mature, needed to stay current but when they started obsessing over bringing music in, and movies, and gift items, and these elaborate coffee shops it just pulled the attention from the books. The big box stores are doing the same thing. They were once the place to buy movies, and music, and the general big electronics but then they moved to books and mags and the rest. UGH. Sure, sure, the online outlets took a HUGE bite out of bookstores, a huge bite, but there was still a way to fight back. They needed to embrace their region. The local books, the local music, and needed to use that to bring people in, and to beat the stores by having things in stock. Maybe they needed to become a local hangout, a local coffee shop but to me the further you get away from what you do best the bigger risks you are taking.

And are bookstores and traditional books dead?

No. Not at all. I think the thing with books is they need to stop producing so much stuff, honestly. As much as I hate to think that it is true. Publishers need to stop riding every hot trend. We need to make less books in general. Stop producing a million copies of supposed best sellers. Cripes. Embrace print on demand. Set up kiosks that allow a person to order a book on site and have it printed as they wait. Do it for classic books and at an inexpensive prices.  Bookstores need to localize themselves and seek out the local and regional authors. They need to build the future. You can’t get Stephen

King but you can get the next Stephen King. Or whomever. Again, same with record stores. If you cannot directly compete with say, Amazon then don’t, but beat them where you can, which is locally and regionally.

There is no magic bullet for either place, for either venue, but because things are changing doesn’t mean that these places need to die. They just need to re-focus and renew the faith people had. They don’t need to be huge stores, they need to be intimate, knowledgeable (What happened to the employees knowing books?), and they need to focus back on the books and the rest of if can go hang. And maybe we authors can help with all this. We can fight back against the mass market cash in books that are all about the fad by connecting to our local bookstores and supporting and promoting them. Maybe the future is there.

Wherever it is though there is a future. I just hope it’s not one without the magic of the physical book.

c

www.meepsheep.com

Turn Down That Music You Darn Kids!

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I am deviating a little from the norm here and am going to talk about something I never really talk about and that is music. I never really talk about music because it is the one thing I love that I am really self conscious about because I know so many people who are musicians, were musicians, or just know music like mad, where I am just a fan that likes what I like and know what I know. But, being a fan of music I do have some thoughts on, go figure, and suddenly I felt the need to write about it. I happened across an article today about a classic rock icon and his serious concerns at the state of modern music. Reading the article and his view reminded me a lot of some of the things I have said myself. That was until I was driving around with the windows down and Nirvana playing in my CD player, then I remember why I loved music in the first place, and that there is no one truth in music. All there are, as with any arts, are opinions, are voices trying to give informed views on something that is truly all about taste.

I remember being in my early twenties and so downright angry at punk music that it made me sick. I didn’t get it, I didn’t want to get it, and I was mad that people I knew had such a connection to the stuff. Anything and everything punk made me downright angry. Now, a long time later I can only laugh at myself and my anger because once in a while I still feel the same way about certain things, the only difference is that I can step outside of that and see why I am so passionate about it. What it boils down to is the same things that attract us to some music are the things that push us away from other stuff. Music is sometimes more personal than we imagine and when it connects with us it is some sort of strange magic. For me, I just never connected with punk music, it didn’t speak to me, so in my inability to understand why people I knew loved the stuff I got frustrated. It was like seeing a color and being told it is the color green when I believe it to be the color blue. I fought it instead of just going with it and getting over it. And we all do that, we are myopic about what we like and love and feel passion for and cannot understand why others don’t see the same things that we do, feel the same things, and get mad when what we love is criticized. It is the same thing that makes us act stupid when there is music, or whatever, that we don’t like, naturally because we are all such keepers of the flame of taste, ya know.

With every era there comes new music trends, new bands to the fore and the old stalwarts start to fall from favor and this is just the nature of things. This is what happens. Kids don’t wanna be into the same music their parents aren’t into. Sure, they make come to appreciate the stuff as they get older and can discover it themselves but who wants to feel as if their parents understand them? No one, baby. And just as the seasons change, so too does the music industry and now that computers have become such a strong part of modern music styles are shifting at an increasing rate. With the internet, Twitter, My Space, Facebook, and all the other social networking out there trends come and go almost over night. Social media allows us immediate interaction with one another, and with the artists so we can post the song, the video, links to the band websites, and links to concert tickets. But with that connection to the artists and each other we are losing the connection to the music. The life of a single now is judged in weeks, not months, and not years. The radio used to turn us on to new music but now it just follows trends and milks each single until we cannot stand the song anymore. Hits, like blockbusters are predetermined, as are the stars. Music is about the machine, not the songs. That is the trouble.

It is easy to blame the computers and the technology but that is not what it killing what the older generations grew up listening to. Music will last, will survive, but the scary part is that the artists may not. We are in an era where the corporations are strangling the industry out of fear of piracy and they are not giving the artists the chance to find their audience. New artists are signed and dropped in a matter of months and the pressure becomes so strong that their single hit it is no wonder that the Internet and social networking is so important to these musicians. Without the luxury of MTV and a music television network sites like You Tube become the de facto outlets for videos and when you are an up and coming band and trying to get your video out there and have to compete against a video of a baby falling over, well, that makes it awfully hard to break through. The advent of the MP3 and digital music downloads has brought new revenue to the industry but better than that it has allowed musicians to take ownership of their music and so they can release, market, and distribute new work whenever they wish and can control it completely. The Internet and digital distribution lets the artist go around the industry but while that is a great start, the real money comes from live shows and that is still locked down when you get into bigger venues.

The shame of the short life of singles is that we are not connecting as deeply with as much music. Sure, we still connect, but the modern pop seems like a passing fad and we don’t pay as much attention as we used to. We are already told what songs are going to be hits so the magic of them rising up the charts isn’t there. And with the advent of the digital single downloads we are losing the art of the album. Once upon a time album art tied into and was part of the album and it went hand in hand with the music, the lyrics, and the photography to create a spell that, when you connected with a record, really tied you to the music and the band. Too often now releases are a mix of singles with no connectivity and at times little connection to the musician. And with that sort of trend rising, and no real feeder system to support new artists I can see why things would seem so dire.

What of the passion? Some decry. Where is the outrage? Where are the modern voices of protest? Still there, still there in the music. I admit that pop music is far more about partying and having fun that it used to be but that is probably more of a signpost for our times. We are in an era where terrorism seems rampant and every few months there is another mass tragedy that rocks the world. The economy is bad, the jobs dried up, and as a nation America is at a crossroads so is it any wonder that our music is more about having fun and letting loose? Past that though there are still the riotous anthems, the angry voices, and the fists in the air. Hip hop has long been a place to foster these voices and while you may not find them in the mainstream they are still driving the industry. Just as heavy metal and punk have always maintained the fire. Much of this sort of music is shrugged off by the critics because we seem to have less respect for personal politics and for ‘angst’ (the same stuff acts like Nirvana were applauded for and made millions on) than we do for music about the broader politics but it all leads down the same road. The fire is there, it just changes, and sometime fades over time. I still listen to angry, political music, but I don’t feel the same need to go fight the big, faceless enemy and instead work towards rebuilding the world in how I act and move forward.

Sometimes it really is hard to see the silver lining in the modern music industry and in modern music but then, we cannot judge music by what is always popular or played. That stuff serves its purpose, and is still valuable. Heck, pop music is as it has always been – fun music that you play at parties. But if we look past that, and some of us want and need to, we will find the music that still has the fight, the flourish, the cockiness, and the magic. For me, the band Goirillaz reminded me of what it was to fall in love with music, and how much wonder still exists out there. Yes, music is changing, it is evolving, but that is what it does, and has done since the beginning. How many decried the use of an electric guitar as the death of music? And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Music will always be a powerful way to tell stories and to show us the world through new eyes. What we need are more places for music to be found. More video outlets, more places to learn about the music, and artists with the guts to buck whatever the trend is and to just do what they do the best they can. As fans we obsess over sellout artists but the real sellout is the industry that forces artists into retirement or to change themselves because of what the passing trends are. Yes, sometimes music frustrates me but when it does I can always return to the stuff that reminds me how damn powerful the stuff is, and reminds me why it will last forever, no matter what it is made with and who is making it. And that is why music and books are similar, because how we get and enjoy both is changing, but that doesn’t make the works any less important or powerful.

And now…let’s remind ourselves why in some cases art will always beat industry, one way or another, just look at Ani DiFranco and the other indie artists out there who made careers by their own hands and own rules. Music will last because we need it, and always will. Music will last because it is love, and hate, and war, and peace, and hope, and dreams, and heartache and is everything it is to be human, and that will last as long as we last. And that is a pretty great lesson to end with, if ya ask me.

‘Cause The Things Ya Love, Ya Just Gotta Share

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So I wanted to share two very cool Michigan things that just make me smile. Two musical acts that are literally one man bands and which show the magic you can truly make when you work alone.

Thumbpedal - Walkatalk – my friend Jack hipped me to this record as his nephew knows the man behind the music and he nagged me for nearly a year to listen to it and I just never got around to it. Until now. Wow. It reminds me of Mr. Bungle meets old school country. It’s storytelling music that is as weird as it is fun and is utterly amazing.

Next is my friend Jeff Mansk’s project Flipping the Pig. This is such a wonderful project that is pure pop poetry and pulls at the heart while it tickles the funnybone. I was literally awe struck when I heard the two albums and am still today. I have seen him perform as well and it’s something special.

As a Michigan ‘artist’ and creator I know it’s not the easiest thing to get the word out and to keep promoting work that is getting dustier, but man, this is amazing stuff and deserves to get some notice here and abroad.