Seeking Abysmal Guitarist For Apocalyptic House Band, Musicians Need Not Apply!

You’d think being a musician would make you an artist but, sadly, I know very few musicians who would qualify as artists. Art is all about boundary transgression, creativity, and experimentation whereas virtually all musicians are conventional formula followers -- slaves to fashion might well be the appropriate metaphor. Music is, after all, at least until recently, a commodity -- priced aural product flowing out of sonic mills. The internet was supposed to spur creativity and foster communities of bold adventurers but, instead, it seems that the internet has merely provided another opportunity for the bland, conventional, and even reactionary personalities to broadcast their bland, conventional reactions to a larger audience of bio mass. Ironically, since music is nearly ‘worthless’ today one would imagine that, like poetry, music would have made quantum leaps in creativity. Like never before, social media and music streaming sites provide a previously unimaginable opportunity for individual creativity and self-expression; the sky was supposed to be the limit and so on and so forth. What a joke. To the contrary, the internet and digital technologies have simply made the toxic individual’s ‘symptom’ and prejudices public. You can give people all the tools and technology in the world but only a statistically insignificant number will ever take advantage of them to the fullest extent.

Music, at the end of the day, is social and that means that it will conform to rules, regulations, formulas, etc., and (worst of all) musicians take it upon themselves to police the rigid boundaries of what is permitted or acceptable. Try springing something really creative or unusual on your virtual herd of musicians and you’re going to be either (a) ignored or (b) beat up for doing something new or even trying something that deviates from the cherished norm. You will have excited ‘fans’ or ‘admirers’ or what have you but they will not publicly ‘out’ themselves and open themselves to ridicule -- you can get some nice private communications going but nothing in the way of a movement of artistic pioneers.

I used to run several web sites dedicated to weird or experimental guitarists. After 11 years, 13 message board systems, and several thousand ‘members’ (whatever that means), when it was all said and done we only managed to congregate about two dozen brave and adventurous souls. Granted, they were each cream of the crop sound art creators (some famous for it too) but it is difficult to sustain anything that resembles a united front. Why?

When you get right down to it, the real artist, being immune or even hostile to social conventions and musical norms, is by definition an ‘egoist’ (individualistic, if you will, and maybe excessively so) and therefore does not have a predilection for ‘hanging out’ with others or really caring what others are doing. What kind of artist would waste their time hanging out at a guitar message board arguing about the advantages and disadvantages of this or that $99 sweatshop special or fighting over the age old question: Clapton or Hendrix!? It just gets worse as you ‘descend’ the instrument ladder: try communicating artistically with a singer (‘I use my mouth’), a ‘bass player’ (four strings, no chords), or if you’re really lucky, the musical moron, a drummer: boom goes here. In thirty years I’ve only played with one drummer that you could legitimately call an artist -- the remainder were just partial musicians (the only Harmony or Melody they knew about were a couple of two-bit floozies at the local pub). So, who’s hanging out online?

After 11 years of looking for compatriots I reckon I can identify no more than 75-100 real artists and, out of them, I only managed to ever gather a dozen or so together at any one time and place -- maybe 25 on special occasion. Again, we’re egoists and somewhat immune from congregating. The people that get together on music web sites and message boards tend to be the opposite of the egoist -- they are the conventional partially-individuated herd members seeking to surround themselves with like-minded replicants; sociologists would call this opposite of the ‘egoist’ the ‘altruist’ -- the person who lacks a sufficient degree of individuation, who identifies with something ‘other’ than themselves, who seeks identity with an other object. On the surface of things (behavior) they may appear to be ego-maniacs but it thinly veils a narcissistic character flaw. The narcissistic jerk is really a kind of underground 'altruist' in that they are looking for their self in the form of an other. They tend to talk and think about things and stuff rather than creating and when they talk and think about music they twiddle away their hours talking about the same old things that they always talk about and that have always been talked about. They produce very little and what they do produce is highly conventional and formulaic. They play and replay their ‘blues scale’ and buy things that are imagined to be popular. Not knowing who they are or what they really want they seek advice from others concerning what is popular or acceptable and then they buy those things which give them some temporary satisfaction. Once they accumulate a sufficient quantity of acceptable and presumably desirable things they may list them in their online ‘signature.’ This character is identified by a list of material objects that they barricade themselves behind: ‘I am identified by this $99 sweatshop special and I own more than one’ they desperately proclaim -- a kind of pseudo-totemism. But more importantly, the social function of this bio mass of ‘others’ is to make sure that artists, creators, and experimenters are effectively contained and dealt with. "Crazy, stupid, weird, bad" -- braying on like a herd of donkeys.

The guitarists talk about picks and strings and stale heros on the covers of magazines; the singers talk about microphones and preamps; the bassists talk about tone woods and amps and whatever; and the drummers talk about cymbals and heads and sticks they can bang conventionally around with making conventional sounds. On the off chance any of them have ever produced some music it will sound like this: dum da dum da dum da dum.....just like everybody else: dum da dum da dum da dum...

I do not hate the small, narrow-minded, and conventional musician or even the miserable wannabe musicians that hang out together bickering over their picks, strings, and heros. But I don’t pity them either. As Nietzsche once said, save pity for things that can’t change or be otherwise. I’m just glad I am not one of them and that I do not know them or have to associate with them: In the case of the actual musicians, their industry is dying off and they will have to earn their livelihoods in some other industry where their time and energy will be sucked out and transformed into some product owned and sold by somebody else. As for the pseudo musicians and accumulators of instruments and material goods, the socioeconomic bases of their symptom is crashing down around them: 40 years of stagnating wages, high unemployment, almost unimaginable levels of underemployment, deskilling of jobs, increased taxes, diminished state services, dead-end lateral career shifts, etc., results in their objects of desire become meaner and cheaper and when they can’t accumulate with their earnings they enslave themselves with credit. Imagine being a slave to Chase Manhattan just so you can be the proud owner of a couple of budget Chinese guitars and amps and whatnots that you gloat and fight over with your virtual friends and imagined enemies.

Ultimately, I suppose art-hating musicians and collectors (be they junk or boutique oriented) are entitled to their passions and prejudices. In a way, they’re earning it more every day. The artist represents everything they are not: free to be and do whatever they want and to find that freedom in means and techniques that transcend the petty accumulation of goods and things. The penalty of musicianship is the lack of freedom combined with the ‘reward’ of petty, shared moral indignation. But art is not without its penalty: the lack of solidarity and widespread recognition. So long as you are content with relative isolation or the occasional case of ridicule then the way forward is an endless horizon limited only by imagination and somewhat by materials. Can’t stand that “fear of freedom” as Erich Fromm called it? then just log into your friendly online message board, grab a rock, and stone a sinner. It may be painful to be the ‘sinner’ but as Nietzsche so eloquently framed the situation, the creators will ‘love’ those that cast the stones because far from stopping them it drives them to create more and to aspire to more ‘outlandish’ creations.

Unfortunately for the conventional types, their world is dissolving and convention is not a helpful mentality. Like all fin de siècle moments and epochal shifts, experimental art is both a symptom of the time and corrosive that further dissolves existent reality, norms, and morals. The greater the reaction, the greater the revolutionary aesthetic impulse on the part of the creators, and the quickening of the eventual collapse. The whole enchilada is going into the abyss and we’re the house band playing weird sounds as you donkeys run off the edge of the cliff.