Sunday, March 8, 2020

Artists Don’t Compromise | Lefsetz Letter

To live outside the law you must be honest.

Bob Dylan

I just wasted an hour watching Bill Maher tell Democrats to take corporate money.

He doesn’t get it.

Bernie Sanders is a bigger rock star than anybody making music today. Why? BECAUSE HE SAYS NO!

Being a rock star is all about credibility, which is why there are no financial rock stars, and very few tech rock stars. Rock stars don’t do market research, they hew to their own tuning fork, they don’t do what is expedient but what is right. And all this draws an audience to them.

Did you read that Justin Bieber had to scale down some of his dates? Yup, switch them from stadiums to arenas. Pop acts? Live by the hit, die by the hit. And nitwit Justin who has been in the spotlight for most of his life doesn’t even know right from wrong, he tried to game the system and got busted for it, further depreciating his credibility while releasing stiff music to boot. Come on, that single? One listen told me it wasn’t gonna go. You don’t need a Berklee degree to know which way the song blows.

But there are acts that haven’t had a hit in eons who can go clean at every gig.

Take a look at the Eagles. Hipsters like to rag on them. But the fans keep paying exorbitant prices to see them. Why? Well, first and foremost the songs, second Don Henley is really that guy. He stands by his choices. Stands up to the man. And this makes people believe in the music. Your identity is intertwined with your music, compromise either and you’re toast.

People like to say it’s different today. It sure is, no one’s got a backbone, no one is willing to hang it out there. They won’t take a stand because it might potentially alienate a fan. But if you appeal to everybody, you’re Donny Osmond. He tried to regroup but it was too late, he was branded.

So today you go on a TV singing show, even though no one has made it from “The Voice” in America ever, and TV has less credibility in music than it ever has. Used to be being on Letterman was a breakthrough, now late night TV has such anemic ratings you’re better off staying home, better off investing in social media. Just say no to TV.

And just say no to multiple songwriters. It isn’t about the hit. You can make it without hits at all. It’s about what’s coming straight from your heart. The audience wants to believe it’s coming directly from you, that you’re that person.

Sure, you can have a few hits and still play the lounge in Vegas when you’re in your seventies, but that’s commerce, not art.

People can tell the difference.

Everybody’s a sausage-maker today. Analyzing the landscape, molding their product for consumption, even though breakthroughs always come from rugged individuals on the outside. Like Steve Jobs. There hasn’t been a techie like him since, except maybe Elon Musk, who unfortunately overpromises and underdelivers. Meanwhile, the press and the short-sellers couldn’t stop ragging on Tesla, and then the stock price went through the roof! In other words, the media and the street were out of touch with the public, the investors. Kinda like Ford calling their new SUV a Mustang. What next, a moped called a Camaro?

It’s so hard to make it today that everybody wants to sell out, not realizing that everything builds slowly, most people are not interested in you, and if you hang in there long enough, and are good enough, you can make hay out of your career. Come on, all those people coming to the show to buy CDs and vinyl when they don’t have the equipment to play them on?

But purity is history in America today, even though it’s purity we are looking for.

We want Mr. Smith, and we want him to go to Washington, even though they don’t make movies like that anymore.

You’ve got to have the goods.

Bernie Sanders spends a lifetime in politics, Mike Bloomberg, a billionaire, comes along and expects to buy votes with saturation advertising. But it turns out it only worked in American Samoa! You see people are just not that dumb.

That’s what everybody keeps saying about the public, that people are dumb.

But they’ve got the same streaming channels, the same smartphones, the same internet as the rest of the country, why should they be so ignorant?

I’m not talking about being in their own silo. You’re in your own silo too. In a world where everybody knows more than they ever did, one individual knows less of the total world than he or she ever did. But the old swinging dicks, the reporters, the TV talking heads, talk down to us, like they know, WHEN THEY DON’T!

Art is instinct.

If a person is winning at the corporation, they’re probably not an artist. The aforementioned Steve Jobs couldn’t work for anybody, he brought on Sculley and immediately got blown out. Artists are leaders, not followers.

And artists have doubts, but they continue to forge ahead.

All of today’s metrics are wrong. The number of followers… Hell, we’re not running for school office here, we’re wondering about influence, and it turns out most of these influencers don’t have any, they’re just cottage industries that always go broke when the perpetrator finds out they’re working 24/7 and are burned out. And are they missed? An artist is missed if they don’t produce. Can you say Tool? Their absence made their fans grow fonder.

All we keep hearing about is selling. That’s what music advice has turned into. How to market yourself, use social media, get on playlists, with everybody going the same way don’t you think it’d be those who walk the road less taken who would stand out?

There’s not enough money in music to always say yes. Leave some money on the table. But in a world where the insider business person has a longer career than the act, these lifers just tell the acts to sell out and they do, to their detriment.

Maybe you just want some fame and some cash, some notoriety, the ability to cut the line.

That’s cool, but you are not an artist.

They hate Bernie Sanders because he didn’t play it their way. If you’re a student of the game, if you read all the media and watch all the TV, you’ll find it’s a full court press to eliminate Bernie.

I don’t care whether he wins or not (actually I do, but that’s not the point), but the truth is by staking out positions that are not focus-grouped, and sticking with them, he’s raised more money than any other Democratic candidate…now that’s support!

And who does he have to answer to? HIS FANS!

And what do the fans want? FOR HIM TO KEEP ON DOING WHAT HE’S DOING!

Actually, you see it on Patreon. It’s all niche. You haven’t heard of most of the acts and never will, but they’re concerned with being themselves and speaking to their audiences without any middleman.

Well, that’s not completely true, they’re all selling stuff to stay alive, Patreon’s a bastion of merch, but they are happy serving their base, and I’m cool with that, just as long as they don’t complain they’re not bigger.

Not everyone deserves to be bigger, not everybody is a rock star, not everybody is an artist.

An artist captures lightning and distills truth for the rest of us.

That’s what we’re all looking for, truth and insight.

And pop music has never delivered this, whether it be in the forties or today. Usually art is too dangerous, too different for the pop chart. But sometimes the noise is so loud the art invades the bastion. Like in the late sixties, when Cream invaded AM, Janis Joplin and others too.

But what happened after that?

AM died. Because all the action was on FM. AM was for losers. Ignore the charts from that era, singles meant little, albums meant everything.

And now the establishment keeps going on about albums. An artist would forge a different direction, but all the supposed “artists” just want a return to the past.

Picasso and Braque went totally abstract with cubism.

But Picasso kept changing and Braque kept repeating himself and it’s Picasso who is the legend.

Kinda like David Bowie. We don’t have artists like this today, who are willing to go in completely new directions, not caring about the audience’s expectations.

Artists don’t give people what they want, but what they need.

And there are very few artists out there.

And some of the best have been killed by the crowd. Let’s start with Lenny Bruce.

It takes courage to go the other way.

In this completely sold out culture we now inhabit, where facts are fungible and everybody is selling you something, it’s truth we want.

We’re waiting…


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