Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gamergate, Feminism and Getting the Right Numbers


In high school I read a book called Games People Play.  As science goes, it was weak pop psychology but I vaguely remember two of the games described, rapo and hurrah.   In rapo a person is the aggressor but as soon as that is noted they immediately become a victim and then start the game of hurrah, a game where a mob piles on to the person who noted the person playing victim.   This is what is going on in web activism in some corners these days.   It has become mob rule and that is how the web has operated in far too many social justice campaigns.   Aggressors start culture wars to advance a social agenda then claim to be victims.   They may have a just cause but means matter.

Before getting into the meat, one note: if you are sending emails, tweets or passenger pigeons to other people threatening violence, you are committing a crime and in this wall to wall, 24 x 7, bathroom to boardroom surveillance state, you can expect a knock at the door and you deserve it.   If there is one unarguable issue above all, it is this: violence is a matter of humanism and against the law.  Threats and violent actions are unacceptable.  There is a considerable body of writing on that aspect of Gamergate.  Read it and be well-informed.

The point of this article is Gamergate illuminates what web activism too often comes down to: Spy Vs Spy. The same strategies played by all sides for power, not fairness, superiority not equality. As from the very inception of the web, they are played in the cause of social justice.

So Microsoft hires Danah Boyd and sets her loose on openness in technical systems and the party goes on despite the fact that in technology, change that does not improve form, fit or function is fashion, and usually for profit. This is how we got the WWW and then traded away privacy, security and local culture. And so it goes.

Here is a campaign message that makes me ask a different question: is this video an example of feminist activism or child abuse?

http://www.eonline.com/news/590557/watch-these-adorable-little-girls-drop-f-bombs-and-truth-bombs-to-promote-feminism

As a parent, if my child were used that way I'd be taking heads regardless of the message or cause.  Means matter and that video doesn't inspire me to look at the message.  It obscures it in the offensive content then says we can't be offended.

So.... fuck that.    We're adults and we protect children.  And feminism takes a bruising kick to the head by it's own boot heel.

That the video is on a page next to a picture of Renee Zellwigger showing off her "new look" and being celebrated for it by the Hollywood press could not be more ironic  or a better example of how hypocritical the web press is on the topic of feminism.   It's ALL click bait.  Web activism is a mess of "crossed streams" and as Egon said, "Don't cross the streams."

It seems that Gamergate will be seized on as a cause to promote the need for feminism at a time when feminism in the West is at an all time weak point. This may or may not be justified as the gamer community can't be said to be representative of the world at large.

There is wide variation across the globe in conditions that justify feminism as a call to action.. If a woman lives in Pakistan, for example or India or Saudi, feminism may be the difference between life and death. In Southern California or London England, much less so.  In Iran a woman who killed a man that she accused or rape was hung.  Unless she did that defending herself during the act, it is likely she would face serious jail time in the US.  Is that good law?    It is situational and generalizing can have side effects in systems of precedent or case law.   Justices stay up nights.

I think it important to have some perspective of locale or this topic devolves into Spy vs Spy, Men Bad Women Good, your side sucks but we don't, etc. And it is too important to let that happen. Memes so shrill as to be offensive even to supporters will surely weaken the discourse.

The statistics rolled out are in dispute. For example there is a study published by the US Senate that disputes the claim of a 23 per cent salary gap.

http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=2a1f8ad4-f649-4ad3-a742-268d946962db

And another that says it is real.

http://www.aauw.org/files/2014/03/The-Simple-Truth.pdf

And a video that says the favorite statistics are all myths:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TR_YuDFIFI

Who to believe? 

If you have the time, here is a Marxist theorist's approach to the theories about the identity politics.   Have a glass of wine first.   This is hard reading.

http://libcom.org/library/i-am-woman-human-marxist-feminist-critique-intersectionality-theory-eve-mitchell

A more useful question is not what does equal pay mean but how does one quantify equal work. It isn't as easy as citing job classifications but that may be all that can be done.  The Hudson Group study cited above does exactly that and the difference is around 9 percent, not 23. Who is right?   That takes reasoned research where the answer is not assumed before the question is asked.

Yet asking that question of Ronny Cox, a famous character actor elicited harassment and harrangue from him. Vile stuff.   And when the famous do that rather than have a reasoned answer, the gaming of the conversation is way over the top.   So I unfollow them.   Not a problem on Facebook but an example of how strange things have become.

There are disputes based on FBI incident reporting that the rape count is as high as claimed. However, anyone famiiar with NIBRS and UCR knows these are not the right source for those numbers but I don't know what is. The claims are wildly varying and there is too much personal anecdote taking.

If we have learned one thing from media-driven cause du jour events lately it is wait until there are hard forensics before burning down the village.   We cannot simply pile on and assume the social justice activist has a valid cause.   Perceptions fool us.  The common knowledge can be dead wrong.  A reasonable scepticism is reasonable.  We need a cold sober professional assessment of rape statistics. Even one is too many but as gas on a fire, this one needs real numbers.

As Monica Lewinsky has been opining as Patient Zero, the web is a marvelous tool for shattering and ruining lives.     Feminism has heroes but also foolish examples who became victims of their own foolish actions in the eyes of mobs.   She kept the dress, shared the infidelity and let the dogs out.   If we are to be reasonable, perhaps we shouldn't be so willing to sacrifice a 22 year old to a political agenda disguised as a social justice cause.   It was a private event between consenting adults.  In my opinion, not my circus, not my monkeys as they say.  On the other hand, it is not clear what her current campaign is about.   If it is that the web is a very large amplifier of whatever is cited most frequently by the most people at the greatest amplitude, then she is right.  And the lesson is?

"Mama told me not to come.  That's not the way to have fun."

Gamergate finally elicited a response from the Queen Geek, Felicia Day. I'm a fan of her writing. When she wants to be funny, she is. This piece is sad because as someone who has profited by being the role model of online female gamers, this piece has the feel of a first class passenger rowing away from the Titanic realizing that the gaiety has ended and though she survives, the deck on which she danced carefree is forever gone.

http://thisfeliciaday.tumblr.com/post/100700417809/the-only-thing-i-have-to-say-about-gamer-gate

Yet as in the great sea tragedy, she never once asks if perhaps game content might have something to do with the raw ferocity of Gamergate.   She doesn't seem to be capable of questioning, just expressing fear.  That's a pity because for some reason we do expect an elevated concern of our celebrities although as with Cox, I'm not sure why.  They are actors, not scientists.   And that is a clue that who we elevate to prominence in conversations on matters of importance should be able to reason as much as emote.  

Here unfortunately the hard right has a point:  Hollywood and the entertainment community don't of necessity have a better seat at the show or a wiser point of view.   They have opinions just as the rest of us do.  The size of their fan base is the tool of those who may simply use them.   Once again, these are mob politics not reasoned debate.  As soon as she published her opinion, she was doxed (malicious publication of personal details such as address, phone number; a favorite tactic of web hacktivists such as anonymous).   And it sucks.  It is also a nasty problem of being a celebrity.   She did speak up and that is laudable but because she made her reputation as a famous geeky gamer, loves the games, perhaps she took some responsibility however shallow and it is the best she has.   I am sceptical about her surprise as the author of those Guild episodes where she pummels a Wil Wheaton clone for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  In other words, Felicia Day has always known about the sexist side of gaming and has parodied it for fame and fortune.  Now she is afraid.   Wow.

http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/10/23/3583347/felicia-day-gamergate/

Some try to have a conversation about real and well-documented problems of women in other cultures but will often be shouted down by a person representing yet another social justice cause, then remonstrated by a member of the original group of victims.

http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2014/10/25/comment/an-open-letter-to-ben-affleck/

Social activists on the web have become like web standards:  there are so many to choose from.

Then there are the no-denials-possible sexists.  

http://pando.com/2014/10/22/the-horrific-trickle-down-of-asshole-culture-at-a-company-like-uber/

This is where posts and remarks and moves made in and out of tech companies are straight up Title VII events that should and must get a response.  I've seen too many Title VII actions in tech companies come to nothing because the guy OR the girl making the complaint was guilty but couldn't be touched.   And yes, both genders use Title VII for power and a quick ride up the ladder.   If you work in the office world be it old school brick or neo-startup, young or old, guy or gal, become very familiar with Title VII.  It is precedent based and really bad law but it is what we have to protect ourselves so learn how it works, what doesn't work and what to be careful about.  

Title VII is a Human Resources nightmare and managers fear it because it rips across business units like a seismic fault and does lasting damage.   So accept the responsibility to understand the implications and everyone will be better off, but don't expect it to be automatic.   A Title VII complaint can kick off six months of the office cubes shaking and grinding.   Caveat vendor.

Feminism is not a minority cause as was the case with gay marriage or treatment of racial minorities. Women ARE the majority. They have the power of the vote and can make that work for them. Or they can be made to work for others who adopt feminism as a mantle of social justice but who only seek power for its own sake and have no intention of changing much past the election. We do well to be wary because we have been and continue to be fooled again.

Games are simply product.  Feminism should be taken more seriously and it may not be the case that we can say which is more important without being attacked.  The vitriol of a Ronny Cox or the fearfulness of a Felicia Day can't be the ponies we cling to.   We must take the riders off the horses if the race is to be adjudicated fairly.

Feminism is important. If those statistics are valid, we have a lot of change to make but we cannot make it based on false assertions, premises and questioned statistics. And we can't do it without each other. It simply won't work. And playing games for points will destroy any credibility this issue has and rot any change required in the box. If the cause isn't important, let it die in the soup. If it is, turn down the heat before it boils over and is ruined for a generation.

Yet instead some feminists are working up a mighty steam, calling it humor but their approach is what it is:  hate in service of power, belittlement in service of superiority.

https://medium.com/the-archipelago/men-get-on-board-with-misandry-4a3bc6c08e16

Men are asked to approve.   It is not surprising some don't and many others consider it yet another reason to dismiss feminism.  

After all, the last laugh is the laugh that is heard just before things get hairy.   We've a long history of hate movements.   They are seldom composed of the majority of any particular group but they are the loudest and they provide the excuse to look the other way or dismiss a legitimate cause.

Look at this video. In my opinion, this is feminism: humanism with a woman's face, a woman's heart and a woman's achievements not simply for other women, but humanity.



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Urge for Going

This song was on my solo play lists for all the early years I was a performer in the local clubs and restaurants.   I'd learned it from the cover by George Hamilton IV on a 45 my family owned.   I wouldn't know about Joni Mitchell for some years to come.  It was the evocative haunting imagery that captured me and remained with me.

A few days ago I decided to cover it with friend, RickVan Nostrand.   A song of the season so to speak.


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Percy Sledge and The Jackson County All Honky Band

Even on the D-list as a player your path will occasionally cross with the B-list and A-list famous.  Over the years I've met and worked with some rather famous people not because I am or should be but because it is a business where sometimes one is hired to fill a space and if one can reasonably do that, one does,

That is how I played a gig in a pick-up band for Percy Sledge.   I am reminded of this because today in Sheffield, a historic plaque was erected on the spot where Percy recorded his hit, When A Man Loves A Woman.   Percy attended, members of the Muscle Shoals elite were there and a concert to help him pay his bills is being held.   The Tribe looks after its own when they can't help themselves and A-list or D-list, they do what they do best:  put on a show.  And that's a grace of being a musician.


http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/09/29/musicians-plan-benefit-concert-percy-sledge/16451169/

But that's not the story of the Jackson County All Honky Band.   This is.


Without naming names, the club owner, a courtly Italian fellow, hired a local lady who played minimal keyboard and sang to hire other musicians to be his backup band at a one night stand. Some of the people hired are names locally so I won't name names.    Most are dead and one is dangerous.

Most had never played together before and had been given lyrics with single letter chord changes, and few had ever heard any Percy excepf for WAMLAW. The songs as a lot of soul is seemed simple but it's all in the rhythm and if you don't know it, you can't fake it.    Me,  I can play Bach but in those days I did not boogie so I was a space filler because another musician backed out or wouldn't work the gig for the scratch offered.   The Other Guitar player who recruited me said it would be easy, he'd show me the licks and off we headed to Scottsboro, a city famous for selling lost airline suitcases full of other people's clothes and a miscarriage of justice still talked about whenever someone wants to play the race card on PBS.

We got together the afternoon of the show for the half hour of rehearsal Percy allowed. As usual he rolled up in a limo-of-sorts driven by his nephew, a rather quietly intense kid.  He looked at us and asked "Do YOU know MY music?"   We all smiled and said we did.  We didn't but this is entertainment and entertainment is about faking it even if you aren't making it.   We played the hit ok and then he got to the rest of his thirty minute set. At one point he turned around, looked at us and laughed a deep serious laugh.  I figured we would all be fired on the spot.. Then he said, "How long have y'all played together?" The other guitar player who was actually a rather good player said, "About 45 minutes. We're the Jackson County All Honky Band." Percy laughed out loud and said, "I thought so."  He just smiled and headed back to the limo with his nephew. 

The show was way way underattended.   In a room meant to hold a thousand plus, maybe a hundred people came.  We waited an extra half hour but then they turned on all the disco lights and Percy led us through the fog of our pasty whiteness.   It could have been worse except for two black gals who danced the daring dance and every time he hit a long high note, they screamed like they were having the ultimate expression of female fecundity. "AHHHHH!!!! PERRRRCY!!" The band sucked bad and the nephew dressed as Percy was in a fine tux, stood on the side looking at me like he was going to personally take me out back and teach me the beat one beating at a time. 

You had to give Percy credit; he sang, he sweated, and occasionally looked over his shoulder at the band with a look of pain, as if he could summon with his own personal magic soul some semblance of a beat he could stand on from a band that was as pale as the moon above.  He was relentless.  He gave it all he had for fifteen minutes then he ended the show.  

The courtly Italian dude was obviously losing his shirt but Percy was going to be paid regardless. One of the band members was crabbing because he expected his wife whom he brought as a backup singer to be paid. The manager told the other guitar player to get him out of there quick.   In music circles, that is a let-off, meaning if we did as we were told, we were off the hook and the Italian would square it with his backers.  Not a meeting one wants to go to, best to do as asked and we did.

Percy was being real polite and nice because he could see we were ... embarassed and said some nice and totally untrue things about our playing.   The Other Guitar Player thanked Percy, grabbed me and said "Let's split, pronto". And we did,   tails tucked and pedal to the metal all the way back to Mad County.

Percy Sledge is a real professional and a legend.  My guess is none of that evening registered and he forgot it all on the drive home through the cool green hills of North Alabama.   I don't want to run into his nephew these decades later because I still can't play soul worth a beating.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thank You, Patrick Macnee. Salud, John Steed!

Television has a long history of heroes from the virile Wyatt Earps of the 1950s to the rough hewn Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of today.  Yet few have ever been as cunning, classy and laissez faire as The Avenger John Steed.

While the series changes considerably in cast, tone and special efffects over the eight year run, John Steed is the single constant throughout.  As young boys, we all fell in love with his beautiful assistants, yet it was Steed who shaped our characters, who demonstated qualities that would serve us well as young men and older men.  He was polished, unfaiingly polite even when he took advantage of his assistant's skills, always the courteous companion.  Even when taken by their charms, he was ready to serve, ready to defend and never stood in their way or questioned their judgement.  He was in fact, the perfect gentleman.

This is a character almost impossible to find on television today and as we wind through the zeitgeist when everything about men's behavior toward women and others is being questioned, young boys would do well to emulate the ever bowlered John Steed.  If in fact the character of Steed owed his witty ripostes to his writers and his wardrobe to the best of British and French clothing designers, he owed his gentlemanly manners to the actor that portrayed him, Patrick Macnee.   While Macnee would go on to play other TV characters including the notorious Cylon Nebeli in the original Starship Gallactica, he is best remembered for his portrayal of John Steed.

As an older man, a Southerner, someone born in the counry to the country folk of Alabama, it seems right to thank Patrick Macnee for John Steed.  Art reaches further than we know and molds characters in ways and at distances often unknown to the artist.  Macnee showed us how a man could be both refined and a man of action, cunning and kind and that a woman must be treated as an equal and a partner.  If his diction was crisp, he was never condescending.  If his walk was slow, his back was straight.  And every person be they high born or the village drunk was accorded courtesy. 

This is what it is to be a well-bred man and whether it is a quality of birth in some or self-made character in others, it can be taught by example. If ths is a credit to Macnee's acting skills or to the evolution of the character, it little matters. Both achieve a perfection of an archetypal good man, admirable, to be respected, cherished and remembered.

So my hat is off to Patrick Macnee and wherever he is, let him know he taught well and for that many are grateful.  I wish there were more of him.

Salud, John Steed.  Thank you, Patrick Macnee.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Bird Whispers

A little bird whispers into the ear of a monster, Qaddiysh,
A secret that wounds the heart of darkness.

There is a light that cannot be unshone.
There is a love that cannot be undone.
Two sparks separated by a million years
Two hearts with a single rhythm
Can never be apart, can never be alone
Are ever one. Dark Angel, one.

Space pushes every point in heaven and earth
Time shares every cry in the pain of birth
Your strength, your will, your malefaction
Are swallowed without your satisfaction

What cannot be counted cannot be destroyed
Your impotent pleasure strikes into a void.

Though the fires you set rage across the fields
The corn still stands, the wheat still waves
The winds blow gentle, the hot sky yields
The rains that harvest's bounty saves.

Though demon legions you command to come from hell's dominion
To scar the faces now upturned with eyes firm fixed on heaven
I sit here on your shoulder freely singing that song given
By love to all from whom the light your presence now is driven.

len bullard - sept 17 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You Have Cancer: You WILL Beat This

So far so good.

Cancer treatment is orders of magnitude better these days as they are much better with dosing in chemo. Radiation is still a bitch. There are a few pointers.

Attitude is everything.

People will hear and become somewhat death obsessed. If you are the patient, the first day you are told is just... awful. Scary. And the next week or so aren't much better. Then attitude kicks in, the sense of humor and that is good. But people start dropping by who think they are seeing you for the last time and you want to be polite but don't listen. Get this fixed in your mind: YOU are going to beat this.

And the odds are good you will.

You have a long stretch of the legs to travel, so this is a time that it is ok to put yourself first. Selfish isn't.

Steroids: if your treatment includes steroids, they don't call them rage roids for nothing. Word. I took a good friend's head off one night on FB for nothing important. Soooo... when taking roids, social media isn't.

Depending on the treatment, it's mostly inconvenient but what you will see at a cancer institute is often worse than what you are enduring. I won't get into it here but if you are even mildly empathetic, some of it is heartbreaking. On the other hand, the staff at these centers do the work of saints and you'll be treated as well as you ever will be in your life. Keep in mind they are seeing what you are seeing every day. Appreciate that. Attitude is everything,

Last and touchy for some, if medical marijuana ever comes up in your state, vote for it. It works. Enuff said.

Treatment is not without side effects. The main one is fatigue. Over the course of typically six months it will wear you down. Get sleep, don't fret about it. You need it. Not everyone loses all their hair. Agains it depends on the treatment. Most thin out but that comes back. There was a lady in our group who had a box of wigs and every one was named. She pulled out one long red haired wig and said "My husband really likes Raquel" and smiled.

Attitude is everything.

Another problem is your immune system will go to zero. Some people choose to stay home for most of the treatment. I worked in a surgical mask because I had a job where people needed to know I could be there. Some can; some can't. Choose for yourself but this is a good time to have a hobby you can do alone because you do need to control who has close access to you. I composed a Latin mass (with full orchestration and four part harmony in the spirit of Arlo Guthrie). When asked why, I said that when I die I don't want the funeral home to play bad Amazing Grace and at my last gig, dammit, it would be MY music. If that seems odd, the point is simply take this time to do the work that makes you feel most satisfied. That way you keep anxiety down and you will feel better. Whatever you do best, whatever makes you feel that you are in control of your life, do that.

Attitude is everything.

Cheers. It is tough but you are going to beat this and when you do, you will change and for the better. This is a disease that will get your attention, make you cherish what is worth cherishing, and rise up.

Good hunting!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Forest In A Wasteland: The Challenge of Decency



One person making a huge difference. All by himself, slow and steady. (Thanks, Katy!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkZDSqyE1do

Decency manifests one man, one seed at a time. Yet one man's work can disappear in a single year if other decent men do not value and protect it.

This is the great question before us. We believe we are a nation of decent people and that this decency is our most valuable asset as we stand before the world offering leadership. But I look at the behavior of our elected leaders, I see the corruption from Wall Street, I experience the fraud and lieing of even local organizations, established companies and I ask myself if this is still true, if this decency has become a feint, a means to exploit us and take the work of single men, the profits of local initiative and give it to others to add to their own accounts?

A man can plant a forest. Another man can cut the wood and sell it to light the fires that forge the weapons that kill decent men everywhere, and who will stop them without the same weapons until at last there are no trees to burn, and no decent men to plant more?

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Lowe Mill Arts and Entertainment Center

Color Photos courtesy of Allison Lewis

Some people travel to the southeast to see the arts, visit the old studios in Muscle Shoals, see the zoo in Birmingham, maybe make a quick stop in Huntsville to look at the rockets and travel on sure they have sampled the best Alabama has to offer.  They are wrong.

If you go a few miles further past the Saturn V standing on I-565 in Huntsville, and if you know where to turn, you may see an old cotton mill that once housed a shoe factory called Genesco.  Long ago it was a major employer for the hundreds of workers who sat within the redbrick walls on the wooden floors cutting a sewing in the sweltering summer heat as the aging machines labored. 

Then it was closed, employees sent home and Huntsville lumbered into the Space Age as the rocket ships plowed their way like mules into the blue skies and on to the Moon.

But the buildings remained.

And the city that built the rocket ships changed as new high tech industries made the local research park home to more diversified and in some ways darker places to work.  As weapons industries replaced America's ambitions in space, as the universities grew and the city spread out beyond the emerald necklace of green hills that once circumscribed the city proper, quietly the art communities also expanded. 

Where once there was only the old Arts Council housed in an ancient city school, then torn down to make a parking lot and the arts scattered across the city, when all of the counter culture artists could be gathered into a small bungalo for a party, suddenly there were many many more artists. And they found a champion in the owner of Hudson Alpha, a genetics firm, who bought the old Lowe Mill and dedicated it to the arts. 

For the past few years, the factory space was transformed into galleries, studios, and artists, painters, dress makers, rug makers, photographers, collectors and sellers of old clothes and even a maker of cigarbox guitars took residence.  The loading dock became a concert stages and bands from the southeast began to play free concerts. 


And the crowds came.  2000 to 5000 people a week come.  And they still come.  And it is marvelous, joyous, light and wise.

And if you come to Alabama, you should come to the largest single arts studio in the Southeast and possibly the country.  Walk in the shops, visit the theatre, see the place where young movie makers come to be trained.  Come to what is made when independents gather in one place and call it home.  There are seven galleries, ninety three studios, over one hundred and forty eight artists, and soon thiry per cent more space as another building is opened,

This is love.  And love is never wrong.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Digital Nudes. Turned On Yet?

The article says we should be very upset about digital crimes.  We should. We definitely should. Meanwhile most are googling for the nudes...

 Then this "And rightly so, because these photo leaks aren’t sex scandals. They’re sex crimes."

No they aren't.

They are theft of property just like stolen movies and stolen music. This is the web and if you don't want it stolen, don't use the technology. It was designed by social nitwits for other social nitwits and enabled the biggest wealth transfer in technical history to the technologists who designed it without safeguards.

If they can make this someone else's fault, they'll feel better and maybe she will like them. Meanwhile as another writer noted an infinite supply of idiots is required to keep financing the systems that enable the very actions the nitwits are calling crimes because the idiots and nitwits embarassed someone who posted nude photos of herself based on the promises of nitwits to idiots.

And so it goes.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/leah-mclaren-leak-of-nude-photos-is-a-sex-crime-not-a-scandal/article20334805/?click=sf_globefb#dashboard/follows

The Importance of The Ecosystem of Expression

A response to Jon Taplin'e excellent post on supply and demand of quality art in the age of digital distribution and a million channels with nothing on (If Great Art Was Popular Again):

You have to square the originalist over traditionalist issues of culture and see the curator as not being a barrier to access but a preserver of what is important. Access to what is good is controlled by the artist who determines how they will be distributed in so far as that is possible. Kate Bush satisfied herself with a comfortable lifestyle instead of a fabulously wealthy and notoriously public lifestyle, waited thirty five years to go live again, then in one series sold 100,000 tickets in fifteen minutes, policed the theatre for cameras and stands to recoup many times that amount with the DVD release. IOW, controlling one's own greed is part of the strategy.

The example quoted in another article about Duane Allman is too one dimensional. If the curator says only Allman's slide playing is important because it is best, he tells George Harrison to never bother to pick up a slide. It isn't a pyramid. Good enough in the right setting is good enough. In fact, an a-list approach is now impossible. The curator has to distinguish between popular and important because one is driven by market economics and it is not possible to dam that up with critiques. Vaudeville stood side by side with broadway and HoneyBooBoo for the short time she lasts stands side by side with Meryl Streep.

I play a few gigs. I usually fill the room with people who are of a certain age and economic demographic. I play quality material from others and some of my own. I compete with kids who beat guitars, sing songs of either sugarlove or suiciderockkillmania. They play often to one or two fans and the drunk who owns the seat. Quality has to compete on its own and by dint of serious hard work. The money is exactly the same and that is tough to solve. However, when there are more people playing in rooms, more rooms need people to play so one has to admit that 500 channels is better for the artists even if hard on the curators as long as the curator believes it is their tastes that determine success and that gatekeeping is more important than preservation or promotion.

The key is the ecosystem of expression. Henry Burnett said it: "I only work with the best." And that works as long as his timing and what he has to say is relevant. But for every OBWAT, there will also be a Secret Sisters that where production quality is high, the material falls flat and fails to find an ear craving to hear that. The Hunger Games were created not by the movie industry but by the youth book industry. Knowing when a message is ready to be heard is easily as important as knowing what is of quality. Pop art and classical art, what is saleable and what is worth keeping, what is original and what will become traditional cannot be divided. You cannot build dams in a flood and they aren't worth having in a desert.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Next Gig: Feeding the Room

While a room owner is responsible for keeping their room profitable, a wise musician understands the necessity to help feed the room.  Essentially, no rooms, no gigs.  Even where there are private parties, unless one is aware of the realities of being the fire in the corner, they will hurt the business and themselves.

1,  Ready.  Equipment works, band is sober, songs are learned, yadda.  Scope out a room before you play it.  Look at the electrics, the lighting, the number of seats, the regulars.  If you can do this a week before you play there or at least with enough time to make any changes you might have to make like leaving the extra lights and big amps in the van because as soon as you crank up, the switch box fuse blows, you can avoid a small problem or the kind that costs the entire gig.  And that hurts a lot.   People remember bad much longer than good,  This is just good sense.

2,  Appropriate.  All acts don't work in all rooms.  If you are a big hair really really loud piercing band, Bob's Country Bunker is not your gig.  If you are a really quiet, thoughtful singer-songwriter, the corner bar may not be your gig (too sleepy).   You may be a coffee house act.  Is your material appropriate even then if the room is "family friendly"?  If half your set consists of bawdy risque songs, or "I want to kill my girlfriend and then off myself or maybe not myself" (real depressing even for coffee drinkers) songs, you may not be.   See item 1: go see what is working there and think before you book.  Or work with multiple bands.  Many full time players do this and just make sure these acts don't compete with each other.  Bad blood is bad blood,  And if everyone is working for tips, work for tips.  If you go in demanding more money than the room can support because you are That Good, you suck.  Even if they are foolish enough to promise you that, if they lose money you will lose the room.  No rooms; no gigs.  This will hurt you and hurt others.  Set your price and if they can't meet that, move on.  No harm; no fault, but don't book the gig with expectations that the room can't meet.  And more important, don't set expectations you can't meet.

3.  Consistent.  You really hurt the room if you don't have your shit together that night.  This is more than ready:  it is a sense of how your songs work together, or simply, what your act is about.  You are not a laptop with a playlist.   Think through your sets but be ready to adjust according to the mood in the room.  Don't make it hard for the rest of the band to keep up having to make too many adjustments too fast and if necessary, be sure someone (if not you, someone who is good at this) is at the mic filling dead air.  Know when to turn down or turn up.  Don't play crazy at the end of the night in a room where people drink heavily.  Fights are bad for you and bad for the room.   Don't feed hecklers and trolls and don't let them get to you.   Stay out of the conversations going on in front of you.   A discreet distance is a good thing, not stuck-up, but professional.    The wait staff can work with you or against you and YOU DON'T WANT THEM AGAINST YOU.  The wait staff is the front line of your continuing success and publicity.

DON'T QUARREL ON STAGE.  Ever,  An audience can smell it a block away.  If personal problems are getting out front, it is time to stop gigging with this band.   If you are fighting with yourself, keep it entertaining. 

4.  Crowd smart.  Some crowds simply cannot be mixed.  Like appropriate, if your following is middle aged wine drinking talkers, don't take them into the room where the beer drinking rowdy souls hang out.  Don't mix the hippies with the truck drivers.  Kumbayah sounds good but it doesn't work.  Don't go to the mic and talk politics or religion unless you are in a room where a lot of that was going on when you got there; or that is what your act is about.  Even then, watch it. See item 2.  You may have friends you care a lot about but who insist on bringing their personal dramas or professional agendas to your gigs.   This is a very tough one to handle but you will have to or the room owner will and that may not work out well for your friend.

5.  Butts in seats.  You really really really are responsible for finding and caring for your fans.  A good sound, heck an a-list sound without a following isn't going to last long.  The room owner may love you but he or she or they are there to make money, not promote bands.  Again, the wait staff can help you or hurt you so try to help them make tips, and don't start trouble they can't handle.

6.  Don't talk down your competition particularly if they are working and you aren't.  It's not just bad form, the more rooms that have acts the more rooms that need acts.  Some people both young and old believe it is a zero-sum game and if others are working they won't be.  It is exactly the opposite, so don't resist recommending your competition as long as you know they meet the other requirements to play the room.  Also, when you are older, those people will be your tribe and most of them will be your friends.  Over a long career, you are more drawn to the people who do what you do, not the audience that likes you.  "Life is a long song", to quote Tull.

7.  Pick your art carefully.  Being open to all life experiences turns out to be unhealthy and you need to be healthy to do this.  It is physically and mentally demanding.  Pick material you want to perform.  A top forty house band is a terrible way to live and wears through your soul because it is so repetitive and you become a monkey with an electric box on your tail.   At some point you will do this kind of gig and my best advice is to figure out how to get out of it.   It's a trap and you will fall into the mode of it being a job.  It is right to be a professional but in which profession?  Nothing feels more like prostitution than singing songs you hate.  Really.  And you owe the songwriter not to do that,  Really.

8.  Be on good terms with other artists doing other media.  The digital illustrators are your best friends and you can recommend them to other bands and other room owners who need ad work, posters, band photos and so on.  Wherever there is a healthy performance scene, there is a healthy ecosystem of expression, common themes, common reputations and common conversations.  Seek out, recruit and work with other artists.  Collaborate. 

Actors?  Maybe not.  Whiny. :)

9.  Be aware.  Many rooms, owners, bands and people have side gigs.  It is all too common for those to be the vices:  drugs, sex and gambling.   Unless you involve yourself, they will usually not involve you but once into the games, it's hard to keep your business and their business separate.  Stay smart and don't discuss what you don't want to be involved in.  There are many forces at work here from the owner to the local vice squad to the crazy person one shot away from going postal.  Be careful with charity events.  Ask questions.  Too often people organize these for special events in rooms and the money is not going where promised.  It's good to be a community contributor but don't be a shill for a con.  It is unfortunately common and an easy gummy bear to get stuck with.

10.  Do not bite the hand that feeds you.  If you are working a room on a street regularly, are respected and it's working, don't go to the competitor across the street to book a free weekend.   You are drawing from one room into another and the owner will notice.  As long as you are respected, return respect.

It's all simply good business.  Stay competitive, refresh your sets with new material, don't let slack invade the practice and so on but keep in mind that from the room owner's perspective, the money in the cash register is the ultimate decision maker and you are part of that formula. Don't let them make you feel responsible for all of that because many a room owner is also an idiot in the wrong business and you want to stay clear of them, but what you can do that is good for you and good for them, do.  Again, no rooms; no gigs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The First Gig: Being There

The strategy of taking this season on in little bites seems to be working.  My sense of where I am in terms of being ready to play has been one of weakness of performance.  I certainly know how and why but getting where, what and when has been challenging.   At core, I am a balladeer, a pretty voice, competent player and poetic writer.  I am not the act you hire for a sports bar or a room that caters to the very young.   Whatever work I've done with rock bands simply doesn't apply when I play solo.   It isn't that I can't play rock; it's that I won't.  

Some aspects of what we do are instinctive and emotional.  I am not a brand.   I am not a product.   If I can't emotionally feel satisfied by the music I play and particularly the songs I sing, I may as well be dry humping a banana tree.   Nothing happens.  It's a gluten free cookie; all matter and no taste.  So why bother?

I've been averaging one solo gig a year for the last few years.   Between day gig and church, there hasn't been time or incentive to do the work.   What people who don't do it don't know is a solo gig is a lot of work to prepare.  Yes, there are strummers who think they can learn the chords of a half dozen songs, sing ok and be worth an evening.   And in too many places I've been lately, that is common.  That is the trouble:  they are common.  They think the only music is blues and once they have those basic chords and rhythms down, they are ready.    An economy pack of Oreos; black outside, creamy white inside and every cookie is exactly the same as the last one.

When I was doing this for a living in the seventies, it was very competitive.   Only the best players and singers could hold on to a gig and they had to compete with duos and trios as well as everyone who picked up a guitar.   BMI and ASCAP weren't enemies closing small rooms for small mechanicals.   The profession and the scene made sense:  present with quality or disappear.   The money was decent and every where there could be music, there was.

We've come to a time again where the big rooms with the big bands have all but vanished and been replaced by DJs with laptops.   This is the cycle we saw when disco killed the rock and dance bands.   It will pass but for now, it's about small rooms and small acts, mostly acoustic, mostly guitar players.  And mostly, not that good.   That also will change as competition takes over.   With the push from BMI/ASCAP to recover mechanicals from the rooms lost to the web otherwise, there is more songwriting.   Also mostly bad but they'll get better.  I've heard some tres strange songs lately and we'll see how that works out.   Computer programmers in general aren't good lyricists.  They are a little self-happy and not nearly as well read as they need to write well.   But they may improve.

All of these things I observe, but I am past most of this.  I am OLD.  I've done this for a long time and the only habits that will change are the ones I am trying to change.   For one, I take a piano with me now.   Doing the entire night on the guitar is doable but I want to explore.   Last night I took Peter Gabriel's fantastic Don't Give Up, a duet with Kate Bush, and married it to Neil Young's Birds.   I am exploring more ambient playing, chordally sparse, rhythmically non 4/4 strict, pauses, hesitations, more focus on the voice and acting out the song as I sing, trying to feel each note, each pause, and let it sink in to me as much as the audience.   This is quite different from the rigors I used to attempt when playing solo.  I can take adavantage of  being the only person performing and let my inner eye wander around.

The down side of that is of course one needs a listening audience and that writes off the bars.   Drinkers are not listeners.  They need the thump thump of a  bass drum and snapping snare.   I had been filling this in with tracks and for a few songs that I've arranged such as Softly As I Leave You or Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas, I use the tracks.   I worked very hard on those arrangements and like to show them off.  I also like singing with those arrangements,   Otherwise, I am ditching the tracks and challenging myself to stay acoustic.   But it means finding rooms where a softer, gentler sound is accepted.  And that is the big challenge:  there aren't many rooms like that.

So having paid for my business cards with last night's tips, I'll be looking for the niches where what I want to do works.  That is the essential lesson for me:  better to find fit than to make fit.   If there really is such a quality as authenticity, it isn't the same as traditionalism.  A traditionalist works to imitate the original form.   Being authentic, in my opinion, is forming the original.  At this end of life, I find that an interesting challenge.  Art for the artist.  Enjoying it.  Happy to make happy but in no way interested in imitation.  Interested only in growth.  In being there.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Len Bullard Interviewed on Spice Radio

This was great fun.  I was interviewed about music, the local scene, etc. on a podcast.

http://spice-radio.com/2014/08/interview-with-len-bullard-at-spice-rack-studios/

Spice Radio!!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Abusive Narcisisst As Boss





 
A big d'oh. This is how insecure or narcissistic managers create a following that emulates them and culls out those who are not "of the body" while telling the customer or other teams that those people are the "troublemakers" or "do substandard work". It is the main fake out game being played in companies where small groups want to

a) get rid of people not of their race or political persuasion
b) gut positions and replace them with people who are loyal to them personally.  

This is easy to spot but HR professionals loathe or are too afraid for their own jobs to do it. Over time it shows up as less quality in product deliverables but it can do substantial damage to a company until it is detected. And then the manager simply moves on and often to a better position. 
 
Things to look for:

1. Manager belittles last person who had the job in meetings with other staff nodding.


2. There seems to be an oddly high amount of turnover.  This one is a critical symptom because only a few possibilities exist to cause this.   a) Lack of skills given the tasks.  b) Lack of clarity in direction given the manager.  c) Talent is resisting the directions given.   All three speak to the competence of the manager and b and c act in combination.   a is possible but unlikely unless the task requires skills so rare as to be unlikely in commercial work.

3. Manager compliments himself/herself and distributes "words of wisdom", or Skills 101 papers that they authored while working at another company.

4. Manager distributes work tools or other artifacts that come from a prior company.

5. Manager gives technical explanations that you know are technically incorrect or very shallow, uses their own buzzwords for items that have standard terms, insists that the standard terms or technical approaches are incorrect or "snake oil".

6. Manager insists all work be inspected by an individual who is actually seldom in the work area and when is there is insufficiently prepared or also technically inept.  Manager never inspects work performed in process but makes broad comments about it based on opinions of this individual usually in meetings with staff rather than in private.  Actively humiliates individuals while lavishly praising others.

7. Manager refers to customers disparagingly with names such as "Captain Meathead" and occasionally rants about how the customer or government should not be interfering with "free enterprise".

8. Manager insists on people working free overtime, makes remarks about people who don't and often disappears early saying "Well, I've put in my forty".

9. Manager schedules away from work team meetings at local watering hole.

10. Manager sleights contributor work by insisting on rewriting it but failing to name the critical technical issues (smoking the expert).

11. Manager produces schedules and technical approaches that are full of faked numbers (the so-called spreadsheet manager).

12. Manager blames other departments for failing to meet schedule or going over budget.

13.  Manager is obsessed with monitoring systems for productivity that add considerable overhead to tasks but do not improve the product.

14.  Manager promotes inappropriately.  This one is often seen among those who look for outside the office relationships with co-workers.   It takes two to tangle and in the era of Title VII one might think this is easily handled but it is surprisingly common as salaries are being forced down and the majority of the team consists of temporary contractors trying to go direct and easily dismissed.  Right to work states are notoriously bad.

See these and prepare to move on.    The ship is headed for the 'berg. 

Systems theory: to adapt to a changing environment or to adapt rapidly to new requirements a system must have effective measures for initiating affective means. The signal to action latency is the fog of war and business. There are symptoms of such that are easy to detect up close but easy to disguise given local autonomy in hiring, budgeting and determining technical direction. Some businesses do not understand or ignore such but there are a few symptoms that are easy to see at a distance such as rapid turnover of key staff positions. Others such as abusive remarks which some would use in a Title VII action take a long tedious process and much documentation, often come down to he-said-she-said and don't create affective change past a few HR posts on the walls admonishing via published policy.

Direct actions are rare and usually after damage has to be hidden to protect higher levels of management that could and should have acted but didn't. Usually it is a combination of measures that produce an unignorable pattern and then the actions are predicated on least damage to reputation even if the effects have damaged work on existing contracts. Then if the customer is aware, those contracts evaporate.

We laud local control but local control is the best ally of the abusive narcissist because this type typically controls the flow of information, the contacts and thus is always in a position to change outcomes with a single display of flatulent dismissal. The damage accrues and when the change comes, it is violent loss of opportunity or income.

The problem of the fit of a model tends to be replicated socially across other power domains and this is how business culures rot. It is the lemming march of organizations even as a local community will detect it and begin to cooperate to remove the abuser through out of band signals labeling them as such.  Once the abusive narcissist loses control of the narrative because they can no longer control perceptions by controlling information flows, they are done and must move on to another.

Should The Prosecutor Recuse Himself?

If a public prosecutor can't be trusted to perform his duty in pursuit of justice because his police officer father was killed by a black man, can those protesting because a white officer killed a black man be trusted to recognize justice?

Rodney King was filmed being beaten by the Los Angeles police. OJ Simpson was provably guilty. When race becomes a part of a case in America, all too often, facts don't matter and we should be as concerned about that as any other social context. Justice is blind but not deaf, dumb and stupid and this cuts all ways or it isn't justice.

Consider that highly litigated processes tend to drive out competent people because the risks of becoming collateral damage are too hgh. If we continue on the path we've been walking, there will come a time when there are no competent professionals in the justice system and the only recourse will be mobs driven by social media and ratings seeking mainstream media. The talking heads will be both judge and prosecutor and every day will see a new Ox Bow Incident.

Then if you are a minority, your chances of being fairly treated go to zero quickly.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Music Is Conversation

Music is conversation or rote.  How well and understandably we converse limits or extends the quality of conversation.   There is an ancient idea one finds in belief systems around the world parphrased as "every uttered word is registered for eternity on the invisible air."  Regard them as a prayer without regard to perfect knowledge but to perfect love and hope, the engines which power our evolution made to the intelligence that guides them.  

From the first cave painting, from the first cantus firmus, the eye sees form and the ear hears motion and from these conceives patterns and in these creates a mirror of self, knows self and becomes a higher self.   If the drum is silent, reason speaks.  The drum is ego, the craving for power, it is not power.  A lively conversation does not put the mind to sleep.   It engages it, makes it aware of itself and in it finds the next lesson.   This is emergence made of the joy of discovery. 

Scales or RGB are fundamental to be learned by disciplined repetition but are not themselves, thoughts.  They are linens, light without a reflective surface.  Harmony binds melody to color and time makes the canvas on which worlds are made but the intellect that chooses a mode or mixes a color, the chooser of choices, this is the highest art of all.   Our melodies fade like water on sands, our colors fade into the sunset of our lives, but the thoughts made and impressed into living flesh shine on illuminating self for the eye that sees above and below

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Open Mic Nights: Training and The American Song Book

At an open mic night an older genteman asked me if my finger picking style was a gift or could it be learned. I told him it is the way I've played most of my life but that a year or so of classical guitar lessons clean up the left hand technique enormously. Thank you, Charlie Higgins.
 
A gift is just such, but there is much to be said for training. A gift given technique accomplishes what technique alone cannot and a gift will not. If somehow you were afforded lessons, that is a real gift. Thank you, Jimmy Carter.

Another thought looking back on the week was a joking comment from other songwriters that I use "too many chords" and it reminded me of Ronny Cox also making that same joke at me one night in the Bluebird. I know the rubric about four chord songs in pop and three chord songs in country, that a song must be commercial so dumb it down.  Yes, it is a gift to write a timeless song that is simple and direct.

I could not give a flying rats fat behind.

I was lucky enough to be born early enough to grow up listening to Jimmy Van Heusen, George Gershwin, Jacques Brel..., Burt Bacharach, all songwriters of the American songbook. They mastered jazz, blues, classical, folk, fused styles gloriously and did not shy away from a ninth, a diminished, a thirteenth, they embraced the colors and fashioned wonderful soarng melodies the likes of which cannot be sung well without some training and much practice.

Much of this is missing in writers who stop with Dylan, Cash and even the Beatles although Lennon and Mc Cartney were prodigious in their admiration of those masters. If you write with a beat box, tracks, loops you can quickly create a snappy song. Unless you learn music, unless you discover how harmony reallf functions past fundamentals and what that makes possible in melody, you have not wandered far from your front porch.

Whatever formulas you apply as songwriters never ever stop exploring the palette, the colors possible when you master more than folk songs and a beat box. Do it because in the range and colors made possible you can evoke more subtle emotions, emotions both rich and mature and timeless. Music is not meant to be simply a career and hopefully but sometimes only a sport. It is an adventure, a country meant to be discovered, seen and most importantly felt and experienced. Do not let the strummers and the chord police cheat you of that.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

No Covers! No Collections!


I send an email to a local room that advertises an open mic night to ask if they still hold open mic nights.  The owner's reply:

"Hi, I'm sorry, we do not. The licensing fees were just too high. The Foyer has a wed. Open mic."


The Foyer is the room I wrote about earlier.  It has a sign on the door saying "No Covers".  They tell me they've collected enough donations to pay ASCAP but not BMI yet.  ASCAP as John Cowan noted is the agency that collects fees according to a formula where the monies go to the highest ranked artists (by their estimate) and nothing goes to the indies.

The owner goes on:

"the problem is that there is still the fee even if all originals. Our singer/songwriter series was originals only and ASCAP came down on me like the wrath of God! After (Name deleted: ASCAP Rep) threatened me with jail and a $40,000 fine for letting local people sing their own unpublished songs in a 20 seat venue, I finally gave in and paid. Only then did I offer open mic. BMI rep was much nicer, but still never gave up, so I paid them too. :(  Mr (ASCAP Rep) is personally responsible for shutting down a number of small businesses across the region. He said we have to pay because if someone ACCIDENTALLY sings a line from a published lyric, I would be responsible for the fine."


And there you go, David Lowery of The Trichordist.  Another Sasquatch sighting.

It is time for the new generation of performers and room owners to say "No Covers. No Collections!"
 
They threaten.  They destroy.  They are the locusts of the old music business destroying the ground where the new music is taking root.  As with all locusts they don't care.  They devour and move on oblivious to the destruction to art and artists, caring only that they and they alone control access to markets, that they and their members collect fees, and that artificial scarcity is enforced where none exists.

Are these threats hollow?  No.  As Copyright Law exists today, if you play covers, they legally can collect fees regardless of how unfair their distribution formulas.  BMI is "friendlier" because you can join, but just like iTunes, you will find your self paying aggregators for the privilege.   No middle man; no pay.   Even if you pay all the production costs and take all the risks; you still pay to play.

I am not a lawyer but I think they threaten because legally they cannot collect if they cannot prove songs they collect for have been performed.  And like all bullies they rely on their victims not knowing that.  They use legal means to illegal ends.

Fuck 'em.  No Covers.  No Collections.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Exclusion Contracts for Small Performance Rooms: Earn Loyalty

Imagine the reaction among the young musicians and their fans if BMI/SESAC/ASCAP (a songwriter can only join one) if these organizations announced jointly that they have set a lower tier for rooms that host music events from which they will not collect performance royalties. No monitoring required other than the room submit an application for exclusion based on real income to the room that is updated every year. Past a certain amount of income, the room agrees to pay the fees without legal recourse.

The Bigs have a terrible reputation which they deserve. The Pirates are doing terrible damage to the industry and deserve to be shut down with a vengeance. Between them is an ad industry and tech industry that doesn't give a flying frik because all they have to do is keep doing what they are doing and they pick up enough jacks to win. If this is to change for the betterment of the artists, the collection agencies have to reform their policies to allow new acts to emerge and still want to be part of those societies. Conventional wisdom in the big centers like LA, Nashville and New York is these acts have no choice if they want to be paid. They aren't being paid anyway. So they have zero to lose. Why not take another tack and give them something to gain: earn as they go. Show them genuine respect instead of dismissing them as second raters. Try inclusion instead of exclusion, big tent instead of a curated elite. Elites emerge organically. Talent doesn't have to be curated except by its audience. Curators are not gatekeepers; they are expediters and if they take that role, the us vs them diminishes. If the collection agencies stop robbing piggy banks, the antagonism (which is real and intensifying) diminshes. It is replaced by loyalty. It is replaced by good will.

And the pirate industries fear this because they know if the kids, the new generation decides to throw in with the curators and the collectors, the pirates are done because the web has always been viral and some viruses immunize. Give it some thought.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tired Of Chasing Rainbows

From the vault, this was our first song to get decent airplay in the local stations. Made on a Fostex quarter inch eight with one good mic and a lot of chutzpah, we were having fascinating times. From Ground Level Sound, The Evolution of Cool, Tired Of Chasing Rainbows.

Open Mics: Karma Bakeria

Tonight I attended open mic night at The Karma Bakeria in Fayetteville Tennessee.   My pastor and friend, Michael Stewart used to tell me about this coffee house and said I should go play there.   Unfortunately Mike passed away before I did finally go but hey, Mike was right.   Go north from Huntsville on 231/431 across the state line, past Park City and into the metropolis of Fayetteville, just past the old courthouse on the town square half a block on the right.  Ya can't miss it.   It's a nice room, good pastries, salads, sandwiches and locally ground brew that will pick you up and slap you down.  IOW, a great stop if you're headed up to the distillery or just like to ramble around these small towns that are still genuine Southern jewels.

The open mic is hosted by Taylor Hoch and Jay.   Taylor is a professional songwriter and singer with a barrelling tenor, smooth finger acousic picking and simply excellent songs.  Jay plays electric blues, tasty slide and together they are the kind of act you really want to see anchoring an open mic because anyone who follows them better be good or at least trying real hard.  It was a privilege to follow them but I made sure someone else did first because... well, ahma chicken.

All open mic nights, even The Bluebird, that I've played over the years have about the same distribution of talent.   Some people are good; some are there.  Out of ten, three acts will be stellar, four will be journeymen and three will be getting started.   That's healthy and that's why it's free.  Remember to buy enough consumables to keep the room open and enjoy the original sounds and "obscure covers'.

I remain amazed at how much good songwriting is bursting from the local countryside like wildflowers.   I don't know if it's the times, the fact that coffee houses are back, or the music business spreading out of the old major centers like Nashville, or the web giving access.   All of the above probably, but it is happening and it is magic while it lasts.  If we can just get the BMI/SESAC/ASCAP collectors to stop mugging the small rooms like this, it will last longer.  So, if you are someone whom they listen to, give them the wordL  QUIT ROBBING PIGGY BANKS. 

As for me, playing Gentle On My Mind and Arlo Guthrie, reciting Victor Buono, finger picking nylon again, just letting myself be the guy I used to be before I had a "real career" is comfort for my troubled soul these days.   I have no idea how we're going to pay the bills now that the day gig is short on 'natch and writing me out of the script.   I'll resume worrying about that tomorrow or when I wake up in the middle of the night as I usuall do.   But tonight, it's good to be me again.  I like that guy,  He was fun.   People liked him.   He had his own sound.   He had a reason to get up and he had a craft he loved.   So, thanks to Taylor and Jay and the fine folks at Karma Bakeria.  I plan to go back.  Maybe next time I'll play some Bach too.   Over the top, but heck, if I got away with King Tut, I can get away with Johann.

Cheers!

Friday, July 25, 2014

An Open Letter to The Music Industry: Quit Robbing Piggy Banks

And of course the open letter to David Lowery was received with diplomacy and serious consideration.  Not.

In his view the world is filled with "scofflaws" who are all stealing from the artists.  He says that rooms where this is not the case are "sasquatch sightings" and that people from "Alabama" are "like that".  He feels "threatened".

Wow.

In other words the primary campaigner for fairness for artists is afraid to admit that there might be other possibilities.  Or so infatuated with the status that role has brought him he has become yet another anachronism who goes over the top and has yet to realize his credibility as a representative of recording artists is evaporating.

And that is a problem for the campaign to get artist equity in the brave new world of digital distribution.  Yes, there is a lot of ripoff going on.   Yes, copyright is being eviscerated.

Yet there is another story, a story where the same people who are appointed to collect fees are robbing piggy banks.  From the original mistakes made by the recording and publishing industry prosecuting housewives for making wedding videos to now there has been a noticeable reluctance to admit that there need to be changes, that scarcity is impossible and that the technical world will not roll backward.   Some of us have worked hard to find solutions and reconcile the need for payments for copyright material with the near impossible requests to stop piracy.   But these efforts will go on because piracy is wrong and it fuels even worse criminal activity.  In short, I do support those efforts and have even before Lowery became a champion.

But badgering small coffee house open mic nights where it is obvious to even the casual observer that they don't actually have the money to pay three collection agencies every year is bullying.   Should BMI/ASCAP/SESAC be threatening the coffee houses holding open mic nights?

There are at least two extremes and no one is asking an obvious question: what is the threshhold for payments vs money made and covers sung or is it simply 1k a year per collection agency if even one cover is sung? And if so, is that right?

There is an opportunity for the professional artists and publishers to do something smart, gracious and decent.   It is an opportunity to show the world they aren't cold hard greedy self-serving assholes determined only to preserve their own income sources at the cost of everyone else.   If they can't see this or figure out how to do it, then they deserve neither our help or our respect.   And let the pirates have them.   If they can't help the new talent, then they are of no value to music as an art, a craft or an industry.   Working "only with the best", telling others not to vote for "second raters", these are symptomatic of elitism, forgetting that once upon a time it was they who "played real good for free".

Choose.

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