Part of my plan in selling my book has been to do public readings, and towards that end I walked over to a place downtown called The Auburn ... where they play music, where there's an open mic, where there's an opportunity to read your stuff to a large audience of strangers in a large, open air venue. Here's an image from the website, more or less from the direction of the stage:
Back in November, when I was still trying to wrap up Pete's Garage, I sat with the the very cool, laid back, artistic owner - I think he's a guitar player - and worked out some of the details for 'borrowing' the space for a book launch in March ... and since I actually received the hardcopy of the book Wednesday, I went around to the Auburn to show it off and hammer down the final details ... or I would have, except ... well ...
The two notices in the window describe how Jesse, the owner, managed to let the Auburn fall $32,000+ behind in the rent. The second notice discusses how the first notice was basically ignored, and that as of February 19, the place has been seized and is now no longer in business.
And standing in the cold outside, there's the cold, brutal reality about musicians. They fuck everything up.
I know the gentle reader would like me to talk about really cool art schools and music colleges run by centuries-old organizations that produce bards of inordinate quality, but I gotta tell you - it just ain't happening. Musicians, swear to gawd, just don't give a shit about organization. They're not tuned into the 'scene.' Jeez, half the time if you talk to them in a bar - as I did afterwards, making my way over to one of the musician's haunts in the city called Mike's Juke Joint - they haven't a freaking clue about the running of the establishment itself. Let them run wild in a free space and they will destroy it ... I've seen that happen over and over again.
They care about music. Specifically, their music. They're shit at coping with ordinary people, they have trouble facing down the complexities of paying rent, they're oblivious and self-oriented and for the most part subject to the ebb and flow of shit they don't care about. Gawd love the bastards, they're possibly the best people on the planet, but if you're looking for me to write something about how they're "tuned in" to city life in some way that offers a practical D&D mechanic for a party, you are sorrowfully looking in the wrong place.
I challenge anyone to name up a musical school or college that hasn't been state run, and therefore filled with people with rods and canes to keep the musicians in line. The most successful, independent, long-term organization of artisans - music and other things - that I can rack my brain to come up with is the entire culture around the Japanese geisha ... which was isolated and rigid in the extreme. Take a talented geisha and drop her into a city - a Japanese one, obviously - and what is she going to be able to tell you? Nothing. Seriously. She knows geisha. She does not understand what other people do.
Now, this is not a weakness. Put her in a room with eight men and she will own that room. This is true with any confident musician - and therefore, bard. Room, 8 people, bard ... bard owns the fucking place. But not because the bard has any special knowledge about the audience - if fact, the bard probably knows - or cares - jack shit about the audience. That doesn't matter. Fact is, the bard is the most interesting person there, the bard knows it, and everything revolves around the bard.
That's what makes them such crappy businesspeople. They get their space, they let themselves get really comfortable, they love what they have ... but deep down inside, they know its fleeting. Actually working at keeping the thing alive is not in their nature. Man, that would be work. Work sucks. As the musician told me repeatedly at the bar last night - as we got drunk on drambuie and coffee:
"Playing the shit Britney Spears plays, that ain't selling out. Playing weddings and office parties and shit, that isn't selling out, either. You want to know what selling out is? It's working a job for an oil patch company to pay the fucking bills. That's selling out."And he's right ... in a way. 'Selling out' is giving a crap about anything except music. So long as you're still playing, and you're not buying into the daily grind, you're still an artist ... man. This guy - he was working for an oil company. He told me about how when he'd been 18, he'd toured Hard Rock Cafe's around the world, and how they'd been too fucking busy to drink or do drugs, and about how there were people on their necks all the time making them practice and perform and hauling their shit from venue to venue. That's why it rang true - because he described it as work and he described it as slavery. He had loved it ... you could see in his eyes that he had loved it. But 'Music,' he said, had ruined his life. It made it next to impossible for him to tolerate everything that had come after.
He was 44. I'm 48. And as we talked, and as I beat down his closed doors one by one, we got down to the brass tacks of what makes artists do the shit they do. It took awhile to get a chisel between the jamb and the door for some of them, but that's my way ... and as he unloaded on me, and felt like he could talk about what he loved without being judged, he began to remember what it had been like to be 18. He told me so. And he told me how good it felt.
I don't know why musicians close themselves off. It's a protection racket, I think. A safety feature. I don't think a 15th century bard would have been any different. The problems are the same. The drive is the same. The expectation of the audience and the expectations they have for themselves are the same. Perform. Be brilliant. Don't fuck it up.
In the midst of it all, he asked me point blank what the point of my book was. He stared so hard at me I thought I was going to fall off the stool. He was challenging me and I met him eye for eye. "It's about getting past everything you've lost, and grabbing what you can still get."
And he went on staring at me for about twenty seconds, and I stared at him. I knew what he was looking for.
"I'm buying that book," he said.
And he did.
Was a strange night. I think I know musicians pretty well. I don't think there's such a thing as a bard that could walk into a strange town and tell you anything about what the people in that town wanted, or how they related to one another. But if there was a musician playing where a bard could hear, I think he or she could tell you exactly how long they'd been playing, what they were doing wrong and how long it was going to take before they could do it right. Because it is the music, and the manufacture, that they understand.
They don't know shit about people.