When Rob of YourBand asked me to write an article on the state of local art and music, I was, admittedly, a little lost. Being a very private, hard-to-reach person, I find it a struggle every time I have to make an appearance for one of my own shows, let alone another that I’m not a part of. I am also in no way a New Hampshire native, having been born and raised outside of metro-Boston, and while I love and embrace the community in central NH, I’ve always felt like an outsider. It’s okay - much as I love you New Hampshirites (I believe that’s the going term) - I’m a proud Masshole through and through - poor driving and all. Stay off the roads when Nana Kindler is coming into town...
In all seriousness - how can I possibly write about local art? On paper, I despise the idea of local for local’s sake. I refuse to support something that refuses to move me simply because it is birthed of the loins of the next town over. And I envy, truly, the artist or fan who is so in love with - so immersed in the practice - that he or she is not only willing, but excited about the prospect of being part of a scene, a moment, an epoch of one’s own imagination; in short, being a fluid member of something close by that one can hold dear and true.
But good art, I believe, is good art regardless of location or proximity. And frankly, my stance of reticence and distance has cast the wrong shadow on my long standing position on truth in art, legacy, and influence. That’s not to say that there are not, or haven’t been, absolutely astounding members of the community reached by this publication who have made an incredible difference. There most certainly have been and there continue to be. I’ve seen it from stages, in correspondence among peers, and in innumerable supporters whom I hold incredibly dear. And I have been surprised countless times by the wit, candor, and depth of substance I’ve been lucky enough to witness first hand from the people that one is lucky enough to meet in this profession. I thank my damned lucky stars to have been a part of it. Absolutely. Every day.
But legacy - therein lies the rub. Too often among musicians is the question raised of future plans. “What are you doing next?” or “How are you promoting yourself?” Harper Lee said it best when she lamented that, on completion of something that one may have poured blood, sweat, and countless gin-soaked tears into, comes "the inevitable and very American question, 'What's next?'" Here I risk sounding high-strung and (yikes!) - relatively elitist, but hear me out.
First, throw out the idea that you are merely a musician. Here, some may disagree with me, but I say, in a world where galleries filled with poorly painted landscapes by wayfaring retirees are lauded with respect befitting wine and posh attire, (namely, that these efforts are regarded as fine art), then you’d better damn well call yourself an artist too. Identify everything from here on out that you do as fine art, as well. Stand by it. Refuse to take nonsense from your local under-paying venue. If they stand by their menu and demand full price, stand by your message and demand yours. If they won’t book you, consider it their loss rather than your failure. Of course, use your good common sense and tact here, but never, ever, sell yourself short. A venue that can pay someone to cover the top forty every week can just as easily buy a fancy jukebox when things go south; regard this as good work, but not a means to an end.
Remember that there is no glory in fame, but legacy and legacy, alone. Identify within yourself as an artist the thing that has made you the most proud. The song you’ve written that you identify most with, the poem that brings the blood to your cheeks, the scaffold that restores the steeple of your own soul. Then try and top it, again and again, and when you succeed, top that one. And when the well is dry, stop trying! It may seem counter-intuitive, but cut the tap and wait for the muse. There will never be any majesty in force or self-coercion. And for god’s sake, if you feel that you haven’t found your own voice, sing out in every other that brings you to your knees until you have no choice but to knead your own - it takes much less time than one imagines.
In closing, I’d like to share a short experience that I was lucky enough to witness recently, and one which exemplifies every fiber of my outlook on art. Reluctantly, given my hermit-hood, I ventured out to a nearby music hall recently to meet a friend I hadn’t seen in ages, and was elated to find that another old amigo of mine was the headliner that night. It was absolutely one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever been to. Never mind that this was an old friend I’ve looked up to for ages; his dexterity, humility, humour, and use of poetry onstage was outstanding. You could prowl the clubs in New York for ten years and never find art anywhere near this quality. Inevitably, after hugs, toasts and promises of cheap tequila, we found ourselves sitting in the living room of a couple of mutual friends who lived a stone’s throw away, talking about his adventures in LA and my twelve years as a gardener. And of course, after an hour or so, a few guitars came out and we threw each other our latest. There was a fire going outside and a Devendra record on as we took a break and chatted. A dear friend of mine, a talented journalist who happened to be there, took the break in our playing to ask my friend the age old question:
“Having been in LA for the last year, and with two great records under your belt, what are you doing next? How big a crowd would you like to draw next year?”
My amigo answered perfectly.
“Look, I’m here now, I just played a show I was proud of. I made enough to go down to the bagel mill for breakfast and maybe pay my car registration this year. I’m among people I love, and I don’t have to be someone I’m not while I’m with you. If I never play a bigger crowd than I did tonight I can die happy.”
I think my journalist friend may have been a little disappointed, but the smiles in the room were contagious.
And for the record, after a show like that, I could have died happy, too.