Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We are suffocating in our soft safety

Last night I got my ass kicked. Actually it was not my ass, it was our ass. It was the bay area getting a considerable musical ass kicking by a 5 piece band from out of town named The Sway Machinery. They just rolled in from SFO, had a perfunctory sound check, waited through there local support, weathered an extra 40 minutes of sound person buffoonery, walk out on stage in their sharp gray suites and well chosen ties, and proceeded to show the small crowd that was left on a Sunday night “just how it is done”.

The Sway Machinery at Beatbox 8/28/2011

From the opening bars of the first tune, till the grand finale of their closer, they owned us. They ruled, and they never for one moment let us think that they were not present right their on the Beatbox’s stage, reinventing music in their image. Unlike the “artists” I and so many of my colleagues purport to be, they were not doing the audience a favor by stooping to shower us with their own natural nobility and beauty. Nor were they mindlessly shoe gazing into the inner space of creative fugue (often a mask for wondering about whats for dinner later, your girlfriend back home, and the issues of late stage capitalism). NO. there they were taking sound and shaping it to their whims, all the time telling the audience with every look, gesture, or utterance, that they were here to entertain. Just on their terms, and not necessarily how you thought it might be when you held the box in the store. Like rough sex where you could not have imagined just how good that feels when they put something like that up there. And instead of saying no no, you are saying yes yes YES YES YES YES yeeeessssssshhhhhhhhh.

So I went home with that buzz and crackle in my ears. The hiss of too much sound, cause I could not bring myself to put in my $400 ear plugs, and miss a single piece of wave form, no matter the earthly cost of so heavenly a transcendence. And when I got there I had a good long think about the what how and why of my Sway Machinery encounter. From so much beauty just hours before, my mind traveled down many a sad and ugly road, and left me to conclude, we here in the bay area creative community are drowning, literally choking, on our safety. The hype of a permissive free wheeling anything goes creative mean is a lie, a sham, another self satisfied assumption of a soul that can’t stand to look at the truth in the light of day. The facts will out the truth as surely as the sun sets through the fog on Ocean Beach serially freezing our summer nights, that the proof in the pudding is 3.2, when we bill our selves as 90 proof.

While it would be impossible for me to know all the nooks and crannies where our several million residents make their cultural artifacts, and throw down their souls into public displays, I do get around a bit. I have a natural curiosity which has stalked off with a number of this cats 9 lives. So turning my unjaundiced eye on my collection of friends, connections, and recollections, I have to admit we are mired collectively in the past. Not just our past, but Miles Davis’s, Jango’s, Edith Piaf’s. Jim Morrison’s, The Carter Family’s, James Brown’s, and the past of any corner of the worlds ethnic heritage pre Beatles. It’s not that I don’t understand this longing for a richer broth than the thin soup of our self referential culture (a song referencing a movie based on a sitcom taken from an idea in a book inspired by a song), its a great garnish, a wonderful set of spices, but it’s just not the main course. Doubled down with the fiction of permissive anything goes equaling creativity, and you get a meal that’s past it’s shelf date, and ill prepared by an inattentive chef.

There are so many other factors at play, but when broken down to the fundamentals, there is nothing at stake for the majority of bay area artists or audiences. Rare is the bird who comes to the bay area to “make it” in any creative field not directly tied to stock options and ipo’s. We are neither the seat of Hip Hop, Performance Art. Slam Poetry, Contact Improv, or …well….anything beyond internet marketing. Few make a full time career out of such a passion, unless underwritten by a working spouse, or a trust from ones past labors (or ones predecessors). So if you succeed wildly, or flop disastrously, the results to your food and shelter situation are much the same. With your peers sharing that boat, what fuels the engine that urges you on to greater heights in imagination, or what governance do you have to perfect your craft, and so translate that which is within to your audience. And the audience, living a comfortable bay area life, can’t be too bothered by anything outside their sphere. They need to get up in the early AM to toil at their keyboards making widgets and gizmos to assist others to buy buy sell sell. They have far too much at stake in the prevailing paradigm to open up to dangerous ideas, and epiphanal moments that cast doubt on the whole edifice of their small measure of success.

So art becomes the back drop to sumptuous living. Some unobtrusive jazz (choose your period) at the bar, not so loud that you can’t bray back and forth with your friends, and feel like you are immersed in a cool blue bath of hipsterness. Or folk dancing to any old folk. It’s strange enough to be of interest, but as you don’t understand the words (if there are any) no intellectual shame need to intrude on your visceral fun. A good time had by all, except the poor Bosnian peasants who wrote the tune of sorrow during one blood bath or another. And doesn’t that painting of clean earth tone lines depicting a dog with a city scape for teeth look great above the sofa. Such an in joke of a dogs life for big city livers.

This paucity of repercussions leaves us open to a serious thrashing when the aliens , who grew up in a very different environment, with bigger muscles, quicker reflexes, and GREAT BIG SCARY MANDIBLES, land in our local night club, gallery, performance space. They might be working hard hard hard at their craft, and polishing their ideas day and night for years, up against similarly challenged people all vying for the limited number of seats at the table for shows, parts, or column inches. And that’s all they do Go out and win, or no supper, no heat, no shelter.

So my friends, let us collectively look deep into our cultural soul, and wonder what its all about for us. Do we want to continue on this road to nowhere. Being superseded by the flavor of the month that washes in from out of town. Forever marginalized by our acquiesce to the status quo. Or will you join me in reaching down deep, quitting that vacuous project to recreate the sonatas of some obscure 17th century Bavarian composer, ending your refusal to utilize electric amplification due to your purist pretensions, and boo the next weak ass bastards off the stage who aren’t willing to challenge you to feel, or unwilling to put the time in to make a credible showing of their true natures. Will you make a point of seeking out the people who are willing to give their all as collaborator, as audience, as fellow travelers on the way to somewhere better. Jump off the treadmill into the unknown. You have nothing to lose that was worth hanging onto anyway.