Have A Cigar

As is the case with my writing (thus far, at least), my musical endeavors have never been something that has garnered me a great deal of money. Of course, that has also been the case for artists far more successful than I have been. The example of the band Badfinger [1] is a legendary case of this problem, where the band suffered from the dysfunctional business culture at Apple Records (and the burden of following in the footsteps of the Beatles and having them as label executives for the first part of their career) as well as from a corrupt business manager who stole most of their money and whose machinations led to the shelving of their last two albums in their classic period. The pressure of the business side of the music industry led to the suicide of the two most creative members of that band. “Did I hear you say that there must be a catch? Will you walk away from a fool and his money?” sang this band, in words penned by Paul McCartney, and they lived and died with those regrets, thinking that the music business was a road to wealth and success, and only finding conflict and dissatisfaction, and grave mental anguish.

A large number of musicians have taken the time to comment, often sarcastically, about the business aspect of the music business. Whether we have Cannibus singing “Hip Hop For Sale,” Pink Floyd showing some corrupt record execs inviting them to “have a cigar,” or Edwin McCain singing about how label execs told him to lose a few pounds so that he would look better in his music video as well as to avoid expensive drug habits, the relationship between musicians and the music industry that supports them is at best ambivalent and often hostile. The Goo Goo Dolls, for example, notably pointed out the ‘factory’ element of the music industry in their Metropolis-inspired video to “Broadway” at the same time that Cypress Hill and Everlast pointed out the copycat nature of the music industry in “(Rock) Superstar [2].” While these songs were popular, the realization of the artists of their seemingly interchangeable role in the music industry did not stop their songs from becoming, to some extent, self-fulfilling prophecies.

The entertainment industry, like any business, is a welter of contradictory pulls and tensions. For one, it is a business, and entertainers are respected largely for their ability to improve the bottom line of the various companies that profit off of our appetite for culture. Some of these companies are more engaged on the creative side–be they music studios, publishers, production companies, and the like. Other companies (or other parts of larger companies) are involved in the parasitic aspects of the industry, especially our insatiable appetite for lies and gossip, from which few of us are immune. Besides the business aspects, we have to remember that the entertainment industry is itself made up of driven, hard-working, and often incredibly sensitive and damaged souls. Creative people, for a variety of reasons, tend to be deeply damaged individuals, and the attempts of human beings to turn our suffering into art tends to have complicated consequences. Often these consequences provide fodder for those who would wish to destroy the emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being of those damaged and sensitive souls who are caught up in our demented culture, and whose lives help to further to ungodly ambitions of our cultural elites as a whole. Most of the time, the artists are simply tools to be wielded by others who make most of the money and control the power, for no matter how fiercely an artist may seek to preserve their credibility and autonomy as a creator, there will always be ways for art to be packaged for profit, and the needs of keeping up a standard of living will lead to endless legacy tours long after there has ceased to be any sort of market for new material by an artist anyway.

Ironically enough, we know a great deal about the resentment of artists towards the business and social control aspects of the entertainment industry largely because the cultural and business elites are so comfortable and so confident and so secure that even with the frequent and varied criticism of the way that they go about their business, that such elites feel that people will continue to support their companies and be profoundly affected by their cultural vision. Indeed, since at least the 1800’s there has been a consistent aspect of elite culture that has sought to view what sort of ‘low’ or ‘underground’ culture [3] exists and is popular and then to mine it for elite propogation, whether for the purposes of historical preservation or for profit. The underground provides the place where unmet societal needs are explored in a gritty and realistic fashion, with a hint of rebelliousness against elite control, while the business provides profit and legitimacy for those willing to be co-opted.

In a sense, the autonomous and somewhat anarchic world of artistic creators and the controlled and processed world of the entertainment industry have a co-dependent relationship. Artists with careerist ambitions and the desire to make something more of their life than poverty and misery and companies that need creative efforts for their own cultural ambitions as well as profit motive have a deep need for each other. Not surprisingly, given that this relationship is based on need and not on common worldview or mutual respect, there is a great deal of exploitation and mistrust in this relationship. Both sides of this arrangement often bite the hand that feeds–labels cheat their musicians out of royalties through dubious accounting procedures as well as contracts best suited to the age of indentured servitude, while musicians regularly attack the same sort of businessmen whose largesse allows them to record crisp albums, reach millions of fans on radio and tour, and make artistic and cutting-edge music videos. How do we resolve this co-dependency to allow a place for mutual respect to develop, where our culture becomes a celebration of life and of the gifts and talents that we have been given by God and have honed to serve and benefit others? Clearly, we need to find a better way.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/09/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-badfinger/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/only-pieces-of-the-night/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/power-pop-tragedies-and-the-search-for-obscure-music-history/

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/06/broadway-is-dark-tonight/

[3] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/notes-from-the-underground/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/13/raised-on-radio/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/the-irony-of-hipsterdom/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/fractured-fairy-tales/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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