Come On, Come On, It’s There At Your Feet

Like one of my favorite YouTube channel hosts, ToddInTheShadows, I am immensely fond of one-hit wonders.  One of the one hit wonders he has not covered, although given their success on the Dance chart and in England, they may not readily qualify as such, is Everything But The Girl [1].  Growing up, their hit song “Missing,” a brooding song about melancholy lost love, a perfectly Nathanish song as a moody acoustic ballad set to a techno beat, was inescapable on the radio.  Then the band, like the subject of the song, seemed to disappear into outer space, hopefully finding a better place.  After a less successful follow-up album that had a couple of UK top 10 hits, one of which that peaked in the bottom half of the Billboard Hot 100, and another album that was successful on the dance charts but not on the pop ones, the band went on an indefinite hiatus, largely because musician Ben Watts, husband of the band’s lead singer Tracey Thorn [2], was unhappy about the fame they had received.  After a lengthy career as a modestly popular band most fond of intimate settings and intimate music, their brush with fame and the expectations it brought led them to be deeply unhappy rather than overjoyed at their success.

A surprisingly large number of one hit wonders had fluke hits that came out of nowhere where the band simply hated the work it took to keep up a successful career [3].  Everything But The Girl hated playing in large stadiums of 5,000 people according to Ben Watts.  The group The New Radicals was upset with the visits to radio stations and endless touring and promotional visits, according to Semisonic’s drummer Jacob Slichter.  New Zealander group OMC’s lead singer didn’t want to tour.  Snow, that notorious white Canadian reggae singer from Toronto, was unable to tour in the United States because of a criminal record, so he could not promote his hit single.  If an artist is dedicated to performing and acquires a large enough body of devoted fans, it can overcome a less than successful career path and come up with a fluke late-career hit or resurgence.  Those bands and musicians that lack the interest or commitment to make music for others, though, do not give themselves the chance for a comeback.  Few people would have thought that Meat Loaf would have come back after so many years of obscurity singing tunes written by John Parr, after all.  And without continuing to perform after a loss of popularity there is no way that Jaron, most notably of Evan and Jaron, would have been a one-hit wonder twice over or that Janis Ian would have been a one-hit wonder three separate times in three separate decades.

What does it take to have a successful career at any kind of art in our contemporary world?  Both musicians and writers, for example, as well as stage performers, are expected to do a lot of touring.  A musician or band, for example, is expected to travel from city to city in a van or bus to play music before paying and appreciative audiences, to show up at radio stations to answer questions, to do interviews with other media, to record music videos, and so on.  While traveling they live modestly, hope for enough sales and royalties to pay their recoupment to the record labels and to live decently for themselves.  Sometimes, as in the case of Badfinger, this goes tragically wrong [4].  Writers are expected to do book tours, traveling to bookstores where their books are sold and sign copies for adoring fans, or to travel to give or study in master classes with other writers, as well as to give talks and interviews about their works.  Stage actors either perform in local repertory theaters or go on tour with a show that has gotten successful.  Even film and television actors are expected to do a lot of traveling and promotion work in addition to their day job as actors.  Admittedly, there are many people who like a particular task, but not everything that comes with it.  Some people love to create in the studio or in their office, to write and create art of lasting value, but absolutely detest the focused attention and adoration of the masses.  They want to create with modest but sustainable levels of success, and simply don’t want the bright lights and big stages.  The size of the talent is not necessarily correlated at all with the size of someone’s ambition.

What are we to learn from this?  Creative people are no more free of ambivalence than the rest of humanity.  Dedicating yourself to art and to creation does not mean that one is skilled at or interested in the whole context of how that art is done in contemporary society.  This has always been true.  In previous generations, being a successful artist or writer usually meant having a powerful patron.  Some people are simply not cut out to be courtiers.  In the current generation, one must appeal to the masses as well as the critics and gatekeepers of corporate entities, and even if one is particularly talented, one’s career can suffer because one is simply not very savvy at dealing with other people.  If someone is fortunate, their skill and creativity comes with the self-knowledge of areas of weakness or lack in one’s talents and abilities, and they are able to find trustworthy people to cover for their shortcomings, and show appreciation for the good fortune they have, even with the difficulties.  With luck they perform in such a way as to preserve their artistic and personal integrity, and find dealing with other people in book or music or promotional tours something that is worth enduring for being able to interact and perform for others.  We create out of ourselves, but many of us not only long to express what is inside of us, but we want someone to care on the other side of that expression.  Sometimes that requires us to leave our comfort zone and reflect upon our own shyness, timidity, and insecurity.  Ultimately, I would like to think we are the better for facing our fears and anxieties openly and honestly.

[1] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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