So an important question arises from a discussion involving my last blog. In answer to what it is about a band (or any artist really) that allows them to appeal to the masses – a blogger said that it is “obedience.”
Yes, I think obedience is necessary for your art to appeal. You have to be obedient to your art form. You have to be obedient to practicing, maintaining your skill, and producing. History is full of brilliant artists who have done this, and who went on to achieve great fame and popular appeal only after they had died.
But I am sure that is not what the blogger was referring to – rather, my guess is that they were referring to being obedient to the MAN – to the corporate machine – to the money, and that this is always a bad thing. If an artist were obedient to the MAN, or money, does that mean a reduction in the purity of that art? What if the artist maintains their primary obedience to the art form itself?
Just last night I saw a David Bowie biography on TV. After his “Let’ s Dance” album became a smash-hit, he was vilified by fans saying that he had “sold-out,” meaning he had cheapened his art. But Bowie said in an interview – “I never thought that poverty meant purity. That’s rubbish.”
I agree with Bowie. I love the “Let’s Dance” album. AND, for that matter, ALL of Bowie’s albums. To me, brilliance is brilliance, regardless of whether it appeals to the masses, or not. Just like a great athlete is still a great athlete regardless of the fact that he makes $100 million a year.
Does this mean that artists never “sell-out” for the MAN? Of course not. The radio is full of songs from artists who have very little talent beyond putting together a series of catchy lyrics in an easy to remember jingle. If the money and fame are primary, then yes, that form of obedience can be an art killer, right?
But I believe, that for the majority, even those artists that obtain mass appeal by being obedient to the MAN, still maintain most of the integrity they always had for their art – let’s say they maintain 90 percent of their integrity. But is that good enough? Is that selling out? Did the Avett Brothers sell out since they signed a contract with
Sony Music – since they won’t play the Purple Fiddle anymore? Or are they just using money to expand and grow their art, allowing them better studio space or better instruments or using more collaborators? Or perhaps using their popularity to reach a broader audience and get an important message out to those paying attention? I do not know.
When does the obedience to the record company contract, or obedience to the tour, or the obedience to the sponsors, or the obedience to the media take a toll on the music (or other art forms)? When does the negative form of obedience become too powerful? It is a valid question. A long-debated question that will not be solved here.
All I know for sure, being around tons and tons of talent on a weekly basis is: for the majority of all the extremely talented artists that we do have in this world – most are vastly underpaid and under-appreciated. Which reminds me of this famous Jackson Pollock quote: “If I am so good, how come I ain’t rich?” (thanks Nate)