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Skafish Podcast Conversation on Eclectic Max with Sheldon Snow

Posted by Skafish on

From 12 years of bullying and abuse in Catholic school to the controversy and violence that followed my band and I in the early days, to where the saga is at today, including industry tips for up and coming musicians, it’s all here in my recent Podcast conversation with Sheldon Snow on Eclectic Max! I hope you enjoy the candid conversation and let me know what you think! — Skafish

Musings/Tips for Musicians

The best ways to handle criticism and rejection as an artist

Posted by Skafish on

Most of us don’t go into being an artist with any sense of preparation for criticism and rejection. We have a dream; maybe it started in front of the mirror in our bedroom. Some of us fantasize the fame and fortune we crave as our ultimate form of validation. We may even believe that we’re on a special mission and we’re compelled to fulfill it. However, we get brought right back down to earth and blindsided by the inevitable criticism and rejection that always comes, no matter how talented we may be. I would assume that none of us like being criticized and rejected, regardless of the bravado we may wear as a shield of armor. As someone who has been through this more times than I can count, here are my suggestions on how to handle the criticism and rejection that we all have to face as artists, and still thrive.

Start by self-critiquing your own work. Did you play and sing badly? Did you hit bad notes? Were the songs well rehearsed? Could you have been more professional? Are you ready for prime time? What did you miss? Do you know what your music is trying to communicate and are you pitching it to the right people? Record audio and video of your work and look at it as dispassionately as you can (this is not science, but always good to aim for as much objectivity as you can). Since there is always room for improvement, what areas do you still need to work on?

If a performance didn’t go well, were you perhaps in the wrong venue or playing the wrong style to the wrong audience? Remember the video of that wonderful scene from the “Blues Brothers” where Jake and Elwood are standing behind chicken wire singing “Rawhide” and everyone is throwing things at them? In this movie, here are these guys who loved the blues, yet by performing in a country bar, it didn’t work. Sometimes it’s not about the talent, but about the match between the artist and the audience.

Boy, did l learn this lesson the hard way many times. One of the greatest mismatches I went through as a performer was on February 4, 1977, when my band and I opened for 1950s nostalgia rockers “Sha Na Na” at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago. What happened with it clearly being the wrong venue playing the wrong style to the wrong audience? The 6,000 member audience threw things, rioted, attempted to rush the stage and someone from the audience pointed a gun directly at me. The Chicago police forcibly stopped the show.

So whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time or not, be open and willing to always self-critique your own work, regardless of how successful you are or may become.

Some artists are simply too oversensitive to any form criticism, whether from themselves or others. The ego, necessary to being a performer, can also have the reverse effect of hindering us from improving our art through being defensive, closed to input and in denial of what we need to work on.

When someone criticizes and rejects your art, for most of us, our first reaction is to take it personally and have an internal reaction. Your emotions and ego get engaged, you feel upset, pissed off, hurt, etc. However, you have to be able to at least cope with this, and hopefully, learn from it.

Instead of being oversensitive and closed, ask yourself if there is any merit to the criticism? The reason I pose this question is because there is a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. If somebody is coming from a constructive place, it’s at least worth considering their opinion. Even then, though, some well-intention critiques may not be that valid or helpful, but it’s still important to be open to what is being said because something may be able to be learned.

It’s a completely different matter, though, when the criticism and rejection are destructive. If someone doesn’t like you, your style or art, if you happen to push their buttons or walk into their ego and defenses, or if your work is ahead of its time, many will attack. Never forget that art that is ahead of its time is always rejected in its time, and that genius is not for the masses. Since most people don’t function on the genius level, they can’t grasp or resonate with an artist who does.

In those instances, the criticism and rejection may be personal, prejudicial and highly biased by nature. Instead of someone just saying that they just don’t relate to or understand your work, they can engage in attack. This way, the artist looks inferior and wrong while the critic looks superior and right. They’ll usually be clever enough to claim what they’re saying is because of your lack of talent, bad performance, derivative songs, etc., and not personal by nature.

Because what I did was so different, I’ve gotten some really nasty and hateful reviews in my time. One of the most vicious ones came in February, 1978, when David Witz wrote a deliberately scathing article of my band and I in the Chicago Reader titled, “The Importance of Fleeing Skafish.” In the piece, he spoke of how awful it was that “Skafish” was representing Chicago, and how horrible that was for the city, especially because my band and I had already played places like New York. He referred to me as someone who couldn’t decide if I was a fat ugly 12 year old boy or a fat ugly 12 year old girl. He issued an impassioned plea for everyone to stop coming to my shows. He mentioned that my band could only play one chord together.

It is worth nothing that the band he was referring to includes a bass player who has been a member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago for over 25 years and has a Master’s Degree from the Julliard School of Music (one of the most prestigious schools on earth). That “one-chord band” also featured a drummer who at the time had a Bachelor’s Degree in Percussion from De Paul University. He is also the drummer that Iggy Pop snatched up as his touring drummer in the early 1980s.

Just like with David Witz’s highly personal attacks on me, you don’t have a chance as an artist – it’s not a fair fight. When that’s the case, you must remind yourself to consider the source and try to rise above such rejection. Even though it is personal by nature, try to not take it personally. Do your best to disregard what is said, because it is not coming from any semblance of objectivity.

Clearly, no matter who you are and what you do, no matter how great your art may be, everyone will not like it. They can’t. That’s because everyone is at different levels of consciousness and evolution on earth, therefore, something as subjective as one’s taste in art will also vary.

What’s always important, though, is how YOU react and deal with criticism and rejection as an artist. If you observe your reactions honestly, not defensively, you can learn about yourself, your art, and work toward improvement.

After being criticized and rejected, how have you reacted? Did you make excuses for yourself, like saying you just had a bad night on stage, or that the monitors weren’t right? That is not acceptable. To the person watching you perform, all they know is that the performance wasn’t very good. A great live performer is like a championship athlete, who no matter what, manages to get the job done. Did you engage in self-pity, based on your art and/or your life not going well? That is also not acceptable. Has criticism and rejection helped you to lose your focus as an artist, hold back your performing intensity, songwriting, musicianship, or singing? Worse yet is when one gets angry, acts out, or escapes through alcohol, drug use, and self-destruction.

If these are some of the issues you’re contending with, here are some suggestions:

Learn about yourself and how you react and work on healing those issues. Try to be OK with your art and believe in yourself. At the same time, accept criticism for what it is, especially when it’s coming from a centered perspective. Try to not get defensive because that turns you into a victim and a martyr, which will distort your entire perspective on art and life. Learn all the time, and don’t allow rejection the power to define you in a negative way. Instead, try to have a non-attached attitude, improve your art and make the journey on your terms.

Ask yourself if you really want rejection by someone else to define or interfere with your sense of who you are as an artist and as a person. In most instances, the internalization of rejection (without working on improving your art) will in one way or another adversely affect you. It will suppress, hold back and diminish your openness, light, power and expression. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it’s awfully hard to deliver as an artist and learn to get better, whether as a performer, songwriter, singer, or in any capacity.

When criticism and rejection is repetitive and coming from multiple sources, it can become overwhelming. In those instances, some artists try to compromise their art and its message as a way of seeking approval. It’s hard for me to put into words how horrible I think this is.

It is the artistic equivalent of changing your hair style because your neighbor made a snotty comment, hiding your sexuality because your family won’t approve of it, or dressing more conservatively because people will make fun of your appearance. As an artist, this sense of approval-seeking compromise will take the light, bite, emotions and power out of the work, and make it what your haters want, which is to suppress it, sanitize it and tone it down.

Sometimes, one can take the rejection and channel it into something positive. For example, when Michael Jackson’s album “Off the Wall” album didn’t garner as much acclaim as he wanted, he took that sense of “rejection” and deliberately channeled into his desire to create a huge blockbuster, and he did so with his next album, “Thriller.”

An artist can write a song about the rejection and channel their feelings in that way: The Sex Pistols joyously lampooned the record label that dropped them on the track “EMI.” In that sense, they got the last laugh.

It’s one thing to do your best to become immune to rejection, but another to not be open to constructive criticism and get toughened in the wrong way. Sometimes we go on the offensive, act out, and shut down to the joy that fueled our art in the first place. Toughness can also make one a really not nice person, which in my opinion, is never a good thing. It also adversely affects one’s art systemically, because closing down positive parts of you is not good for any part of the creative process.

Sometimes, an artist may try to counteract the criticism and rejection they may be experiencing through the media, the public, or through diminishing record sales by surrounding themselves with “yes men.” In need of approval, the artist may self-insulate and surround themselves with those who will tell them whatever they want to hear. Imagine how many people told Michael Jackson that he was here to heal the world and save all the children on earth. This type of situation is so dangerous because the artist might start believing what they are told! For me, “yes men” have no place in my life, and if you’re an artist, I would recommend that they have no place in yours, either.

Instead of “yes men,” surround yourself with honest friends and those who will tell you what they really feel. A truthful opinion with love is a priceless gift. If you write a song that is not any good, a valued person will tell you so, albeit in the nicest way possible. That sense of rejection is constructive criticism. Also, these should ideally be people who have something of value to offer. There is a difference between an acclaimed record producer giving you an opinion versus a snotty critic who for the most part, hates everything.

Through all of the different aspects of criticism and rejection and learning to deal with it correctly, here is a great way to not only survive it all, but to prosper: always come back to the real foundation of why you became an artist in the first place. That was because you loved it and you found magic in it. You experienced a sense of belonging, purpose, meaning and connection. You felt release, catharsis, freedom, excitement, and transcendence — and perhaps the best reason of all – was because you had fun. — Skafish

Musings/Tips for Musicians

Songwriting Tip

Posted by Skafish on

Even though emotion is essential to a great song, it is not enough. Just because we feel passionately about a song we’re creating, that, in and of itself, doesn’t make it any good.

(It’s like someone who intensely wants to throw the football but doesn’t know the right techniques to do so. The ball goes all over the field.)

We need to be able to facilitate our feelings through the right musical forms and techniques: chords, vocal line, lyrics, hooks, rhythm, production, etc. And, of course, we need to work hard and be consistent. Paul McCartney once said something to the effect that one may write a hundred songs before they come up with anything good!

We should let wise dispassionate ears offer critique as well and ultimately, we hopefully end up with a piece that is a perfect expression of emotion through the right forms and techniques that work.

Musings/Tips for Musicians

What’s money got to do with it? An artist’s perspective

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If one considers art for art’s sake to be a concept worthy of merit, then money and art are often viewed as arch enemies, as if one corrupts the other. It has been long considered that if you’re a “real” artist, then you probably won’t make any money from your efforts. Conversely, if you make a lot of money from your art, then you’re considered by some to be a sellout, poser, or any number of derogatory expletives.

So what role does money play in the process of art, and if it does, should it?

From decades of personal experience, I can tell you that to keep the art going, an artist has to be able to at least make some sort of a living from it (unless you’ve got a wealthy patron, which most of us don’t have, lol). One doesn’t have to make tens of millions of dollars from a sold out world concert tour, but, one has to be able to at least pay the bills. I can testify to that from experience. If the money isn’t there, then the resources, time, effort and focus needed for the art greatly suffer. It doesn’t mean that one can’t do anything at all, but it can tremendously hinder the process.

Some artists don’t have to resort to other forms of work to try to make a living. Their art at least gives them enough money to be able to keep their art going. In those instances, it may not be glamorous, but it’s at least workable. A good example of this can be seen with my friends and fellow performers the Ramones. Even though they never made a lot of money, they at least were able to do well enough financially to keep their careers going.

In the instance of huge money-making artists, of course, they can easily keep it going, often at their own leisure, but what effect does making that amount of money have on their art? The danger is that in many instances, the artist becomes lazy, entitled, and that the quality of their work, especially their songwriting, suffers.

A perfect example of this is the songwriting of the Rolling Stones, arguably the biggest band in the world. I feel that the bulk of their songs have been lukewarm, forgettable and uninspired for decades. This is quite unlike their past catalogue, which contains some of the most fantastic rock songs of all time. I also feel this applies to Madonna, whose more recent material has felt completely devoid of any emotional conviction or feeling to me at all. Her newer songs sound like formulaic songwriting 101 hooks that don’t come from the heart at all, as if all it takes is a clever hook to sell a song. In comparison, many of her older songs contained the emotional connection that is such a vital component to a noteworthy hit song.

One could make the argument that styles change, which is why newer records by established artists don’t sell. That’s not entirely the case, though. I use the example of AC/DC’s “Black Ice,”  their most recent album, released in 2009. Even though I didn’t feel that it was a phenomenal album like 1980’s “Back in Black,”  it was a solid record from front to back – and it sold millions of copies. Certainly “Black Ice” didn’t break new ground, but I would assume it wasn’t supposed to. It was what one expects from AC/DC: loud guitars, simple songs about girls, partying, cars, a little satanic reference thrown in and high energy rock n roll.

So is money ultimately a good or bad thing for art?

To me, it cuts both ways: Money is necessary to be able to keep one’s art going, but it should never pollute the artist or the quality of the work, as it often does. Yet it doesn’t have to.

It’s important for an artist to aspire to build upon the commitment to the vision, the integrity and message of the work and to stay true to oneself, regardless of whether there’s any money involved or not. If the money is there to make a living or more, I believe that it’s important for an artist to never get lazy, egotistical, to believe that they’re invincible, pander to the audience or stay within the limits of their expectations. For so many artists, though, it’s far easier to just fall back on whatever the perceived formula is that got them there in the first place and then, the work declines and becomes second-rate.

Instead, an artist should continue to passionately evolve, whether anyone goes there with them or not – and that takes a lot of courage. Two strong examples of this evolution are the Beatles,  whose songwriting continued to improve and grow exponentially throughout their career, and Frank Zappa,  whose musical complexities and concepts continued to forge new ground for decades.

What a dream it would be if somehow, money was no longer a necessary part of the artistic process and everyone could have the resources to create their art without worry of survival. Of course, that’s not applicable in the material world, but I still feel that artists should aspire toward doing their best to create their art without letting economic concerns or pressures get in the way. And if the money is there, be absolutely grateful for it, but by all means, stick to the passion, principles and artistic hunger that were inspirational in the first place.

Musings/Tips for Musicians

Does an artist bear any responsibility for their art?

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This question has been asked many times by politicians, religious leaders, and others: Does an artist bear any responsibility to the world for their art, how they affect children and the impact they have on society at large? My answer is, why yes; of course they do – absolutely! Here are my top 10 reasons why.

A responsible artist should:
1- Never compromise their vision based on the limits of society at any given time.

Bootleg 21-35 documents how my band and I did our best to shatter society’s limited expectations of rock music as a genre.

2-Challenge the status quo and the values that he or she disagrees with.

Pete Seeger, whose protest songs and stance for the common man got him blacklisted as a Communist and banned from commercial television.

3-Sound the alarm of societal, political and religious abuses.

Throughout his entire career, Bob Marley spoke out clearly and directly in his music against political and social oppression and abuse.

4-Never water down or censor their vision based on the fear of the powers that be, the need for approval from their audience or for commercial reasons.

Boundary-pushing comedian Lenny Bruce  was arrested and jailed multiple times for profanity and vulgarity throughout his career.

5-Be truthful to what they believe and feel.

Even though his band has had problems with the amount of effort and time he puts into his charitable work, U-2 front-person Bono  still stays true to his convictions.

6-Honor their talents regardless of peoples’ reactions.

Then folk hero Bob Dylan  committed what was considered to be sacrilege when he came onstage and performed with an electric band at the Newport Folk Festival on July 25, 1965.

7- Be as unique as possible because only he or she can offer their individual talents and gifts to the world.

I fondly remember a Oui magazine article stating that The Residents and Skafish were the strangest acts in the world. To this day, The Residents and Skafish don’t fit into any of the nice little cookie-cutter boxes that people and the media try to stick artists into.

8-Stay committed to being the very best artist that they can be.

I’ve always admired the devotion that John Coltrane  had for his instrument, furthering and expanding jazz and his technical perfection through constant practice and rehearsal.

9- Stick to their work whether they make money or not.

As I can personally attest to, so many artists have lived through the horror of not making any money from their art, such as the great Vincent Van Gogh, yet the commitment must remain.

10-Do their very best to not be boring, lazy, or put out work that sucks, which in reality, is the most serious artistic crime against humanity of all.

And here’s an extra: An artist should always do their best to help others develop their own talents and gifts.

If all artists would just resist any nutty way-out-there extremist temptation to taint their gifts and stay accountable to these values, they would make an irreplaceable contribution that enlightens, enriches, and helps culture, society and this world to evolve into being a far better place!

Got any reasons you’d like to add?

Current Events/Musings/Tips for Musicians

The Message Remains the Same

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Driving in the car today, I heard “Diamonds,”  the recent #1 pop hit by Rihanna on the radio. One of the things that struck me about the song is that the lyric has been said a million times before, which of course, is why it connects with so many people. Often, those overused and cliché lyrics are easily relatable and therefore, able to reach a large number of people. The main lyric hooks of the song, “We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky,” and “Shine bright like a diamond,” could have been in a hit song from any decade as far back as the 1930’s. Think of songs like “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,”  “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” or any number of songs that deal with “Diamonds” as the lyrical center.

What does change decade to decade are the styles of the songs, the way the lyric gets dressed up by the melody, and the colloquialisms of the lyric. For example: a sexually desirable girl has been referred to everything from a dish to a dame to a chick to a broad to a bitch to a ho.

What also changes in songs are the rhythmical structures, and the production sound and techniques in any given era. The current era’s production techniques, as showcased by “Diamonds,” use technology to make everything sound perfect. Pitch corrected vocals can make singers sound in perfect tune, automated music that is computer generated plays in perfect time, computerized mixing gives the perfect mix, and in a sense, all of these things eliminate the human variable more and more. It’s like the aural equivalent of a perfectly air-brushed photograph. But often, throughout all those changes, the actual message of the lyric remains the same.

Got any “Diamonds” songs to add to the list?

Musings/Tips for Musicians

Why Write a Song?

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The reason to write a song is simple: It’s because it has to be written.

Once commercial concerns enter in, what the audience thinks, the question of if it’s good enough, comparing it to others’ songs, or worrying if it will be critically approved of, the song really suffers, especially in terms of its fluid emotional power and transcendent connection, where the reality of pure, sincere and real feelings and expression must always remain unencumbered!

Tips for Musicians

It’s Mine and You Can’t Have It!

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The music business is a most certainly complex and dirty business, to say the least and as time has gone on, it has gotten far worse and harder to navigate through. With illegal downloading being estimated by industry experts to be four times the amount of legal downloading, most artists (especially newer ones) can’t make any money from their art. Since even artists have to pay rent (debunking that romantic myth that artists don’t need money to live on), let’s face it, if you can’t make a living from your art, you’ll have to do something else to put food on the table.

With major record labels bleeding like being hit by multiple gunshot rounds, record companies have found new ways to exploit artists even more than before (if you can even imagine that!). This new trend is what are called 365 degree deals – where the label not only owns the recordings, they get their hands on your publishing, a piece of your touring income and merchandising, etc. Every penny the artist makes will have the paws of the record label taking a piece of it. With CD sales collapsing, the music industry is in a downward spiral free for all.

Since there is no formal education or legal requirements to be in the music business, it can be like flying a high-speed airplane in pitch darkness with blinders on, especially in this time period. With most professions, there is a pathway that needs to be followed and adhered to. When becoming a doctor, the studies and requirements are quite clear and literal as to what it takes to be a practicing physician. Since no such parameters exist within the music business, it becomes about power – often a vulgar display of it. Whether in the music business or society in general, the biggest always wins. Just like the most dominant guys intimidate the smaller guys in high school, the entity with the biggest bucks gobbles up the smaller people and independent enterprises.

Through their seemingly unlimited deep pockets, corporations can push their products, artists or ventures in ways the smaller companies and independent people just don’t have the power and money to do. Predictably, with large companies such as the major record labels, the terms they subject their artists to in most instances are comparable to sweat shop labor. Unless you’re a huge artist with a battery of top gun lawyers, the terms of your record deal will probably suck and smell like doggie doo-doo.

Consider this: Lisa Lopez of the group TLC had openly stated on VH1 that her group’s blockbuster album Crazy Sexy Cool had sold 10 million copies. I thought to myself, good for her! I started mentally drifting and hoping that she invests her money well and makes good choices for her future so she doesn’t ever have to play a Holiday Inn if her career declined…WAIT! STOP!

As I was thinking these warm and fuzzy thoughts, I almost fell out of my chair when she then stated that she made a total—a grand total mind you— of 50 thousand dollars from those 10 million copies sold. Most people barely live on 50 thousand dollars a year, yet alone 50 thousand dollars divided over the several years it took to sell this album. What she made from an enormously successful album seemed to be less than minimum wage! Plus, this was the time when CDs were selling for about $15.00 to $20.00 a pop. It’s staggering to think that this record probably grossed somewhere upwards of 150 million dollars and she got her piddly little dinky 50 grand.

So who pigged out on the pie? Of course, the record company did. I remember Lisa doing her little math lesson on VHI: After several millions of dollars spent to pay for the videos, recouping recording costs, marketing and packaging expenses, and all other costs, (maybe Kleenex tissues for the assistant to the record company president), that leaves their artist royalty which was somewhere between 6% to 9%, split three ways between the three group members.  Out of that artist’s share, don’t forget that management takes their commission too.  So viola! What’s left is that chump change amount of 50 grand. Just as in most instances, the record label owns the actual record, therefore, makes the most money from it while also having the control over what is done with it! It’s pretty easy to understand if you think of it this way: Look at a house. If you want to know who profits from the sale of the house and who controls what is done with it, just ask yourself, “Who owns it?”

How kind of them though, to never forget those ever so amusing little acrobatic performing monkeys known as the artists. After all, they contributed just a smidgen to this success so there will be a tiny little flake of crust after the pie has been wolfed down just for them! Forget all of the BS you see in videos: Luxury cars, yachts, mansions, jewelry…For most artists, it’s an illusion. Whoever owns the record profits the most. In this instance: It’s mine (the record company’s) and you (the artist) can’t have it!

You might ask, “Why don’t artists know better or set up more positive deals for themselves?” First, most artists enter into these deals when they are very young and truly don’t know any better. With the obsessive hunger and thirst to “make it,” artists lose sight of the reality of what they’re getting themselves into: Signing your rights away in perpetuity and entering into rotten deals where one gets totally ripped off forever, all for the illusive and poisonous carrot of fame.

With all of the famous artists I have worked with and / or have known, my strong sense is that artists as a whole who work in the music business full time (meaning their livelihood is completely generated by their art), hardly have a clue as to what this business is really all about. Let’s face it – most artists, especially young ones don’t want to talk about quarterly, semi annual and annual accounting, international intellectual property rights, the various income streams collected through publishing money and the complexities of a record contract…(Doesn’t it even sound laborsome just reading it?) There is a sense that being an artist is cool while dealing with the business is un-cool. After all, how many really edgy and unusual looking accountants have you ever met? (LOL)

Think of it this way, though. Could you imagine working for a company and not knowing the amount of your salary, how, when or why you might get paid, if you had health insurance benefits and a pension for retirement, etc? In this context, it sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? But do artists really seriously ask these questions of their management, accountants and record companies and follow through to learn the ropes of their industry? Quite doubtful…Yet, every artist needs to seriously inquire about everything and diligently study their business. As Mick Jagger, one of the most famous living rock artists, stated; “If you don’t watch your business, you’ll get ripped off.”

Here’s a little example: A former accountant of Sting stole 9 million dollars from him, yet while this theft was occurring, Sting had no idea this was even going on. Imagine that Sting himself had no awareness this was happening! However, there is a semi-happy ending to the story though, as the accountant was eventually found out by someone else which lead to a prosecution – but could you imagine not knowing you had 9 million dollars missing!?

I myself remember not wanting to really deal with contracts and the like when I first unleashed my shocking new style of performance in Chicago when I was a teenager. How boring? Numbers…Clauses…Percentages…YUK!!!

What interested me was not the business side of things, but the obsessive all consuming desire to get my message out there and change the world. (LAM=Laughing At Myself!) Playing more forcefully and aggressively that anyone prior, chaining ourselves together in public, scaring some suburban housewives, getting authentic blessed Catholic holy water from a religious supply store. Now that’s worth time and energy! (Forgive me father for I have sinned. I was just a post-teenage hermaphrodite, as one journalist so eloquently put it, HA HA!)

But throughout over three decades in the music business, I have learned about it, not because I ever wanted to, but because I had to. I have been ripped off too many times to mention here and I don’t mean to state that in any kind of a self pitying way. It has just been part of the journey, a learning experience and I deal with it in the best way I can.

Here are just a few examples: All kinds of bootleggers have tried to sell the movie I was in, Urgh! A Music War for up to $80.00 a DVD copy, illegally. All the while they keep claiming that they are really just so about punk, when in reality, they are really just so about their profit – not about punk at all. A nice little cozy cottage industry of running off cheap DVD’s which cost the bootleggers about a buck, maybe – then marking it up to as high as $80.00 a DVD, plus don’t forget, the buyer pays for shipping and handling on top of it?!?!? They have absolutely no right to make a dime from something they had nothing to do with creating on an artistic or business level.

On top of all of that, my song, She’s Taking Her Love Away from my album Conversation mysteriously appeared in a made for TV movie in 1995 starring Tori Spelling called Coed Call Girl. I had no knowledge that this actually occurred until a few years ago. I even had two separate musical groups in England try to call themselves SKAFISH. So yes, I’ve had to learn to take care of business. In this instance: It’s mine (Jimmy’s) and you (people trying to rip me off) can’t have it!

As these two different UK groups tried to hijack my name, the question should be posed, what is the value of a name? It’s like asking, how much equity is in your home? If you own a 150 million dollar mansion, there’s a lot of equity in that home. That’s comparable to the value of a name like Elvis. If you own a 75 thousand dollar house, there’s some equity in that property and that’s more analogous to the value of a lesser-known artist’s name. However, never forget that the name is always worth something.

When Tina Turner divorced Ike Turner, the one thing she wanted was to keep her name – to be able to still be known as Tina Turner as a performer and she ended up achieving this. The Jackson 5 had legal issues with their record company and had to modify their name to simply be The Jacksons. Grand Funk Railroad got into some dispute with their manager and through a lawsuit, had to drop Railroad and simply became Grand Funk. In recent years, The Doors fought over being able to perform as The Doors featuring a new singer and after legal action, were no longer able to do so.

However, John Lydon was not allowed to use his stage name Johnny Rotten after the Sex Pistols broke up back in the day, because their manger or his enterprises owned the name Johnny Rotten. It’s scary to think that a name an artist may have used, created, or one that he or she may have even been born with can suddenly not be theirs to use professionally anymore. Here we see: It’s mine (whoever legally owns the name) and you (whoever doesn’t have legal ownership of the name) can’t have it!

With the advent of the Internet, which of course is here to stay, rights and ownership have become a free for all. (You may not be able to fathom this, but I actually heard a major record executive recently say that the Internet was a passing fad.) Yes, that’s right – just like the hula-hoop or The Macarena. (LOL) However, the Internet is ever changing. Now, if an artist wishes to cover someone else’s song to sell on the Internet, they must pay up front for the rights to do so – meaning the ability to sell the cover recordings over the Internet via downloads, MP3’s and iTunes, etc.

Recently on the Internet, someone illegally posted a stream of consciousness video cover of my song Where Is James Bond? (When You Really Need Him.) I’ve had many situations where people just cover my songs illegally. Within recent months, a death metal group released a cover of Disgracing The Family Name – illegally, as the group put it out on an internationally released CD without first seeking a license to do so.

A colleague of mine has a musical group who was considering signing a record deal and he asked for my advice. He was surprised that part of the proposed record contract stated that his group could not do any cover songs. He was almost in shock when I told him that you have to pay up to 9.1 cents per song per copy in mechanical royalties. Plus, there are now digital mechanical royalties for selling songs on the Internet. He had no idea! It was obvious that the record label did not want to mess with this costly and complex payment structure to be able to do a cover — legally.

Long before the explosion of the Internet, I remember when sampling first became in vogue in the 1980’s and everyone was stealing everyone’s music (especially the catalogue of James Brown). It seemed to me that a real turning point in establishing a legal precedence regarding sampling occurred around the time when Vanilla Ice sampled David Bowie and Queen’s song Under Pressure for his smash hit Ice Ice Baby. He didn’t pay them for it at all but after he was sued, he had to issue writing and publishing credit to Bowie and Queen and pay them for lifting their song. Since that time period, everyone has had to pay for samples (which is probably why you hear far less samples in rap anymore, because it costs too much to do it and it is far less easy to get away with stealing other’s tracks all the time). Look out sampling technology — Here we see: It’s mine (the person who owns the recording) and you (the sampler) can’t have it!

I would like to share with you a story of a rip off that did have a happy ending for someone who I had a connection with and just adored – someone who included me in the club from the day we met back in the mid 1970’s – a kindred spirit who recognized that he and I were the same before I did — one of the greatest blues artists of all time, the incomparable Willie Dixon! Besides crossing paths with Willie many times, he invited me to his home and frequently referred to me as “The best musician I know.” I adored Willie and often still think of him now that he’s transitioned into spirit.

I’ve known so many pretentious and ego inflated performers. Yet sitting in many rooms with Willie gave me the ability to experience a legend, yet one who was so unaffected, totally real, completely down to earth and natural that is was inspirational for me to be in his presence! Of all people, he deserves to get credit and by all means be paid for his groundbreaking contributions to music.

Back in the day, Willie’s manager sued Led Zeppelin over a claim that the song Whole Lotta Love was ripped off from Willie. I remember Willie’s manager telling me how terrified he was testifying in federal court. Anyway, Willie did win this lawsuit! Part of the terms, though, were that Led Zeppelin wanted this to be kept out of the press. Imagine how it would make them look to be seen as Willie Dixon wanna be rip offs? So just look on any new Led Zeppelin release for the writing credits listed for Whole Lotta Love and you’ll see Willie Dixon’s name listed. What a great victory for someone who was so underrated and underpaid during his physical life!

As I’ve always been willing to share any knowledge I have with anyone if it might help them, it gives me great satisfaction to hope that my experiences may help make someone else’s journey be easier and more fruitful!  Here are two great books to read if you want to learn more about the music business: Donald Passman’s All You Need To Know About the Music Business: 6th Edition and Richard Stim’s Music Law: How to Run Your Band’s Business.

To all of the musicians reading this: DO NOT EVER SELL YOUR RIGHTS AWAY TO A CORPORATION WITH THE HOPE OF “MAKING IT!” Remember that if you sell your rights in this way, you will have no control over what happens to your work, probably forever. Also, have a qualified entertainment attorney go through every single point of every contract you’re considering signing. Yes, it is boring and no, it won’t make you feel like a rock star but be smart and just do it. I do it all the time — it’s like taking out the garbage or fixing lunch; it simply has to be done.

To start with, don’t sell your master recordings to a corporation in perpetuity. If you do, there is a good chance you’ll get screwed. The major label horror stories are too lengthy to mention here, but two important points are worth noting: 1) – If the label doesn’t care to release your record for ANY reason whatsoever, they don’t have to and they won’t. (I’ve had this happen to me with my first and second LPs). If the record company doesn’t feel there’s enough money to be made, or it doesn’t suit their greedy little fancy, your record will just sit there. It’s like signing over the house you so painstakingly built to someone else and they decide they don’t want to live in it or sell it back to you, but they refuse to do anything with it, either. So it just sits there in a Catholic state of limbo, like someone floating aimlessly through the ether for eternity.

2) – If the label owns it, they can and will do anything they want with it. Here is a perfect example: I was speaking with Dave Frey, (the manager of Cheap Trick and The Ramones) a few months ago, and he told me how Cheap Trick’s former label released a compilation record called Mullet Rock and put Cheap Trick right on the cover. OMG!!!! A mullet is un-cooler than leisure suits, bellbottoms, 1980’s Bon Jovi hot chick poof hair, or even heavy metal circa 1980’s macho dude drag queens. You know the type: “I’m wearing lipstick and I may look like a fag, but I’m into booze, coke, pussy and I’ll kick your ass!” LOL, but not with bad intent toward anyone else!

First, Cheap Trick is one of the greatest rock bands of all time, bar none. Could you imagine how they must have felt being featured on a CD cover showcasing one of the most embarrassing aesthetics of modern times? On top of that, fans would show up at Cheap Trick concerts and yell at Dave Frey: “Why did you let them be on this f*****up CD cover? What kind of a manager are you?!” Of course, Dave had nothing to do with it. Never forget, ownership is everything. Who owns the work? The record label does! The record company didn’t call up Frey and say, “Hey Davie, babe, how’d you like a your boys to be on this very cool compilation CD cover called Mullet Rock?” The label didn’t have to ask Cheap Trick if they wanted to be in on this idiotic cover. They just did it!

One little addendum and an important one! If you feel you have to sell your master recordings to a corporation, make sure to at least have a point in the contract where the rights revert back to you, the artist! The group Chicago had a clause in their early contract stating that the rights to their recordings would revert back to them after 25 years. At the time, the label thought that it was no big deal, as if who would care about some band named Chicago 25 years later. Guess what? They’re catalogue is a huge moneymaker now and I say, good for the group Chicago – they deserve it!

It you write songs, I strongly recommend for you to not sell your publishing. Remember, songwriters and publishers spilt the money 50% – 50%. Surprisingly, half of your income being given away is probably not the worst part of it though! It is usually the publisher who OWNS the copyright, which means that the publisher can do anything they want with the song: License it for toilet cleaning commercials, or use it to sell hemorrhoid products if they want to.

Debut LPI gave up part of my publishing back in the 1970’s for two reasons: 1) – I went over the tiny budget I had to make my first record and if I wanted to get the record done and out there, I had to give up half of the publishing on my first LP and 2) – I didn’t know any better at the time, as I had no concept of the amount of potential money and control of my work I was relinquishing. But thank God, I was able to buy it all back. I used to have nightmares of my songs showing up on some goofy “Weirdest punk and new wave songs of all time” CD. Now, at least that won’t happen to me, unless done illegally! Also, if the CDs or downloads of a song don’t sell much, the only other possible money to be made is from the publishing, which is why an artist should not sell the publishing away. I remember hearing how The Black Crowes sold their publishing before they broke big for an infinitesimal five, yes FIVE thousand dollars.

When Michael Jackson bought The Beatles publishing catalogue, he licensed the Beatles message driven classic Revolution for a sneakers commercial. Paul McCartney was understandably not hot so happy about this, but there was nothing he could do about it. Why! Because: It’s mine (the publisher who owns the copyright) and you (the person who actually created the song, just a minor little insignificant factoid) can’t have it!

Regarding your professional name, make sure you have an agreement with any other band members as to who owns it. Whether it is jointly owned or solely by you, trademark the name! I know it sounds oh so un hip, you know, filling out government forms and talking to attorneys, but would you rather not be able to use your name?!?!? Even though my actual birth name is Skafish, I trademarked my name, which may sound strange as it is on my driver’s license, but it allowed me to swat those little flies dead who tried to call their groups SKAFISH.

Go after people who are ripping you off. (What would you do if someone was breaking into your home?) Legally, it can be considered that you have relinquished your rights and your trademarks by not enforcing those rights legally. It’s like when you don’t use your muscles, they disintegrate and turn to worthless mushy flab. Some people will call you a troll, an ogre, a bastard and a monster…I’ve been called all of those things on a regular basis, but why should you care? Never forget, it’s mine (the artist’s) and you (the worthless bootleggers and thieves) can’t have it!

For me, the funniest incident was where a bunch of people ganged up on me on some message board and kept referring to me as this bitter, sad, pathetic miserable soul who doesn’t want his work to be out there. Ah – Skafish is so very wounded…And while doing this, they claimed that they like me so so much as an artist — all to make themselves look rational and reasonable when they’re nothing more than parasites.

You might ask the question, “Why would they say all of these things?” First, none of these people ever worked with me, don’t know me, have never been friends of mine, and have not done anything whatsoever on any artistic or business level with me.

So the answer is obvious: Since they were selling my work illegally and making money from it, I actually stopped them from ripping me off. Oh, I forgot that they are so very punk – I mean what could be more punk than profiting off of someone else who has never made any money from his own work?

It’s hilarious. These are people who have never spent one minute of their life with me one on one and they’re engaging in a pseudo psychological discourse regarding my motivations and behavior. It’s simple! I don’t wanna be ripped off — that’s all. Would you? Would you like someone stealing the money out of your wallet and yet as an artist, my wallet may or may not have any cash in it anyway, (LOL).

Some people have stated that because some of my work is not available to the world, that perhaps, I’m just oh so bitter, isolated and alone. (Can we have some sad new wave style violins about now?) More inaccurate than that though, is that some even went so far as to suggest that I actually have had something to do with preventing my own work from being released. Hello? Knocking on cretin’s door…Is anyone remotely in residence upstairs? It would be beyond preposterous to think that I of all people wouldn’t want my work out there – art that I have been threatened and physically attacked over, where I could have potentially lost my life multiple times?

Remember this! If something by me is currently unavailable or has never been available, it is because I don’t have any control over it! I deeply want my entire catalogue out there, for the whole world to view in any way they wish. If people don’t like what I do, so be it, as it reminds me just how provincial and narrow-minded people can be, especially those who claim to be open minded and oh so cutting edge. It’s like the hip version of an up tight religious right housewife who is non-orgasmic, LOL!

Regarding the bitter thing, I am not that sort of a person whatsoever! I find bitterness to be quite boring, tedious and draining. Even though it has been a tremendously difficult journey for me, bitterness is so unappealing to me and has never been an option I’ve embraced. Elation, joy and ecstasy (no, not the drug) through helping others are my options.

(Oh well, almost everything that’s ever been said about me isn’t true anyway!) That’s what this blog is for, to finally, once and for all, set this ever so contorted record straight! I wake up everyday with great gratitude and enthusiasm and work toward serving others!

Regarding my work, I have ALWAYS wanted it out there, and I have been doing everything in my power that I possibly can to simply get it out there; ever since I made my first little record in a Gary Indiana recording studio back in 1970. I’ve never given up, gone away, or taken a break! This is again, part of the Chicago revisionist history that is blindly accepted as fact. It has been my daily mission to promote my work and my message, everyday, even on Sundays, when I’m being punished for my weekly sins, LOL.

That’s why I started 829 Records, to get this most radical portion of my catalogue to everyone. With its first project, What’s This? 1976-1979 to be released in just a little over a week, it can be heard for what it really was and is! With all of the tapes formerly lost and the enormous monetary expense it has been for me to put it all together, from my vantage point, it is nothing short of a miracle that it is finally seeing the light of day!

Here, over thirty years later, it’s finally mine (What’s This? 1976-1979), and you (the world that wants something transformational, real and non compromised) can have it!

Jim Skafish

© 2008 Skafish

Tips for Musicians

So you’re young and you wanna be famous, huh?

Posted by Skafish on

Most musical artists who become famous almost always “hit it big” when they’re young – very young in fact. Very seldom do we see someone breaking big as a popular artist in their 40’s, 50’s or beyond. It is such a paradox that becoming famous at a young age occurs exactly at the time in one’s life when they are least prepared to deal with it. Still without life experience and an absence of not yet having to handle tough daily problems and crises, fame plus youth can be a recipe for utter disaster. The list is quite long of those who have self destructed through celebrity, especially early fame, from former teen idol Leif Garrett to Boy George.

People are generally cynical regarding the woes of a troubled pop star, spewing things such as, “You brought it on yourself, A***hole” to “You got what you deserved, you F**** spoiled little no talent piece of crap!” Television, print, photographers, websites and blogs are devoted to chronicling each downward spiral, sitting on the edge of their seats, gleefully watching the train wreck that is often known as young celebrity. With the Michael Jackson child molestation trial fiasco, it seemed generally accepted that it just couldn’t get any worse, till the public’s insatiable appetite found newfound nourishment with the meltdown of Britney Spears.

From my point of view, the reasons for her decline seem obvious. As someone who has witnessed famous people around me self undo, as well as having been there myself, albeit in a far smaller capacity, the “why it all happened” is clear.

For Britney and Michael Jackson, working in the entertainment field as young children created issues, as it does for so many in that position. We hear over and over again the sad and tragic stories of child celebrities. It’s as if a huge period of their life (the things that normal kids do) go missing in action, similar to having a serious memory lapse. It would be like watching a movie, then all of a sudden, the picture goes black and stays that way for quite some time, till the story somehow picks up at a later point in the film leaving the plotline disconnected. Being deprived of life experiences that are essential to one’s healthy development is like repeatedly not sleeping well, eating properly, or ever being in the sunlight. One’s perspective becomes severely skewed, warped and distorted.

In the case of Ms. Spears, she is a true American success story: coming from a humble small town background, becoming a childhood star and then progressing on to international pop star status.

Currently, with her well-documented meltdown, people have just reveled in it! – it’s like watching a horrific car crash and being glued to it. Except with this tragedy, people laugh and make fun of her. (Oops! I forgot – now it’s referred to in hushed tones as an American tragedy, as if to pretend that the media cares sympathetically about her). It is the ultimate revenge people feel toward the famous: the jealousy, resentment, even hatred against someone considered rich, privileged and invincible – We love to bring ‘em down and when that star is young, they can often be brought down.

Look!!! There she is shaving her head – vandalizing a car — I can see her F**** crotch – (The news outlets can slow down the video where 5 seconds becomes 30 seconds – so much better for ratings!!!) GO, BRITNEY, GO!!!!!!! It also makes people feel that their lives are somehow normal. She is the nut case — not I — I am the rational and sane one – a perfect functioning member of society!

I remember seeing a serious news report on CNN called the “Britney Economy.” Simply stated, it estimated how much the American economy benefits from Britney’s decline: magazine sales spiking when she appears on the cover, television shows that have higher ratings where she is the subject, etc. The economic windfalls were reported to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars for our country!

I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of a media feeding frenzy myself. Contrary to the Chicago revisionist history that’s out there, I have been as well known in New York and Los Angeles as I was in Chicago, but the pinnacle of my fame and notoriety occurred outside of Chicago in 1980 in England, where I received intense tabloid style media coverage.

Of course it was smaller in magnitude compared to Britney Spears, or any pop star for that matter. Let me first coin these new pop culture phrases right here and now. I was an “almost pop star,” an “on the verge celebrity” What an oxymoron that is. (LAM = Laughing At Myself) Almost all of the press I received, some glowing, some scathing, a lot of it quite cynical, was as sensationalistic and over the top as anything in today’s tabloids. For a press core that fancied itself as musically perceptive and astute, there were hardly any aesthetic observations at all.

It was England in the summer of 1980 and I was dropped onto an unsuspecting British public to do an extensive UK/ European tour with Sting and The Police, XTC, UB-40, Squeeze and U-2 as my first album and single had just been internationally released. From late July through mid September, we were playing pretty much daily to anywhere from 9,000 to 45, 000 people in outdoor stadiums along with a few solo headlining club dates. On that trek, I was also filmed for the now legendary cult classic film Urgh! A Music War.

It all began with our first British performance – the first ever Milton Keynes concert in late July, alongside Sting and the Police, UB-40, Squeeze and Sector 27. From backstage I could see an ocean of people in this outdoor venue – 45,000 in fact. The crowd appeared endless, like looking up at a clear sky and imagining how far it goes. When we came on, the trouble started right away, solely based on my appearance. People were booing and began throwing things – in fact, mostly full or completely full cans of beer — large cans, larger than I remember ever seeing back home. The amps were being hit like perfect targets by a war airplane out of the sky – with each direct hit the beer splattered like a detonated bomb — the stage was soaked in it. My backup singer, Barbie Goodrich and I were dancing all around to avoid being hit while slipping on the stage that appeared as if a water pipe that had just busted open. The band was more like sitting ducks and it was turning into a free for all. The angry mob kept throwing and heaving, more cans, objects, obscenities, you name it…

During the 6th or 7th song, Work Song, I believe, I took a direct hit on the forehead. There was blood – but I was going to continue. This was war — just with a brand new enemy – You must kill the enemy or die yourself, as you’re willing to die for the cause…but my manager and Miles Copeland pulled me off stage. I was bleeding but didn’t need to go to the hospital. As I was sitting in my trailer backstage, I was bandaged, which eventually stopped the bleeding yet I felt paralyzed. No one was being consoling at all – not even the people who worked with me. I remember sitting there until eventually the entire concert was over and seeing Sting ride off in his limousine.

A fan fressed as Skafish profileNow, the press there loooooooooooved it. This was like a free ongoing carnival sideshow to gawk at and revel in. In their minds, here was this nutcase, semi insane barely functioning American mini-star, who they could just rip to shreds with utter fanciful amusement – and they did. I was constantly in the press – at least weekly, often daily with headlines such as “Meet The Worlds Ugliest Pop Star” to “Would You Let Your Daughter Marry Jim Skafish?” A fan dressed as my profile from head to toe strolled aimlessly throughout London while journalists would surprise me out of the blue and try to ask me questions on the streets and in restaurants, as I had not yet ever granted an interview. During this time period, my first album and single shot up into the top 10 of the British Independent Charts.

In August, Sounds Magazine ran a three-week vicious, satirical cartoon of me. The premise of the story was that I was wearing a mask to hide my eternally so ugly mug to try and impersonate being a mainstream pop star, who was implied to be Davy Jones of the Monkees. But, by the end of the three-week run, AH HA! I was found out! The mask was removed!!! It was Skafish, or as they said (to protect themselves from libel) STARFISH! Then someone pukes based on the horror of witnessing the real me and the cartoon was done.

I was 23 at the time and certainly not prepared to deal with this pressure at all. How could I have been? Just like any other performer, there are no classes in school that teach us how to deal with success, yet alone fame. It is its own animal and completely misunderstood. Fame is sold as immortality and a privileged life, when it actuality it is merely an illusion – the illusion of immortally, validation, connection and empowerment. It’s like claiming that a slanted slippery slope is a rock solid concrete foundation to stand on. Besides my own internal confusion at the time, there was no one there, whether from my record company to anyone to help me through this. I was just sort of left out there alone, a gangling freak on foreign soil, in the midst of a feeding frenzy.

I started becoming afraid – even paranoid. I felt like any minute, any second, I was going to die – just right there – drop dead and the whole world would then be able to laugh at the spectacle. I could barely function. It was as if every moment felt like an eternity of terror – endless and without any relief — like finding yourself dropped in the middle of the largest ocean on the planet at midnight with no one around. Of course, in retrospect, it makes sense why I would have felt that way, but being so young, I simply didn’t have the tools and awareness I now have to deal with these types of emotions.

I had to leave — I had to get home. It became my mission. To actually want to go back to the ghettos of East Chicago, Indiana, where I was raised, a place where I had been brutalized pretty much on a daily basis since my childhood – I wanted to be there? That is something I would have never thought I could ever feel.

We were all making about $145.00 a week, but I saved my pennies and bought a plane ticket to New York. I didn’t have enough money to buy a ticket back to Chicago, as somehow, back then, it was more expensive than a ticket to New York. From there, my plan was to stay with friends till I got more money and could take a flight back to Chicago. I kept going back and forth on the decision – yes, no, I AM going to do it — no- no-no-I guess I’ll wait it out.

However, after a week or so, that was it. I called a cab at around 5:00 AM before anyone in the band woke up (as we were all living in a flat in London) and took the cab to Heathrow airport. Barbie Goodrich woke up and saw that I wasn’t there – she called Miles Copeland who dispatched his assistant, Carol Anne to the airport to snatch me back.

However, there was one problem – an insurmountable one. Because of how strange I looked, the British airline and government authorities surmised that I must be a terrorist. By the time Carol Anne got there, my luggage was already on the flight and the authorities misconstrued that I had a terrorist bomb in my luggage. The authorities forced me to board the flight. Why? They figured that I had a bomb in the luggage, and forcing me on the plane meant that I would have to die in the explosion. In their minds, I wouldn’t want to die, so presumably, I would be forced into confessing to the bomb right then and there. By me confessing, they’d find the bomb, I would go to prison forever while the rest of the innocent people would have their lives spared. Nowadays, it’s common knowledge that a terrorist would have no problem being blown up with the plane. Back then, their logic may have seemed to somewhat make sense as this was before terrorism was commonplace as it is in society today.

So, they physically grabbed me and practically strong-armed me onto the plane. As the plane was ascending, I felt the sensation of the cabin walls closing in on me. It was 6 hours of tension and fear, then I landed in New York and record company employees were there, waiting. I hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and they bought me a hamburger. Once I got to the States, I really didn’t want to go back; to face more attacks and sensational media coverage. Between the record company and my manger who called me somehow on an airport pay phone, they convinced me to go back – and I did – immediately,

After wolfing down my hamburger, I was back on the 6 hour flight to London, arriving there quite late. Back to the flat, I got 1-2 hours of sleep before having to immediately go to Belgium to continue the tour the next morning after being across the ocean twice over the last 12-14 hours straight.

This event was the grand slam home run the press was waiting for. Here, everything they had said about me was able to be validated as true. As they put it, I am this enormous nosed misfit, American mini-star—a nut case, someone who needs therapy, desperately, who you need to listen to before he commits suicide. What I did made the media seem right on the money regarding their opinions of me. They had a field day with it in the press, relishing in the details: Carol Anne talking sense into me, a schmaltzy coming to Jesus moment, you know, the whole smear, the freak gets it now, big group hug, blah, blah, blah and the weirdo is ready to have another go at it. Some of these stories concluded with the concept of now, since I saw the light, there’s every chance of seeing me perform there, unfortunately, darn it…

After that experience, I was quite OK through the rest of the tour and subsequently, never reacted this way in my career ever again. I learned from this saga, and internalized the lesson. At that time, I really saw rock ‘n’ roll, particularly fame, as my ticket out of a life of tortuous abuse. Since I had been persecuted and abused virtually every day of my life from my first day in kindergarten, I was trying desperately to heal my past through my art. With being a sideshow in England at that time, it recreated the torture, now for the whole world to see. That trigger, along with my other experiences as a performer and artist, served as a catalyst of growth. That was the beginning of re-evaluating my perspective on fame. (And yeah, I wrote and recorded a song about it and you’ll hear it on a upcoming release.)

Fame is not easy, especially for the young. Yet people think that fame equals a whole new set of rules: attacks, invasion of privacy and complete disregard of human dignity to merely name a few. It’s as if one gives up all of their inalienable human rights as a trade off to be famous. I hoped the death of Princess Diana would curtail the mad feeding frenzy of celebrity – but it didn’t. However, it is my deepest hope that young artists coming up can learn from the tragedies of those who came before them.

At this point in my life, I really feel that is was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t become a superstar in my early career, a time where I could have not handled the pressures and all that would have come with it. I absolutely would have made every attempt to maintain my artistic integrity, but the insanity of it all could have been quite maddening. Often, young artists ask for my advice regarding their careers. One of my strongest messages to them is to not see fame as a solution to whatever their experience has been. There is nothing worth selling your soul for and I’m so thankful mine wasn’t sold – as it has never really been for sale anyway!

Okay, now it’s your turn – tell me what you think!

Jim Skafish

© 2008 Skafish


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