Current Events

Still, there’s No Liberation Here

Posted by Skafish on

At around Midnight a few days ago on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009, I happened to notice a news story on CNN about an 11 year old boy named Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover from Massachusetts, who had been taunted, bullied and harassed daily for almost one year straight because he was perceived as gay.  Days before he would have turned 12 on April 17, unable to take it any longer, Carl committed suicide by hanging himself with an electrical cord in his home.

At the time, his mother was cooking dinner, and when Carl didn’t come downstairs from his third floor bedroom to eat, his mother went upstairs to find out why.  To her indescribable shock and horror, she lived every parent’s worst nightmare when she found her son.  Immediately, she cut the electrical cord with a knife given to her by her daughter, Carl’s sister, to try and free her son, but it was too late.  He was dead.

All of the torture, abuse, threats, names and relentless bullying got the best of him, and as no one at the school or any authorities came to his defense in any meaningful way, Carl couldn’t take it anymore.  He was an African American boy who dreamed of growing up, becoming President one day and changing the world – but those dreams are forever gone.

According to the story, his mother, a woman who had survived breast cancer and homelessness, called the school every week, pleading for them to intervene and do something to stop this and protect her son; and of course, as usual, the school didn’t do enough to protect Carl.  Predictably, the school tried to defend itself with some prepared official media statement designed to exonerate themselves of any wrongdoing which was probably drafted by a lawyer.  Why?  Because now they really do care; not about the safety and life of Carl Hoover, but about getting sued.

I felt such a rush of sadness, emotional grief, and tears, not only for him, but for so many people who have been so relentlessly tortured, bullied, harassed and abused.  Some have committed suicide as they felt there was no way out, while so many others have even been murdered – all because of perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity.

When I heard Carl’s story, it was painfully easy for me to relate to, as I’ve been through it myself as well: from the kids on the playground constantly making fun of me, alienating and abusing me, to junior gang bangers chasing me home threatening me with knives in grade school.

In high school, I was harassed daily by students and teachers alike. I remember the high school band teacher choking me on an out of town choral band trip while everyone just stood there casually and watched.

When I was playing piano accompanying talent show singers at a high school talent show, the football jocks kept slamming the lid that covered the piano keys on my fingers to try and break my fingers while I was playing.  Here’s how it went: they’d slam the lid down, I pulled my fingers back just in a knick of time, then they did it again, and so on, till I eventually slipped and fell off the riser I was on.  The fall gave me a serious bleeding gash on my leg – enough to get stitches, but as you would probably expect, I kept playing.  Even back then, the show must go on was my motto and creed.  Later I found out the wound did indeed need stitches, but it was too late for that, so the scar remains, as do so many from that time period.

Emotionally, psychologically, physically and systematically, I lived through this abuse virtually every day I was in school — and I never threatened, harassed or physically hurt anyone else — ever.  So no, I didn’t deserve it as some people have cynically said, merely just because people didn’t like me for being different, a “faggot,” or because I was considered annoying or strange.  One moronic local even had the audacity to recently post a blog that it was my strangeness that actually killed my father, who transitioned into spirit when I was just 15 years old.

Upon graduating high school, I thought I could live my life as I wanted, and be forever free of this abuse, but I quickly learned how that wasn’t true when someone pulled a gun on me in a Hammond, Indiana White Castle hamburger joint parking lot because my friends and I looked so strange.  This person didn’t pull the trigger thankfully, but just stood there pointing the gun and laughing at me for a while, then he smugly walked away.

I had the same shocking disappointment again when I entered the world of rock ‘n’ roll, as I naively thought that rock ‘n’ roll housed the disenfranchised.  Again, I thought the abuse would finally end – but it didn’t at all.  It was just now done by narrow-minded vicious audiences and critics, as rock ‘n’ roll is a tremendously conformist art form and not a place for real misfits, but only for “acceptable” ones.  Being just a smidgen different is hailed as brilliant, but if you’re really out there like I’ve been, you’re in trouble.

Where do you think the ideas came from to write such songs as Knuckle Sandwich, Joan Fan Club, and No Liberation Here?  They were written from a lifetime of horrible personal experiences and a sense of the never ending pain and terror that one only knows if they’ve lived through it or seen someone they love experience it like Carl Hoover’s mother and sister did.  I frequently receive emails from people as young as early teenagers who have been touched by the message of my work, sharing their stories of alienation, social ostacization and abuse wilth me.   

In Knuckle Sandwich, I say the words that people use to taunt me with:

Hey little boy you want a sandwich to eat
It can make your mouth flow
and it tastes pretty neat
I can feel good when I feed you some food
You’re gonna eat my knuckle sandiwich on white 
Can’t throw a football you don’t know how to fight

Your legs are thin and your arms of flab
And your stomach is mush
and you walk like a fag
Don’t come around I’m gonna give it to you
You’re gonna eat my knuckle sandwich on white
Can’t throw a football you don’t know how to fight
©Copyright 1976

With Joan Fan Club, I put myself in the role of the tormentor in the song.  Journalists knew that the piece was autobiographic by proxy, but there were some “fans,” who actually thought that I was just some asshole rock star getting off on making fun of someone for being fat.  Remember, I was the one who was abused — never the abuser.  This was just my very singular artistic way of writing protest songs.

I knew the composition was a social statement that needed to be said, and that it would be relevant decades later, as proven today where the cultural obsession with females being thin is probably at it’s all time highest.

However, I had no idea who painfully prophetic and close to home the song would one day hit.  In recent years, a young boy committed suicide with his father’s gun because of being tormented at school for being different and fat.  His father is a friend of mine I grew up with who used to listen to the very early Skafish band rehearse, and is now a local police officer.  I remember going to the wake in support of him and his son.

The lyrics to Joan Fan Club mirrored this exact kind of bullying:

Hey fat pig we’re gonna push you down the stairs
That’s right, we’re gonna touch your little pizza face
Fat! Hey fatty, you’re a real fox
You know the whole school wants to go out with you
Can I have your autograph?
©Copyright 1977

No Liberation Here was written for people like Carl Hoover and those who have been murdered, or were tormented to the point of feeling that they needed to commit suicide, for being perceived as gay, “acting gay,” being gay, or not manly by our archaic cowboy culture standards:

We don’t have a right
No liberation here
We can’t walk the streets now
Our faces get beat now
We will not pretend
that we have real rights
Here prison does not need bars
Bloodshed today and we know it will not change
We live in shame
©Copyright 1977

Back in the 1970’s, many in the world of rock music accused me of whining about my fucked up shitty little life, and furthermore, who the fuck cares anyway, they mocked.  Of course they’d say that – they didn’t suffer in the same way I did, so they have no empathy.  But I wasn’t just writing about me – it also represented the overwhelming social issues that I clearly saw that hardly anyone else noticed, and I wrote those pieces as modern protest songs.  Back then, I saw the present for what it really was, and I psychically saw how it would evolve in the future.  I knew over thirty years ago that the brief and seemingly real freedom that was enjoyed if the 1970’s was not going to change anything in the long run or last.  In fact, I knew it would get much worse – and it did.

I have the battle scars to prove it, but thankfully, I’m alive and well, so I’m not complaining.  But unfortunately, what happened to Carl Hoover happens all too often, and the list of those who have lost their lives to suicide and murder for these reasons is too long to mention here.

And it speaks to something much bigger than just one child who unnecessarily and tragically lost his life.  It reflects on the tremendous hypocrisy of America.  If Carl Hoover was bullied for being black, and called the “N” word, there would have been tremendous outcry and swift action taken against anyone would have even uttered such a word.

But of course in this culture, it’s still ok to attack, harass, discriminate, taunt, physically assault and even murder someone for being perceived as gay.  Keep in mind, he wasn’t a young man who ever identified himself as being gay – it was merely the perception that he “acted gay” that did him in – meaning, he didn’t talk like a junior thug and had a more feminine demeanor, which in our cowboy culture, is the ultimate sin.

And one might ask how a country that prides itself on freedom and equality for all is so terribly hypocritical, where gender orientation and sexuality is still such a hot button?  Fortunately, at least there seems to be some awareness and sensitivity regarding racial discrimination and people with disabilities, but even in those areas, there is still a very long way to go.

If the school officials and proper authorities would have acted to protect Carl Hoover in the way they should have and could have done, he would still be alive today.  According to one report, right before his suicide, a girl threatened to beat him up and kill him, and the school’s solution was to make Carl and the girl eat lunch together for several days to “work it out.”

There are several factors that spell out America’s hypocrisy quite clearly:  First, religion plays a huge part in all of this.  With the Christian right morphing Jesus Christ into the ultimate homophobic hit-man, anyone who is perceived as gay (therefore labeled as gay), is ok to attack.  We all hear religious zealots citing the “Word of God” as explaining why it’s ok to discriminate, hate, and even murder.  Have you ever seen the posters that say, “God hates fags?”  Well supposedly, if God said it, then it is a fact, just like the sun rises in the morning.

But there is no way of really proving that God ever said any of this.  People assume that their religious beliefs are irrefutable facts.  And even within the different groups of those who do believe, there are so many variations on such ideologies, that it is ludicrous to simply use the “Word of God” as the justification for such attitudes and actions.  But religion is a terribly powerful and damaging force in this instance as it incites hysteria and mindless action in the masses who don’t think for themselves.

Secondly, we live in a culture that embraces and celebrates the worst and darkest sides of masculinity: men who are violent, ruthlessly powerful, greedy and rich, recreationally cheating on their wife or girlfriend as a validation of their manhood, sexually promiscuous with lots of “hot babes” who are used and dismissed, and asserting controlling, domineering behavior.

To be perceived as gay is to be viewed as weak, effeminate, someone not manly, and ultimately less than a real man.  So just as dogs attack the weaker of the pack to assert primitive dominance, the same thing happens to those who are perceived as gay.  They are attacked verbally, physically and on all levels.

Third, many people are consciously or unconsciously afraid of what might be lurking within their own sexuality.  They might fear that they have gay tendencies and that it’s like a cancer growing within them.  So by hating, it means that they’re normal, manly and a regular guy.  Since many are not as comfortable with their own sexuality as they pretend to be, their internal insecurities become hot buttons and are turned around on others who don’t represent male stereotypes as it holds up a mirror.

Boys who are young are especially sensitive about these issues, because they’re understandably insecure in their own sexuality and manhood, only beginning to come into their own male identity, and filled with fear.  So it gets projected outward and onto someone who can be perceived as gay.

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover paid the ultimate price for other’s insecurities and hatred thrust upon him, and he took his own life because of it.  How many more times will someone die before our primitive society grows up and simply allows people to live in freedom and peace?

Most of us have all heard of the Matthew Shepard story, who was a 21 year old student at the University of Wyoming who was tortured and subsequently murdered in October 1998, near Laramie, Wyoming.  This was all done for only one reason – because he was gay.

Another example of this heinous type of torture was the murder of 15 year old Lawrence King, an eighth grader in California who came out as being gay and wore makeup and nail polish.  He was shot in his school classroom by a 14 year old fellow student and died in February 2008.

Forget the illusion that the entertainment field and pop culture presents: that everyone is happily living in harmony together: gay, bisexual, straight, transgender, the weird folks side by side laughing with the normal folks, tra la la.

If you’re perceived as gay, “act gay,” or are gay, the reality, as it stands now, is that your job, reputation, social standing, property, legal rights, physical safety and actual life are still all at risk in America.

For more information on how to stop the bullying, here are some valuable websites:

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/home/index.html

Resources for stopping bullying:

http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/

http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/index.asp?area=main

In the uk:

http://www.beatbullying.org/?gclid=CPfa2ZfG-ZkCFQENDQodjCinEQ

© 2009 Jim Skafish 

Musings

Even “The Boss” gets attacked

Posted by Skafish on

As an artist who has pushed many an envelope in my career, I have been on the receiving end of vicious personal attacks, always disguised as legitimate criticism. Wouldn’t it have to be? If it is admitted to be merely a personal attack, the “criticism” loses all credibility or ability to be taken even remotely seriously. I get that…But would any of you think that Bruce Springsteen has recently had to face the same type of personal attacks — not from a critic – but from his own audience that paid to see him perform live?

What really shocked me, more than the hits I’ve taken, is a blog entry  I just read a few days ago, which talked about how Bruce Springsteen used to get booed at his own concerts by his own fans who paid a lot of money to see him during the Bush years. This was because Bruce’s political views were the opposite of the Bush administration’s, and when he would voice his own political views or sing songs that represented them, HIS audience loudly expressed their disapproval and booed him, as Bruce’s audience obviously endorsed the politics of Bush and all he stood for at the time.

So it goes to show that anyone who has ever created any kind of art gets attacked, even blue collar regular guy everyman Bruce Springsteen, (not just someone wearing old ladies’ one piece bathing suits and sprinkling audiences with authentic blessed Catholic holy water like me). I felt empathy for Bruce, especially because this was HIS audience doing this, not just some critic.

One personal attack I recall vividly happened back in early 1978 when a Chicago writer named David Witz unleashed a scathing story on Skafish in the Chicago Reader entitled: The Importance of Fleeing Skafish. In it, he begged and pleaded with people to stop coming to my performances, because he was afraid that the worst of all possible things could happen, which was that I would continue to represent Chicago to the rest of the world as I had already been doing and ruin Chicago’s reputation. Wow, I thought I was only disgracing my own family name, but I guess I was also actually disgracing the name of one of the biggest cities in the world, lol! Obviously, David Witz didn’t like who I was and felt threatened by the fact that I was the first and only Chicago punk/new wave/alternative/indie artist back then who was able to take it to the national and international stage.

He wrote that real punks couldn’t stand me, which is why I guess I’ve performed multiple dates with The Ramones, Iggy Pop, The Stranglers and that Sid Vicious came specifically to see me play in New York. Obviously, none of them are real punks, lol.

In the story, he claimed that my band could literally only play one chord together which is hysterical, as my drummer Larry Mysliwiec had a Bachelor’s Degree in percussion from De Paul University and went on to play for Iggy Pop. My bassist Greg Sarchet went on to receive a Master’s Degree from the Julliard School of Music in New York, which is one of most prestigious music schools in the world. He now plays for the Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and is simply of the greatest bassists in the world. David Prochazka, my keyboardist then, was highly classically trained and could have established a strong classical music career had he chosen to do so.

Witz tried to say that my value as an artist was merely that I couldn’t decide whether I was a 12 year fat ugly boy or a 12 year old fat ugly girl. But he didn’t stop there. He quoted lyrics sung by Debbie Harry of Blondie that had nothing to do with me and implied that these lyrics: “A case of partial extremes” were actually written about me, as if to say that Debbie Harry was dissing me in one of her songs—which is not only completely untrue, but a false way of Witz vicariously trying to back up his points. Debbie Harry and Blondie’s song clearly had absolutely nothing to do with me.

But here’s the best part: David Witz actually wrote that when I played with the Dead Boys in Chicago, they were clicking their switchblades backstage and said about me, “Get that God Damn faggot out of here.” But guess what? Neither of those things happened. There were no switchblades and no one calling me a “God Damn faggot.” Keep in mind that this was well before the days of political correctness, so Witz could easily get away with saying such a thing back then which he couldn’t do as easily now.

I have to say that the David Witz piece was the most vicious story I’ve ever read about any artist, (pardon me for calling myself one, lol) with possibly the exception of a Lester Bangs review of David Bowie when he did his Young Americans album and tour in the mid 1970’s. In that article, Bangs repeatedly referred to David as Dave as a way of colloquiallizing his name to make Bowie look like some average regular Joe as opposed to the great artist he is. Bangs also described Bowie as being like Johnny Ray on Cocaine, singing about “1984.” (Johnny Ray was a 1950’s era torch singer who had a huge hit with the song Cry, and was known for actually crying during his performances.)

And, as it is with most people, they feel better after they’ve unloaded on you. When someone punches someone else, rarely does the person who unloaded the blow feel sad, guilty or fearful. They feel triumphant like a boxer who’s celebrating knocking someone else out as they got to release whatever their pent up issues are on a receiving target and “get away with it.” It goes without saying that David Witz and people like him feel no cognitive remorse for what they do, because through their attacks, they experience an energetic release and a false feeling of validation, superiority and dominance.

So as the story goes, Witz didn’t ruin my career as he intended to, I ended up getting an international record deal, am alive and well, still doing what I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old and only wish David Witz all the blessings of life, truly.

But I get it. I have always been willing to go way further out on a limb as an artist than most others on many levels, so I have learned to expect that kind of attack – forever disguised as legitimate, perceptive and non biased criticism. After all, no one wants to look like they’re the ones with an axe to grind when they’re attacking someone else as it takes away their credibility and believability. Therefore, they do their best to be perceived as rational and intelligent while engaging in personal attacks.

With Bruce Springsteen, his experience reinforces the old mainstay that you can’t have a discussion about religion or politics, as both topics are ripe with subjectivity, personal opinion, bias, prejudice and emotional volatility. Even though these people presumably paid a lot of money to see him perform, they were willing to openly diss him at his own concerts because he didn’t agree with George W. Bush and the Bush policies.

So we see that this can happen even to a legendary performer affectionately referred to as “The Boss”; someone who practically everyone would view as universally likeable. Since this was done by his own paying audience no doubt, one realizes that the attacks simply don’t stop at any level no matter who you are. But guess what, ultimately, they don’t matter at all. If you don’t have the strength to be your own person and artist, this is not the business for you. There’s no reason to be defensive – but rather, spiritually and emotionally nonattached, so that your eye is on the real prize which is to simply be you, celebrate your individuality and give whatever artistic contributions you can offer to the collective with joyous abandon.

© 2009 Jim Skafish

Musings

The Audience Will Find You

Posted by Skafish on

I remember hearing David Byrne (formerly of the Talking Heads) say years ago that even though it sounded naïve, he actually believed that if you just put your work out there, people will find it.  A similar sentiment was echoed by Morrisey in a video interview I saw days ago on Amazon.com.  He was comparing the difference between classical music and pop music, and how pop music via pop culture is just shoved down everyone’s collective throat, while classical music is just out there to be found.  

If your work is a part of the pop music industry machine and force fed on the world at large, it gets out there, like a rocket, but that also entails compromise: having to water it down for the masses, censoring the video, bleeping out the words, getting misquoted by journalists and false information being propagated — all for the illusive carrot to sell records and be famous.  And if you’re “lucky” enough to be famous, then your ego gets engaged, values get challenged and you become obsessed with keeping the fame going, which waters down and lessens the value of the art.  It all becomes its own rat race.  With that process, the art wasn’t found by people – it was forced on them.

As the CEO of my record companies, and the artist as well, I have a very different concept and philosophy than the typical pop culture mantra of saturate the market and manipulate through the media if you can.  From 1976 to 1986, I refused all interviews, and later I tried to be open to them, but looking back at it now, I realize why I didn’t do interviews in the first place.  Being misquoted, misrepresented and distorted has happened to me in enough interviews since then that I’m seriously questioning whether I’ll do them anymore.  Some journalists have been great and have not twisted or misquoted me, while with others, I’m questioning if it was actually me they interviewed or a holographic projection, lol.  If they’re supposed to be my words, I don’t want anyone changing, misquoting, editing, or positioning them in such a way to alter the meaning to accommodate their viewpoint.  All I’ve ever asked for was to have my words be my words, verbatim.

My philosophy is one of simplicity, starting with always being true to the art, never accommodate the limits of an audience, don’t care what people think, and simply put the work out there in a simple, direct and sincere way.  Never pander to anyone for any reason and don’t prostitute yourself or be an opportunist, ever.  Make the spiritual journey that your essence is taking you on, and never be afraid to go wherever you’re supposed to and as surprising as it may sound I believe that yes, people will indeed find the art.

I compare it to living in the correct way as a person.  Why would I try and make people like me?  Either they do, or they don’t, and it doesn’t matter at all unless I’m out there hurting people, which I would never deliberately do.  I deal with my musical career in the same way – meaning, it’s ok if people like the work, or they don’t. Why would I try to change people’s minds?

If I sell one record, or one billion, it’s all the same to me.  Unlike any other CEO I know of, when undertaking a project, I just do what I feel and trust that things will work out.  More than anything, I have the great satisfaction of living and creating on my own terms, something that the music industry machine would never let me do.

I learned that lesson all too well when IRS Records (the label I signed with in February 1979) dropped me for not selling enough records after my second LP, Conversation, was released in September 1983.  After that, I started releasing independent projects as early as 1988 and have been doing so ever since.  I am so grateful that I now have my parent record label La Befana Records, and its subsidiary, 829 Records, and more than anything, the miracle of total creative freedom, as I have no one to answer to but me.

Just like when I released my first ever Christmas Jazz CD, “Tidings of Comfort and Joy: a Jazz Piano Trio Christmas,” in May 2006; and the 1970’s compilation, “What’s This? 1976-1979” on April 1, 2008, I have several new projects on the horizon that I’m thrilled about.  In pop culture, it’s all about trends, the fickle world we live in and the terror of getting old.  Anything created a few minutes ago is already considered old, and a year is considered ancient history…so everyone’s in this frenetic rush of creating and promoting ever disposable “art.”  

I have a completely different perspective of time – one that sees time as eternal and endless, and because of that consciousness, I am not worried, frantic, frustrated, or in a hurry at all, as I’ve been in this since I was six and will be in it forever.  I am so appreciative of that wondrous gift we call “time,” which allows me to just enjoy the journey, continue to create, produce and release new projects solely on my terms – and let people continue to find them, as they already are…

News

U2 Album Leak

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Could you imagine being arguably the biggest band in the world, and having your own record company leak your album in advance? If you’re U2, you won’t have to imagine it – it just happened. Apparently, the Australian leg of U2’s label, Universal, actually leaked the new U2 album, No Line on the Horizon, to an Australian download site, getmusic.com.au. Since then, the album, in full CD quality is splashed all over the internet – even Wal-Mart briefly posted sound samples, then took them down. One report estimated that at least 200,000 copies have already been shared on sites such as Lime Wire and Bit Torrent.

Here, we see how major labels can operate in a more amateur fashion than a toddler’s lemonade stand – the same labels that could have avoided a Napster and an Itunes, if they would have been smart and forward thinking. And here, in this horrible economic climate for the music industry, they allow themselves and U2 to lose millions and millions of dollars in sales.

This wasn’t a skilled hacker who did it — it was them. You might say, “Oh it doesn’t matter. U2 will make so much money on this anyway.” First, the labels are bleeding and need all the money they can get to stay alive, but more importantly, it’s the principle. Universal has made an incalculable amount of money off of U2 and this is the way they return the favor — handling, or should I say bumbling such an important release for this year.

I remember sharing the bill with U2, The Police, and XTC in front of approximately 30,000 people at an Irish castle sight in July of 1980 when at the time, The Police were the headliners. Since then, U2 has made such an incredible journey and they deserve so much better than what their own record label has just done to them.

Musings

So long, Lux Interior…

Posted by Skafish on

It’s a little after 2:00 AM in Chicago on the morning of 2-5-09, and I just heard the news that Lux Interior, vocalist and frontman of The Cramps transitioned into spirit. I remember him fondly when my band performed with The Cramps for two nights at CBGB’s in early December of 1977. For his performance, Lux was reading out of the TV guide, and made the funny wise crack of “Skafish, are you a boy or are you a girl?” At those shows, there was this fanatical female Cramps fan who screamed her guts out nonstop at the front of the stage during their entire set. In fact, she was so ear shattering that I could hear her above the PA system in the dressing room behind the stage. A few years later, both The Cramps and Skafish were in the first group of artists ever signed to the then new and fledgling, now legendary IRS Records. (FYI: Those very early records all said “Illegal Records” on them, off to one of the sides.)

Then in 1981, both of our groups appeared in the now legendary concert film “Urgh! A Music War!” The Cramps were filmed in LA, and Skafish was filmed in Frejus, France. Both his performance and mine were considered among the most controversial in the film, as proven when both of our numbers were banned by VH1 when “Urgh!” was shown on the channel in 2006. After all, his pants were barely above his pubic hair, and he was sucking a microphone like it was a big phallus. For me, I was mocking the Catholic church, organized religion and all of the hypocrisy and viciousness it has represented for centuries. So much for VH1 pretending to be a cutting edge rock n roll channel…

Great rock ‘n’ roll is often about great audacity, and finding your own singular unique voice. Lux Interior found his voice, was a true original, and was the most fantastic “teenage werewolf” I’d ever known. It holds up such a stark contrast to the pre-fab performers of today, who are as safe, calculated and homogenized as all politicians and corporate America. The danger, humor, cleverness, and charisma are what I remember about Lux and The Cramps, and maybe now, VH1 can put The Cramp’s number (“Tear It Up,” where his performance is riveting from beginning to end) back in if they air “Urgh!” again. For all of us who remember a real rock ‘n’ roll original, let Lux’s voice, attitude and style rock into endless eternity…

News

Newly Discovered 1977 Skafish Bootleg Tape

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I got a surprise email in December 2008 from someone who used to come to my shows during the Chicago club days of the 1970’s. He let me know that he had this tape of Skafish from 8-29-1977, which is a live bootleg recorded from the soundboard at Ratso’s in Chicago. It was my birthday show; a return to the stage after I had injured my knee in a dancing accident that July 20th. I had a surgery to remove a bone chip, and was ready to hit the stage just 5 weeks later. In fact, I wrote two new songs while in the hospital that premiered at that show. It was also the first performance that included my newest band member Karen Winner on guitar and vocals.

This was the first time I had ever heard of this tape, as I had no idea before that it even existed. So when he sent me the tape in mid December, it was a great holiday gift and pleasant surprise! As the tape was over 31 years old, I bypassed immediately listening to it and sent it on to mastering guru Trevor Sadler. He painstakingly transferred the tape, and then sent me a CD copy. Of course, this is a soundboard bootleg recording, not a high end pristine production. I knew that going in but was still very excited to see what this tape was all about.

When I first listened to it, I could hear everything that was going on in the performance, and that was good. I don’t listen to a lot of bootlegs, but everyone who works with me says that the sound quality is comparable to the bootlegs out there being sold. But beyond that, I was elated with the musical and vocal performances. There wasn’t anything that bothered me, no missed cues, and the energy level was transcendent. Its raw aggressive edge and precision was an utter delight to someone like me who did my best to combine the most primal aspect of cathartic emotion with classical level musical precision. On top of that, the audience was very much into the show, and the delightful screaming fans were a real treat.

Initially listening to it wasn’t as much about a stroll down memory lane, but a clarification and affirmation of that time period. It’s all right here on this long forgotten tape — the way it actually was; an accurate, literal document and proof of what occurred and the reality of the Skafish journey. That time period for Skafish was what reality TV today pretends to be; a dizzying blur of the highest highs and lowest lows, with a great deal of physical danger and unpredictability thrown in.

As it was maddening living through it, I actually forgot many of the songs I wrote back then such as: I Need Something, Toilet Trained, and One Size Fits All. So far, this tape offers the only recordings of such pieces. Also, only this tape currently provides recordings of many other pieces: Sun Stroke, We’ll See A Psychiatrist 1977, Start At The Start, Let’s Play Doctor 1977, Waterhead Chant, Kissy Face, Bachelor Pad, Don’t You Know?, I Missed The Prom Last Night, We’ll See (The Chicago Cubs Baseball Game) 1977, and Home Invader 1977.

The reason I list “1977” behind some of these titles, is that the later versions of these songs evolved and were different; meaning the We’ll See A Psychiatrist on my first LP is notably different than the one on this live bootleg tape. The other tracks with “1977” at the end of the title were recorded in new versions in November 1982 for what was supposed to be my second LP for IRS Records. However, it was viciously rejected by label chief Miles Copeland and vice president Jay Boberg for being way too controversial for the marketplace.

In my commentary for my most recent release of 4-1-08: “What’s This? 1976-1979,” I indicated that I wrote about 50 pieces for Skafish between 1974 and 1979. Now, it’s clear that the number of compositions from that time period is somewhere between 75 to 100. Also, in total, I’ve written hundreds of pieces throughout my entire life. I don’t have exact numbers yet, but I would safely say I’ve already composed between 300 to 500 works. And I’m just getting started!

Some of those most interesting and innovative compositions are on this tape – exactly as they were written, with an emotional passion and intensity that I am ecstatic about. What is the future of this tape? What is supposed to be done with it now? I don’t really know at this moment. However, I am open to your suggestions. That’s why I shared this first post regarding the discovery of the tape right here, for any of you who care to read about it and offer your thoughts. So at this time, I’m trying to incorporate all valid opinions within my sphere to help me make that decision; and I will within the next 30 days or so.

Personally, I would need to feel that its release represents something unique, singular, and worth the money someone would spend on it. As a record label CEO who has also been a consumer, I am very conscience of not exploiting the fans, or ripping people off. It is important for me to make sure that each release is one of real value for whoever is interested in purchasing it.

Whatever happens in the future, it’s been more than enough for me to hear this moment and experience it for what is was – and to have so many songs now that I didn’t have documented in a recorded version prior. For me, I am thrilled to simply have the tape – there doesn’t need to be an additional payoff, yet if there is one, so be it! I am open and excited to see where the journey of this long forgotten tape may lead us. Whatever my decisions are and whatever direction it takes, I will post it here first.

News

Finally, the video to “Disgracing The Family Name!”

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My mother never wanted me to be an insane over the top rock ‘n’ roller.  Of course not.  What mother would?  Instead, she wanted me to be a non-threatening classical virtuoso musician, with a few show tunes thrown in for good measure.  This I could do in my sleep.  However, performing other people’s music, whether by Bach, or Rogers and Hammerstein, wasn’t ever going to be enough for me.  I had a lot to say, and was thoroughly obsessed (at the exclusion of all else) with saying it.  Mom hoped for the best, but any of her attempts of suppression only helped facilitate the very thing she dreaded most: her son becoming an international disgrace to the family name.

In 1977, it was her very words that lead to the actual and literal writing of the song “Disgracing The Family Name” when she barged into my room and proclaimed. “All you ever do is disgrace the family name!”  Right then and there, I felt the anger swell up inside of me…I defiantly thought to myself that she just gave me the title and inspiration for my new song.  That song, written with enough rage to kill anyone and a single guitar was “Disgracing.”

The journey of the song and now, its first music video is a story in and of itself.  In July 1978, my band and I were packed like sardines into my sweltering basement — the same basement we rehearsed in 7 days a week.  There were no days off, no salary, no sick days, and no paid vacation for the band; just hard work with brutal discipline.  I would punish them whenever they made mistakes.  What do you expect?  I was raised in Catholic punishment hell, lol.

That “brutal discipline” was put to the test when we recorded the music live on a 4 track recorder to “Disgracing,” along with “Work Song,” and “There’s A World.”  It was around 90 degrees that day in the ghetto of East Chicago, Indiana, and the band ripped into the tracks, giving a flawless high energy performance, and afterwards, we added vocals (plus a few musical odds and ends) in a proper studio that August.

In early 1979, music industry legend Miles Copeland stepped over drug addicts and prostitutes to see Skafish rehearse at Loncar’s Bar on 92nd street in South Chicago.  He decided to release “Disgracing” on an unsuspecting UK and European public that November.  Family values have never been same since, lol.

Almost thirty years later on April 1, 2008, the recording became available again on the international Skafish release: “What’s This? 1976-1979.”  However, this time it was on my label, 829 Records, and on my terms.

Regarding the video, is has its own story as well.  The clip features footage from multiple performances of archival, rare and never before seen Skafish performances covering almost 30 years.  It starts on February 4, 1977 when my band and I opened for Sha Na Na at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago, and the police halted the show, (as an audience member was pointing a gun straight at me).  It ends on November 25, 2006 in Chicago, where I was invited to perform on the television dance show Chic-A-Go-Go (where I was passing on my disgraceful message to a whole new generation of unsuspecting toddlers).  The clip, which lasts 5:05, has full credits of everyone who participated in this shameful act of defiance at the end of the performance, lol!

The video is Directed by Chicago director, editor, and filmmaker John Anderson, who witnessed Skafish performances as early as the mid 1970’s.  Anderson’s credits include being a 2005 Grammy Award nominee as the director and editor for the legendary “Brian Wilson presents: SMiLE” DVD.  Anderson has also worked with such artists as: Kayne West, Pete Townshend, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, Patti Smith, Eric Clapton, and The Residents, to name a few.

Currently the clip is also available on You Tube, here on skafishblog.com, and in addition, the video will be posted on skafish.com, my My Space page, on skafishwhatsthis.com and on 829records.com over the next week or two.  In fact, we hope to let it soar through all of cyberspace and any space for that matter.  For those of you who would like to post the song, absolutely feel free to embed it on your web page or blog!

Let it rock – let it rip – Skafish

©Copyright 2008 Skafish

Musings

In Iraq, heavy metal goes to war!

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When I saw a blog entry on a documentary about Iraq’s first heavy metal band, I was absolutely intrigued.  Does the music sound Middle Eastern?  Are the harmonies western, eastern or a combination of both?  What does the group look like?  How could a band play the “devil’s music” in of all places – Iraq?  So I rush ordered the DVD…

In today’s world of pseudo-revealing-behind-the-scenes-access, and fake “tell all” exposes, the movie documentary Heavy Metal in Bagdad dramatically stands apart.  The story documents the tumultuous, dangerous and depressing struggles of Iraq’s only heavy metal band “Acrassicauda” (Latin for “Black Scorpion”), which formed in a Baghdad basement in 2001.

Finding it nearly impossible and life threatening to even perform in Baghdad, the band eventually began receiving death threats from insurgent groups and religious fundamentalists accusing them of Satan-worship because of merely playing heavy metal music.

The film shows the band going through a run of really hard luck:  their rehearsal space was hit by a scud missile, living through debilitating poverty, and having to flee Iraq to stay alive.  Unlike Paul McCartney merely singing about being in a band on the run, Acrassicauda literally became the real band on the run.

Originally learning to speak English from listening to records by their heroes such as Metallica, Slayer, and Slipknot, the young band members possess an odd blend of world weary jadedness, which is juxtaposed against adolescent naiveté.

I understand their naiveté, as all of us who intend on “making it” need to have it.  When we start our dream to be in a band, we must enter into a somewhat delusional realm:  “I’m going to be the biggest rock star in the world!”  Acrassicauda has that attitude.  “Rock stars, yeah,” they say about themselves while standing on a war torn and ravaged Baghdad street.  To make a record and tour with Metallica – that is their plan, and they mean it!  Yes, they would have to mean it, if they ever hope to have a shot of making their dreams come true.  And of course it is sad, poignant, and touching.

During their years of struggle before hitting it big, The Beatles had a ritual for this.  When times were tough, the morale of the band was low, and they all felt hopeless, everyone would look to John Lennon, and ask: ’’Johnny, where are we going?”  “To the toppermost of the poppermost,” Lennon would reply!   If someone looked at them back then, they might have scratched their heads and wondered if they were clinically delusional.  The same thing could be said of Acrassicauda, and practically anyone gunning for the big time.  No matter what level you are at in your career, you must keep that resolve if you hope to be a contender.

Acrassicauda has that kind of resolve.  When speaking of someone threatening to kill them one by one, a band member interjects and states that they must die together!  These guys would truly die for their dream to play heavy metal, grow their hair long, and do it their way.  I get that part too.  When my life and my band’s was in danger, I was unfazed – never thinking for a minute of backing down.  To me, it was well worth dying for!

But in the real world, where very few of us truly hit it big, people will mock those dreams, and flatly state, “Yeah, right buddy, get your head up out of your ass, wake up and get a real job.”  So either you stay with the blind audacity of your dreams with the ever present hope of making it and let others laugh at you, or you cave in and assimilate into the suffocating and imprisoning nine to five world.

Besides their naiveté, Acrassicauda comes across with a sense of jadedness, and it’s obvious to me where all of that comes from.  It is clearly based on them having lost touch with family and friends, seeing others killed, having no sense of freedom in their country, and knowing that they could literally be taken out at any minute.  From the relentless and debilitating pounding of danger, no options, poverty, and death, one learns to shut down – desensitization is the term.  In actuality, there is a chemical that shuts down in the brain as a way of not going into overload.  So after so much horror, one learns to numb the emotional shock and turn it all off as a survival mechanism.

I understand their sense of jadedness, and could certainly relate to it, as I have experienced it in my own career as well.  In the early to mid 1990’s, I was still teaching music to children in a government granted Suzuki Music program at the YMCA in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago.  Within the YMCA, senior citizens were housed, and my former Skafish band keyboardist Javier Cruz ran the program.  I always dressed bizarrely, and oddly, the seniors, of all people, loved it.  I was sort of like the crazy fun court jester, and we’d always talk, and I’d buy them snacks from the vending machines, as they were poorer than me.

Since the neighborhood was always quite rough with gangbangers and violence, many folks had a cynical and jaded edge regarding violence and danger.  It was a way of life – like the day when I was teaching and one of my 13 year old students got shot right in front of the YMCA.  Then, in another shooting, a bullet intended for someone else went through a senior’s eye, and left them blind.  No one really made such a big fuss about any of this.  Sure, it was talked about, but there was not the predictable horrific reaction most would expect.  Exposure to repeated actual violence really shuts people down, so when Acrassicauda spoke in such matter of fact terms about not being alive tomorrow, it made complete sense to me.

With all of the drama regarding the “story” of Acrassicauda, one might wonder about the real issue here – their music.  From a musical point of view, the best musician in the band is Tony, their lead guitarist, who is quite accomplished by metal standards.  Marwan, the drummer, and bassist Firas are competent, and through more performing, would tighten it up a bit.  The singer, Waleed soon fled the country after the war began in 2003, which left Faisal, the rhythm guitarist, to be the new vocalist.  Their songwriting is already formidable, and if they ever had the ability to rehearse, write, perform and record freely, they might be able to become international contenders on the metal scene.  With all of the life and death danger they live with daily, one might wonder how the band can even keep this thing going at all.  It certainly has been a rough path to travel…

From 2001 to before the war started in 2003, the band was only able to play a measly three shows – and that wasn’t easy at all.  Then for a while after the war began in 2003, things seemed like they might just be looking up – as if real freedom could be within their grasp!  But that soon proved to be illusive, as the bloody insurgency began ravaging through Iraq and ripping apart the band’s hopes and dreams.  From 2003-2006, they were only able to perform three more shows, while struggling to stay together and stay alive.

Feeling like they had ran out of options and fearing for their safety, they relocated to Damascus, Syria where they lived as refugees for a year.  They then moved to Turkey, largely based on international donations they’ve received.

In their long hard seven years as a band, they have managed to perform a total of only 6 concerts in Baghdad, 2 in Syria, and 1 in Turkey.  Most bands would never be able to hang in there and stay together that long with such limited results.  For most people who are in a band, the main concerns are making sure there is enough gas to get to the gig and the hope of earning a few bucks.  For Acrassicauda, their main concerns are the fear of being blown up or shot on the way to a show, and wondering if the venue will have power that will actually work.  At one such Baghdad performance shown in the movie, the power repeatedly went out.  The stop and start was absolutely frustrating for the band and the audience.

Acrassicauda started out as a band with a dream, but the war has all but destroyed that dream of expressing themselves in the way any of us in the “free world” merely take for granted.  In seeing the Iraq war through the eyes of the American media, I never realized just how indescribably horrible it seems to be over there.  I learned more about the state of affairs in Iraq from this single movie than from all other sources so far. Why?  Because simple hand held cameras capture it all, with no political propaganda in mind.

It’s right there to see: While the band is standing on the street, guns and explosions go off nearby.  They don’t panic – this is just the way it is.  Entire streets of bombed out buildings line the city…not being able to stand in one place for more than five minutes, as one could get killed – and nowhere to turn for help.  The film crew is given bullet proof vests to wear and asked if they know how to use a gun.  They have a few Iraqi shooters with them to fire back if and when they are shot at.  Literally, Iraq seems to be in utter disarray on every conceivable level possible – like actual hell on earth.

The band knows that hell all too well, which is why they first fled to Syria, then to Turkey, where they are still living by the end of the film.  Tony, the lead guitarist speaks in a teary-eyed way of how meaningful it would be for him to leave Turkey and go back to his home country.  Living in Turkey has been alienating and isolating, so the band laments about a dream – but is it all in the past now?  Will Iraq ever be able to be “home” to these guys again?  If they go back, they could be killed for leaving the country, the music they’ve been playing and the international publicity they’ve received…

As the movie ends, there is no clear direction or semblance of resolution in sight; but there is one thing for sure:  Acrassicauda changed history by being Iraq’s first heavy metal band.  No one will ever be able to take that away from them, and the doors they broke down through the blind courage it took to risk their lives will most certainly pave the way for other metal bands to emerge there.  They really do make all the other metal bands out there today look like mere posers.

Followers are a dime a dozen – leaders and pioneers, who almost always go unrecognized, are few and far between.  In a world of conformity and false risk takers like artists who pointlessly act out in public, attack people, do something as foolishly self destructive as drugs, and get arrested for thug level crimes, Acrassicauda went where no one had ever gone before.

To be a pioneer is risky business, especially if you care about making it all work from a materialistic point of view.  Doing anything “first” hardly ever lines your pockets.  I know that all too well from my own many “firsts” as an artist – and it is a pill that no one would ever want to swallow themselves.  Yet so many people are rather cynical about the woes of unrecognized innovators, as if their suffering is meaningless, capricious and self serving.  (Most people choose to only empathize with others who have suffered in ways that they can personally relate to.  This “empathy” is based on shared and common experiences.  How many people have suffered as musical innovators and pioneers?  Those are a rare breed – thus, the lack of empathy.)

Musical pioneers and innovators hardly care about money – the desire for money could never begin to motivate the drive, passion, raw courage and transcendent genius that must be ever-present to facilitate the REAL forging of new territory – where no has gone before.  Add Acrassicauda to that list of those who went there – and this movie shows all too clearly, painfully, and dismally that to “go there,” you risk your life, give up your life, and you may actually lose your life in the end anyway…

Musings

The State of the Union (musically, that is…) Part 5

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Certainly, the collective mind set is ok enough with the current state of the musical union that things just keep rolling along without any drastic change in sight.  Of course, there have always been a multitude of artists and styles out there in any time period.  However, nowadays there are far more artists, styles, and records being produced than ever before.  New websites designed to get music to the world at large seem to pop up weekly, from file sharing sites to free services that make their money through advertising, to monthly paid subscription based venues.  The effect of it all can be dizzying to keep up with. 

But that reflects on our current state of the union culture:  rocket speed pace of life, more people with individualistic needs than even before, less semblance of unity, and each person wanting to define their experience with music exactly the way they want it.  But how much of any of the music created today is groundbreaking and great art?

If one is frustrated with the overall way things currently are, the question might be asked, “What might change all of this?”  As with anything that is culturally sweeping, it is multi dimensional, convoluted, complex, and not easily changed:

1-When the economics are as bad as they currently are, it puts a stranglehold on the industry, especially new and innovative art.  If the bills can’t be paid, money is certainly not going to be spent on an artist with a risky vision by the record labels.

As it stands now, many more artists are financially struggling, which cripples or destroys their careers, because they can’t make a living.  Innovative artists who could have enough of an audience to keep their work going in a better economic climate, have a harder time keeping their careers alive.  Let me add, that I have never been a materialistic person at all.  I have lived through horribly debilitating poverty most of my adult life.  What I’m speaking of here is simply the ability to make a living, so you can do what you do and do it correctly without having to worry about the “keeping a roof over your head” thing.

If the artist themselves can’t make enough money to at least keep it all going on their own, one has to take that most dreaded thing to every artist – the mundane day job.  If you can’t devote a full time effort to your artistic career, it will become more or less, a hobby, no matter how talented one is.

If the economic portion of the industry became solvent again, it would benefit all artists to one degree or another, as prosperity allows everyone more of a chance to thrive.  If there could be new vehicles for artists (especially innovative ones) to reach a mass audience, those who can really make a change are given more of a green light.

2-With the jaded cynicism and narcissism that is so ever pervasive in society as a whole, there aren’t many artists with a daring message, and the willingness to risk it all: not afraid to be mocked, criticized, and attacked. Most artists play it safe, and the ones with a tiny little itty bitty stylistic twist, are hailed as geniuses.  But that isn’t good enough to really affect a sweeping change.

Let me say, that as a supporter of all art and all artists, I endorse anyone who is creating and trying to get their work out there, and I respect everyone!  I am not a critic – I’m the one who has always been criticized, LOL!  There is always great art in any time period, and it can be found somewhere and sometimes between the cracks.  However, the overall state of the musical union is what needs to improve – to bring back the excitement that has shown itself at various times throughout history.

But this time around, I fear that it is not just cyclical as in:  early 1950’s pop boredom then followed by the explosion of rock ‘n’ roll – early 1960’s pop safety suddenly replaced by the British invasion — 1980’s hair metal clobbered by Nirvana, Seattle Grunge and alternative.

It won’t probably be major label artists shaking it up, as they are more formulaic, but rather, independent artists who only have to answer to themselves.  Yet it remains to be seen if an indie can have the impact of an Elvis, the Beatles, or even Nirvana.

3-With major labels collapsing, more and more artists are leaving the majors and doing it for themselves and / or striking new types of unique deals, including:  Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, Radiohead, The Black Crowes, Smashing Pumpkins and The Eagles.  However, they already have huge name recognition, which makes it easier for them to sell records on their own terms versus new artists who are virtually unknown.

Back in the day, recording an album in a proper studio used to easily cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  With the revolution of home recording, one can actually own their own studio which can be purchased for thousands of dollars, and record themselves.  Now that physical distribution of product is not that big of a deal, there’s only one hard part that still remains: MARKETING!  Getting your music out there and heard, noticed, and ultimately bought is still a tough and difficult challenge, especially for indie artists.

For unknown artists, of course it is harder to build a sizable audience, but there’s a trade off:  With a major label, you may get more exposure initially, but you’ll sell your soul for it and lose control of your catalogue, potentially forever.  (Your songs might show up in a window cleaning commercial).  On your own, it may take more time, but at least you have your integrity, don’t owe anyone anything, and you’re in control of all aspects of your work and the way it is presented.  Plus, the more time goes on, the more the musical state of the union is becoming increasingly indie friendly, and the portion of sales the indie market occupies is ever increasing. This allows even the smallest of artists to have ways of getting their work exposed internationally through avenues such as My Space, You Tube, CD Baby, and Amazon.com to name a few.

4-With illegal downloading, theft, and piracy dominating the industry, small artists are like the poor – they get nothing and still have nothing.  If stealing wasn’t present, these artists might be able to at least have small careers – and to a lot of us, that’s at least something, and certainly better than nothing.

Medium sized artists who could have had decent careers spanning a long time prior to the rampant theft so commonplace today, collapse, or struggle to barely get by.

And just like the super rich of society, mega starts still make lots of money, and for the most part remain unaffected by the illegal piracy that is intended to get back at them — the perceived over inflated rock star.  Wouldn’t you agree that Mick Jagger and Madonna won’t ever go broke from any of this?

It represents a consciousness – that the consumer has taken control and gets whatever he or she wants – anyway they want it – hidden anonymously from behind their computer.  An artist’s copywritten music becomes THEIR music, all for free.  There’s a perverse sense of power that comes with ripping the artist off, especially the rich and famous.  And as with most people, when left to their own devices, do a lot of bad things.  If you had 20 hamburgers and 20 people, and someone said, “Ok, everyone, there’s one hamburger for each of you,” many wouldn’t eat, as folks would be gobbling up two, even three burgers.

The consumer now becomes king, where they select their playlist, and take it all for free, as they can’t get caught.  There’s a gluttonous pleasure in stealing and getting away with it.  And since it’s art, it’s ok to steal it, right?  There is still the ludicrous concept that if it’s really art, no one should make any money from it, or it’s no longer art, but commercialized crap.  However, if one can’t make money from their art, they won’t be able to produce it, plain and simple.

Most people who steal music won’t snatch a loaf of bread.  Why?  Because it is culturally acceptable to steal music and one probably won’t get arrested, as they most likely would when stealing a loaf of bread.  One can’t make the moral argument that it is unfair to rip off artistic creations; it is too culturally ingrained that it is A-OK to steal music, and hey, you won’t get caught anyway, so why not?  I like this one that I hear quite often:  “But if I steal your work it’s because I like it, so I’m giving you free promotion by telling my friends about you!” Please don’t do me any of these type of favors!

These people present themselves as the carriers of a new torch — this false “Brave New Frontier” thing where everything is just shared with the world on anyone’s terms for free and how wonderful that is.

But in reality, these are just people who steal from others, while killing the art and the ability to produce it.  Oops, I almost forgot – how silly of me — I mean, if it’s art, it should never be allowed to earn a penny, LOL! 

I personally like what Eric Clapton said best when he stated, “It’s as if I’m supposed to feel guilty for trying to make a living.”

Thankfully, that consciousness doesn’t represent everybody!  There are those who are happy to pay for the work, and know that it is unethical to rip people off.  However, the ones who steal make up a huge portion of the music audience out there.  Recent credible studies reveal that illegal downloading is 4 times more prevalent that legal downloading.  That is a sobering and staggering ratio!

This time in history may be quite different than other times when the music industry has suffered and bounced back strong.  Why? Because of the ability and celebration of the world at large to rip off artists and steal everything for free.  Plus, many of the countries who host this theft via the Internet and through illegal physical sales, are not bound by our laws.  So who is going to go after them to stop the thievery?  Many of these countries don’t acknowledge or respect our copyright laws in the first place.  We’ve never had this international problem in this way ever before and that fact changes everything!  This may not just be a matter of the music business being cyclical – this could be a long-term issue!

However, at this time, many in the industry are trying to scramble to find ways to stop the theft, whether through ISP’s going after thieves, to creating new laws on the books.  If somehow the theft problem could be solved, the industry would become healthier. 

In addition, and perhaps more importantly, is that artists need to go beyond what has been done before – not just through technology, but through message, craft, talent, discipline, passion, innovation, and the true champion of the human spirit – new ideas!  Yes, I believe in commitment, discipline, hard work and a lot of sweat. (After all, what would you expect? I was raised abusively Catholic, LOL.)

In those times of fresh innovation in the past, the entire music industry and world was elevated to a much higher level through groundbreaking art being produced!  When a phenomenon occurs, whether by an artist and / or a movement, we all benefit.  Let’s keep that in mind, and aim for the sky – not only much higher than where we’re at now, but so far beyond where we’ve ever been before!  It falls on the shoulders of those who have the guts to do it – independent artist and thinkers, who are beyond the borders of the sickening conformity that strangulates and suffocates the revolution and transformation produced by genius.
 © 2008 Skafish All Rights Reserved

Musings

The State of the Union (musically, that is…) Part 4

Posted by Skafish on

Regarding the extensive use of technology and high tech trickery in the music business, we probably all remember how Milli Vanilli was busted for lip-synching live (and not even singing in the studio on their own records).  In the heyday of the MTV era, they were brought into the project to sell it visually, because they worked out, had ripped abs, looked cute to pubescent girls and could dance.  In Ohio, during one of their shows, the canned music started somehow skipping – and it repeated the same phrase: “Girl, Girl you know, Girl you know it’s true” over and over.  In fact, one of the members of Milli Vanilli stated that it skipped around 80 times, when he was interviewed for VH1’s “Behind The Music.”  One of the two guys ran off stage because he was quite embarrassed. 

Anyway, they were stripped of their Grammy Award and the whole thing turned into a catastrophe.  This career-ending scenario actually pushed one of the two members, Rob Pilatus, to take his own life at the age of 32.  Look, there have been so many people who have faked it all along – Milli Vanilli just happened to have gotten caught — and that wasn’t worth dying for.  I felt just terrible for Rob when I heard the news. 

But regarding this type of slight of hand, you might think that this is a thing of the past – Guess again!  Most of us still remember the Ashley Simpson Saturday Night Live fiasco that happened a while back.  You know, the one where she was gonna lip sync, but somehow the wrong pre-recorded track got started and the whole thing blew up in her face right in front of the whole world, and she briefly did her chicken dance.  Plus, she tried to sell herself as a wild rock chick with a badass attitude — belting out some real rock ‘n’ roll on stage!

Sometimes singers sing live with their prerecorded vocal and the actual live vocal is just slightly brought into the mix – therefore, they are “technically” singing live.  Other times, the lead and / or backing vocals are processed through pitch correction gear right on the spot so as the vocals are sung, all of the harmonies are perfectly dead on – so the listener hears perfect pitch and harmony, all thanks to a machine!

However, this story may sum it all up regarding technology’s place in all of this.  Years ago, after Britney Spears was big, but before her meltdown, someone I knew had a good friend who was the monitor engineer for a major Britney tour.  And he shared with me what this monitor engineer did on that tour. 

First, the entire show was canned – not one note of it was live at all.  The band rerecorded new versions of the songs in the studio that were to be performed on tour, then simply mimed them on stage.  This could have won an air guitar championship award, LOL!  Of course, Ms. Spear’s entire vocal performance was not heard by the audience at all!  So it was like watching a video being taped…

Between songs, the monitor engineer had to boost the volume of Britney’s mic, so she could holler things out like:  “CLEVELAND — I LOVE YOU!!!   HELLO CLEVELAND!!!!!  HOW DO YOU FEEL TONIGHT, CLEVELAND? – LET ME HEAR YOU CLEVELAND!!!!”  Then once a song started, the mic volume was turned off so the audience couldn’t hear her actually singing, and she would lip sync to her pre recorded “perfect” vocal.  Later, portions of her actual vocal performance (not heard by the audience) appeared on You Tube. 

But at one show there was almost a Milli Vanilli-esque meltdown.  Britney was apparently fake playing piano during a balled.  In the middle of the song she actually got up from the piano while the song was in progress, but the piano track kept playing — So she’s wandering around the stage, and the piano kept tinkling its own ivory’s – apparently it didn’t get noticed much as I never saw anything about this little debacle in the press.

Imagine her handlers the next day:  “Now, Britt, babe, baby, I know you’re really into wanting to give it your all onstage, and honey, that’s great!   But lovey, schnookums, you really can’t just get up from the piano when you’re sitting there, as it keeps going but no one’s there playing the piano.  What if the press found out?  I m-m-m-m mean, your credibility would be ruined.  Honey, please don’t be mad at us.  We’re just looking out for you and your image you know.  Just stay at the piano through the song, then you can let that audience FEEL you.  Oh, ho, then they can FEEL you baby when you get up and dance…

If you don’t believe me, just take a moment and click on this link, where you can hear Britney’s actual vocal performance from her HBO performance in Las Vegas!

Let me say that I am not here to criticize Britney Spears or what anyone does with their careers.  In fact, I think it’s great that she just won three MTV Awards a few days ago!  She’s apparently back, and let’s hope that she can find peace in her life and prosper again.

I just find it fascinating as to how much the public doesn’t know.  It raises these questions: “How much would people really go and pay to see a lip synched concert?”  “Would people listen to or buy records that are completely pitch and rhythm corrected from beginning to end?”  Regarding all of the technology involved in music making, I just think it is quite compelling that this is what it has come to.  Singers who don’t really sing – drummers who can’t actually play a straight beat, people pretending to play live who aren’t, or who only partially performing live and plastic surgery gone wild.  With technology, it’s merely a sign of the times – everyone having to look gre-gre-greeeeeat all the time — where everything is pre fab:  Personal trainers, perfect abs and every female being model thin.

There’s a lack of real quality present in all of today’s culture – so why should the art of the period largely be any different?  It’s mostly about appearance, illusion and show biz, just like old style Vegas.  Except today, you don’t dread being arrested because you may lose your middle America audience, you HAVE to be arrested, to keep your street cred, baby!  There’s nothing cutting edge about going to jail – it’s as predictable as heroin overdoses.  

Now, what the public gets are products that are uninteresting.  Even though these products are technologically perfect, they are in actuality, quite imperfect, as what’s largely lacking is the heart, soul and passion.  People really don’t buy into it much anymore, anyway…But is there a solution being sought, or are people more or less, ok with the way it all is?

Coming up next: Part 5 – The winner is…

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