This being a post about Fairuz, one of the greatest living artists on the planet, a woman with a voice so powerful, so soulful, it was capable of bringing moments of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it seems manifestly appropriate that I begin this post by talking about the Music Industry.
Oh My Fucking God, please tell me, Gary, that you're not going to add to the Emily White slash David Lowery meme. We've already read dozens, maybe hundreds of articles, tweets and blog posts about it. Please, Gary. Please. Not that.
Look. I don't want to add to it. For one thing, I don't care about white alt rockers of the 80s and 90s and I most certainly do not care about anything involving NPR. For another, you've already made up your mind, one way or the other.
That said, I implore you to listen to the Fairuz sample above and tell me, even if it involves scraping the last honest layer of sentiment from your nearly emptied-out heart, honestly and truly whether or not this music has even the slightest bit to do with the White / Lowery debate. Right? Right. I mean, right.
It has nothing whatsoever to do with it. Because this song--as is true of most, maybe even all of the songs on this terrifyingly sublime CD--is neither yelp nor yawp nor for that matter 80s/90s ironicized yelp or yawp. It is an extended moment of formalized, yes, but extremely convincing emotive realization. It isn't, in other words, the kind of shit that the music industry is trying to sell you; nor is it the kind of shit that you ("you" being NPR interns) are illegally downloading. That shit is one thing and one thing only: Product. They know it. You know it. We all know it. And that's all it is. It isn't, by any stretch of the imagination, art. It feeds an immediate, gnawing need, like a cigarette. And, just as quickly, it's forgotten.
It absolutely sickened me to read David Lowery's suggestion that illegal downloading might have contributed in any way to the suicide deaths of Vic Chesnutt and Mark Linkous. Like David, I've had two friends, both artists, who have taken their own lives. Both were poets. One of them, oddly enough, wrote a book titled Product, which I--in my 20s in San Francisco--published two decades ago.
The poet who wrote the book titled Product was seriously ill. His illness had much to do with his suicide. His economic situation had a lot to do with his suicide as well (he was on SSDI). But what ultimately led to it was his decision and desire to commit the act of suicide. There are plenty of poets who are or were in as dire or worse straights, physically and economically, who just kept on living, some of whom kept on writing poetry, despite the fact that it doesn't, ever, sell.
The fact that there are people, lots of people, with just enough twit of brain to cheer on David Lowery's rant completely baffles and saddens me. Really? Really? Some unpaid laborer (cough!) at NP effing R admits to getting whatever she can for free (just like, uh, her "employer"), and this sets you off? Pushes you over whatever brink exists between sanity and the completely insane act of publicly making a connection between willful suicide and downloading crappy, forgettable pop and "alt" rock music?
Give me a fucking break. Where--in all of this insane debate--is the suggestion, anywhere, that the music industry might have some possible responsibility here? Or that musicians who willfully enter into contracts with these corporate scum have a responsibility to themselves? If you want to look at producing music as a livelihood, as a profession, as a job, then who is your employer? The audience? No, no, no, no, no. It's the music industry. It's your label. It's your label that isn't giving you vacation time. Who isn't providing you with health care. It's your fucking label who reaps everything you sow and maybe tosses you whatever coagulated bits are left after they've finished sucking the blood from your labor. If they even do that much. You signed the contract, dumbass, not the audience.
The music industry switched over to digital in the first place for one reason and one reason only: They saw that they could resell the same sad albums by Pink Floyd and Bruce Springsteen on this new format to the same poor suckers who had bought them on vinyl. Their greed led to the greed of everyone taking advantage of the fact that this new format is easily shared. Period, end of discussion. You want to make things right, by which I mean profitable, again? End digital and go back to analog. Or come up with some other solution.
I'm not sure what's worse: that people like David Lowery who imagine they are artists and not what they really are, freelance contractors, have never successfully fought for their rights as laborers and instead blamed everything on the general public, or that people like David Lowery and his employer have no idea who Fairuz is and why she makes everything they've ever done in their lives, beyond making or not making money, ultimately moot. What does it say that the crux of this debate is around making money and not making art?
If you want to make money and you can't make money making music, then do something else and shut the fuck up so people who care about music can hear people who are, like Fairuz, actually making it.
UPDATE: Another poet, a great one, and a great friend, Rodney Koeneke sent along a link to the video above in response to this post, so I thought I'd pop it into the mix. Thank you, Rodney!