Thursday, June 21, 2012

Fairuz | Best of Fairuz

Listen to "Mush Qasah Hay"

Get it all here.

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!


Anonymous said...

Excellent rant.

One of the unfortunate parts of the Internet is that it allows people with nothing to say the opportunity to say it.

That's the price we gotta pay!

By the way, that Burmese singer's tape in the post before this one is superb, all the more so for its quirkiness.

Anonymous said...

You are a really good writer BTW.
I have enjoyed reading your posts.
The music, to boot, rules.
Thanks Gary.


Feilimid O'Broin said...

Thank your for your comments. I am weary of this debate. I purchased vinyl for twenty five years and the industry switched to digital beacuse it could manufacture music cheaper and make even more profits by raising the price of the cheaper products. To folks like Lowery,I would suggest looking at the industry in the sixties and early seventies when it was willing to take risks on artists and record them based on talent and not just sales. Mr. Lowery, I've purchased over three thousand compact discs but I am damned tired of lining the pockets and profits of record company executives and stockholders while idiots like you work without insurance, benefits, and other niceties of employment in the name of "art", are exploited and often underpromoted by the companies with which you sign, and then want to rant about people like me who are tired of paying too much money for too little quality and have no say over what and how you get paid and whether you have benefits. Produce and sell your records yourself and then bitch about fair trade and all of the other dreck you spew while being too cowardly to attack those who compelled many of us to look for alternative means of getting music rather than paying through the nose and having to cope with an increasingly limited offering of quality and varied music. Frankly folks like Lowery speak of their art, claim their most fervent hope is that people listen to and appreciate their music, and then bemoan when people do and don't overpay for product to allow conglomerates to trickle down what meager amount remains after the stock dividends are issued to folks like him. Call it class war if you will but music by any means necessary is the creed.

Feilimid O'Broin said...

I'll raise the dead horse one more time. Mr. Lowery seeks to impose a guilt trip by claiming that Vic Chestnut's and another musicians friend's suicides were artributable to decreased profits in the industry and erosion of the model for paying revenues caused by folks "stealing music". So what's the next step, sell music for listening only in designated places to monitor and ensure that friends don't rip cds for other friend, or that folks like me don't go to the local library and rip from its fine collection? I ain't buying it. I have too many musician friends and too much music that I have enjoyed that have been dropped because of lack of profitability. Those musicians are still struggling by loading up the car and traveling from gig to gig and teaching music lessons, and often work part- or full-time jobs to pay the bills. Turnabout's fair play and I suggest that the problem just may be affluent white boy musician angst among those who think that they are inherently entitled to live well off their music because of their craft and devition to their art. And when the money doens't come in, according to Lowery, one just kills oneself, for one's art, so to speak. Tell that to all the blues and folk musicians who struggled for years and are still struggling in small clubs and juke joints often working full time jobs and who received or will receive acclaim posthumously. Tell it to jazz musicians many of whom play without remuneration because of their love for music. Better yet tell it to all of the black artists who recorded great songs in
the fifties and sixties only to see their music classified as race records by the industry and co-opted and recorded by white artists whom record companies were more than happy to promote. Thanks for voicing a sentiment I have long felt when I hear about piracy and theft of music.

Feilimid O'Broin said...

I began accessing your blog for Ethiopian and other African music; however, I have enjoyed greatly the Burmese, Arabic, and Albanian music, and look forward to discovering much more. The Fairouz tape is simply wonderful. Her voice is powerful and sensual, and is marvelously enhanced by the Arabic melodies. Thank you for all of the work you do in seeking out and culling through such music, and providing the information you do on your blog. However, I am still trying to figure out from what country Asala Yousuf comes. The information on the web is bewildering. She is either Palestininan and living in Israel, an Israeli Arab, Lebanese, or Syrian, and may also be a member of the Druze faith or merely began sining in that community in Israel. It must be exhilerating to be claimed by so many communities because of the greatness of your talent!!!!

caio k said...

hey there,

Fairuz is just awesome. have you tried har last album? divine

greetings from brazil

Dolmance said...

Fairuz sure is easy to love.

Oh, by the way, I agree with the rant wholeheartedly. I actually got a chance to see and hear the "product" being made recently. I sincerely believe the product has far more in common with cigarettes than it does with music.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!

Harry Badaud
on Gundangara land

Hammer said...

"However, I am still trying to figure out from what country Asala Yousuf comes."

^@Feilimid O'Brion:
She's an Arab-Israeli singer from Daliyat Al-Karmil (south-west of the port city of Haifa), who sang popular Druze songs when she was just 9. Her first album 'Malikat Al-Qulub - The Queen of Hearts' was recorded when she was 14, though and not 11 as some websites offer.

Syrian fans compelled her to sing their songs (a great majority of Syrians who live in the Israeli-controlled Goulan heights in the north of Israel are actually Druze/Durzi), and she started singing there in concerts in and around the Goulan and Upper Galilee when she was just a kid. The reason? Well, her faith/sect is of a Durzite-Muslim.

She isn't Lebanese. She is a Palestinian who's also so-called an 'Israeli-Arab', or the '48-Arabs' (عرب الثمانية و الأربعين). These Arabs were naturalized as Israeli citizens after the 1948 War of Independence and now can speak fluent mizrachi (or, eastern) Hebrew language in addition to Arabic, English, and French.

Hope that has cleared some misunderstanding, Feilimid O'Brion.



Hammer said...

@Feilimid O'Brion X 2:
Oh, and yeah... that wasn't a tape by Fairouz: she barely had made any. It's a CD reissue-compilation of her best songs.


BG said...

OK, just gotta say it: even if you disagree with what Lowery thinks about the ways musicians get paid, there's no need to insult his art like that. I like the music you've shown me on this blog. I also still like most of the Camper Van Beethoven albums, 20+ years after they came out, and I'm pretty happy that Virgin took a chance on him (but as for Cracker? Meh.). As a teenager, that music meant quite a lot to me, and it still helps me feel real emotions that sometimes get left behind. There's also no need to condescend to the NPR intern's taste. So, if the music she enjoys is different from the music you like, then her emotional experience isn't real? Gotta say it: fuck that. Most of the stuff you post on your blog is manufactured pop music, from various countries; that doesn't mean it's bad, or that the people who made it don't deserve to get paid.

You're right that it wasn't fair to drag Vic Chesnutt (IMO, a major artist -- if you've never listened to Little, do it now) into this. Obvi, plenty of artists survive in poverty, and others get rich and blow their heads off. But I think it's fair to ask, as Lowery consistently has, what kind of system we need in order to get the music we want. Come on, man -- money always makes art happen. No Sistine Chapel without the Catholic Church, and no Fairuz without Parlophone and French TV.

Gary said...

I appreciate your taking me to task, BG. It’s true, I’ve taken a rather blunt, even unfair, approach in much of what I’ve written.

Part of that was wanting to dig and poke at Lowery’s measured but emotionally manipulative placement of the responsibility for artistic success on audience, which I think is far too simplistic.

It’s interesting you bring up the Sistine Chapel as an example of art and the necessary condition of sponsorship. As you say, it was a painting that the Catholic Church asked for and wanted; they didn’t pay Michelangelo to paint whatever he, as an artist, wanted to paint.

To the extent that we—in 21st Century America, anyway—view art as personal, individual expression, the Sistine Chapel ceiling is not, in essence, an example of that. It is art paid for in order to further the ideology and agenda of the Catholic Church. In that respect, if not in terms of the level of execution, it has more to do with Soviet propaganda poster art than it does with, say, Franz Kline.

I will give you that Vic Chesnutt and David Lowery are, or were, artists. But not that an artist needs money to be one. In fact, the overwhelming majority of artists globally, considering all disciplines, do not make enough money directly through their art to support themselves.

To take a single discipline as an example: There is not a single poet I can think of among the thousands of published poets in this country, who make their living from sales or readings of their poetry. They teach, they write articles, they lecture, they have day jobs, or they are independently wealthy.

From Whitman, Wheatley, and Dickinson, to Stein, Pound, and Cullen, and up through Ted Berrigan, Frank O’Hara and Harryette Mullen, American poets do not survive on their art. Even Billy Collins teaches and Maya Angelou creates product lines for Hallmark, was a professor for a while and now, I think, lectures. Their actual art—poetry—does not provide them with a living wage.

Money—through direct payment, sponsorship or grants—does indeed fund a certain percentage of art, but it is always influential in shaping that art. I am no believer that art must be pure or free of capital influence in order to be of genuine artistic value, only that it does influence it. And this, I know, is as true of Fairuz as it is of anyone else.

I think much of my irritation with Lowery lies in the fact that he’s not thinking broadly enough about structure for my thinking.

It isn’t the audience’s fault that Vic Chesnutt did not have adequate health care. That is a problem that tens of millions of Americans have shared with him. I don’t think Chesnutt ever enjoyed enough of a paying audience, even prior to the existence of easy downloading, to pay for the kind of health care he personally needed. That was a problem with our economic and taxation structure, with our seeming inability—as a country—to accept, even after this week’s SCOTUS ruling, the idea of universal health care or “socialized medicine.”

To believe and invest oneself in the free marketplace, in our economic system as it currently exists and makes itself manifest—as Lowery seems to, based on what he wrote—is to accept stealing, cheating, market manipulation and everything else that businesses, especially successful ones, routinely do in order to maintain their primary agenda. The music industry is and has always been complicit in this—and one doesn’t need to read Jared Ball to know that.

Had Lowery acknowledged this, I might not have responded as unsympathetically as I did.

Gary said...

Oh, also; if you honestly think that most of what I post on this blog is
"manufactured pop music" (meaning, I think, manufactured in a board room or whatever rather than by the people creating the music?) then you are dead wrong.