Somewhere around the age of thirty-five, I realized I didn’t know what was good in current music. I was, and continue to play, all the stuff that defined my niche as an eighties’ kid. My preference was for what was then labeled, Alternative. But that definition didn’t say much at all. Because all it really meant was alternative to whatever was popular. It meant anything other than White Snake or Prince. Some of my bands got heavy rotation like REM or U2 but most were unknown if all you did was listen to the radio or watch MTV. My favorites like the Smiths, the Clash, the Cure, Bauhaus, other than maybe one hit or two that got some attention, their catalog was relatively unknown outside their fan base. I found about these bands and more from my peers. The other thing I did was take chances every Friday afternoon in record stores, buying based on sometimes cover art alone.
Fast forward to when I was thirty-five years old. In the year 2005, two things happened. First, I became eligible to control your life, if only you’d elect me. And second, the governor of my state (Michigan) was about two years into her “Cool Cities Initiative”. And when government has a program with a name like that, well, it’s like when your dad hands you a record and tells you this is really cool.
The Cool Cities Initiative was an attempt to keep young people from getting their college education in Michigan and then leaving the state to seek employment elsewhere. Money mainly went into sprucing up parts of Michigan, beautifying places, increasing in the arts. Basically, the government tried to make Michigan a place where people want to live.
Did it work? Eh, some people liked it. The people who’s community benefited from it. Let’s leave alone the fact that government made some choices to benefit some communities at the expense of others. They basically took some of my income tax and, instead of letting me keep it to invest in my own neighborhood, they took it to invest in someone else’s neighborhood. The fact is, “cool” isn’t something you make. It’s something that is created and then usually in hindsight, it’s either cool or not.
An old saying of mine goes that when Ronald McDonald has something in his commercials, it’s no longer cool. When McDonald rapped for the first time, I knew rap was over. Is it any coincidence that a year after McDonald rapped we got MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”? Rap, like Punk, was a movement that lasted until the early nineteen-nineties.
For me, I saw the end come with the popularity of Nirvana’s, “Nevermind” in 1991. Right there, I predicted two things: 1) Record labels would flood the market with anything and everything that sounded like Nirvana. 2) Those who weren’t familiar with the punk culture would start showing up to our shows and ruin it. Both things happened.
Due to record labels signing tons of Nirvana-like acts, we got grudge. And as for the “others” showing up at our shows, well, I knew the scene was over when I got clocked in the face and shoved nearly to the floor by someone way too excited to learn the Pogo at his first Dead Milkmen concert.
When corporations or government tell you something is cool, it isn’t. You can’t make cool. It just happens. It’s spontaneous. It’s a beautiful order out of chaos. Even if the order looks like a mosh pit of teenagers letting off steam.
I see a lot of writers fall into this trap. Same goes for movie makers. What’s selling hot today? How can I imitate it? And by the time they’re done, it’s passed them up and the money is on the next trend.
What happened in 1977 after Star Wars? We got flooded with crappy space epics. But we did get Battlestar Galactica too. What happened after the success of the Twilight books? We got flooded with vampires. And Walking Dead is spawning zombie stuff.
Ask a thousand authors how they got published and they’ll tell you a thousand different things. Ask the same of musicians or actors. Ask any artist or successful business person how they did it. You’ll get tons of different answers. But the two answers they’ll all agree on and share is that they never gave up and they didn’t follow any particular formula. There is no formula to be a great author, actor or business person. If there was, we’d all be doing it.
In a 2010 interview with Vinyl Mag, Keith “Monkey” Warren was asked how they managed to be the longest running punk band with original members. How did they do it? He answered, “Find guys you can live and work with, and be prepared for an argument or two.”
This is probably the most basic way of answering how to do anything properly. Find like minded people and do what you love. There are more options today to make and find new music than when I was roaming the aisles of the record stores in the eighties. Are record stores even a thing anymore? The Internet has opened up your ability to reach just about anyone in the world. I love Twitter for this very reason. Seems as if everyone has an account. I’ve managed to chat with a lot of smart people and reach out to many in the fields of my interest I respect and admire. In fact, a guy I know nothing about other than a chance follow on Twitter, wrote the blog piece that encouraged me to publish my first novel.
My point in all this babble is that order forms out of chaos. Cool can not be designed. How did this or that trend happen? Beats me, there’s no magic. No formula. How the hell did Fifty Shades of Gray happen? That started as Twilight fan-fiction. But it wasn’t until E.L. James made it her own with her own characters that she got anywhere.
No government program ever met expectations. No corporate commercial is truly honest. The only difference is that whereas you’re usually forced to be in government programs, you aren’t with corporate ones. The best things get done by people, either solo or in voluntary communion, doing things. And, most importantly, getting their creation out there and into the hands of voluntary consumers.
It’s this line of thinking I’m beginning to concentrate on. Not so much on electing the right person to get the right things done but how to get things done despite the wrong people in your life.
It’s clear the new Republican president and congress are not going to get us liberty seeking people what we want. That avenue is out despite some initial promises and hopes (isn’t that how the GOP works?). And the Libertarian Party has been stuck in one percent land forever. We had our chance in the 2016 election and instead of choosing really good candidates, we settled for mediocre. So we really have to start asking if it’s worth spending any more time electing the right people? Because let’s remember, even if we get it, it’s temporary. The next clown can come in and undo everything you got. So elections are not a permanent solution. I have to ask, is it time to accept the grid and go off of it?
By “off” I don’t mean minimalist living (although for some, that may be a good option). I don’t mean leaving civilization. I mean learning to live within it with all it’s constraints and at the same time, seeking out all the opportunities. I mean learning to wean away from systems that have failed us in favor of newer models that work better for us.
For instance, in keeping with all the art talk above, if you have a novel or album of music and the current publishing market isn’t taking your work, how do you get it out there despite the odds? In a more serious venture, if you can’t afford health care as it exists today, how do you find a quality doctor that will work with you?
Let’s explore this. Let’s work on ways that despite government intrusions, we can still squeeze out as much liberty as we can. Let’s work to get your work done despite some stumbling blocks in the market. Let’s look at ways to forge relationships with people of mutual interests to get things done that are important to you. Let’s look under rocks, in the bushes, out of the boxes for ways to succeed in life no matter what the odds in whatever field you’re playing on. This, essentially is, the free market in action. Our goal is to get as much of it despite forces opposed to it.
I think the best route to go from here on out is to take the words of an old punk rock Monkey, look for ways to get a few people you can live and work with together and make the most of your life despite the odds. And, as he said, “be prepared for an argument or two.”