Doris Lessing and the Nobel Prize

Usually after I post a particularly “down” blog entry, I get concerned emails from friends and family. It’s nice, knowing there are 1) people out there that care about me; and 2) people out there that actually read this blog. Thank yous all around.

After a moderately gloomy and relatively cynical music-industry-vs.-art conversation with Amanda in our kitchen, she emailed me some sobering words used by author Doris Lessing in her lecture for winning the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature:

We have a bequest of stories, tales from the old storytellers, some of whose names we know, but some not. The storytellers go back and back, to a clearing in the forest where a great fire burns, and the old shamans dance and sing, for our heritage of stories began in fire, magic, the spirit world. And that is where it is held, today.

The storyteller is deep inside everyone of us. The story-maker is always with us. Let us suppose our world is attacked by war, by the horrors that we all of us easily imagine. Let us suppose floods wash through our cities, the seas rise . . . but the storyteller will be there, for it is our imaginations which shape us, keep us, create us – for good and for ill. It is our stories that will recreate us, when we are torn, hurt, even destroyed. It is the storyteller, the dream-maker, the myth-maker, that is our phoenix, that represents us at our best, and at our most creative.

It’s a hopeful message, but it’s interesting how the media is only reporting on how winning the Nobel Prize has rendered Ms. Lessing incapable of writing. That the media frenzy surrounding the prize is exhausting and, well, they just won’t stop bothering her about it.

So I went and read her entire Nobel lecture, which can be found here. It is a long ride, with a great range of poignant emotion. In one section I found a comforting universality on the desecration of art through publicity, popularity and fame:

Let us now jump to an apparently very different scene. We are in London, one of the big cities. There is a new writer. We cynically enquire: “Is she good-looking?” If this is a man: “Charismatic? Handsome?” We joke, but it is not a joke.

This new find is acclaimed, possibly given a lot of money. The buzzing of hype begins in their poor ears. They are feted, lauded, whisked about the world. Us old ones, who have seen it all, are sorry for this neophyte, who has no idea of what is really happening. He, she, is flattered, pleased. But ask in a year’s time what he or she is thinking: “This is the worst thing that could have happened to me.”

Some much-publicised new writers haven’t written again, or haven’t written what they wanted to, meant to. And we, the old ones, want to whisper into those innocent ears: “Have you still got your space? Your soul, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold on to it, don’t let it go.”

It’s so hard for some to “hold on,” especially — if I may, apply this to music — with the way we consume music. Because it is an art that must be recreated live, performed and communicated with others, and how do you convince musicians that art is something that is true and pure if they don’t believe in art that way? When so often the worth in what you are doing can appear intangible if nobody is “talking” about it; if someone else isn’t telling you how amazing you are? Art is art, and regardless of the medium, if you like it then you have to hold on to it, tightly — either as consumer or creator — wheedling the life out of it just to bring some happiness and redemption into your own.

“You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong and YOU…You’re Way Off Base.”

Today I feel defeated by everything, that my world is too hopeless to blog about. Is it? Probably a little bit: the weather like my mood, overcast and blurry. But there should be something to write about, shouldn’t there? Shouldn’t I be excited about the future? Well, to be honest I am excited about it: about playing shows and having people hear the album, about getting back out there. But there seems so many obstacles, such an enormous shit storm hailing down over The Dears, over the entire music business. The cynicism is devouring people left, right and center…chewing them up and spitting them out.

The thing is, is that I can’t let go of the hope. I believe in music too much; I believe music is more powerful than money or success. Those things are intangible, unreachable and in some ways, they don’t even really exist. So, *deep breath* I say fuck it. Fuck the past, fuck today, fuck popularity and pretention. This is art. The Dears is art — again — and these songs are fierce and uncomfortable, just as they should be. After nearly a decade of struggling to fit in under a forced, false identity, I feel like maybe we are finally free to be, well, you and me.

Post Scriptum: Recognise the obtuse KITH reference from the title? As good and quotable as: “We need an exorcist in here and this time I mean it.”

Your Life is a Contest

I am so into the Automotive X Prize. If you haven’t heard of it, the X-ers manage a foundation that awards multi-million dollar prizes to anyone who can successfully complete their challenges. The automotive prize goes to the first team to build a super efficient, clean and affordable car. The website lists an intriguing quote by Lester Brown: “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.”

Could a prize-based economy redefine the American Dream? The average person’s career is now likely to be a contest, and you have a better chance of winning something than hustling for it. Want to be a musician? Americna Idol. Want to dance? Dancing with the Stars. Interested in cooking? Top Chef. Be an astronaut? X Prize (or Richard Branson is your BFF). Own a restaurant? Hell’s Kitchen. Travel the world? Amazing Race. Learn how to manipulate your friends? Survivor. Learn how to manipulate yourself? Fear Factor. They are game shows gone awry…extending beyond a fantasic half-hour and defining our very existence.

But not that it’s a bad thing at all, since classic corporate structure is broken completely. Reseach and development has barely any meaning. A scientist can’t be an artist because most research is privately funded with marketing goals and target audiences in mind (especially in medicine….its sickitating). The major label music industry is run by deaf dinosaurs, so an artist can barely be an artist for the same reasons. And then you hear about the notion that US car companies have had the patents for the electric car for decades but squashed them because they would devalue the US market’s dependence on oil. Conspiracy? Maybe not so much…

It’s a little mind blowing how elite ecological living is. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but you have to be rich to live “off the grid.” It’s the old adage: “You have to spend money to make money,” well apparently you also have to spend money to save money (and the world, incedentally). I would love to line our roof with solar panels, and ditch the regular car for a hybrid, but that shit is expensive, yo!

And holy frig do Americans have A LOT of disposable income (that they generally spend on themselves, not their fellow man because that’s the American way). The disparity is amazing: there are so many really poor people in the US, working for minimun wage and basically keeping the country’s infrastructure running, while there’s also a really big population of people who literally have money to burn. I was watching one of these shows where they follow some American family’s home renovations, and this one family — who were not, like, really rich but just kind of rich — must have spent $50,000 redoing their basement into a bar/rec room. And it was ugly and selfish when it was done. So bring this idea back to the X Prize, and how easy it would be to raise a 10 million dollar purse, and the potential it lends to the future?

I guess we just have to hope that the humanity the X-Prize trustees are working towards helping isn’t an exclusive humanity. Yes, that’s right, that’s how much faith I have in my fellow man. I suppose if I could believe for a second that other people lived selflessly and for the greater good then I wouldn’t be such a cynic. Sadly my life has intersected with many people who clearly loved money most of all, and who had forgotten about Love itself.