Art/Money

I’ve been thinking about art and how the pay works. There was some talk about pirating works recently on Twitter. And then that spiraled into another discussion about how streaming and whatnot affects artists. I’m not in a band, but I do travel for comedy. I am at what you’d call a somewhat lower level – no one is demanding that I headline or anything, and I’m just one guy sending out avails to bookers like everybody else. Both bands and comedy involve a lot of slumming it. Lots of nights driving to and from places. The money isn’t great, as you’d expect from bar shows doing it out of passion – dingy Irish pubs, cheap beers, cool out of the way spaces like book shows and art galleries. That’s the stuff; it’s not corporate gigs and it shouldn’t be. I once said I made enough money doing comedy to survive in the specific lifestyle portrayed in the 50s book MIDNIGHT COWBOY, where most of the characters are homeless drifters. I stand by that and it hasn’t changed.

It’s funny how it works – I’d really like to be able to go travel and do comedy way more. I’m at least good enough to get booked consistently now. But the gas prices don’t care about that. It might be going down a little now. $4.49 for gas seeming like a bargain – what a world. It’s still just not worth it to go and drive more than a few hours. Even driving two hours, while doable, I’m losing money. It’s more out of passion and playing a long game – if I travel enough and get seen enough, I can build momentum. Or that’s what I tell myself. But with the insane gas prices and everything else being so fucking expensive, I just had to start really calculating things. I’m pretty awful at math, but it seems like I just have to be way more choosy about where I go. It’s a cost benefit thing. Then again, since I started this piece, gas prices are mildly down at like $4 a gallon now. We live in the lap of luxury.

And this isn’t a new thing I just invented or thought of. Any artists or bands will tell you it’s a fucking criminal thing, the pay and all of that. We’re out there making a go of it and if we don’t have rich parents to help us live in LA or NY and get the right connections, we’re all pretty indie for the most part. For comedy you can do the cruise ships or the corporate gigs, but really, not everybody’s cut out for that. Not everybody really wants to do the board room lunchtime gigs where everyone’s eating gas station tuna sandwiches and apples and drinking Cokes in the middle of the day. A buddy of mine said you do those shows to do the comedy you really want to do later. I can respect that.

Read a NYT piece recently about Janeane Garofalo, whose work I’m not familiar with. It basically went into her strident devotion to being “alt.” Back in the 90s that was all the rage. It spilled over into the early ’00s when I was finally becoming culturally conscious in small and weird ways – I remember loving all the weird movies I could find, getting into heavy metal, all this stuff; I was really into that sense of finding something “other.” It’s a very pure instinct.

The Garofalo article makes mention of how she would never even repeat bits that did too well – “anything that was successful, she didn’t want to do.” I love that. There’s something in it, a spunk, that really speaks to me, because it’s sort of the essence of comedy to me. The going-out-on-a-limb. The adventurousness. I do repeat bits that work, as do a lot of comics, but that Garofalo anecdote really spoke to me about what the most exciting part of it is, which is the failing. When you come up with a good bit and throw it out in the void of a crowd at a mic, not knowing whether there’ll be any return. Especially for more long-winded or complicated bits. That’s what I like about doing this. I think it should be valid just to like doing something to do it. The Mike Birbiglia movie DON’T THINK TWICE was about that.

But everyone needs art in their lives. And as a whole it does have an industry. Just taking a cursory glance at the statistics for Florida’s arts and culture economy:

“The industry generated $166.3 billion of economic activity and $63.8 billion by the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations. This economic activity supports 4.6 million full-time jobs and generates $49.4 billion in resident household income. The arts and culture industry also generates $27.5 billion in revenue to local, state, and federal governments—a yield well beyond their collective $5 billion in arts allocations.”

Quite a hefty thing. The report ends up saying the arts have a ripple sort of effect on everything else. You go out to the arts and then you pay for parking, dinner, a bunch of stuff. But there’s also a wide gulf there because there’s so many artists out there, and the big respectable money isn’t funneled in every direction equally. Then they cut the arts funding for schools and kids. Spotify will cut peoples’ comedy albums off their service and hoard all their money for a bodybuilding anti-vaxxer. There’s not a lot of equity going around. Never has been.

And it just goes into another thing I just read yesterday – this Carmen Maria Machado piece about why it’s OK for artists to not rush into the business side of things. It talks a lot about how sometimes really good art takes a while to marinate. But the rush is understandable because, again, we all need the money and we want to try and climb that ladder and open doors. I always thought this too. Why rush? Why promote a product that isn’t really as good as it could be yet? Of course, now we have to contend with the burning Earth. How much time do we really have left? Who knows?

But it’d be nice if we could all just have the time and license to do whatever we want more often.

Nothing I’m saying here is going to change anything. It probably comes off as a lot of bitching. But I think about this stuff a lot.

Time Allotment

I’m very bad at keeping up this thing, which was supposed to be a way to keep some interest in my site. But I haven’t had anything published in a while. And when I tried to upload a comedy video it was annoying and I ended up forgetting to follow through. So this all just seems like a pointless internet vanity project right now.

I can’t help it – I just have more fun actually tinkering with creative shit than doing stuff to build up marketing or whatever. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

It’s been a decent life as of late though. I did a few comedy shows – I drove two hours each way for shows two nights in a row, in different cities. It was like it used to be. There’s something fun for me in the long drives, the playing music, the stopping at random gas stations or hotels. It’s an adventure. I would probably get tired of it if I did it for a living month after month.

The world seems to be a bigger place out here (North Carolina, where I live now). In Florida it was literally narrow – you could drive up and down that state, but it was time consuming to go further. I used to work a desk job as a reporter, and I didn’t have time for it then. I could drive up and down Florida, that thin tube of a state, but the rest of the country seemed a big mystery a lot of the time. It’d been a while since I left.

Now I have the range to drive in different directions and potentially enter two or three other states. I visited Colorado last year and am going to Texas this year. It all seems broader now and I think you need that.

I have been reading a bunch of shit all at the same time – Marx’s Capital and a Keith Richards biography are two of them. It’s not so bad. The Marx is really something – he sure has a lot of ideas. I feel like I’m giving myself the forbidden education that was never in the curriculum when I was in school. I got the old fashioned American dogma so I’m going in another direction now. Here’s hoping a bunch of Republican senators don’t find out. The Keith Richards is good too. He’s a strong writer; funny and to the point. Rock stars can occasionally really pull this shit off.

Politics is the same as ever – endless culture wars dominate while the rich get richer. Seems like the status quo. They are talking about a war with Russia now. I’m sure that’s going to be an entirely noble thing, born solely of good will for the underserved people of the Earth. I’m also very glad our military budget is in the hundreds of billions while nobody can afford rent or health care. Great system.

I’ve been thinking more about anger lately. We all have to live in the world, and the last two years if nothing else have spotlighted just how bad a lot of service workers have it. The animosity directed at them. They get the brunt of the anger from short-fused, small-minded idiots and it sucks, because they are just trying to survive. Now, I would occasionally get drunk and send off some kind of angry email to a politician chastising them for being full of shit. But they aren’t reading those emails. The ones who got the brunt of my own wrath were hapless interns or something, also just trying to make a buck. So the anger becomes impotent. If you’re really deserving of that rage, you’re insulated from it. Money can be a buffer in that way and you can go on and do the same horrible shit you were before.

I think there might be a joke in that. This is how I write jokes. I just sort of type out a bunch of stuff and hope a punchline can be gleaned from it like a nugget of gold. It’s a work in progress.

Anyway, this has all been a hodge podge of random thoughts. Here’s some stuff I’ve been enjoying lately:

MOVIES: TITANE was good. Interesting and artsy and vague in the best ways. Art’s supposed to make you feel things and challenge you. This did that.

MUSIC: Right now I am playing the first Jimi Hendrix Experience album. There’s something to the brevity of it all. The simple, direct musicality. He had something to say and he said it. Also been playing some Voivod. Their Post-Society EP is so good. A true free-thinking band.