Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward

It's time once again to take stock of my year and set goals for a new one. I'm exhausted just typing that sentence. Many of you probably do the same thing on New Year's Eve. We torture ourselves needlessly and try to put a smiley face on our accomplishments the way Mrs. Walker did in second grade.

This past year I started a blog, finished a new CD, played about 60 concerts, gave several seminars, became a grandfather, made a couple new friends, wrote only two songs I really like, read a few good books and learned how to grow orchids. I have a friend who bought a few houses for nickels on the dollar and invested a million in bargain stocks. My net worth plummeted, if you can call a nosedive off the low board a "plummet". I have another friend who finally got that college degree she's always wanted. My wife keeps suggesting that I go back to school to get one of those framed pieces of paper but I have ADD when it comes to things like tests and practical knowledge. I'm only able to learn useless skills like orchid growing, and unimportant facts such as: a "jiffy" is the time between alternating current power cycles (1/60 or 1/50 of a second). Try to teach me to prepare a business plan or speak French and I fidget uncontrollably until the chair collapses.

I want to write a book next year. It doesn't have to be a long book, just 120 pages or so. It can be heavily illustrated. When I consider the fact that I put off recording most of my best songs for 20 years, it seems unlikely that I'll write a best seller. Money sees me coming and crosses the street. Fame is like a rented tuxedo that I wore one night and spilled salsa on so I can't rent it again. Not that money and fame bring happiness, they just have certain perks that would make my life more convenient. For example I could pay all my bills and get a new pair of glasses in the same decade, or I could stop getting calls from the NSAI in Nashville asking me if I'd like to have my songs evaluated by one of their professionals.

I chose this life, my wife always reminds me. Yeah, I say, but I was too young to have all that responsibility. Someone should have said, "You don't want to be 54 years old selling songs for nine cents apiece do you?" That might've been a wake up call. They should've stopped me before I spent thousands of hours making steel wires vibrate on a wooden box. How was I supposed to know I'd get paid $150 per night to sing for people in 1972 and $150 to sing for more people in 2008? A migrant orange picker gets a raise. A guitar picker gets permission to park near the dumpster.

This year flew by. I covered a lot of miles on the road and most of them also flew by. I should be a duck. Did you know that a duck's quack doesn't echo? I know things like that. Wish I could get paid better for these things I know. Do you need someone to vibrate wire on a wooden box cheap?

We have much to look forward to in the coming year. I'm very interested in what our president elect will do starting January 21. I'd like to see some people on Wall Street go to jail. I'd like to find out why the CEOs of Ford think the solution to Detroit's problems is cars that park themselves. I want Rush Limbaugh to actually talk to God and get his facts straight. I'd like to wake up one morning and see the headline: Blogojevich Spontaneously Combusts. I'd be thrilled to find out that Arne Duncan has read "Outliers" and wants to reform the entire education system in America. I would like to listen to Ozzie Osborne filibuster in the Senate. I'd like to see Kevin Federline get a bigger hat.

Here are some wonderful things I'll miss in 2009. I won't get to see the Mets and Yankees play baseball in those great old parks. There will be no new Paul Newman or Heath Ledger films, no more Freddie Hubbard solos, or Arthur C. Clarke novels. There will be no more enlightened Sunday Mornings with Tim Russert. George Carlin won't make me laugh at the latest culture craze. And, although this one only matters to me, I won't get to do a show at The Arts Scene with my late compadre Robert Hazard.

But there will be a few improvements in 2009. Bush will be gone, and not a moment too soon. We won't see another haughty young blond drinking Zima at the bar. If you go to Starbucks, you can just get coffee and not feel guilty for passing up the CD bin because it will soon be gone. You won't step in Volcano Taco toppings on the sidewalk. You won't see any more bewildered husbands being dragged into Linens 'N Things.

I take my blessings where I find them. I have a loving family and a roof over my head, and these are not given things anymore. I still live a creative life. I don't need an iphone or a Lexus to make me happy. I have a few intelligent, interesting, funny friends who always say the right thing at the right time. I have reasonably good health. I can cook. And it's no small miracle that I'm still here to wish you the best year of your life in 2009.

copyright 2008 craig bickhardt

Friday, December 12, 2008

Got Real?

"I always wanted to be a musician," the woman wearing the retail apron in the TV commercial says. She's referring to Rock Band, or Guitar hero, or some other video game that her family has discovered. "Now our family is always together!" another woman exclaims in delight as we see the living room "band" jamming in front of a TV. It's very gratifying to me, as a musician who has struggled for 40 years, to know that it's so much easier to play the guitar now that Wii has eliminated the need for practice.

Let's all stay home and be musicians! Why not? Should we be cynical just because MTV Games brought us Rock Band the video toy? I mean, wasn't it already obvious that MTV was for juvenile cretins who thought Beavis and Butthead were hysterical? Is it so terrible that MTV has now abandoned almost all content that features genuine music in it's programing and turned to home gaming?

I see a future where we each get our own TV network complete with a video game. We'll be able to broadcast ourselves and we'll be scheduled for 15 minutes of fame during which our network will link nationally with everyone else's network. Everyone will vote on whether your fame was worth watching, and you won't even have to do something special. You could maybe just scratch yourself in a funny way and be voted Funniest Scratcher.

In this era of Famous Me, I've noticed that there's quite a large crowd of talentless people trying to cram into the spotlight. Forgive me if I ponder for a moment whether the genuine and deserving talent runs the risk of being overlooked.

If this isn't bad enough, my friend Nathan Bell points out that we musicians face even more competition from Actors and other celebrities who have somehow decided that acting and celebrity-hood isn't enough, they must also be recording artists.

Nathan says, "...the music business is imploding and THESE people are touring, making cds, and eating up valuable payola while real musicians are learning the correct way to display their Wal-Mart name tag?"

This is a call for action friends. Stop the insanity. Don't give your kid Guitar Hero for Christmas, take him or her out to a few concerts instead. Don't watch Real Housewives of Orange County or Biggest Loser, read a good book. Don't buy a Kevin Costner CD, buy Nathan Bell's. Let's show them that "real" deserves some respect again-- real music, real TV programing (not low cost sensationalism), real movies, real concerts...

There's too much static, too many vapid distractions, too much splintering of the audience, too little call for serious art of any kind, too much attention given to shocking behavior, too much reward for titillating our prurient interests, too little pay for only having serious artistic talent.

Art requires nurturing (big investment), time (slow return on big investment), and commitment (hanging with it in spite of slow return on big investment). These are things that the entertainment industry doesn't believe in anymore. And it's no wonder. They've been encouraged, even pressured
by the consumer to deliver cheap disposable content, instant gratification, nearly free products (whether it be reality TV shows or a $15 per month subscription for unlimited mp3 downloads), and lowest-common-denominator content focused on sex appeal, sensationalism and violence. You can't have Dylan immediately and for free and in lingerie, folks, so there will never be another artist like him unless we change.

We have exactly the art and culture we deserve. This is what we wanted.

As for me; I'll continue to write this blog...I'll go out to hear live music...I'll still make records, not tracks (stay tuned for the new one)...I'll work very hard to write great songs that hopefully will move you...I'll play a real guitar on a real stage in front of real people who will leave the house to listen...I'll even come to your town so you don't have to drive too far...I'll post my music on the Internet so you can hear me easily...I'll give away some downloads even though this is my only job and I can always use the money...and...most importantly... I won't put you out of business.

Can I make it any more real for you?

copyright 2008 craig bickhardt