Can Soul Come from the Suburbs? Or: Even The Beatles Came From Broken Homes
Published Sep 01, 2001It's a beautiful day outside, but you wouldn't know because you're inside being protected by a central air unit. You just bought the latest 66,000 gHz computer capable of recording up to 128 simultaneous tracks of audio. Your plan (after going to the annual family picnic, that is) is to write and record that great monumental album, the one that will universally communicate and enlighten the oppressed masses. This is where I come in to tell you that it will never happen. Note the lack of the word "sorry." It's just a fact.
The reason? Every artist, no matter the medium, must have a dark side in order to be justified as an artist. Nice, friendly square folk never make good music the kind that lasts, that evokes a universal primal urge to question everything.
Darkness (which includes an overwhelming sensation of emptiness, and disparity) is the driving force behind all art. Being a victim of divorced parents; a secret obsession with pornography; excessive masturbation; addiction to sex; a panache for ingesting harmful substances (especially the illicit kind); preoccupation with the "system" or better yet, a mental illness identified by an authority. Something must be broken in order to know what works. Without pain, there is no happiness.
Whether it is Van Gogh slicing off his ear for a prostitute, Roky Erickson watching seven televisions to ward off demons, Jim Morrison alienating himself from his family by telling everyone his parents are dead, or Keith Richards or Miles Davis "chasing the dragon," pain and longing become the common denominator (or is it demoninator?) that translates into true art. It is the only thing that keeps them alive, and in some cases, their struggle eventually kills them. (Rutger Hauer's contribution of dialogue to Blade Runner rings very true: "the light that burns twice as bright lives half as long.")
This is why those who come from happy families along with a perfectly nurtured careerist demeanour never become legends. You won't write an album like Nirvana's Bleach on a trust fund. Social skills and ease of adaptation might get you the career you're convinced you need, but you'll never make good music.
Comfort stifles the need to express; it is very difficult these days to be angry and hungry for something when you can have a satellite dish that offers 700 channels of distraction, a computer with high-speed internet access, easy-to-keep luxury car payments and a smooth entrance into a well-paid job. How can one scream and whine and strike their instrument with protest when they know they belong somewhere and are going to go there tomorrow morning, and the next? This is why authentic art is best associated with those who have nothing to lose and nothing else to do.
So, this is a message to the straight-edgers of the world who hypocritically do well for themselves and blasphemously misuse "art" as a means to conceal their boredom and envy for a "better" life: give up, because you don't have it in you. Sure, you can try with technology these days, you can instantly be a techno group if you want, but can you replicate feel? Stay where you are, and spend your (hard earned?) money supporting those who come from the alleyways and ghettos who have something to say. While you may not have any talent yourself, you will at least minimise polluting airwaves with dated and spiritless music, cool down production loads at pressing plants and collect good karma as a result.
And maybe, just maybe, you'll actually get inspired by one of these artists if you aren't too busy being frustrated over trying to be someone you aren't. Ask any real artist why they do what they do. They will shrug and tell you they are just doing what needs to be done. Many have admitted that if they didn't make music they would be institutionalised. It is hypocritical and blasphemous for squares to even attempt to write about life's drudgery from a condominium apartment while attending an upscale school in an upscale part of town. Being "blessed" with modern riches makes you the real loser, lacking real life experience.
It took only three years and death for Jimi Hendrix to become an immortal legend. Despite popularity, he struggled daily. U2 has existed over 20 years and have been financially successful for at least 15. But have they reached the same level of influence? Does the Edge still have an edge or has money made them dull? Which will you remember Pop or Are You Experienced?
I am so relieved to see that our dear friend Howie from the Backstreet Boys (Eds. note: Actually it's A.J.) has been tackled by the demon drink. He has now fully gained my respect. Be on the lookout for Howie in the future dear readers he now might actually do something worth merit, now that he knows everything is not OK after all.