by Little Fyodor
Evan’s essay reminds me of an age-old debate. Is everything we do done for the sake of pleasuring the ego? Are even the likes of a Mother Theresa helping the poor just to feel good about themselves and maybe even superior to others? Evan wraps up by saying it would be disingenuous to deny that such ego satisfying motivations “were not somewhere on our minds” when creating and distributing Walls Of Genius, and of course if “somewhere” on the mind is the standard, that’s hard to dispute. I’ll fully cop to feeling warm and fuzzies over favorable reviews (and feeling a bit of the sting at the not so good ones!) as well as from recognition in the street and compliments from friends and in letters and nowadays online, etc. It’s even better when people tell me how my music affects them, how they relate to it, what it means to them. After all, the first thing that got me into wanting to do music in the first place was -- well wait, actually let’s back up. Cause I first started writing songs when I was around 12 or 13 or so. Bad shit. “Watch Out for That Buoy” about the family houseboat trip and an urgent plea for world peace and pollution solutions called “What Are We Gonna Do?” and a song about growing old called “Songs of the Past.” YECCCCH!!!! I wonder why I did all that? That’s hard to say! I guess perhaps some of the notoriety seeking of which Evan speaks may have played a role. I looked up to rock stars and wanted to be one. Guess it seemed “cool”? Sometime-WoG participant and artist Leo Goya liked to say there’s just a great appeal to creativity, and I think that’s part of it, too. The will to power of putting something into the world that’s something you did. Evolutionary psychologists may say it’s a sexual selection thing. It’s ultimately pretty mysterious, don’t you think? I mean, even if we’re trying to gratify our egos, why do it via art or music? Just cause we’re too short to be a basketball player? Or is there more to it? I don’t know if we’ll ever really know for sure….
But I do recall feeling a desperate need near the end of my college years and the beginnings of being on my own to express a deep sense of loneliness and alienation and of generally feeling lost. And the sense I had that I wanted to tell the world what that was like and maybe somehow cosmically connect to people who felt the same way, like what The Who’s “Quadrophenia” was ostensibly about, and maybe parts of Alice Cooper. I picked my “pen” back up and started writing short stories and a novel (that I never finished) -- and songs; eventually I found the songs were more fun and a lot easier! This led to the start of the Little Fyodor repertoire that spanned several LP’s and CD’s. These sentiments only occasionally poked their head up in Walls Of Genius cassettes, but wanting to record these songs with Evan led directly to my joining the burgeoning project that became WoG, as both of us preferred to do WoG than record my songs. It was just FUN! The open endedness, the way anything was possible. We could goof around and make it art! Community and non-commercial music can be realized by having a regular live local band, but home recording opened up all sorts of possibilities that weren’t available with a regular setlist or while trying to get your sound out to a crowd in a bar. I remember the excitement I felt when WoG was first starting out, and again, I don’t know if I can explain it rightly, but it was just exciting to me. I remember telling Evan that I thought “I could contribute something,” as in to the world of experimental music. Whether that was a lot or a little, it meant something to me for it to at least be something.
I also remember Evan suggesting around that time that in a few months we could maybe make enough money for him to cut back his job to part-time, and I was naïve enough to consider that possible. Being able to quit your job always seemed like the Holy Grail. I’ve often liked to say that my wet dream was to become half as big as Jonathan Richman. Was that too much to ask? Haha. Hah. I don’t think that formed the entirety of my motivation as it became fairly clear fairly quickly that nothing of the sort was likely to happen. But it was still fun, and it was still, well, something to do, something to give my life meaning and purpose. Something to be part of. Something to make people look at me like I meant something. I won’t deny that the factors Evan speaks of play a role in this, but I don’t know if they say that much about the cassette movement per se as you can ultimately say that kind of stuff about doing almost anything (as I averred above). Maybe this was just the activity that worked out for me, the only way I knew to find that satisfaction. Regardless, it was definitely nice to have an outlet like that for us weirdos who didn’t necessarily fit into the world any other way. To do something we could call our own and be admired for it. I’ll say at this point that while I cop to much of what Evan speaks about in the plural, I don’t think I did any of that examining of what “the scene” wanted or would most respect us for, or any of that worrying about just being thought of as so much screaming (not that I want Evan to change his essay, and I hope he won’t!). I even worried we were selling out by screaming less and being less ridiculous! I did get into overdub projects once I could get my mitts on Evan’s four-track, but that’s just because it was fun and exciting, just like the drunken jams were!
Then again, I didn’t mind it when Evan suggested releasing shorter tapes, as I did get the feeling our long ones kind of lost people, and I did want people to like what we did and I liked the idea of our music gaining notoriety and leading to greater acclaim and maybe even possibly the outside, outside, outside, outside possibility of rising above the underground and making it something real and slightly profitable and day job killing, like Eugene Chadbourne when he said he hoped his music could someday put a thousand dollars in his bank account. Our next project when we broke up was going to be a record, an LP. Sort of a “step up.” But, well, we broke up instead. What would a record have brought? Most, most, most, most likely just more of the same, the kind of burden that clearly soured Evan on the endeavor, and I always warn people to this day that it takes me a good long while to get to doing the next thing I promised. I’d just as soon watch Gunsmoke! We’ll never know if that record might have done anything for us career-wise, and maybe that’s just as well….
Nice article! I'd like to hear more, from you or others here at EC, on the issue of cassette artists putting out vinyl. You have wondered what might have happened if WoG had put out a record. Would it have propelled you to stardom or just more of the same? I don't have an answer for that but I can tell you what happened to me. For years, I released my music on tapes, and later CD-Rs, and remained about as unknown as you can get. That's partly my own fault for being a terrible self-promoter (not sending things out for review, radio play, etc.). In 2011, a friend with a label put out an LP for my band Six Heads. Only 300 copies but it went everywhere - all over North America, Europe, Asia. Distributors were picking it up and customers were buying it. Not only was the distribution impressive, but everywhere it ended up, it got written about. Many reviews. Far more than I had ever seen for any other project I had been involved in! That happened because it was a vinyl LP. I can almost guarantee that would not have happened with a cassette release. Did it make me a star? Ha ha, of course not. But I was truly shocked at just how much it did raise my profile. It was fun to see that happening, but at the same time I found it kind of disappointing too. Why? Because the music didn't change when we made a record. There wasn't a drastic leap in the quality of our work. Six Heads on vinyl sounded exactly the same as Six Heads on cassette. What changed was that, for a lot of people, the music/art was being presented to them in a form that validated it. I find it immensely disappointing that so many people seem to be unable to judge for themselves whether a work of art has value, that they need some voice of authority (in this case, the aura of validity/importance of vinyl records) to tell them what to like or pay attention to. I don't know. I guess it's understandable. But it bugs me. Anyway, yes, judging from my personal experience, putting out vinyl DOES make a difference. If anyone else here has experienced something similar (or dissimilar), I'd love to hear about it!
It would be easy to make cynical comments about sheeple needing the correct signals to tell them what to like, and I'm sure that's applicable. OTOH, making an LP is somewhat of filtering device. There's fewer of them and may, at least plausibly, reflect some greater degree of commitment. So it may not be a matter of what people are willing to accept so much as what they have the capacity to pay attention to. Which may not seem fair or intelligent, but it's understandable, too, I think.
Ha ha, I'm going to stand by my cynicism about sheeple. However, you make a good point about people's capacity to pay attention, or even be aware of, the creative work that's being produced. Especially these days, there is an overwhelming amount of art out there! So, yes, any kind of filtering device (particularly, as I mentioned, the "voice of authority" or the validating quality of certain mediums) are going to be latched onto by many people. I get it. I'm still disappointed, but I get it.
kudos Fyo for excellent reflections--I don't recall ever thinking that WoG could help free me from a day-job wage-slave existence, but I had already attempted that in Charlottesville with the Folk-Grass-Blues-Band. So it doesn't surprise me that I may have had that on my mind. I tried it years later with an 85% appt at the Univ of Colo as I tried to make up the difference in income with visual art. It never really worked out that way, though. But damn, those day-jobs! Wasn't that something we were reacting against with our music? My guess is that a vinyl LP would have done the same for us as it did for William Davison--it would have been gratifying and would have extended our audience somewhat before disappearing from consciousness. "What have you done for us lately" seems to be the rule in terms of quitting your day-job for anything in the arts.
I'm 35 years or so into my "quitting the day job and living off my art" project. Not quite there yet. But, I'm going to live forever so it's okay. No worries. I'll get there, eventually.
Yeah, I think logically if you live forever you'll have to achieve that eventually? Or maybe that's just if you exist in all manifestations of the multiverse? Damn, this is complicated! All seriousness aside, there's likely some serious downsides to living entirely off your art, as well. But as long as it'll take a multidimensional eternity to realize anyway, may as well just keep dreaming of the good parts....
This whole Fame and Fortune discussion is very interesting, Misters Evan and Fyodor. Reading your personal thoughts about your own musical histories reveals much, and I appreciate you bringing this all into the EC for discussion.
howdy Goff! Nice thoughts--thanks for weighing in on the discussion. I hope that my "essay" didn't establish me as the world's biggest egomaniac!
Evan! No, no, you're not the biggest! We all know what office he's holding these days, ha!
Hell, why bother to be an egomaniac if you're not the world's biggest? JOKING!!
Replace "results-oriented" above with "goal-oriented", just because I'm pretty sure that's the terminology she used.
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