Monday 26 November 2007

Just banging tunes and DJ sets and dirty dance floors

I'm whippet sitting again this week. I get to see the whippets in their winter garb. Must post some pictures of these supermodels. So I'm sitting in sauna-intense heat here in Park Slope, because these gals don't like to be cold. And heat does funny things to me. I like to round off my showering experiences with a cold shower, for instance. I LOVE a cold shower after a hot one. Been doing this every day for a very long time. Like to swim in cold water too. It's interesting how the application of cold outside makes warm inside. Cold makes hot. Rough makes smooth. Untempered heat makes me woozy and sleepy. Immersion in a contrasting cold, makes life spring and dance and encourages lots of Arctic Monkeys on iPod moments on 7th ave.

So I've had an afternoon of sex and WC Fields movies and I'm having thoughts like, I wonder if I'll ever make something of my life. This sort of thought is not so long-lived, usually. But it's a fair question.

I was thinking about this sort of thing as I strolled through the park in my pyjamus yesterday afternoon. There are a lot of interesting and talented people in this town who are pushing middle age and just getting by, barely. They have skills that aren't in demand, that aren't particularly saleable, and even if they do have saleable skills, they probably don't have either inclination or suss to put it together in a money-magnetising way. Shagloads of talented people here are getting by on ten dollar an hour jobs, or jobs they hate but which have benefits, chief among these benefits being that they don't have to be there very often. People have to pay the rent. And what they do, what they consider themselves to 'be', doesn't pay it. And probably never will. So they play a gig a month and play in their friends' bands, and there's a scene, and it's interesting, but this is new york and no one is getting paid.

It's something I want to explore. Because in every other country I've lived in (hmmm... not so many, but I get around...) there exists a space in between the avant garde/outer periphery of music and art culture and the dead mainstream. In different countries, that space is of different sizes, but it exists. So in Denmark, for instance, there are a lot of musicians making a living, making music. Some of them are even making a living at making music of their own. Jazz musicians get paid decent money there. And there are gigs to be had, and they pay well. The system is unionised, and there is a union minimum that band members have to be paid. Of course there's a lot of un-unionised work that gets done, but by and large this stuff pays well too, AND it is out of the tax loop. The basic standard of living is very comfortable in Denmark, and being a musician is not something that anyone there seems to be expected to trade any of that comfort for, in order to pursue.

In Ireland, there isn't quite the Danish socialist welfare and benefits blanket at the base of society, waiting to catch anyone as they fall. If you fall in Ireland, you crash, it's true. But if you fall in America, you crash and you can burn too. But you can soar in Ireland, and you can soar here, above the clouds..

Music is not unionised in Ireland, though my dad was heavily involved in the musicians' union there when it had a heyday, and it wasn't pen-pushing work that those guys had to do in those days. Dad told me stories of having to show up at pubs that had refused to pay the band the night before, and argue rightness until the pub-owner coughed up. My dad was never any kind of a heavy handed intimidating type, but he was intense and earnest when it was called for. Anyway, now that there's money in the country, things are different. But the average pay for club-date type gigs there, is still about half of what it is in Denmark.

But people go out in Ireland. And they like to hear music. And they follow local bands. So actually, you can be in a band in Ireland, and have local popularity, and get by for as long as you're popular. Sure, things probably run out of steam in the mid-zone at some point, but my point is that I don't see very much of that mid-zone here in New York (granted I've not been seeing much outside of Dean street and 5th avenue here in New York this past couple of weeks, but I do have very good intentions of getting out more. Problem is that in is just so damned interesting).

Things are very splintered and niche-ised here. Everyone's a specialist. Everyone's catering to a very specific need. In many ways, it's like a city of phD's. How you fare financially depends very much on the demand and value placed on that particular niche. So if you're a burns litigation lawyer or an eyelid surgeon, you'll probably be earning quite a bit of cash, because everyone who needs their eyelid tending to or who wants to cash in on the pain and suffering caused by an over-hot McDonalds coffee, will hear about you and your intensity in the area, and away you go.

But if you're a rocknroll musician and you're really quite good, but you don't quite live the life and say what 20 million teenagers want to hear, well, chances are you'll be spending your middle age getting settled into your stable of cat and dogsitting clients, or putting up little signs in Key Foods, selling GUITAR LESSONS from a Juilliard trained professional of 20 years experience, to the local 4 year olds of Park Slope, whose parents are reaching for excellence, and demand Juilliard for their $40 an hour tutoring fee.

But New York city draws people like those squidgy sticky mats that everybody uses to catch their cockroaches and mice in their overheated New York city apartments. We all just NEED to be here. Of course, it's just because we're all here that we all need to be here. We need the proximity to each other. We're excited, stimulated, inflamed by that. And the rest of it. The mix. The low high and medium all jiving together in the space of a block. The crazy shit on the side of passing trucks. The endless relentlessness of it all. The energy tsunami, the suck of the best you have to give.

And you know, when you come and live in a place, and you've been there for ten years, and everybody you know, like, love and work with lives in that place, it just becomes your home and moving anywhere else is just absurd. So you take that shitty accounting job for two and a half days a week and grit your teeth and count the seconds.

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