Saturday, September 20, 2008

Life With an Indie Musician

America is a very odd place. We love creative people - we admire them, we idolize them when they're famous, we envy them even when they're not. But we sure don't make it easy for them to be creative.

That starving artist in a garret is so romantic. It's one of the reasons we took "Rent" to our hearts...the bohemian rebels who would rather die than conform are the people we wish we could be. Until we get hungry, of course.

I've learned a lot from living with a man who has too much talent, too many ideas and will never have enough time to share all the music he hears in his head. It's a constant inner battle - does he choose security or does he choose to be true to the gift he's been given? Every CD is an open-handed offering of something intensely personal, something true, something beautiful, to the world. And every sale is not only a few dollars to help pay the bills, but a confirmation that those sounds in his head are as unique and worthwhile as he hopes they are.

Why does our country put our artists on a pedestal, but not support them as they do the work we admire? Where is the program that offers creativity the security that allows it to continue?

It's not just musicians. Painters, writers, poets, sculptors, artists of all kinds are forced every day to choose between doing what they know they are here to do and doing what they have to do to eat and pay the rent.

Go ahead - tell me it builds character. I don't buy it. If a child is gifted in math or science, we are thrilled, knowing those studies will lead to jobs that will give them comfortable lives. If a child is a gifted artist we worry.

"How will you make a living?" we ask.

And many, many of them give up the one thing that they truly love to do because it just can't be done in our nine to five world. The world is poorer because of it.

I recently interviewed the author of Furious Improvisation
It's a book about Hallie Flanagan and the WPA's theatre project during the Depression.
It got me thinking. A make-work project for artists launched the careers of Orson Welles, John Houseman and many others. The plays they put on were cutting edge; sometimes so cutting edge that they were considered subversive. They pushed at society's rules, integrating the casts, giving minorities lead roles, dramatizing the social and economic problems of the times. Eventually, the project was abandoned as the country's fear of communism built toward the blacklisting that would eventually rip through the performing arts and leave many careers ruined along the way.

The Depression (and will it still be capitalized once the new depression is upon us?) showed us the best and worst we could do for artists. The government put actors and playwrites to work at a desperate time. And the country's fear and narrow mindedness tried to restrict what those artists could do...finally shutting them down.

I want to live in a country that values creativity as highly as it values money. Does such a place exist?

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