A running thread through the last few posts (here, here, here), and occasional others throughout this blog (here, here, here, here), is that of the landscape and environment those of my generation(ish) and younger are facing. Gone – or at least fading away – are the “paths” (career or otherwise) that were supposedly ahead of us as we were coming up. It seems so, anyway. (And it was never going to be easy to begin with.) To echo author Bret Easton Ellis, as he put it so well: we’re moving from an age of Empire to Post-Empire. Now, there are certainly pros and cons to each, and I don’t even know if I fully believe that one is better than the other, but it can’t be denied that those big, shiny institutions (i.e., Empire, or, as discussed in my last post, the “real world”) are crumbling and we’re rebuilding a more fragmented cultural environment. Yeah, you can be a college professor (Empire), but you’ll likely be cobbling together adjunct or Visiting-Assistant-Instructor-Fellow-Lacking-Benefits work (Post-Empire). Gone are Mr. Big’s Six Album (and six figure) Deal record contracts given to only a select few (Empire), and everywhere are musicians with GoPros and MacBooks with a worldwide reach (post-Empire). You can ostensibly get your music to everyone right now, but do you actually expect to get compensated? Sure, there’s live performance, but that can also be a financial killer. And if not a killer, you won’t be saving for retirement. Speaking of which, I think we could put retirement in the Empire column…
Matt Borghi, my close friend and musical accomplice, happened to send me this article from The Atlantic on Monday, not knowing I had just posted a somewhat parallel (in parts) screed. Deresiewicz makes some good points, though I must admit that I didn’t walk away from it knowing what the overall thrust of the article was, if there was one. (Though, sometimes all you need is mention of entrepreneurship and declining superpowers.) Some of the thoughts were a bit bizarre – we’re beyond the age of the “great work”? I don’t buy that. Just because we don’t have as many powerful gatekeepers and curators as we once did doesn’t mean that the works aren’t being made. I would argue that it’s more of a problem of not being able to easily sift them out from all the others. Also, the author talks about the devaluing of the 10,000 hours concept. I don’t know about that. While he does have a point – and I’ve seen it firsthand – that connections can help one more than his or her work, most of the cream eventually rises to the top. (Even if eventually = after death.) The deep, substantial works are being made amongst the noise of the novelties surrounding them. And eventually the fluff will die away. And as far as depth vs. breadth, why are they mutually exclusive? As someone who has many disparate musical influences, I would like to think that such breadth is an asset in my hopefully one day making something with depth. Though, related to the 10,000 hours, I did ask on this blog over five years ago: For those with disparate influences (i.e., learning and become proficient in various and/or competing styles), is 15,000 the new 10,000?
Admittedly, this quick post may not have a point, other than to tie recent posts together and point to that Atlantic article. Ellis’s article on The Daily Beast is worth a read also. On a related note, I recommend this piece by Matt.
To close, the end of the first paragraph reminds me of a song by the long-defunct group in which I met Matt, The Elevator Conspiracy. Written shortly after the 2008 economic crash, we wrote and often played a sometimes-wailing-sometimes-spoken-word song in rehearsal titled “Retire the Empire.” We all really enjoyed it but I don’t believe we ever played it live. As much as we dug it, we just couldn’t get it to “click.” I have some scratchy recordings somewhere that I’m sure will never see the light of day beyond the band members. Though it was originally concerned primarily with the economy, it’s funny to think of how broadly accurate it was.