The Song Journal

Miscellaneous news and writing by Bob Franke, mostly about songs as a portable art form, and the process of creating them and enabling them to do their work in the world.

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Location: Peabody, Massachusetts, United States

from Bob Franke began his career as a singer-songwriter in 1965 while a student at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation in 1969 with an A.B. in English Literature, he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has since made New England his home. Bob has appeared in concert at coffeehouses, colleges, festivals, bars, streets, homes and churches in 33 states, four Canadian provinces and England.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Evil, good, and American idols

I was waiting in line with Joan at the supermarket the other day looking at the tabloids when I noticed that the new "American Idol" winner is virtually indistinguishable in appearance from Britney Spears. My guess is that that's why she won the contest. The music industry no longer markets music, let alone songs. It markets images.

Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except that the images pretend to be artists. The industry calls them artists. That's evil. John Sandford is a Jungian therapist who has written extensively, and who wrote a whole book about evil. His definition of evil has been terrifically useful to me: evil is a part pretending to be the whole.

An idol in the Biblical sense is a statue pretending to be a god. In this culture, corporations are organizations put together for the sole purpose of human acquisitiveness aspiring to the status of human beings. When the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have the same rights as human beings, it was one of the biggest mistakes this country ever made. In this culture, an idol is an image pretending to be an artist.

Human beings create culture. Corporations can only create a distorted version of it based on greed. That's why the best music in this country comes from communities rather than corporations. Historically, corporations have taken the best artists out of communities and enhanced their images, if you will, to call attention to them. This has put artists in a quandary: we all have material needs. But we need to be artists. Corporations, on the other hand, need profits, and to gain profits, they need stars. They need idols.

Partly through the collusion of corrupted artists, people who are seduced into serving the corporations rather than their audiences, the corporations have figured out a way of bypassing art and culture altogether. Just put together a contest based upon what a corporation needs rather than what human beings need. Take the winner and spend millions upon the lie that the winner is an artist, and a good one. Watch the money roll in from the pockets of people too young and/or too dumb to recognize what a real culture is and what a real artist does. An adolescent in love with an image is an important part of the human story. But when a corporation substitutes that part for the whole culture, it's evil.

From my point of view, the harm comes when real artists can't find an audience and/or make a living, say, comparable to that of a firefighter, or even a teacher, because so many people have been distracted and their money sucked away by the corporations. There are consequences for audiences as well. Without a culture based in truth and true imagination, people are more apt to be fooled when politicians start telling them lies. Even the more intelligent among them are more apt to dismiss the entire notion of the truth being sung, and turn to music in other languages, because there, at least, there is some energy, and one doesn't have to waste one's time listening to lame lyrics.

Have you noticed that whenever there is a true revival of great songwriting in the U.S. the industry begins to flood the market with bad songwriters? Imitations pretending to be the real thing. The part pretending to be the whole.

Artists need to keep fighting to remain artists, whether they are on the margins, or among the "lucky" few making compromises with the industry. Artists whose numbers and images are inflated by the industry need to work hard to stay artists, and need to know only enough business to know when they are being seduced. And any businessperson in the music industry with integrity and a concern for truth in culture needs to commit to working with artists rather than idols.

Those of us artists on the margins just need to tell the truth as well and as lovingly as we can to as many folks as we can reach. The pay isn't always great, but it's good work.


Blogger Kitty said...

I agree with what you just said. Even though I am still young and therefore easily influenced, I see what flaws the music industry has today. I have to put up with the radio station that my sister listens to (I share a room with her) and listen to the lyrics....and it's all the same. They're all the same. Why do people wish to listen to the same thing from a million different people? I do not respect these people at all.... It's hard to find someone who's real and not some done-up fake plastic person trying to pass off as a "real" musician. It depresses me. And I guess that's all I have to say for now..... If you wish, you can check out my blog (but I haven't written in it for months; I should probably start again)... I respect you, which is rare becuase I hardly respect anyone. I especially enjoy your song "Hard Love". It's beautiful. It speaks to me. It's true. Thank you for giving the world that song.

Sincerely, Ericka

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Mel Green said...

Hi Bob
Your commentary stirred a chord ... while visiting my brother in Australia last year, after a nice intimate dinner in their kitchen one evening, we adjourned to the adjacent family room and sat around their TV. After a short clicking between various stations, I was asked whether I'd like to watch "The Sopranos" ... I was ambivalent, explaining that since I did not subscribe to HBO. "So, did I not follow popular culture?" I was then asked.
Their attitude, no doubt brought on by their involvement in popular culture ... brought on a huge up-welling of sympathy in me, as I realized how lucky I am to be involved in creative pursuits that do not require one to be a captive of television . ... such as DIY music, songwriting and making art.

4:27 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Have you seen Chris Hedge's book, "Losing Moses on the Highway"? It's collection of stories about the 10 commandments, but the main theme is the idolatry (and adultery--defined as faithlessness) in American culture-- and all the small gods that fill our lives. At least American Idol isn't pretending.

6:52 PM  

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