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Monday, February 22, 2010

Artists Who Whine and Other Sacred Cows

I hear the Dixie Chicks are breaking up. It set up a lively discussion on the Banjo Hangout that, so far, the moderators haven’t shut down. The folks are keeping it civil thus far.  Edavidt (not his real name) finally made the “artist’s prerogative” argument.

I knew it was coming.

Edavidt said that it is “…unreasonable to expect someone who is an entertainer to keep their opinions…to themselves.”  He went on to say that he felt that some of us thought “..the Dixie Chicks exist for the personal gratification of their fans and nothing else.” He seems to think this is a bad thing.

The truth is, if you want to make money in show business, then you pretty much "exist for the gratification of your fans".  You see, since we are not living under a totalitarian regime where we were forced to attend concerts and applaud on cue, we are free to vote with our feet and our bucks.

No gratification, no fans.  More than one performer has learned this lesson the hard way.  Most performers stick to a style and go off-line with their personal forays into other formats or into extreme ideas their fans might not understand.This protects them from fan backlash. You learn this and exercise control to prevent it.

Dan Fogelberg confused some of his fans with his forays into light jazz and bluegrass. He also gained some fans, but there is a risk to doing something your fans don't expect.  Fogelberg's folk/rock career subsided after that, largely, I think because the Leader of the Band had confused the band and they didn't know where he was headed and weren't sure they wanted to go there with him any more. It was unfortunate.

You can say whatever you want to in this country and in most democratic Western nations. The United States in particular is still a free country last time I checked. But freedom comes with a price. If you are willing to pay the price for your right to say what you think, fine. If not, you should probably keep your commentary off the stage. I'm tired of performers who whine that people don't want to pay them money to perform just because they said something those folks did not like.

Too many performers mistake fan worship for evidence that they have the power to speak and have fans blithely accept every word they say as gospel.  Tain't so. 

I like a lot of songs that are performed by artists that I personally find reprehensible in their conduct.  I love to watch Tiger Woods hit a golf ball, but his recent behavior rather dimmed my interest in his opinion as a spokesperson. That's just how it is. My admiration for him as a person dimmed dramatically when I found out what he did to his wife and child.  I don't care how good a golfer he is.

If a performer goes too far with their songs, I lose interest in their music like my friend Mike's wife, Irene did with Barbara Mandrell.  Barbara sang a song "If Lovin' You is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right" that said I don't care about your wife and kids, I want you.  Irene knew too many put upon wives and children who had lost husbands to these sorts of predatory females.  Irene never listened to another Barbara Mandrell Song.

Now Barbara had every right to sing that song, but in choosing it, she listened more to her entourage than to the fans that made her popular. I kinda lost respect for Barbara over that song myself.  She had every right to sing it, sure, but I have every right not to like it. I've lost interest in wading through "message" or “shock” pieces looking for a song I like.  I'm too busy for that.

"Oh, but I only listen to the music, not the words."

Bah!  Anyone who tells you that can probably lip sync several hundred pop tunes off the top of their heads, so don't tell me the words don't matter. They matter. They get in your head and influence what you think or feel without you even knowing it.  Next time your 10 year old darling daughter starts ripping out rap lyrics about "ho's" and 'bustin' caps", ask yourself what her brain is learning about the meaning of life when there is all that garbage floating around in her cerebrum.

Artists have a long tradition of challenging the status quo, of making statements with their art. That is their right and privilege.  BUT, they also have a long tradition of starving for their art and not being recognized till long after they are dead. You really need to decide are you an artist or a performer (i.e. a 'star'). If you choose to be an artist, don’t be surprised if people don’t like you. That kind of goes with the whole artist thing.

Either way, neither artists nor stars are sacred cows that we have to allow to wander into our houses and poop on the kitchen floor. If they become obnoxious, we have this quaint ritual called the barbecue......

 Just one man's opinion,


* Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks in Austin, TX. - Photo by Ron Baker. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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