Monday, January 30, 2012

This Isn't Even My Local Library Rant

I try not to talk about the area I come from when I blog. After all, I am a firm believer in my friend Dicky Nixon's theory that you aren't being paranoid if people really are out to get you.
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Maybe it's the creative internal atmosphere, the itch to run my fingers along the keyboard, the fact that I can't tell my carpal tunnel is acting up if I keep my hands busy, or that I mentally flossed with a good Nick Hornby marathon, but these things just needed to be said, by jove.
Tonight, I was overcome with a sense of current events boredom. I have been obsessively following the election news, and figured that there were other things going on that I should know about. I headed to MSNBC to check what the Dow closed at, and if there was anything of interest in the Tech section. Underwhelmed that the selection had not been updated much since midday, I scrolled past the Lifestyle section, where I have placed local news (it's at the bottom of the page, since I could really give two hoots what's going on in this Pit Of Despair portion of the country). Of the five headlines I was given, one actually looked interesting: 'Amarillo in perfect spot to host bigger entertainers'.
"Fat chance," I said as I clicked the link.
The article, for those who wish to skip the hyperlink, laments the fact that the whole of the Texas Panhandle cannot draw big names anywhere near the main city. Now, there are occasional acts worth driving down to Lubbock (yes, home of my first musical love, the immortal Buddy Holly) to see. The first concert I ever went to was in Lubbock, actually; I played hooky in second grade to see Elton John do a "piano only" show (I caught the concert bug early, I'm afraid -- I believe I was eight years old). Have I gone to Lubbock since then for an event? Only if funerals count. Remember how we talked about the Magical Texas Circle of Dallas (367 miles from Amarillo)/Houston (600 miles)/Austin (495 miles)/San Antonio (511 miles), and how artists visit those four cities, secure in the fact that they've drawn the biggest Texas crowd they're gonna get?
Let me clue ya, it's because that's the biggest Texas crowd they're gonna get.
This quote in the article stood out to me: "where’s the promoter who’s going to start taking a chance on Amarillo again? The Civic Center facilities and the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts are waiting for the call, and given we’re smack dab on Interstate 40, we should be an easy draw for acts who are traveling between, say, Albuquerque, N.M., and Oklahoma City."
Apparently, our friendly local newsy-man has no idea how the entertainment industry works. I am by no means an authority, but I've read enough accounts of un/successful bands, and their eventual dissolution, to glean a tiny bit of a guess about the ins and outs.
Take a look at any successful band (let's say, a pop or rock band, for lack of a better example). Start at the beginning of their career, and what were they doing? Generally, they're driving themselves around in a rented van, going from dive gig to dive gig, lugging their own equipment, flogging records to their Faithful Few, and hoping to catch somebody's eye. The truly talented (or truly lucky, depending on who you're talking about) eventually tag along with a bigger act as a minimal supporting group (or one of many groups), who continue the above pattern. If they're lucky, they can get on a national tour (in this day and age, the fairytale "first major gig" might be Warped Tour, though that's probably reserved for Fantasy Career Hour, and depends on the type of material you play [see how many factors go into this?]), where they would generally end up on the smallest stages at undesirable times of the day and evening. It's a break, regardless, and they're all damn happy to have it. On such national affairs, you can draw bigger crowds, perhaps gain some press attention, and, if you've hit the jackpot, maybe even a record deal with an obscure label still willing to stick their necks out and do what record labels were intended to do in the first place. After a while, with more press, more fans, and more records to flog, you get to headline, and, in some cases, finally achieve contender status. Think of the major bands you know, and see if their career fits that description. One of the most successful bands to have ever existed, my fabulous Beatles, follow a similar pattern (with the help of the Mighty Brian Epstein). Speaking in general terms, since there is only one Paul McCartney, when you hit the point of headliner status, it is not in your best interest to go back to playing smaller venues, a category into which the Globe-News, and Civic Centers fall. Why would you work from the ground up to play to a more limited audience, especially if you are proven to sell more tickets? Where is the revenue in that? Not only is there less revenue for the band, but less for the roadies (hey, they're nice folks, but they need a paycheck), the promoters, and the label (and we talked about how labels are suffering many moons ago).
Why can't our tiny little town in the middle of Cow Country draw big names? Simple; the big names cannot draw big crowds.
Sure, in the 70's, big names visited these here parts. My mother saw Elvis Presley in that very Civic Center (perhaps another deterrent?) long before his career plateaued. She saw Barry Manillow at the height of his "Mandy" days, Sonny and Cher, and The Carpenters (twice), not to mention Brenda Lee, Glen Campbell, and a few other familiar faces. Let's face it, though, this area is not what it was in the 70's, either. Back then, the population was active, not apathetic. If something or someone does decide to come here, they get little to no support, no matter how fantastic the prospect of the shiny new toy is. The culture has simultaneously remained stagnant, and drastically changed in that time. The stagnant portion doesn't actually count, since I doubt that dime store cowboys, or their genuine counterparts, would care if Tom Petty was in town. The drastically changed portion, however, have become lethally boring (for extreme lack of a proper adjective), and, having abandoned the worth of performance art, the youth who have a sincere interest in it cannot let it flourish without odd looks, or that "who're you taw'kin' a-bowt?" question in our hideously hicky accent (the one I had tried so hard to stamp out of my speech patterns, yet didn't realize until I was fifteen and in a different country that I had not reached that particular goal). For heaven's sake, look at the faces of our prematurely haggard youth around here. There is no mental chewing gum; just a giant hole that hard work and bitterness cannot fill -- that isn't even enough for a mental Jell-O shot. Odds are great that they'll live out their lives in this area, and come to regret it just as much as their grandparents did at the end of their lives. That's enough to suck the youth right out of us, or to make us run for the hills.

In short, this area is not big enough -- either in population, support from the limited population (and lack of enthusiasm from the few that do turn out; and, yes, crowds do determine the entire performance -- audience is vital for most performers), or in venue space -- to support the kind of acts described in this article.
Those of us who still have a shred of common sense left in us that neither the sweltering sun, nor the crust of loose dirt has yet worn away, are OK with having to travel to acquire our brand of culture. Why have we been to Las Vegas so many times? Canada? The Magical Texas Circle? Denver? Phoenix? Oklahoma City? Not always in the pursuit of local scenery, I can tell you that much. And, more to the point, why are we so willing to do so? Continually, at that. That's another simple one; unless you're into country music around here, you have nothing else, especially in regard to local talent (even our symphony is lackluster, small town, and, quite honestly, dorky [does this revelation shock you?]). Even our longest running classic rock station went under a few years ago; and that, my friends, was just sad. I fell in love with 50's, 60's, and 70's pop by spending an entire childhood listening to KPUR FM 107.1. Even my grandmother listened to that station before she died in the mid-60's ('cause she was cool, man).
What happened to KPUR?
They made it a country station.
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This area can't even keep the "who-are-you-again?" acts on the radar.
Wanna hear an example from the "What Did I Do Before I Started Blogging?" archive?
Well, pretend.
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Reginald Kitty is not amused.

By the way, I have not ever retold this story, as I have spent every moment since then pretending that this portion of my life never existed. You have been warned.
I had an acquaintance a few years ago who happened to be a musician. He was a very nice young man, and we openly discussed The Beatles at length once or twice. As a matter of fact, when he wrote a line about Lennon/McCartney into one of his songs, he said he wrote it with me in mind. When I saw that he was going on a Spring tour, and heading right through the city in question, I knew I had to come out to support him (as I had done on a few occasions before [in different cities, of course]). I didn't know how the culturally intolerant residents might handle his brand of creativity, or his friends'. I also seem to remember I had "that feeling" that I wouldn't see him again after that night. As I greeted him, and received one of his famous hugs, I shook the feeling off. We had a nice discussion in which we talked about meeting up on a trip the family would soon be making to "his neck of the woods". To paraphrase, he asked me to write to him when dates were finalized, and we'd see what we could do. How silly I was to have thought that our own neck of the woods would be off-putting; he'd just offered an unprompted social invitation, for heaven's sake. "People are individuals, and shouldn't be lumped into a certain group", I said to myself, secure that everything was fine; at least, that's how it should work, anyway. Though, as showtime drew closer, and I saw that there were very few people there, I hoped egos wouldn't be damaged (you know, knowing the tiniest bit about performer's egos). Then, of course, the following incident occurred (0:50-2:45 timestamps).

They don't tell you that they asked the man to reenact the scene before they took his money.

I felt terrible about what happened, so I did what seemed logical: I decided to buy him a present. Bookstores are the best places to buy presents, in my opinion; though unsure of what kinds of books he might enjoy, I decided on one of my favorite Beatles volumes, "The Beatles: A Diary", by Barry Miles. I went out to the parking lot to check on everyone, hoping they weren't too offended by their experience. Though I could tell my acquaintance was confused and slightly injured, we chatted for a while.
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By the way, I was the one who told him that Texas is a concealed weapon state, and offered to stay behind for a while just in case some rednecks were mad about being swindled out of forty bucks by a fast talking boy from SoCal. He politely declined, probably thinking that nothing a sixteen year old girl could do would make any difference. To a certain extent, he was right; what he probably doesn't know, though, was that I had my dad stick around until their rented van left the venue, because my dad happened to be carrying that night (yeah, I'm kinda a good friend that way).
To end the story, I can confirm that I did write to him to say when we would be going to California; in fact, I wrote three times. I never heard from, or saw him after that night.
The point of the story isn't to guilt people into false "awww's" of sympathy, but to say that even a rag-tag bunch of unknown lads playing songs about nerdy books wasn't welcome in this artless society.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two things to say: thank God for the Internet; and, I'm bailing ship as soon as possible. I like Texas, but I've had enough of being so incredibly small town that you have to drive to other states or countries to pursue your interests. Checking tour schedules shouldn't have to be part of your travel itinerary. I've already picked a place where the weather suits my clothes, green scenery exists, and, by gosh, they have an art district; I'll bet they don't even mind if you're vegetarian. Five hours from Seattle, six hours from Portland, and one hundred miles from the British Columbia province, it's Idaho or bust, so far as I'm concerned.

Of course, when I leave Texas, I won't have any friends to say goodbye to, since I met every one of my friends while I was on the road to somewhere else. Everything I do is long distance, 'cause nobody around here is my brand of crazy.

Is It A Subscription Box, Or Something More Sinister? (It's A Subscription Box. Maybe.)