Blog entry

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song of the day: that song by Paul Simon where he sings "these are the days of miracle and wonder, don't cry baby don't cry, don't cry..."
word of the day: coronach / an outcry of a crowd
monk of the day: Del Kreiser (Thanks Del!!)

had an amazing interview yesterday with Rick Karr on National Public Radio, all about alternative approaches to the business of music and how dharma pop figures into that. it was a really, really good time, the interview will air on NPR's Morning Edition at the end of August or beginning of July. how incredibly fortunate to have a chance to talk about what the music industry seems to invariably forget: INTERIORS!! the industry is such a cluster fuck right now: the deregulation of radio has resulted in a handful of companies owning all the stations, access to virtually any significant national outlet (radio, print, t.v., film, retail) is brokered by flatlanders. it's one thing that it costs $250,000 just to introduce an artist to the scene (filtering out anyone without large reserves of $), but it's quite another that the industry has tacitly come to equate content/meaning/and depth with unprofitable (filtering out INTERIORS from the culture). it's not a conspiracy- i believe it's the unfortunate side-effect of a cultural imbalance. it's a matter of span and depth, really.

span constitutes all the physical, concrete aspects of the music business: the number of CDs sold, the amount of money generated from those sales, the number of radio spins, etc. these are RIGHT HAND values, and they are perfectly legitimate (even primary) factors in considering the music business. after all, this is the music "business" we're talkinb about here, and the bottom line is the bottom line when it comes to the Right Hand. these Right Hand values are our Exteriors, the span of our Exteriors means how MUCH, how MANY, etc- the more the better (from the view of the Music MACHINE). SPAN a perfectly valid part of the story in our culture, the problem is it's only half the story. the other half of the story is comprised of our

INTERIORS! also-known-as "DEPTH". Depth is the lattice of Left-Hand considerations, they are invisible, unseen, but every bit as real and consequential (even more so) as the Right Hand. depth includes insight, meaning, vision, wisdom, understanding, imagination, possibility, sentience- all of the qualities that make us uniquely "human". the truly enduring rock / pop artists of all time generally spark something deep and powerful in people, for example the Beatles or U2- they have sold an insane number of albums (span-exterior) in great part because of their imagination, vision, and insight (depth-interior). now i'm not saying in any way that all great visionary artists sell a shit load of albums, or that if an artwork is deep it will necessarily appeal to a lot of people. but i'm saying that it CAN, and that the powerful, mysterious part of music or art is the way it connects with our interiors.

the problem with the music industry is not that it emphasizes the Exterior / Span half of the story, it's that it excludes the Right Hand / Depth half of the story- it's indifferent or even hostile to the very part of our humanity that makes us interested in Art in the FIRST PLACE!. in the music industry, Interiors have become incidental. if they make it through the preposterous series of hoops and filters in place (A&R, radio, print, retail, yadda yadda) it's a small miracle, because it's assumed by people at almost every stage (including the artists themselves) that the deeper something is, the less commercial viability if will have. what an insult to consumers, and a gross misreading of what people consider valuable.

when XTC came out with album Skylarking, the label put out the single it thought would "hit", and included a B-side of a song not even on the full-length album. that song was "Dear God", an angular, existential song that pulled the listener through a dark night of the soul- a fluke it even became a B-side. well, the single flopped, but radio stations, of their own volition, started playing "Dear God". it became so popular the record label had to quickly re-release the album, this time with the song Dear God on it. it got loads of radio play, and put XTC on the map again- Depth rescued Span. we could think of an endless number of examples where this has happened (although today that cannot happen to a song like Dear God, because DJ's do not get to choose what they play, and radio stations can only "break" new songs that are sanctioned by their corporate parent, and trust me, Dear God wouldn't be one of them).

in a very telling example of this syndrome- but on the flip side of the coin- Clear Channel banned John Lennon's song "Imagine" after September 11th. if that is not an indictment, i don't know what is. but i digress...

do i think this all means that pop music about God or esoteric spirituality would sell tens of millions if it were given its fair chance? yes and no. Live has sold tens of millions of albums, and their fan base is most certainly tuning into mystical elements in their work. but ultimately, i think unless the music has appeal first, unless the chords, melody, production, etc are kick ass and make you want to listen, no amount of content, depth, or vision can salvage it. you put an amazing poem over a piece of shit song, and you have a piece of shit song. however, you lay stupid lyrics over a totally kick ass song, and you still have a kick ass song- e.g. THE CARS. do i have any idea what the fuck the dude from Radiohead is singing most of the time? no, and i don't care, but you better believe i scrutinize every syllable of a Saul Williams song.

my point is just that depth is where the cultural oxygen comes from. without depth in our culture, we asphyxiate and get fucking brain damage, and that is indeed under way presently. songs with imagination, vision, power, sincerity, surprise, songs that allow us to see something greater than ourselves, to open vistas in our hearts and souls- they are like the rainforests of our culture. without them, there's no photosynthesis in our cuture, no oxygen, no mechanism to transmute the toxicity in the atmosphere. we want it, we need it, and it is perfectly compatable with catchy beats, melodies, and production.

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