There’s a scene in the movie Coffee and Cigarettes where Cate Blanchett plays two different characters: herself (a character who pretty much has everything, walks on gilded lilies) and a “cousin”–an indie musician dating other artists and living a life of pretty abject poverty due to being an indie musician. The indie cousin observes Blanchett’s lifestyle with a bit of jealous disdain, commenting on how hard it must be to have paparazzi following her around everywhere. She talks about being a nobody, how free she feels. Nobody watching her or following her around or telling her what to do.
I feel that way: Free. I am pretty stoked on my life. I live in relative obscurity in Oakland, but am able to play shows and do literary readings and pair on bills with other indie artist and have a great big community of freaks and weirdos without my name in the news or people following me around. I am able to get my artistic rocks off without having to bend over for anyone else to maintain a certain image. I work in a cluster of different genres, from punk to krautrock, without anyone telling me that I can’t, and am therefore able to mix and meet with a variety of artists I never would have met otherwise.
Right now, my former band mates in a project I was involved in this summer, gave a lot of time to, are on a US tour, playing two shows a night. There’s a part of me that wishes I were having that experience, but due to a number of reasons, a laundry list of reasons, there’s no way that would have been a good fit for me. When I left those projects, I cannot tell you the relief I felt at being able to focus all of my energy on my own projects. It’s an oxymoron to some–why wouldn’t I be green with envy at all the success my peers are having?
I book my own shows. I will someday soon book my own tours. I record my own albums. I pick my own band mates. I write my own songs. I write my own stories and submit them to indie publications that I like reading. I play shows at venues I like playing at. I go to small shows where I can actually touch the people playing, and walk amongst them in the crowd after their set. You could say I’m stuck in a box, that I’ll never “be somebody,” but I don’t think so.
“Success,” by society’s standard, is fickle. I’m not opposed to it, and kudos to all the writers and musicians I admire the stuffing out of for being awesome. That being said, I don’t need a bunch of people I don’t know worshiping my art or my image to tell me I am somebody or to continue believing in my art. In the big time, people love you one minute, hate you the next. Most of it is completely arbitrary and looks based. I’ve never cared much for it. My definition of success is being a completely self-supporting musician and writer with a plate full of engaging projects people actually like, working with peers I admire and am blown away by.
Reminds me of a conversation I had with my ex-boyfriend almost 13 years ago now. I was 19. We were sitting at a tiny cheese shop in LA after he had just done a video for the Craig Kilbourne show, had ridden there in a chauffeured vehicle. His record label had asked him to change his entire appearance, even the artistic direction of his music. I was asking him why he was letting them dictate his life–why he didn’t just take matters into his own hands, fuck the label.
Then I went off on some epic Bean rant about how I wanted to do local shows, grow in my own community from the ground up and then spread out from there.
He, all dressed up in a ruffled Victorian shirt, purple anime dyed hair, crooked yellow teeth, a Benson and Hedges Light in one hand, looked at me, scrunched up his eyebrows, took a drag and said, “You’re so Bay Area.”
He was also from the Bay Area. He’d signed with the label to escape all the local indie culture we are immersed in here. “I just want to see where this goes,” he said of his growing success.
He ended up getting dropped from the label less than a year later, and gaining full control of his own catalog and promotion. But I still think back to that conversation. I was 19 years old and I didn’t give a fuck about record labels. I wanted to stay local, play small shows, build a loyal fan base of people who actually gave a fuck, and I didn’t want anyone else telling me what to do.
As I said to my friend once, “I’m not a hired gun, I’m a fucking unicorn.”
So here’s a toast to obscurity. Because I love my obscure group of miscreants and weirdos, and I wanna stay among them.
(Watch, I become totally huge and someone quotes this blog: What a sellout, they’ll say. Can’t win.)