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Sellouts?
By Mick Polich - 03/11/2009 - 01:05 PM EDT

Sellout…… or merits on their own level?

My wife and I are watching the “Celtic Women” holiday special on KERA, DFW’s PBS station. Very slick in production, high level of talent, and beau-tee-full Celtic women ( hopefully, Celtic as advertised) running around a rock concert - like stage, flailing about while playing violins and performing cherubic vocal gymnastics as advertised. Obviously, an entire boatload of folks love ‘em, because as the cameras panned the auditorium, it was packed (which is what you want if you to sell DVDs of the show later on…).

Somewhere in the world, a group of aging (and young) punks, hippies, bohemians, and other counter culture types are yelling, ”Sellout!!”

Ya think??? I dunno – let’s look at the pros and cons….

I’m sure through history, societies have been viewed thru the eyes of their cultural miscreants with utter disdain and hauteur once some poet, musician, or artist got a pop make-over. We have a narrow memory of history for the most part – dropouts, hippies, punks, bohemians, and other ‘dubious ‘ type get the smackdown for being left of center ( Island Of Misfit Toys, anyone?). And, being in that mix to a degree myself, I even get a bit weary of certain types pushing the envelope artistically - everyone has different levels of what’s acceptable, and what is so ‘out ‘ that is should be dumped out with the spoiled soup. And sometimes, ‘out’ is ‘in’ for what’s hot.

Personally, I don’t care any more if I’m concerned about what people think about my musical tastes – if I’m relevant at being cool or hip to them. Part of this is experience, part of this is having a kid (some parents ‘pony up’ to look better to their brood – I just want to parent…), and lastly, you get to the point where you say I’m going to like what I’m going to like, new or old, in music. I mean, I’ve heard the Killers, Fleet Foxes, Lil’ Wayne, and Britney – like bits and pieces of their music, not a problem. Of course, there’s a nucleus of folks who consider all those artists ‘sellouts’. What does that term mean?

Sellout means you’re making money, you’re on various media outlets from iTouch phones, ringtones, to YouTube. Everybody seemingly loves you and your music – you’re a demigod at this point in your career.

Now, the ‘counterculture’ (and there always is a counterculture, trust me) gives you the Bronx cheer, and the one-armed salute – dude, you’re making ‘popular’ music, you’re selling out to the ideology to keeping music real, fresh, and pure. It’s mindless, meaningless pap to dumb down our society. We’re on the highway to hell in a handbasket, and you’re the head engineer of the train……

Well, there are evil things to say about McDonald’s, but gee, doesn’t a Big Mac sound good every once in awhile?

Ah yes, The Guilty Pleasure – sneak a taste of pop culture in before anyone least suspects it, then run away from the scene of the crime! Nope, there are absolutes – either you’re for us or against us, so stop downloading that garbage and get back to some Thinking Person’s Music, will ya?

As for myself, I really don’t care who sells out and who doesn’t in music and the arts. Back in the ancient days of ‘record labels’, a Big Record Company like Warner Brothers or Columbia Records could sign some little groups, or ‘quirky’ acts, as long as the money was still rolling in to offset the costs vis-a-vis The Big Pop Acts( and subdivisions thereof). So, back in the day, for every Foreigner and Journey, you could throw some time and money at the jazz and classical signings. Nowadays, the entire music industry has been upended on it’s big ole head, thus causing the suits to throw up their hands collectively. For a fraction of the cost, you can record and master your own stuff, and even put it out on your own label, as it has been for the past 10,15 years. Do your own promo, get your stuff out there – I don’t smell ‘sellouts’ there (but some basement purists would probably poo – poo otherwise, ya know?).

Of course, someone 20,25 years my junior will have a different idea on selling out. And again, that can come from many, many different perspectives (not to rag, but if you’re a 20-something that rails about the Man, government, culture, art, and politics – maybe you lean towards the left or right radically, firmly, I dunno – but if Mom and Dad are providing the funding to keep you well – fed and educated, I would tend to examine me conscious a bit…). In many ways, rebelling thru culture or art, has become quite a profitable industry for many. Music, movies, books, and art are geared towards the ‘anti-hero’, or the flawed romantic – conflicted, yet resolved with some sense of right. I’ve been seeing this movement since I can remember (mid-1960’s), but you could trace it back even further (at least in our time). Bohemians, beats, hippies, punks, rockers, and the like – once the scorn of every mother’s lecture to her offspring, have slowly become a profit – making machine. Rock and roll ain’t dangerous any more – it can’t be, because it provides a living for so many on the planet (this writer included!). It happens – just a natural progression: assimilate the counter-culture into the fiber of life, and see how you can make a buck. So, I guess we’re selling out, if you want to spin it like that.

Elvis, the Sex Pistols, Jerry Lee Lewis, Madonna, the Beatles – all one-shot deals that made some noise at some point, changed the culture to various degrees, then made the natural progression to the next stage which they either get trapped by success, or get out of the way entirely (Elvis – bloated caricature doomed to demise on his toilet, Sid Vicious – drugs, Johnny Rotten – revives the Pistols again as moneymaking gig after bringing danger back to rock music in the mid-1970’s with the original Pistols, Jerry Lee – morally screwed up by marrying his YOUNG cousin, has paid for it ever since. And the Beatles – well, the story of cultural demigods and icons that was as interesting individually as well as a collective.). All sellouts at some point – had to be, though, really: through their success, everyone on the planet pretty much either caught a glimpse of all of them thru a radio, t.v., or record. Mass media has just become so commonplace that it’s like hair, skin, or teeth. You can’t escape it, and it doesn’t escape you. So, in a sense, we ALL become ‘sellouts’, in the old-school way, when you hook up thru My Space, You Tube, and a website.

Conclusion? Well, I don’t know because I think we’ve crossed, skipped, and rammed so many points of social strada with media drenchings, high-tech muggings, and instant star power it might not matter any more. If you see an indie – rock band in Denton, Tx., that’s so stunning musically, visually, and personified with energy – if they stay in Denton, Tx., content with their existence and life, and their local lore and power, are they not ‘selling out’ on a local level? Maybe to some – “Hell, I remember when I saw these guys at Maude’s 15 years old – THAT’S when they were GOOD!”. To others, maybe it would happen if said band gets picked up by a larger record label, and goes national. Or international. Then the ‘sell-out’ observations loom various and large.

Or maybe it’s when you lose sight of the integrity of the music (or is it ‘sellout music’ to begin with – Jonas Brothers, Britney, Miley, etc.?)? Maybe you want the music to be ‘something poppy, something snappy’ (Tom Hanks, thank you for that line)? Then…. who cares? Maybe it’s YOU because you don’t want to look like a cheesewad for even THINKING of LIKING snappy, poppy music!

I say…….bottle it, and FORGET IT. Live and let live. Kee-rist, we’ve got a global depression going on, terrorism, people flying off the nut every day – this is a small thing: live, and let live, Junior. Enjoy what you like to listen to, and move on. Enjoy what you like to play in music, and move on. If I spin Kelly Clarkson’s “All I Ever Wanted”, then Miles Davis’ “On The Corner”, that’s my business. After awhile, it’s too much work to wonder, ”Should I be listening to or playing this?” rather than “I’ll listen to and play THIS music.” That’s what it’s all about – the wonderment, and enjoyment of making SOUND. I use to collect and listen to certain types of music to be in the know and hip – now, I just do it because either I’m curious, it’s got a slammin’ beat, I’m intrigued by the lyrics, the voice, the harmonies, WHATEVER, MAN – just make it happen for YOU! Sell out to yo’ self, baby!




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