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This Is Who You Are, This Is What You Do
By Mick Polich - 12/05/2008 - 08:56 AM EST

My wife has a saying for me during times of artistic, business, or personal roadblocks – this is who you are, this is what you do. It’s a reminder to remember yourself, keep your past, and look to the future while the head-to-grindstone soldiering on continues in making a living in the arts. And, with age, nothing could be closer to the truth of thine-own-self-be-true. Take it or leave it, your artistic life is a culmination of all your experiences and talents from your wee lad/lassie days to now. As I have said in these dusty pages before, Jimi Hendrix, Stravinsky, Lucinda Williams, realists and the avant garde, cartoon music, and pop culture have had an equal and lasting effect on me over 50 years. Marvel Comics mean as much to me as reading James Baldwin, John Steinbeck, or Kurt Vonnegut. Batman works in the same sphere as James Joyce, Mark Rothko as Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and Joni Mitchell as Joan Mitchell.

Do I give more or less credence to any one of these subject based on supposed cultural import? Nope, not any more – them days is o - vah, kids. The funny thing is, with the concepts between so-called ‘lo-brow’ and ‘hi-brow’ cultural being blurred in a lot of like minds (those concepts are still separated to some pundits), you don’t have to worry about street cred, hipness, or lack of the aforementioned. I just enjoy what’s out there.

Took a long time to get here, though – wallowing thru the mucky – muck of self-doubt, and thinking,” Well, I’m cool if I follow this path because everyone says it’s much hipper to go this way.” Listen to that – as my New York friends would say, you kiss your mother with that mouth, you eat with that mouth? We swim in the daily culture of communities and commodities based on shallow concepts such as that! And it doesn’t matter what social stratum you are – vanity knows no currency exchange…….

Of course, we have entire industries based on that Biblical sin, right?

Ah, forget about that, too – if it wasn’t for the image of several electric guitarists shredding away in front of a Marshall stack, then I doubt I would be writing this at this point! See, the pendulum can swing different ways. Hey, I’m a paradox – I admit it!

This is who you are, this is what you do.

I used to get guff from high school classmates for still having a comic book collection (I still do). Now, this sort of geek-ism is mandatory, don’tcha think? I mean, never before in the history of geekishness has it been more acceptable to be a geek – tech geek, gameboy geek, arts-and-journalism geek, Supreme Geek Of Bad 80’s Movies. It’s almost as if the Pope Of The Geek Church came down and waved his hand to justify all this (I’m kidding, folks – it’s a metaphor: go back to English class, pleeze…).

Again, this is who you are, this is what you do.

 About a decade ago, I almost decided to get an upright bass, and get ‘serious’ about expanding my jazz bass studies. Never mind that I was perhaps 20 years too late at the time, or that all I had was my little Yamaha BB series fretless bass to play my trio gigs with – I wanted to move forward and study, and get ‘accepted’ by the jazz community. Moving forward and studying is always cool, but doing it not for the music you need to live and breathe, and just for acceptance – oh Margaret, this is where I get off ! Naturally, this was the last time I entered into that type of thinking again – first off, you need to be ‘you’, and not reject all the elements that made ‘you’ you, at least from a musical standpoint, and at least those elements that don’t foreshadow you becoming a societal dillweed. Plus, I found I was rejecting my own axiom borrowed from Groucho Marx regarding being suspicious of any club that would have me as a member. But, I did consider erasing my past – Deep Purple, be gone! Led Zeppelin, be gone! – and reinventing my future.

Now, I continue to re-invent my future as we speak while retaining my past (Minutemen and Big John Patton, anyone?). Thank all that is a honkfest that I don’t give a rat’s hiney about that kaka anymore – why spend your time worrying about THAT when you could be working on some art, homeboy?

Hmmmm… how ‘bout you are what you is, and that’s all you are?

And what of the ‘temperamental artist’ syndrome? I have addressed that a few columns back – been around them, kinda flirted with that me sef’ during my younger campaign, but don’t see the need for it, at least in my world. I’ve met effete’ art/music snobs that were absolute a – holes to work with and be around – it’s one thing to work, and work to see the vision in your head come forth, and direct people accordingly. But it’s entirely different to treat people in a manner beneath dignity and the basic tenets of decent humanity. That may be ‘you’, but personally, you can take that %@#$ to another country, bub. Great art and music can happen without that garbage if you know how to channel it correctly.

Anyone who has been to my website will get the beginnings of an idea of where I come from, artistically speaking. I try to avoid pretensions – I enjoy a multitude of art and musical endeavors, but putting on a pompous air just to present an image is pretty foreign to me. I mean, opinions I’ve got, and they may seem bottom-line at times, but as the column heading states, I’m pretty blue-collar. The way I produce art and CD’s are pretty much dictated to budget, and the axiom ‘more ideas than time or money’. The lo-fi, d.i.y approach that dictates how and what I create is not meant to be worn as a badge of honor, but more or less a statement of fact. I learn what I learn, then apply it to the ‘manufacturing process’! I personally do all the artwork on the CD labels, because, well, I’m not versed in a computer program to create labels. I’m not being ignorant – I know that stuff is out there, but I need it to do what I want to do, and that might not be in the budget at this point (scanner, new computer, web camera – o.k., Santa, I’ve been a semi-good boy this year…..). Yes, the Great Procrastinator has arrived – yes, yes , people, I’ll get to it someday. Yep, I know you’re thinking, ”Well, if the CD packaging only looked more PROFESSIONAL.”  Think for a moment of the thousands of album, label, and CD covers that we’ve seen – everyone has a style, and something to say. I know that I’m straddling the line between twixt and twaine, but given the explosion of self – produced CD’s and websites, does it matter? Even if, in an alternate universe, you would be signed to a label, they would change all your shit anyway (aesthetically speaking…)! Besides, let’s have some fun – seems I come across an article one in awhile that states how the author would rather give $10 to the dude hanking the homemade CD on the street corner that take a chance on what’s out in the general market place today anyhoo…..

This is who they are, this is what they do….

Recently, the UTNE Reader magazine published a great article on the preservation of the amateur arts, and how locally, our communities need to be aware and promote such activities towards this end. The amateur auteur holds a great deal of not only the basic local structure for performing, teaching, and promoting music, but the economic structure as well. These days, it seems, it’s not professional to be an amateur – having success in a local market seems to be looked at as the last stop in a career that didn’t start.

What the hell is that all about?

Well, you could look at the ‘plugged in’ effect, the continuous media attack thru computers, i Pods, and Blackberrys. Really, though, what’s different than having one television set, the ol’ tube

Philco radio, and a phone? It’s all audio/visual perception anyway – I mean, people were complaining at one point that color t.v was going to be the downfall of Western civilization, fer cryin’ out loud. It’s a matter of what we put our stamp on as valid – Common or Radiohead, Britney Spears or Pink Floyd? I kind of throw in the ‘oooh, lights……PRETTY!!’ theory on the whole shee-bang anyhow( which we’re all guilty of…).

So….. can most people see thru ‘ooooh, pretty lights’ to ‘this is who you are, this is what you do’?

Yeah, I think so – I think if people slow down, take stock in themselves, and see that there might be some depth perception there, I think it’s possible.

So, that means just let you be YOU! Why do it any different?

(Sales, kid…sales!!!)

I also think that if you’re lucky enough to live long, and a storied career doing what you do (like jazz giant Benny Golson in his 80’s……), you ‘ll go thru a few different ‘yous’ until that culmination of your craft and collective being gets to some wisdom about what you’re doing. Again, I’m the same, yet different musician and artist since I was a kid – this is the ‘luck’ that I have to remind myself of during the down times of no students, very little amp repair work, and no gigs. Being who I am and doing what I do doesn’t manifest into what I want at that time, but it does give me things that I need to continue the journey. Just writing this column alone has sparked another cylinder of creativity, and has helped me navigate thru some trying times. And I thank you, the reader, for that!

This is who you are, this is what you do –figure it out! 

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