I’ve finally gotten around to reading some of Richard Hell’s essays and I have to say that he’s a hell of a writer, ha. Sorry, I couldn’t help it but I promise not to make it worse by asking you to excuse the pun because, well, it’s not a pun.
Anyway, one of the interesting things about Richard Hell is that he started out as a poet but started the Voidoids because as he says, “it sounds obnoxious but I wanted to influence the culture and there’s maybe two poets per generation who get to do that.”
This is interesting to me because my contention lo these many years has been the opposite, that we can change the culture over time so that it is more conducive to the creation and appreciation of things like poetry and, oh I don’t know, let’s say contemporary classical music.
I was having a very nice rye whiskey with my visiting guests from Mexico recently at a bar in Manhattan called Brandy Library, a gorgeously appointed room replete with bookshelves that, instead of books, were jam-packed with exotic whiskey bottles, and we started talking about this very thing.
Having produced concerts in both Mexico and the U.S. I was saying that what I find most interesting about playing and programming music in the U.S. is that people always tell me how glad they are that they came. No one says this in the other countries in which I’ve worked.
But here they say it because they know that it was a close thing. They almost stayed home and watched Netflix but they made the game-time decision to go to the concert and once they were there they were so glad they got out of the house.
It’s interesting to me because no one says this after they see a movie, like, oh I’m so glad I managed to get my butt off the couch to see the new Avengers movie tonight. This is partly because seeing the new Avengers movie was never in doubt and partly because we’ve normalized going to see blockbuster movies to such an extent that people do it without even thinking and often without even enjoying the experience.
With respect to Richard Hell though, I would say that the answer isn’t for all of us in the arts to form legendary punk bands, develop a drug habit, lose a couple of decades, clean up and become respected elder statesman writers, as interesting as that would be. I think there’s another way.
As I sipped my whiskey the other night I couldn’t help but think about Budweiser. Partly as a joke like what would the sommelier, (yes there was a whiskey sommelier,) say if I ordered a Budweiser with a straight face. But also thinking about what they’ve been able to do with advertising.
I mean they’ve conditioned millions of people to drink Bud Light despite the fact that it’s objectively a bad product. Just like Hollywood has conditioned us to go see the latest blockbuster even though at least half of them are mediocre CGI fests.
Since I’ve often seen firsthand that people in this country thank us for the experience that we artists provide, which is our product, my question is how do we condition people to go out and hear unfamiliar music, attend poetry readings, check out the latest opera and beat a well-worn path to the doors of their local storefront theater?
The answer is advertising dollars and a mascot. I’m thinking some kind of Spuds Mackenzie-esque arts dog. Or maybe Culture the Vulture? Parrot Lunaire? Buff McPoetson? Clearly this will need more thought. Perhaps we should meet at the Brandy Library for a brainstorming session?