Friday, February 22, 2008

Such a tease.

Here's your cliffhanger for the day.

I'm off to the aforementioned revoltin' development. It could be a remarkably positive change, and it could be a useless waste of time, and it could be a way for me to sell out, crash and burn.

Regardless, it's likely to make for an interesting story, so stay tuned.

The Artist formerly known as a broke-ass hustler who isn't producing new work is taking steps to be, um, a not so broke-ass hustler, who is.

If you can hardly wait to see what happens?

Me, too.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a couple of bullhorns to grab.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mother's only half a word.

When I was in my early 20's, I had just moved back to NY from Boston, where I'd gone to school. I was a pretty good drummer with a very hard head and a ridiculous desire. I had my eyes and ears wide open, I wanted to be playing with the best, and I refused to miss out on any possible lesson that could be learned.

A little at a time, I began to get work. Session work, mostly - it was the early/mid 80's, and if you could hold a groove and knew how to program, you could help to give some of that awful machine driven crap some actual feel, and people wanted you on their record.

So I began to meet people who became momentary mentors. One of them was a bass player/programmer named Rick, who was 15 years older than me, worked with many of my heroes, and took a liking to me.

Anyway, one night some friends and I went up to the Bronx to hear a drummer named Pumpkin play in some club, just a standard R&B gig. "Mustang Sally," "Heard it Through the Grapevine," and "Love and Happiness" until your ears bleed. I'd heard a lot about this guy, and from people who don't give it up easily.

That sonofabitch was the best drummer I've ever heard in my life. And I haven't missed many. He was profound. His technique was effortless, absolutely no thought or even the slightest hint of limits to what that man could do with his limbs. And that was completely besides the point. His groove - Jesus Christ, the groove this man had was just the fattest thing I'd ever heard. I remember laughing with my friends that this guy didn't create a groove, he dug a fucking trench.

Watching him play totally changed my life, but not nearly as much as the conversation I had the next morning in the studio with Rick.

I walked in - hungover and bleary-eyed, ears ringing and my head spinning. I couldn't believe what I'd seen and heard the night before, and I proceeded to rant and rave at Rick for the next twenty minutes, recounting everything, over and over calling Pumpkin the baddest motherfucker I'd ever seen. And asking, over and over again - why hadn't I heard of this guy before? Why hadn't anybody heard of this guy? Why isn't Pumpkin's name flying on a huge banner hanging from the tallest buildings and ringing out in the streets?

"This guy is an absolute Motherfucker!" I cried.

"Scott, man - let me tell you something, because it's something you really need to learn," Rick said patiently, sitting my ass down and looking at me like he was about to impart the wisdom of the universe.

"Being a motherfucker is a given. If you're not a motherfucker, don't even bother. There's so much else that you have to do beyond that to ever even get close to tasting success - if you aren't starting out as a motherfucker, you've already lost. It's a given, man, it's the only assumed part of the equation, and it's everything else you do or don't do that's going to make you or break you."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Crawling to the Mountaintop

What a revoltin’ development this is.

I am a walkin’, talkin’, singin’ and dancin’, skippin’ and spinnin’, waltzin’ and prancin’ cliché. The quintessential "struggling artist."

I don’t ask for much. A chance to do what I do. I’m not looking for handouts, I’m not looking for something for nothing. Just a way to create without compromising too deeply, and still put food and drink on the table. Oh, and having a table would be nice, too – one that I didn’t build and then not sell.

Wendell Castle, a wise and generous man, a very successful person in the field of studio furniture, once told me a valuable thing. He said, “I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to live in a home that has two large dining rooms. I’ve also been unfortunate enough in my career to own three large dining tables.”

Wendell was (and probably still is) the most widely recognized artist in this little corner of the craft. He came up in a moment when the NEA was actually supporting the arts, galleries in NYC were showing “art furniture,” museums were exhibiting contemporary work, and he was uniquely qualified to make the most of the opportunity. He has all the right traits – a singular vision, a deep and varied palette to work with, immense talent, and most importantly, Wendell is among the best hustlers of our time.

He is one of those artists with the wisdom to reinvent himself every decade or so, and even when his work isn’t groundbreaking or astounding, it is always well conceived, well crafted, and unique, even after 40 years in this field. He is well dressed, well spoken, serious of mind, handsome, talented and a bit mysterious. He knows what his image is, and he understands how to use it as he continues to create it. It affects his work, and his work is affected by it.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this concept of the Hustle. In the coming weeks, months – hell, years maybe – I plan to think, talk and write a great deal about the notion. Many things have brought my head around to it, and I’ve been obsessing in, on, and about it for months now. I’ll be giving a lecture called The Artist as Hustler at the Furniture Society Conference in June, and I’ve been doing a great deal of research and outlining about the concept.

I’m going to play with some of those ideas here, in the meantime. I want to talk about what the hell these things mean – Artist, Hustler, success and failure. An interesting writing opportunity has come my way with regards to all this, I’ll be talking about that as well.

In the meantime, I’m broke again. Still sought after, still talked about as though I’ve accomplished something, I still have commissions waiting, people to lead, and advice to give, and I’m poor as a church mouse. Can’t hardly find a way to build the things people are waiting for, to keep the lights on so I can work after dark, to find a couple extra bucks to pay the cable bill so I can stop stealing an internet connection from the neighbors in my building. So much so that I’m actually out there actively looking for a straight job.

It’s funny – I have this memory that I carry with me. Four years ago one of my pieces was on the cover of the Arts section of the NYTimes. Wait, maybe it was the Home section? Doesn’t matter. It was prominently placed, with a picture of the piece, a picture of me working on the piece looking all intense and fierce, and a very nice review. They even invented the phrase, “Tim Burton-esque” to describe the thing, and they talked about me as a young star in Brooklyn (they called me ‘young!’).

So there I was – a ‘young’ hotshot with his face and his work in the NY-freaking-Times, stopping by the store to buy a couple extra copies on his way home from his studio, after a day of being brilliant, toiling away on his next great masterpiece. And walking down the block, heading towards my apartment, with my achievement neatly tucked under my arm, I distinctly remember ducking and weaving, shucking and jiving, hiding from my landlord. I couldn’t pay the rent I owed him, and I didn’t want to give him the chance to hand me an eviction notice.

It’s so nice to be appreciated.

And here I am again. Ain’t this fun, kids? Isn’t life as an artist glamorous and exciting? Work hard, and follow your dreams, and you can get here, too!

It’s not really all that bad, I guess. If I get evicted, I get evicted. I still love what I do, and I still love to share it with whoever will pay any attention to me. If I have to sleep on my workbench and fight off the rats for a while, hell – I’ve been in worse circumstances. I’m a pretty resilient guy. I’ll probably find a job of some kind, and climb my way out of this hole again, and all the while I’ll never stop talking about how to keep on keepin’ on, to do the work and eat the dust and watch the shapes come to life, as though I’m the finest example of what a little bit of talent and a whole lotta work can get you.

In the meantime, do me a favor, wouldya? Through my loose affiliation/participation with the fine folks at Rudius Media and their messageboard, I’ve noticed that people are beginning to trickle in here, a few more each day. I don’t know how much you’re reading, or if you care, or if you want to hear more.

So talk to me. Leave me comments on the new posts, the old posts, anything at all - and let me know what you think. Tell me what you want to know more about, tell me what you think of the posts, tell me I suck and I should shut up and go away. Let me know you’re there at all – it’s easier to write if I feel like anyone is listening.