Artists make choices - should we respect them?
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois
Biz is part of an arch-political rap group in Quebec called Loco Locass whose most popular song, Libérez-nous des Libéraux (Free Us From The Liberals), became an anthem here. Biz participated in a documentary, in 2005, called Star-Apoplexie, a trenchant criticism of another Quebec phenomenon, Star Académie - an American Idolesque talent show. (Many people point to SA as a perfect example of convergence for good or ill - produced by TVA, part of Quebecor, and plugged relentlessly in Quebecor magazines and newspapers with the show's music CDs made and sold by Musicor/Quebecor in its own record stores, Archambault.)
Let me compare this to another case, recently, where the band Karkwa sold a song to Coke for an ad.
This year Biz is one of the "teachers" in the Académie. (Oral expression, no less.) As Liza Frulla (a Liberal activist) commented drily on TV this week, "Everyone is buyable." I don't like Biz and his relentless yelling at me about what is good and what is bad. He is the archetypal leftist wingnut - as shrill (for our side) as Sarah Palin is for t'other. (And he's not young enough or old enough to make his moralizing even slightly acceptable.) So, I have a certain Schadenfreude that the man has revealed himself to be nothing more than a rappin' street-walker.
Let me compare this to another case, recently, where the band Karkwa sold a song to Coke for an ad. Some fans went ballistic and labeled them sellouts. Karkwa answered on their website: "To all those who are disappointed, may you fill your iPhone only with independent artists of fortune, who never cure their hangover with a Coke. Bonne chance!" Bravo! I thought. It was not just because I like Karkwa, it is because every artist has a right to earn his or her crust.
The difference? One artist was obnoxiously "political" the other not so much. One artist moaned about the very beast for which he bent over, the other never claimed to be saints (as if staying poor was a claim to artistic sainthood).
It was absolutely impossible for me to get the idiot gameshow out of my head; can you imagine me even trying to deal with the various issues of that work?
So let us put these cases aside, shall we?, and talk about artists in general and the hard choices they have to make and quite often.
There is a well known actor, here in Montreal, who wishes to be taken seriously. However, he was the host of an idiot gameshow (not any gameshow...an IDIOT gameshow). I went to see a Merchant of Venice one night and there he was as Shylock. It was absolutely impossible for me to get the idiot gameshow out of my head; can you imagine me even trying to deal with the various issues of that work? It was a lost night and I couldn't possibly have been the only one who thought this.
It's a dangerous and touchy business, chosing work. Artists often learn too late that they have sacrificed something very precious - their credibility - when they do certain kinds of work. It's a hard motherfucking life, folks, and sometimes you must sell your art to an add agency, or take the Preparation H or Pepto Bismal commercial to survive. Worse, no one knows which "works" are going to become iconic (and sometimes in the worst way; think: Swiffer and all those actors playing dirt). And even worse: the crap nows lives forever on YouTube.
What we (I) need to develop is a kind of choosy amnesia. The same way I do not hold a previous bad performance against someone when I review (unless they're ALWAYS bad performances), we (I) need to think of the scut-work an artist has done as a performance that is past.
Artists also have to do their bit; need to preserve that precious thing - their credibility - by not always doing scut-work. Sometimes waiting tables is a good idea.