17 April 2009

A musical interlude below....

In a post last year about the late great Robert Anton Wilson, I had this to say:

to survive as a "stand-up guru" full-time you have to enter a Small Businessman's Reality Tunnel


I just realised that the same could be said of Robert Fripp. I have a lot of respect for the guy. But I realised that I find his most interesting and exciting stuff comes out of the late 1970's, when he still had a major-label record contract and his business affairs were run by managers who he trusted. So he was much more free, paradoxically, even though he was being financially used and spat out.

For those of you not familiar with the world of prog-rock, of course, Robert Fripp discovered the hard way that the music industry = "slavery and theft" (his words) when he realised that his managers had been methodically ripping him off for decades. He had to take seven years out of his musical life to sue the bastards to a standstill. After that, he set up his own record label. He had a belief that it should be possible (and therefore would be) to operate a record company in a way that would make a profit and act like a responsible citizen at the same time. He was, sadly, wrong, in that he couldn't actually make money without exploiting his artists. So he let them go and the label continues as his outlet for his own projects and those of close buddies.

But if you read his more recent blog, I don't enjoy it as much as the interviews from the late 70's. A lot of angry and frustrated comments about attempting to get major record labels to pay him for downloads of his work. Well, he's allowed to be angry about that. But to succeed as a self-employed person you have to act like a small capitalist and react to the world as if it were made of money rather than people. At that point, the ideas suffer.

I always thought, parenthetically, that the big problem in Fripp's analysis is that all productive labour under capitalism is "slavery and theft", not just music. In music - and other forms of intellectual property - it's more obvious because of copyright et al. But copyright in the modern age is simply a way to give privileges to memetic / cultural workers which physical and service workers don't get, which makes them think of themselves as entitled to certain privileges and gives them a stake in existing, exploitative class society. I think Fripp backed himself into a dead end because he didn't expand his absolutely correct insights from the music industry to all of society.

In summary: I really think you can't operate in the market place and not be corrupted by it. But on the other hand, sticking with the major labels is also brain-death of a different kind, in that you are playing on someone else's agenda. A look at the career of the guys in Yes - a band which did the precise opposite of what Fripp did at every juncture - shows that they lost their soul precisely because of their reliance on big corporate bux and an inability to come up with schemes and visions that could be put into action without corporate backing.

And that's how I justify it to myself that I never made it as a big rock-n-roll star. Fripp himself said it best years ago: "The business of a musician is music. The business of a professional musician is business. Best not to be a professional musician unless you have no choice."

(Heh. Cue Fripp writing a snide blog post about me if he ever reads this, like Ivan Stang did.)