Tardy for the Pardy

April 12, 2011

I went to see Wild Flag about a month ago at The Radio City Music Hall and it was fucking awesome. I haven’t been so excited about a band in forever and I am also really loving Carrie Brownstein’s new comedy show ‘Portlandia’. As I was leaving I started thinking. I am kind of a fan of her career.

I guess it’s because she doesn’t seem like someone who bows down to other people’s ideas of what she SHOULD be doing. She’s an artist and a writer and she gets her work out into the world and, to be simple about it: my life is more enjoyable with her voice in it.  She has a Career with a capitol “C” and she doesn’t seem at all embarrassed by it. And to me, that’s an achievement.

As someone who came of age as a feminist artist in the 90’s the idea that I even had a career was repugnant to me. I made art to be a part of a community and a larger conversation, not to make a name for myself. Right?  I am super humble and altruistic and don’t need things like money or health insurance and can just give away all my labor for free. Right?

A  tall girl wearing stretch pants and a big tee shirt walked up to me after a lecture last week and said, “I wish I was a teenager in the 90’s”. I responded with, “No, really, you don’t.”  Part of my cringe reaction was because I would hate for a new generation of artists to get stuck in the ‘Martyr Artist vs. Fucker Businessman’ binary like I did. Especially since this particular rut seems to disproportionately affect progressive people. I guess seeing our dreams of liberation turn into dollar signs made us uber sensitive to the fact that we could, at some point, end up participating in the same old necrophilic drama. This fear left many of us walking around creepily denying we had any ambition at all.

This is not to say that if you want to put out records on a small indie label instead of a corporate one you are participating in self erasure. (As someone who tried both I can say with clarity indie labels are way better.) Likewise, if you WANT to be a local artist, rather than an international one, or to put out fanzines instead of books or blogs, those are great choices.  I am a firm believer in alternative systems of distribution, all ages venues, and grassroots organizing of all kinds. My beef is with the moments when I chose not to investigate ALL my options because to even do that felt like a betrayal.

I’m sure this sounds like I’m stuck in the past, reviving stupid old arguments about “the man” and “selling out” and being “DIY” that no one even cares about anymore. The problem is despite my best efforts, I still care. As embarrassing as it is to admit , I’ve spent the past 20 years trying to find my way out of the “us vs. them” maze I stumbled into in the 90’s and I sure as hell don’t want this maze (or the over arching identity politics one) to become a part of the 90’s revival that is now underfoot. It’s bad enough that stretch pants and black jeans are back!

I guess what I am trying to say is that weirdo geniuses sharing what they do with the world is not a bad thing and there really are a zillion ways to do that. There are a lot of complicated, interesting places between purity and disconnected capitalism and if we don’t explore these places, and report back what we find, these two poles will just keep reinforcing each other into oblivion. At least that’s what I was thinking as I cracked up while watching the Feminist Bookstore sketch on Portlandia.