Yesterday in the sock drawer (the name for the comments section located at the bottom of each post here at BSC, so named for the preponderance of jizz therein, not unlike the sockdrawer of a teenaged boy) the following was posted:
Side note: I saw on Tom Gabel's Twitter a link for the new AM! video which has a short article with it. In this article is this: "But while Against Me!'s sound works in tiny clubs, Gabel says he hopes that this album, produced by Butch Vig, and its anthemic, Tom Petty-inspired punk songs is the one that finally catapults them to selling out stadiums worldwide." Is that really what they're going for? You know the guy, what's up?
Now, I kind of don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll start like this: Ambition is a hallmark of successful, important and generally cool and worthwhile people. If you have no ambition, I personally want nothing to do with you. Ambition exists at every level and is not always the DETERMINING factor on if someone is cool (see Hitler or some dipshit that wants to be the head of his sector at the DMV) but there’s no one out there who’s worth a shit who has no ambition. Fact. Sorry lazy stoners and various vagabond hipster dildos, you’re lame.
Modest ambition is fine. “I just want to get my own place and move out of my parents house” is an ambition, and it’s a good one. “I just want to look cool.” Great. No judgment there. The key is that healthy restlessness and desire to improve things, however slightly. Without ambition what do you have? Complacence. And complacence my friends, IS the hallmark of the complete disgrace of a human being, or dildo.
“Oh, what about people who have already risen to the tops of their respective fields?” you ask snidely. “Surely they are allowed a little complacence, no?”
No. Fuck no. Jesus. What’s wrong with you?
Take Shaun White for example. He’s a world champion in at least snowboarding, and sometimes skateboarding too. That’s the top of a game if I’ve ever heard it, right? But here’s the thing…He’s not complacent. He’s so far and away the best snowboarder in the world that he didn’t even have to do his final run in the Olympics. White’s so dominant that it’s no stretch to say that he’s up there on par with the most successful people in their fields; the Trumps and Gateses and all that, right? But is he complacent? No fucking way. He’s out there trying to push snowboarding to exciting new places and do shit that no one’s ever done before. He’s got ambition that can’t be stunted just because he’s reached a point where he can rest. And THAT is exactly why he’s the best. Because he can’t stop pushing himself.
So we’ve got that established, right? Good.
Now, to switch gears for a second, people have this fucked up notion that music is art and not commerce. Sure, music is art. No doubt about it. And beyond art, there’s this abstract notion of connecting with people and doing it for the love and going on tour and all that and it’s great. It is. I love all that stuff and that’s why I make music. BUT, along with all that is commerce and compensation. It’s part of it, and why people have somehow decided that it’s gauche to factor money and success into the equation is so fucked up that it borders on perverse. Here’s what I mean:
The notion that people will come see me play music and sing along with songs I’ve written is awesome. The idea that people want to PAY to see me is also awesome. The idea that they want to buy things that I want to sell or pay to have words that I’ve written tattooed on themselves is so cool. It’s all part and parcel with the experience of sharing something kind of unquantifiable with large groups of people. You get to do it, and these people love what you do so much that they become your patrons, essentially funding your existence so you can continue to devote your life to making the music that they love. That give and take is an awesome gift to give and receive and it’s every bit as transcendent as singing along to a really sweet chorus.
In lots of cases with small bands, there just aren’t enough patrons for them to keep doing it and the results are fewer and fewer moments where they can sneak off and write songs and therefore less music gets made.
Now, to bring all this full circle, let’s talk about the tattoo artist that gives you the tattoo of your favorite band’s logo or lyrics. That guy is an artist. He’s doing tattoos because he loves tattoos, he loves connecting with people and he loves pushing the art form. He also charges you for it. He also has aspirations to be more popular and more successful and more nationally and internationally known, and no one minds that. There’s a marriage of art and commerce that goes hand in hand in tattooing and that’s just a given, but in music, for some reason it’s gauche to have ambition or to aspire to bigger audiences. What the fuck is that?
There’s no other profession in the world where achieving desired success is frowned upon. If your dad came home and told you he’d turned down a promotion because he does middle management insurance claim adjustments for the love you’d slap him across the face. But if Tom Gabel’s kid’s dad passed up an opportunity for advancement in his music career, for some reason people would laud him for keeping it real and “doing the right thing”. Even though that’s completely fucking retarded.
See, the reason you all like Against Me! in the first place, the reason that they’re even a band you’ve HEARD OF is because Tom et al have ambition that can’t be contained by playing dumb basement shows and working as waiters. They aspire to be career musicians. And before you get all snippy about that being a bad thing, let me remind you that making tee shirts, sweaters, patches and beer cozies are the trappings of a lifestyle boutique, not a musical troupe, it has NOTHING AT ALL TO DO WITH MUSIC. AND THAT’S FINE! That’s fucking great. That’s the thing. Propaghandi, Tragedy, whoever, they all fucking deal in commerce. They all want fans. They all want to play to full rooms. Some people have different aspirations and despite the fact that they’re in popular bands, music remains a hobby, and those people don’t have to tour, don’t have to put out music if they don’t want to, because their music is a hobby and their ambition lies elsewhere, but Aganst Me!’s ambition is wrapped up in music, and therefore, they should take it to the furthest point they can, and that’s pretty much what Tom seems to have summed up in that statement that started this, right? Right.
Finally, there are people out there (I was one of them) who say shit like “all I want is to play music to two or three hundred kids a night. I don’t want to be big. I think this is much cooler.” They say that because that’s an ambition point that they have not yet reached. Ask Avail. Ask the Suicide Machines. Ask the Lawrence Arms or Strike Anywhere or Matchbook Romance or anyone who’s gotten to that point and gotten stuck if that was where they hoped their career topped out. Go ahead. Ask them. They’re all working at bars and landscaping jobs and shit like that. Meanwhile, Tom is asleep on a bus and he’s gonna wake up and write songs and then play some songs for a bunch of happy people tonight and it’s because he’s realizing his ambition. What’s cooler? You tell me. Go ahead. Come into my bar today and see how many of your favorite songs I sing you. Yeah. I’m real glad I “decided” not to play stadiums for thousands of people.
Now, I realize how that last sentence sounds and I’d like to mention that I’m not bitter about this. I know it sounds like I feel like I missed the boat and I’m owed something, but I don’t feel that way. I love the musical career I’ve had. I just hate seeing my friends get chastised or questioned because they’re lucky enough to be able to keep doing music full time and doing what everyone else on the earth that’s worth a shit is doing, namely trying to advance their careers.
And you’ll notice, this isn’t JUST about money, it’s about bigger fan bases, more opportunities and the freedom to experiment with different genre styles that aren’t just punk rock TOO. But there’s no fucking shame in money being a factor. Look around. Your Yerba Mate costs money. Your dildo collection costs money. Your cable box costs money. Your books cost money. Everything costs money but music. The fact that anyone’s even still IN the music industry is proof enough that they’ve got their hearts in the right place.
Except for Keisha. She seems like she’s just in it for the wangs.