Don’t worry, I’m a professional

“Wow, that show was amazing!”

“Thanks, that’s what we do. I’m glad you enjoyed it”

Venus de Mars & All The Pretty Horses at the Triple Rock

Venus de Mars & All The Pretty Horses at the Triple Rock

At issue has been whether Venus de Mars is a professional artist or a hobbyist. For anyone who was at our “Audit Hell” benefit show Saturday night at the Triple Rock Social Club there should be no doubt that we put on a professional show. For the Minnesota Department of Revenue the only issue is whether we make money. Well, we made enough money at the benefit show to continue the legal battle so I guess we’ll see whether the court can determine what it means to be a professional. Another memorable quote from the evening:

“Don’t fuck with an artist, they’ll just turn it into art.”

The irony is that this experience may turn out to be a tremendous career builder. It is certainly turning out to be a great community builder. The Triple Rock really went out of their way to make the benefit a huge success. At least 100 artists, writers and musicians have come together to do their part in support of this issue. The local press has also done it’s part in getting the word out. We had write-ups in MN Post, Vita.mn, Star Tribune, L’Etoile as well as a wonderful piece on Minnesota Public Radio. Musicians have also come together to produce at tribute album is support of the cause.

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One hundred hours a day

I picked up my daughter from school yesterday only to learn that it was Spring Presentation Day, the day when all the kids display or present one of their school projects from the semester. My daughter displayed a very creative multi-media piece called “Chaos”.  I’m not encouraging her to be an artist but if that is what she winds up being, she is going to be a very good one.

What really interested me was the presentation by the robotics club. I find that stuff fascinating. Sensing my interest, the advisor for the club suggested that I get involved. My response was that I wake up every morning with one hundred hours worth of creative ideas to fill my day. There is no way I can take on anything more but that I am really grateful that there are people out there doing all the wonderful things that I don’t have time for.

My focus in life is trying to figure out how to do less. This weekend I am playing the David Bowie Tribute; Rebel, Rebel – Rock for Pussy at First Avenue then driving pedicab for Art-a-Whirl. It’s going to be an amazing and fun filled weekend. What I will not be doing is writing anything for this blog. Unless I get laid, arrested or hospitalized you probably won’t hear anything about it. You will just have to take it on faith that it was awesome.

We are made of love

It’s been the better part of a week since I last posted so there is plenty that I could write about my life. Despite that, I want to write about something more important than me. I want to write about Cloud Cult.

Photo by Cody York

Photo by Cody York

I first saw Cloud Cult at their CD release show for Aurora Borealis at 7th Street Entry in 2004. I went because my wife’s cousin was friends with the drummer at the time, Dan Greenwood. The Entry only holds about 200 people but I don’t even think the show sold out. Still, it was a full on rock-n-roll show and I was blown away. I’ve been a fan ever since. In fact I think that they are one of the greatest bands ever in existence  I get a lot of grief for loving this band. They are too hippy-dippy for my more hardcore friends and too serious for my hippy friends but I don’t give a shit. In my book, this band rocks! They have meaning and purpose and to me, that is what life is about.

Sunday night I went to the second of their sold out shows at First Avenue‘s main room. It still kind of shocks me that this little band with the big show, that I have been going to see for nearly 10 years, is now selling out the number one live music venue in Minneapolis.  It shocks me to the point that I didn’t even bother to buy a ticket beforehand. Actually, my life is too chaotic right now to plan ahead for much. Luckily, First Avenue holds back a few tickets to sell at the door for sold out shows. This is mostly to prevent scalping but it’s also to be nice to people in the know like me. I was lucky enough to get one of those tickets.

So how does a band go from barely filling the tiny 7th Street Entry to packing the mainroom? A Cloud Cult fan at the show said, “They are so successful because they have stayed true to their values.” It’s true, Craig Menowa, founder/songwriter for Cloud Cult, has blazed this trail doing it his own way. He has been offered record contracts but has turned them down in favor of keeping creative control over his art. I respect that and I think that Cloud Cult is very successful. They are successful to me because they have had a tremendous impact in my life. Rarely have I been to a Cloud Cult show that hasn’t moved me to tears. It happened Sunday night. I’m an emotional guy and I cry pretty freely but not usually at a rock show. I find that impressive, but is that really success? Tears don’t pay the bills. I responded to this guy saying, “You realize they still have day jobs.” I don’t know if that is true of everyone in the band but I know that this band is not financially successful enough to support 8 people. Actually, there are more than 8 people involved in this operation. Besides the people on stage, there are probably some road crew or techs. I met the sound guy who works for the band. I also met the merch person who told me that he refuses to take any money for his work. I respect that too. Art is about more than money.

But wouldn’t one think that a successful band would be financially successful as well? Very few local independent artists are as successful as Cloud Cult. I am racking my brain to figure out how many local bands that haven’t been signed to a major label have sold out the First Avenue mainroom. Trampled By Turtles has done it. Policia did it last Wednesday. I’m pretty sure that Mark Mallman has done it a few times. Maybe Har Mar Superstar. Obviously Atmosphere, P.O.S and Doomtree have done it. The short lived supergroup Gayngs has done it. The band I play for, All The Pretty Horses, has never done it. Before I was in the band, we opened for Peaches at First Avenue. I would like to think that show sold out but I’m not even sure. We are playing the David Bowie tribute Rebel Rebel – Rock for Pussy, a fundraiser for Feline Rescue on May 17th. It would be awesome if that sold out! Still, I won’t get a cent out of that show. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most amazing things that I do every year. There are things more important than money. I think cats are awesome!

But let’s do some math. First Avenue holds 1,500 people. At $20 a head that is 30 grand. That is some pretty sizable change. Especially if you do that two nights in a row. But the club gets a cut of that. Also, it needs to be spread out over the dozen or so people that put on the show. There was an opening act as well. There are promotion expenses, travel expenses, equipment expenses, lighting and recording expenses. These shows are not cheap to put on. Do I even need to mention that it took almost 20 years of really hard work for Cloud Cult to get to this point? I probably do. I told a guy at the show that I had every Cloud Cult album and he responded saying, “Yeah, I have both of them too.” They actually have 11 albums and I don’t really have all of them because I don’t own the first album, The Shade Project from 1994 or the re-release of Lost Songs from the Lost Years from 2009. Still, I have given this band hundreds of dollars over the years in album sales and concert tickets. So have thousands of other people but does that add up to financial security? Not really. Is a person who has been making music for twenty years without really making any money a success or just stupid?

I am convinced that the only way to get rich off of art is to create something that someone else can get even richer off of. But then your art is not art, it’s a commodity, it is a product. There is no way in this world to be a financially successful artist. We all need money to survive but can we admit that it is not about money, it is about survival. Define success anyway you want but to me, Cloud Cult is a successful band for one reason and one reason only. They are successful because 20 years later they are still doing what they do. They are surviving. And they have love. Perhaps love is the definition of success. Love is the title of their latest album and while I hope it makes a lot of money, love is more important than money.

The pursuit of happiness

Tuesday evening I met up with a friend for a beer. He had been going through some tough times. He had recently lost his job and needed to get out of the house. At one point I asked him something about how he was doing or what his plans were and he responded, “I’m trying to have a good time.”

I just recall thinking to my self, “This is one of the most miserably people I know. Having a good time sounds like a pretty lofty goal.” Of course I was really thinking about myself. Of course I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to have a good time. I just know that from my experience, pursuing happiness as a goal is bound to end in disappointment. Happiness happens, but not when I’m expecting it.

Rethinking what motivates me has been on my mind a lot over the past week. I’ve been called a hedonist before and for the longest time I took no objection to that term. Hedonism is the devotion to pleasure. How can that be a bad thing? Especial when understanding that my pleasure is dependent on the circumstances of the people around me. Devoting one’s life to bringing pleasure to the world sounds like a beautiful thing to do.

As an entertainer I hope that I bring pleasure, happiness, good times and amusement to the world. But is that what entertainment means to me?

I was discussing this subject with my son Sunday evening. He is an actor and musician. We had just seen Propeller’s production of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew” at the Guthrie Theater. I felt impressed, inspired, intrigued, incompetent, moved, changed, at times aroused, but not anything that I would associate with being entertained. My son and I had shared a meaningful experience. We felt connected to one another and to the playwright and actors. To my son, this is what art is meant to do; create a shared, meaningful experience.

But for many, music, dance, theater, comedy, television, movies, literature and other arts are just entertainment. That’s fine. There is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that people are entertained by what I do, but that’s not why I do it. I don’t think that most artists would do what they do if they only viewed it as entertainment. The act of creating art is hard work, it’s frustrating, painful and wrought with failure and disappointment. We do it because we have to; because it is who we are. We do it to give our lives meaning and purpose. We do it to feel connected to the world around us.

Yet, there are those occasions where it brings us great joy. Creating something that we conciser absolutely brilliant or putting on an amazing show that connects us with the audience can put a smile on our face.

My bff was relating her favorite Venus story to me this past weekend. We had just put on an incredible performance to a packed house at First Avenue for the David Bowie tribute show, Rebel Rebel (Rock for Pussy) and Venus was on cloud nine. S/he was simple glowing and dancing and having the time of hir life.

Yes, happiness can be found in this life but as an artist, it is not my pursuit. As a person who’s life is filled with adversity, having a good time is not my goal. I am not seeking pleasure or avoiding pain. I’m just trying to keep going in the pursuit of meaning and purpose. If along the way I find happiness, joy and entertainment, I’ll take that too… as long as I can share it with you.

Redemption day

This is going to be one of those “matter of fact” posts. I’m getting so behind in my daily updates. Actually, this style of blogging is totally back-asswards. The more I have to write about, the less time I have to write.

Anyway, If you didn’t read my last post, please don’t. It’s the most embarrassing thing I have ever written. Of coarse if you don’t, this post won’t make any sense either.  I’m okay with that.

So this post is about Saturday, the big day that I didn’t want to fuck up by getting too fucked up on Friday. But I did and woke up at my best friends place 8 miles from home. Now I had to bike home in the freezing rain before I could even start my big day. Plus because of getting fucked up the night before, my big day was going to be even bigger.

[Here was suppose to be the meme I posted on my facebook wall that said “I’ve go 99 problems and I am all of them”. But I after an hour of searching for it I couldn’t find it. I guess there are a lot of people blaming their problems on someone else.]

BTW, I love Jay-Z. Not just because we have the same name but because I like what he has to say. I think he is an amazing artist.

So the first thing I had to do was get my synthesizer to a friend so he could ship it to South-by-Southwest. My friend who works for Green Room Booking posted something about needing an 88-key weighted keyboard. I have one of those so I offered it. My only concern was that I didn’t have a case for it. I mean I do, but it’s this huge fucking hard-shell flight case that weighs as much as the keyboard itself. Luckily I recently got got my tax refund so I could buy a more suitable case. Heading to Guitar Center was my first task.

Apparently the synthesizer was needed for Lisa Germano. OMG!!! If you don’t know who this woman is you should totally check her out. She is amazing! Okay, I have never made it to SXSW but my keyboard has and it is being played by one of the most talented artists in music today!

lisa_08

Lisa Germano playing my synthesizer at South By Southwest

Still, that can’t compare to what I did next. I went to the birthday party of my favorite 3 year old in the entire world. I’m totally done having kids, but I love being a part of human development process. I love being invited to children’s birthday parties. This kid can be quite a handful at times, but I love him as if he was my own.

But still, I’m a blog writer so I need to get to work. We don’t get a day off. I headed to a coffee shop where I could get wi-fi. Of course I ran into a friend there who invited me to join her. I said I needed to get some work done and she was fine with that because she needed to get work done too. But more than that, she needed someone to talk to. That was me. I am not one to think that I am more important than the person in front of me so I gave her my time as long as I could. I did not get any writing done.

Oh, I totally forgot what I did between dropping off the synth and the toddler birthday party. I dropped off a case of beer at my bff’s place and brought her couch cover to the dry-cleaner’s.

Yeah, and now I needed one of those beers. In headed to her place to grab a  beer. I also needed to do a load of laundry since I had pissed her couch. I love doing laundry. Snip snap done! Then we watched Black Swan which I had never seen. How the fuck did that happen?

Anyway… amazing movie. Probably not for the reasons my friend liked it but that is part if what made it amazing to me. I guess that is what makes it art – we each get to see our own story in it.

El Dorado

After 11 hours cramped in a sedan I was feeling like the car should be called Apollo 13 and not  the T.A.R.D.I.S. although with any luck we will make it to our final destination. So far, so good. We pulled into our first stop in El Dorado, KS last night around 10:30 pm. Achy and soar I tumbled out of the capsule where I had been riding shot-gun.

My ass, having sustained injury a couple nights before, expressed great relief to be out of the car, not just from the pain from 11 hours of sitting on a bruised tailbone but also relief from the gas that had been building up inside my colon; held back to avoid poisoning my traveling companions. There is something about road trips, cramped up in a car, eating shitty gas station food that brews up the most toxic concoction. Through much of Iowa you can sneak one out here and there without anyone really noticing against the backdrop of pig farms but I must have been held back gallons because I have been farting all morning.

My legs felt like I had walked the 621 miles to reach our current destination; that kind of pain you feel the next day after a strenuous workout. Still, I was grateful to have arrived, grateful to be out of the car and eagerly awaiting the incredible hospitality always bestowed upon us at the horse ranch of Pete and Liz. Once inside and the car unloaded, Liz prepared the dining room table with soup, cheese, veggies, bread an a variety of beers to choose from. It would have been nice to have socialized more. It would been nice to have written down my thoughts before going to bed but my ability to form sentences had left me. I couldn’t manage to get words from brain to my mouth, let alone my fingers.

It had been a long day. Unable to get any packing done the day before, I arose yesterday at 5:30 am to prepare for the trip. This is usually the way it goes and after many tours over the years it almost seems like second nature.   The only difference this time was that we weren’t taking the van so I needed to be much more concerned to pack as lightly as possible. No matter what, I always feel like I must have forgotten something. So far I haven’t discovered anything nor can I imagine fitting one more thing in my bag. Having left the blustery cold of Minnesota and needing to shed layers of clothes I’m already feeling over-packed.

You would think that traveling across country with a rock band would be one non-stop party; sitting in the back of a tour bus, doing shots of tequila and lines of coke of the bellies of strippers. This has never been my experience. We spend most of our time discussing our failures and strategizing how to keep going in hopes of making it to the next level. This time we couldn’t even do that. This time the discussions took on an even more somber tone. This time there was no talk of the future. This time we were wondering whether the band will even be able to continue.

For the past several months, Venus has been embroiled in an audit from the IRS. This is not your typical audit where they go through all of your books with a fine tooth come looking for deductions that aren’t allowed and income that wasn’t reported. In this case, there would be nothing of that sort to be found.  Venus has been meticulous in running her business and has followed all the rules. In this case the IRS is trying to claim that it’s not a legitimate business because it is not profitable. But Venus’ business is her life, the life of an artist. In essence they are saying that the life of an artist is not legitimate. Unless, I guess, it is profitable but then my question is, if it is profitable, is it still art? I see art as a challenge to conventional wisdom and social expectation. Once art becomes accepted and mainstream it loses it’s ability to expand cultural horizons, it loses it’s ability to transform. The irony is that to be a successful artist is to see your art turned into a commodity.  It reminds me of this quote:

“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else.”  – Leonardo da Vinci

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