Hurry Up and Wait
Jerry Lucky Commentary October 2017
Copyright Jerry Lucky © 2017 All Rights Reserved
I’m not sure who actually coined the phrase – “Hurry up and Wait” but I’ve heard it applied to both the conduct of war and the making of movies, which I guess share a number of traits. But in any case it was a phrase that came to mind and seemed to apply to a couple things I wanted to talk about. Now some of what I’m about to ruminate on may sound heretical or at the least fanciful but none-the-less I think it’s something to think about.
As many of you know I collect comics and I was reading an interview with artist Rich Buckler talking about his career in the comic industry and he referenced his early days at Marvel comics saying how everyone was running full tilt in the fast paced seventies. Deadlines were always looming and all the artists had insurmountable work-loads, drawing and inking page after page. This was actually the case from the inception of comic books back in the late thirties up until the turn of the century. The workload to get comics out on-time and regularly was huge and if you were in the comic book biz you had to suck-it-up and deliver. Today we look back on those days and marvel at the amount of work that was produced. Much of it was of it was of a pretty high quality too and even set the tone for those who came into the business in later years. These days’ it’s a whole different story. Artists tend to be treated with kid gloves and given ample time to create and deliver the art-work. My question is: has this change in pace made comics better?
That made me think about how insanely productive bands like The Beatles and the Beach Boys were in the sixties releasing sometimes two or even three albums a year! And to top it off, it was a lot of great stuff, highly creative, well written and influential. This was true of pretty much all of the other artists of the day too. It was expected that if you were signed to a label you had to produce music on a regular basis. Then as we progressed through the sixties it seemed the creators of the music became more the focus than the music itself. As with the comic world suddenly we started to treat the musicians with kid-gloves and they began to rule the roost. Consequently the time between releases started get longer and longer. Then by the time we got to the nineties a band like Genesis was taking three years to get another album together for release. In the case of “big” bands like Genesis, it became common for years to transpire between albums and it was not unusual for other lesser known artists to do the same. It seemed the bigger you were as a musical artist the longer it took between musical releases. My question is: has this change in pace made music better?
Now if you grew up in the sixties, seventies or even the eighties you will have grown up in a time where the music we listened to was made by full time musicians. Individuals formed a group with the express purpose of making it their livelihood. They formed a band, they performed in ever larger venues until getting a recording contract of some kind. Then they recorded an album, toured in support of that album and then recorded another and so on. And all of this happened at a relatively quick pace. Then, like so much else in our world, things started to change in the nineties specifically with the advent of the internet. As musical creative types started to take advantage of the new methods of creating music on the computer, new production software and ultimately new methods of music distribution on the world-wide-web the world of music creation experienced a dramatic and foundational shift. Now it was possible for a wider range of individuals with varying degrees of on inherent creative talent to produce music of all stripes on a schedule of their choosing since they no longer hand to even go and perform it live anymore. It was now possible to create music as if it were simply a hobby. Understand I’m not talking about the quality of the music being created at this point.
Now, back to my point about this increasing gap between releases, I wish I could say that this increased time in-between recordings has ensured higher quality releases but, alas I’ve never found that to be the case. And by higher quality I mean more than just the production quality, I’m referring to the actual writing. I would suggest to you that in the world of creativity, increased time doesn’t seem to equal increased creativity or quality in most cases. In fact based on history I’m not sure that the two are even connected. Which kind of leads me to my next observation: Is there something good that comes out of increased pressure, in the creative arts. It seems counter-intuitive and yet, the record label pressure sure didn’t seem to guarantee poorer quality tunes from the Beatles, Beach Boys or so many of those other sixties bands. On the contrary that pressure to make a new record seemed to make the “cream rise to the surface.” And on that same train-of-thought I would make a similar observation regarding the advent of all this new technology. While it could be argued the new technology has made the process of making and creating music easier, I’m not so convinced it has given us “better” music?
On the contrary, way back when I was managing an independent FM station that was run on a shoe-string budget we had to make due with all kinds of outdated equipment, and yet make our commercials and on-air sound the best we could so as to compete with the better funded radio stations in the market. And we actually did quite well. I used to use the phrase, “there is creativity borne out of adversity.” I’m not sure where I heard that but it sure fit. We had to find ways to sound good because we didn’t always have the dollars to buy our way out of a bad sound. So everyone at the radio station was under the same pressure to work harder to sound the best we could. A very similar point is actually argued very thoughtfully by Ian MacDonald in his book about the Beatles called Revolution in the Head. MacDonald, while writing about the song “Tomorrow Never Knows” references Albert Goldman’s comments that “compared to contemporary American studios, Abbey Road was primitive and The Beatles were fools to put up with its limitations when they could have followed The Rolling Stones to Los Angeles and obtained the same effects with half the trouble.” To which MacDonald counters by saying: “…it’s (Abbey Road) shoestring ethos that mothered the most dazzling aural inventions to emerge from any studio in Britain or America during the late sixties.” Another words it’s not so much the studio or the equipment…it’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. So that makes me wonder: Is it possible that musicians have it too good today?
I know that may sound heretical, in a world that worships at the altar of celebrity and where we don’t dare say a harsh word to creative types lest they get their noses out of joint and go into a creative slump. But coming from a musical family where our family income relied on my dad booking shows and travelling to perform, I know what it’s like to, as dad used to say “eat chicken one day and the next day eat feathers.” He didn’t have a full time “day-job” to rely on; he was a full-time musician, committed to his craft 100%. Music wasn’t something he did on the side, that’s who he was. If he didn’t go and perform, we didn’t eat. And even when he did perform we were never “rolling in dough.” In fact, music was so much a part of dad’s life when he died at the age of eighty-four; on his desk was a list of potential concert dates he was considering. He was never going to retire and he never did.
I’m not sure that can be said about many of today’s musicians. Perhaps it’s totally unrealistic of me to expect this level of commitment. I fully appreciate what kind of sacrifice that is. And yet I know that it does happen, especially in other music genres. There are still band’s living life on the road and sharing a hotel room. Just not so much in the Progressive Rock genre, a genre that has a tough time even existing on the internet. I do recall during the Progressive Rock revival in the early to mid-eighties a good number of the bands were committed to music being their day jobs. I remember reading how the members of IQ all shared a flat and ate an on-going stew that what made up of each days left-overs. But that was back in the eighties, when there was no internet or sophisticated home recording technology. Even Genesis were sharing hotel rooms well into the seventies. Today in the Progressive Rock world there doesn’t seem to be under any pressure to create music so that you have food on the table. There is only a desire to make music. There is no pressure to perform live because there is a day job to contend with. Today, we create because we want to, not because we have to.
So where am I going with this you may ask? Well it’s certainly not to be critical of those who are making music because I don’t know every individual situation. I appreciate all the fine music that comes my way and I respect those who take the time to create it. They’re the ones making the music I just get to write about it. But if I’m brutally honest and if in fact “creativity is borne out of adversity’ and there is no adversity what does that say about the creative process? I find myself asking questions. Would the music be better if there were no day jobs to fall back on? Would the music be more creative if we couldn’t rely on inexpensive home based studio software? There’s a part of me that thinks yes. I truly think it would be, because the challenges of making the music would not only hone the skills and talents of the particularly creative it would also weed out the “wheat from the chaff.” Now keep in mind I don’t believe creativity is hereditary or genetically based. I believe anyone can be creative and given the right environment and circumstances could create something truly wonderful. But in a lot of cases it is the pressure to perform that brings out that creativity. As my art teacher used to say, and I’m paraphrasing here: “if we wait for the spirit to move us, what happens if the spirit never comes?” What we students were meant to take from that was, you can’t always wait for the inspiration to hit, get to work and make something. Were the Genesis albums “better” albums when they took longer breaks to create them? I don’t think so because for much of that time off they weren’t even thinking about the next album. So if we take away the ease with which we can make music in 2017 I wonder how many would fall by the wayside. If we pressured artists today like the Beatles were in the sixties to deliver another album in four months I wonder how many would just give up. Lots of questions…not many answers. At least that’s what I think.
Jerry Lucky (10/4/17)