Feast of Memories: Where Have All the Artists Gone? (Excerpt from Searching for Morrison)

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Music is part of that which shapes our lives. Each note and lyric is like looking into society’s reflection on the ripples in a pond. Tonight, I reminisced on some of those reflections I’d seen in my youth listening to The Doors.

Watching the newly released documentary film Feast of Friends, I was reminded of so much music in my past and just how much it meant to me. Unfortunately, I also couldn’t help thinking of the people today who will not have this type of experience with music.  What music once was is seemingly lost. Watching and listening to The Doors explains so much of what is missing from the music industry today.

One specific scene in the film chronicles the recording process with the band. In the studio, Jim Morrison says something to the effect of simply letting the music flow and saving the editing and perfection for things like TV performances.

Wow. I heard that and was immediately struck by what I hear today. Listening to The Doors is not a passive experience. The music draws you in and swirls you around in the ether with it. Sans the lyrics, the musical portions of the songs are akin to Picasso or Dali paintings. Time is lost and found, moving quickly in reverse and sliding slowly forward, sometimes moving sideways. Space is measured in alternating, incongruent increments. Yet, there is great artistic value and meaning, making what we hear somehow cohesive amidst the juxtaposed sounds.

Lyrically, hearing the words of Morrison is not unlike reading Stein or Woolf. Mimicking the musical portion of the songs, time skips from here to there. Repetition creates an unbalanced symmetry in the stream of consciousness that gives Morrison’s work its soul—its meaning. That Morrison can create this conscious bending group of words that carry such a deep impact is nothing less than genius. The music and the lyrics together are something godlike. In fact, I would liken listening to The Doors to allowing a multi-modal artist to set up shop in your brain, creating visually stimulating scenes, punctuated by words, accompanied by a soundtrack. The music composed by The Doors is most definitely an opening of the perceptions. It is an experience of life built into art.It is a trip into worlds uncharted by others; it carries you down within yourself on a trip Nietzsche himself would applaud.

Feast of Friends included many live performance scenes reminding me of a more decadent time when artists were truly Gods. Musicians were inaccessible, for the most part. Many live scenes show an overwhelming amount of security and police separating the crowd from the artists. The Doors were on a pedestal many could only gaze upon, and very few could climb. Fans wished to only be able to touch or look closely upon them. Meeting them was mostly out of the question. One could only dream. There were no meet and greets, bilking people of their hard earned money for a picture and a fake smile. If you met an artist then, it was really an event to remember. And guess what? They wanted to meet you. If not, security would have whisked you promptly away. You were something special, then, not just another paying customer.

Those were the days of excess, when artists were no less than artists. I was only able to experience the tail end of that era in the 80s when things were beginning to fall apart. Many would argue things fell apart in the 70s, but I think some musicians still held on in the 80s. Let me say that when musicians could concentrate on their work—their art, that music held something completely different. The artists weren’t in it to make millions. Of course they wouldn’t turn down the money, but they would’ve kept doing it even if it meant working a straight 9-5 and playing seedy bars on the weekends. They were doing what they loved. For many, it was all they knew. For others, they were intelligent, educated people who, despite college degrees and the hopes of their parents, wanted to create instead of conform. Sure, there were downsides—drugs, alcohol, and other excesses took many of the greats from us, but nonetheless they never sold out. They never let a record label dictate their sound, causing them to be the mirror image of the band recording in the next studio. It is their creative genius that touched the world.

Sadly, it is this creative artistry that is missing today. In the current world of music, and most other types of art, being a good business person overtakes most artistic endeavors. Artistry is measured in dollars and cents and little else.  The generation of instant gratification expects new songs, new albums, and more and more tour dates at a nearly impossible rate. What used to take an artist a year or years to compose is now expected in months. Media, like Itunes, keeps the fastest producing artists on the top of the charts, while those who lag behind can be forgotten. There is little anticipation of an album. Sound bites hit the internet before even the radio gets a snippet. Hell, your friend probably downloaded  that album illegally before it ever hit the store. Gone are the days of waiting anxiously to go to the record store and buy that new album you just can’t wait for. Nope. No grandeur. Just NOW!

The raw creative feel of an album is lost with editing programs like Auto-Tune. I can’t even imagine hearing Morrison’s voice that cleaned up, if we like to call it that. Not to mention, no one need be overly talented anymore. All one need do is sit with a computer and an editing program, and voila! We have music. No spirit is required. Just money and backing. Lots and lots of money and backing. This is the rot and cultural decline our “click it now” society has created. The music industry produces lackluster archetypes of untalented pop stars, while true artists go largely unnoticed.

Of course we have an indie scene in some areas, and to be honest, we do have our Maynard James Keenans (Tool, A Perfect Circle, & Puscifer), Bruce Springsteens, and Nick Caves, but mostly we just have Justin Bieber and Nickleback. That doesn’t begin to name all the popular bands on constant radio circulation, but why bother? They’re all the same when it comes down to talent, content,  and sincerity. (They have none of it.) Sadly, I was closer to naming all the currently popular musicians that show artistic talent. I wish there were more.

Maybe if we ever end the click happy, downloading, talent-less market, we might get back what Morrison and Friends gave us. They weren’t alone. The Beetles, Jefferson Airplane, Buffalo Springfield…Jesus…even Rick Springfield were all magnificent examples of what musicians should do.

I hope all isn’t lost in the world of music. I keep telling myself and my kids that there is still hope. Watching Feast of Friends tonight only inspired me to look farther, deeper, to find what I’m always searching for: something real…real artistry that inspires me to go deeper into myself.

I haven’t found Morrison yet, but I’m not giving up. Until then, I’m elated that films like Feast of Friends exists, so I can visit real artists.

(Searching for Morrison is a compilation of short stories and essays written by Tammie Niewedde. Forthcoming release slated for mid-summer 2016)

(Image Source: http://www.eagle-rock.com/2014/09/the-doors-to-issue-never-released-1968-self-produced-film-feast-of-friends-on-dvd-blu-ray/#.VGgQnfnF9EI)