Music Geek #14: Success as Failure

In reading an interview with once-internet-sensation Tay Zonday by Broken Cool, it becomes evident the outlook “the ‘Chocolate Rain’ guy” has about popular music is by no means one major labels — nor the artists on them — want you to hear. He embodies an almost embroiled bitterness toward mainstream media (or, perhaps, media altogether) and the Western notion of success.

“Success Level” is a fairytale invented to give journalists something to print by each deadline. It allows readers to vicariously live a celebrity soap opera about who makes it and who doesn’t. It turns the world into comic fiction that has nothing to do with music or life.

Given his experience with the music industry, one can’t really blame him for his view. Justifiably, I believe he is arguing that mainstream “success” is really not much more than “real-life” failure. The drive to create, he forwards, is falsified and made mechanical because of mainstream success — and music is the worse for it.

I’m not sure I disagree. His view reaffirms my general thought that some of the best music comes not from the majors — or even the indies — but from individuals and groups struggling with life on a daily basis. Of course, this isn’t to say that all music need come from such dour circumstances. Perhaps it’s not so much a socioeconomic condition that spawns creativity, but the generic notion of conflict and inner turmoil that forces creativity to manifest as an escape from the undesirable norm.

Take, for instance, the world-famous Beatles. I genuinely appreciate much of their music, and they, quite obviously, were not always in financially dire straits. Still, they managed to craft some revolutionary music that’s held on to the wild ride that is civilization — and it’s not something at which I’d just point at “the times” as the cause. No, while I’m sure things are a bit different than 40 years ago, I’d just as much argue that things are much the same. The methods of dissemination may have changed, but the general mindset doesn’t seem to be. Perhaps we ought just point at luck and attribute it to that, as I think that has much to do with mainstream success.

Tay Zonday makes a good argument, and in the bitter taste of success, he may be a better philosopher than even he realizes.

In so many ways I feel like I have creatively and spiritually gone nuts. Fallen into some funk. Some mental illness. Some strange aloneness where I used to rely on music to save me. But if I’m stuck in a life situation where I can not give 100% to that music . . . it just fizzles. Disappears. I can’t compromise. But life forces compromises. The artist dies when they refuse to say “fuck the world” and give 100%. I should sing my heart out until the police handcuff me and haul me off for disorderly conduct. I should not be in a self-conscious prison where I lose sight of my main joy in life for the daily grind of the calendar. But I am. And I don’t know how to escape.

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