Saturday, April 09, 2011

In My Room

I'd never heard of Fred Cornog before now, but if his music resonates with me half as much as his words, I'll be quite impressed.

Do you continue to work your day job at Home Depot because it gives you access to the kind of people who populate your records?

I am one of those people. I’m basically a working class pawn, a cog in the wheel, who happens to write songs. Maybe I’m more artistically inclined than your average Home Depot employee but, beyond that, I don’t see much of a difference.

Could you ever imagine making a living off of your music?

Of course. But the thing that bothers me is that making a living solely from music nearly always involves a list of compromises that I’m unwilling to make. And, ultimately, the commerce side of things kills the artistic side. When you get semi-successful, you will be asked to tour and promote your music in various ways. Eventually, you’ll end up spending more and more time promoting your music and doing this peripheral bullshit stuff, and less and less time creating music. And, ironically, making music is what made you semi-successful in the first place. An artist must always be aware of this. Don’t fall into the traps. Otherwise, slowly, slowly, the power gets pulled away from you.

You've hardly ever played live, and certainly not for well over a decade. Why is this?

When I was a kid, my father used to yell at me constantly to stop playing the piano. He’d scream, “Stop playin’ that damn piano! God damn it, you had all day to play that damn thing! Can’t you see I’m watchin’ the television! I want some peace and quiet, God damn it!” When you’re a kid and you hear this over and over and over, it changes you, and it changes your brain chemistry. Another kid might have started a rock band down at a friend’s house. But me, my father’s wrath drove me inside my mind. It made me want to curl up and hide. So I quietly wrote songs in my room and became a Tascam mini-studio musician. But the catch is, in working alone like this for years and years, and never collaborating with other musicians, my methodology has somewhat crippled me. I’m not complaining and it’s not sad or anything. That’s just the way it is.

Another reason is that I’ve never liked being the centre of attention. I have the absolute worst kind of personality for the rock world. When I go out, I like to quietly sit at the back of the bar. The last thing I want to do is stand at the centre of the stage in a fuckin’ spotlight with people staring at me waiting to be entertained.

Do you consider your refusal to 'play the game' to be in any way rock 'n' roll?

I don’t think that the rebellious spirit of rock ‘n’ roll exists in roll ‘n’ roll anymore. [It] is inhabiting other artforms. The spirit is moving to where there are fewer rules. The spirit is moving to where there isn’t an expectation of money being made. It’s moving away from the marketplace. It always does.

The power of music, man. I know exactly what he means, to be the sort of person who is content to live an anonymous life, secretly, almost furtively being creative, even if it inexorably draws you into a set of circumstances you'd never choose otherwise. I was absolutely driven to write and record music. I wanted to be able to share it with people. And yet I knew that I would almost certainly hate everything that would result from that. For me, fate intervened in the form of an autoimmune disease and kept me from ever having to make a Herculean attempt to square that circle, but it could have ended badly if I had gotten what I thought I wanted. I have decided, though, that before I become penniless and homeless, I'm going to go ahead and finally get whatever recording equipment I need to be, as he said, a mini-studio musician in my bedroom. I don't care about anything else at this point besides the joy of doing it.

It's an inner rebellion, though. Like a lot of people, I don't believe that popular music has any real power to change the world anymore. That window closed by the end of the '60s, if it was ever truly open to begin with. The system can package and market anything you throw at it, and most bands are content to just keep recycling various beatnik/hippie/punk clichés anyway. I kind of imagine this ideal as something akin to the concept of Bildung among the Aufklärer, a passive, inward-directed refusal to accept prevailing norms. German mysticism is in my DNA, anyway.

Arthur once wrote something to me about the rebellious spirit of rock 'n' roll that affirms what Cornog said:

Schiller wrote about the fundamental contrast in cultural history between what he called the naïve and the sentimental -- the original, less sophisticated but more powerful kind of art (Homer, e.g.) and the belated, more sophisticated but less visceral and emotionally powerful (modern) art. Something like a transition from naïve to sentimental has happened in rock music, and probably would have happened even if Reaganism and cynical consumerist manipulation had not taken place. Artistic movements that begin spontaneously tend to become more self-conscious and backward-looking as they develop: revolution cools into evolution, and, as with modern jazz, a creeping classicism sets in where once all was anarchy and freshness. That rock and roll is becoming classical music is just one more melancholy truth coming home to aging baby boomers like me.