Saturday, May 2, 2015

The Rich Can Teach Us Nothing

a couple of billionaires using Africa as a backdrop for their Louis Vuitton ad 
It's an old trope that wealthy musicians do not make good music. I think this can be fairly easily disproven just by the career of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones alone, but the trope does, I think, capture some nugget of truth. When a musician is poor, angry and with nothing to lose they do tend to produce their best and most original material. The five most important musical genres invented in America: the blues, jazz, country, R&B, and hip-hop were all bottom-up inventions by disenfranchised and impoverished people. I can't think of many bands where you listen to their tenth album and say "ah, now they are hitting their stride" (although again the Beatles are a great exception here). It can be true of writers too I suspect. Anger against the world is certainly not the only motivating factor in fiction but it is an important one and if you're a successful novelist you definitely lose your edge. Millionaire novelists tend to produce bland, conformist, bloated, dull fictions that they hope will appeal to as many people as possible. Writing is a craft and you do get better at it as you go along but there are many writers who do their best work with their unpolished first book when they throw in all their angst and anger - and then as they mellow out they chill and get boring and conventional. Success can be and often is a creativity killer. Obviously this is a generalisation and like all generalisations its a bit silly but I do think its true that it helps to be an outsider to successfully critique society and what the poisoned chalice of acclaim brings is an end to your outsider status as the system absorbs you and makes you part of the body politic. 
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A fortiori the mega rich and successful. If you've ever seen a rich guy being interviewed on Charlie Rose (he worships rich guys and tennis players) or giving a TED talk you quickly realise that they have nothing to say. They speak a lot of words but those words seldom amount to anything. Rich guys don't seem to read much or think much. They're too busy being rich. And when they speak they have nothing to teach us about the human condition or how to live. Thats not that surprising because the only thing they ever did was find a way of making a lot of money & greedily they decided to keep all this money for themselves. So, you know, fuck them...
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If you're someone still struggling to write that first book and you don't quite have the technical prowess don't worry about that. Authenticity is your advantage. And think about William Faulkner working the night shift in the power station or Jamie O'Neill working the day shift in the mental hospital or Charles Bukowski typing in the rooming house toilet. Rich people can and do write interesting books and innovative music but they - mostly - don't.
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That was going to be end the of this blogpost but then I read this review of Mumford and Sons' latest album in the Guardian. The British attitude towards Mumford & Sons highlights an interesting difference between the UK & the US that the review unpacks. I don't hate Lewis Mumford (anyone who's won the heart of Carey Mulligan can't be all bad) but he shares with Bono a humble bragging Christian evangelism that I find distasteful in a multi-millionaire.