Late-Stage Art and Rodney Dangerfield

I keep seeing the phrase Late-stage Capitalism in things that I read. It has nothing to do with this oncoming thought, but I like that prefix “late-stage”. My excellent friend and former bandmate, Josh Engen (click the link to check out his band, Parachutes Fail) texted me yesterday with this gem:

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be an artist when you’re 40, and it kinda sucks.

I reminded him that I’m 37.

But the point still stands. I remember being terrified of turning 25 because that would be the end of my window as a songwriter and musician—if I hadn’t “made it” by then, I wasn’t ever going to make it and I should probably just quit. Even putting aside the problematic nature of the idea of making it, the idea is absurd. It seems like it’s probably a testament to America’s (or pop culture’s) obsession with youth, but in what other world does experience not equal quality? I wrote lots of songs in my teens and twenties and some of them were alright, but I can say without a doubt that I’m a helluva lot better songwriter at 37 than I was at 17 or at 27 for the matter. Some of that is time spent with the craft (Ed Sheeran talks a lot about Malcolm Gladwell’s rule of 10,000 hours), but a lot of that is age and perspective. So it should mean that making art at 40 (or 37) is better. Why then does it suck? Is it a matter of audience? Certainly the demographics for Mr. Sheeran’s songs run quite a bit younger than 40 and they seem to be much more rabid in their fandom. Should we chalk that up to hormones? Or available time? I don’t have a ton of time to go to shows and discover new music, but my 15-year-old neighbor (and our current drummer) does. What else does he have to do? Is it about wanting to listen to someone having the same experience as you? Because most of the folks working on songs with Sheeran are closer to my age than to my neighbor’s age (who would have a fit if he knew I was mentioning him and Ed Sheeran in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence).

It’s got to be about time on some level. I don’t have the time to make things like I did when I was 22. When I was 22 I was in a band that practiced every single night—we’re lucky to get one a week. But also it’s got something to do with Rodney Dangerfield: “I can’t get no respect!” (says the guy that agreed to this sitcom premise). I’m sure this is a chicken and egg question and all of my reasoning will end up circular, but it seems to me that the best way to not let creating in middle-age destroy you is to adjust expectations. We play a lot of shows in the Back Back of Laremy’s coffeeshop/cafe, The Fruited Plain and when we do, it is a genuinely wonderful experience. Our kids are often there (sometimes they join us on stage) and the room is full of people who know us and I think because they know us, the appreciate the thing we make more than other folks might. So is that enough? To make music a few times a year at the neighborhood venue that we built? Why, then do I pay so much attention to Spotify statistics and Shazams from Moscow? (I don’t really care about Shazams from Moscow—I just wanted to link Laremy’s brilliant photoshop job). We’ve been working up this new song where the bridge is: Is enough enough? Enough is enough. I was interested in turning the negatively connotated Enough is enough into a positive idea—I think you can hear it if you come out to Pork and Bands at the Back Back on September 14th. I read this piece on Bon Iver where Vernon’s songs were described as “prayerful—but not preachy”. When you hear the tune, know that it’s a prayer, not a sermon. I’m trying to believe that in Late-stage Art, simply making something is Enough.