Monday 5 December 2011

Critics Are Vocal

Supporters are not.

Bear that in mind when you're getting trashed.

There are people who love what you do, they just don't realise you need to hear it.

But don't blame 'them'. Because I'm sure you do it too, love someone's work and never tell them, just point out when they fuck it up.

It's easier to criticise. Not sure why, we're just wired that way.

Change the wiring and you'll have a much more rewarding career. People will gravitate towards you.

Care to share?

Shine / This Year's Love

It's amazing how artists have a way of capturing magic in a bottle at certain times in their lives. David Gray caught the zeitgeist with his album "White Ladder", suddenly everyone was a fan.

His career prior to that was a good one; making interesting music that was occasionally wonderful, often average. And since then, he's faded away again. His music is still the same, but the magic is gone. 'This Year's Love' was a masterpiece, and 'Babylon' captured everyone. But there's been nothing on the same level since.

There's probably nothing he can do about it. It's not within his power. You get it in all creative disciplines. Sometimes you're a hit, sometimes you're not. I think Woody Allen was a better director in the nineties than the seventies, but it's those earlier films which resonate with audiences.

The first song on David Gray's debut album, was a song called "Shine". Sometimes you hit it right out of the park on the first go. Many filmmakers have that. They do a little short film with their friends on a Sunday and before you know it there's 3,000 YouTube views and everyone loves you. After that, there's three years of doing terrible work.

'Shine' was simple. Small. Honest. It's about that moment when things are over. The love has faded and you're saying goodbye to what you knew and held on to. He captures it perfectly, and with such simplicity. It breaks your heart.

You care about the people in the song. Probably because they're you, or some fragment of you and someone you loved from day's gone by.

It's crazy to think that David Gray's greatest moment came on his debut album, before the world really knew him. But it's there. There's a moment that is so simple, so truthful, so beautiful; it smacks right into you and resonates. Why? Because it's so raw and honest. Forget philosophy and education, the meaning of life is captured in the moment when he sings:

For all that we struggle,
For all we pretend,
You know you know you know,
It don't come down to nothing,
except love in the end.

It's not just the lyrics. It's the way he delivers it. And it's never as powerful on the live versions. There's something about this recording. He just nailed it, it's there, you feel the life, right in those lines. That's art. That's why you create. So that people like me and you can experience it and feel a little more understanding about the crazy universe we're in.

"This Year's Love' was one of the hits. In the late nineties it was on nearly every film soundtrack. Why? Because it was like cheating, a shortcut. Rather than create the emotion or intention you needed, you could just use the song. It would take you there because it was so powerful.

'This Years Love' feels exactly, exactly like that New Year's feeling when, despite many bits of evidence to the contrary, you feel, deeply, that this will be the year.

It's a bittersweet follow-on to 'Shine'. With 'Shine', he was losing a big love, things were changing. In 'This Year's Love', he sounds older, wiser, and more cautious.

It takes something more this time
Than sweet sweet lies.

He captures that feeling of getting older, of learning to love again. Of holding on to the magic of life as it arises despite how friggin' hard it is.

This year's love had better last
Heaven knows it's high time
I've been waiting on my own too long

There's this great part of the song, about two and a half minutes in, when he sings about the difficult stuff, and then follows it with a magically written and delivered moment of romance.

Who's to worry
If our hearts get torn
When that hurt gets thrown
Don't ya notice,
life goes on

Won't ya kiss me
On that midnight street
Sweep me off my feet
Ain't this life so sweet!

1993. 1998. Two years in which he nailed it. In '93, the fans caught it. In '98 the world caught it. These two songs will always be with me and I hope, with you too. And if we're truthful, that's how our artistic careers go. We have a time of learning our craft, with occasional magic but not that much. And then we hit our stride and, if we're lucky, bring the world with us. You hold onto it for as long as you can but it's quite possible you won't resonate forever. I guess the world changes, or we change.

David Gray will always have a career. He'll create nice songs and sell out arenas; and he deserves it. But really, it's about the magic he found somewhere in him and managed to get out from inside of him into the world at very particular times in his life.

Care to share?

Saturday 3 December 2011

Wild World

I was floating around Spotify the other day and came across this version of Cat Steven's 'Wild World', it's the demo version. I love that about Spotify. It's like the early Napster days. You thought you knew what music you liked, but somehow you'd find yourself in a whole other place. You'd go look for an Oasis song, but then you'd find an Oasis cover by a Dutch band. And then you'd download it but it'd not really be a Dutch band but a rare Bob Dylan song. You'd find out the real name of it and listen to it, and then listen to a live version and then listen to a cover version by some kid in Texas. And you'd constantly be finding new bits of unexpected magic.

Spotify is bringing that back. It's not quite the same, everything is official; so you don't find bootlegs and obscure live tracks. But pretty much anything official, you can find.

And I came across this version of 'Wild World'.

Technically, I'm sure, the released version is much better, more complete, but this one, in it's raw form, is surprisingly powerful. You believe him even more than you do in the famous version. It's simple, it's quietly powerful - he sings "Oh baby, baby it's a wild world" and you really
feel that he's singing to someone. You feel like they're in the room with you.

It's great when you find a piece of art where someone means something. Most artists don't hold on to who they are. How can you? The money is not in personal expression, it's in compromise. Used to be people would invest time and money in the Dylan's, Woody Allen's and Chaplin's, because It'd pay dividends a few years down the line when they were fully grown.

Now they just force the work out of them, take any juice they can find and then drop it. Nobody stays relevant for more than a year or two.

That's why it's so powerful when you find something that resonates. Find me a song from the last five years as honest and personal as this 'Wild World' demo, I doubt you can find it. Maybe it's hidden on YouTube or MySpace somewhere, but I doubt it's caught traction in the wider world.

There was this girl on the X Factor a couple of years back. She was all over the place but she had something unique. Was it talent? I think so. Did I like her music? No. But she had attitude and ideas. and she was only 16! 
I don't even need to tell you her name because, if you don't know her, it doesn't matter -- she has no relevance now. She's a footnote at best.  They took her and turned her into something bland and normal. I was in a cafe with a friend earlier and they were playing her video today. I hardly recognised her. She was full of make-up and bland singing to a forgetful track. Everything unique and original they'd sucked right out of her. 

You never get that back.

That's why you have to hold onto it for dear life.

The great artists in film held on to who they really were and experimented, and stuck by their instincts. Were they often wrong? Yes. Did they make bad films that flopped? Yes. But they learned from them. They kept coming back.

Artists get longevity as a reward for their persistence. That's why you have to be in it for the long run. It takes years to get great. Most of us are still mostly failing, but it's a process.
You stick at it.

It's like Cat Stevens says in the song:

"But if you wanna leave, take good care,
Hope you make a lot of nice friends out there,
But just remember there's a lot of bad and beware"

There's no point being scared of failure. You get stronger every time you create something. And you learn to take criticism. The more you discover yourself, the more the criticism comes. People hate Ricky Gervais, but more people love him.

I think what I like about the song is that it feels like an old friend. An old friend that you need. A wise figure that says to you "Hey, y'know what, it's a wild world."

"Oh baby baby, it's a wild world, 
It's hard to get by just upon a smile"

But we're doing okay, I think, don't you? We're creating. We're making it happen. That's what it's all about. 

Care to share?

My Ideal Woman, In Song

She'd be a mixture of these three songs.

Care to share?

Thursday 1 December 2011

The Struggle

There are people with talent who spend every day perfecting their art. There are others who have huge talent but disregard it completely.

How do you become one or the other?

What makes one person value artistic integrity and the other take the money regardless of such matters?

Life is about happiness, right? What if you create crap junk films but are happy? Is that better or worse than being an indie artist who is struggling and poor?

That's what baffles people, when a woman quits her safe accounting job and becomes a waitress so that she can act. The odds are she'll fail.

Well she'll fail if she wants to get rich or be in big movies.

But maybe that's okay?

It's about if she's happy, right?

I value artistic vision, integrity, honesty. But what difference will it make when I'm 93 and peeing on the floor?

If you're creative and miserable, are you living the right life?

I say this because so many people in the industry are depressed and self-loathing and lacking in confidence. You get that in all walks of life, but in this industry, you're going against societal norms. Against the 9-5.

The rejection in film is horrid. As a director, my rejections are usually monetal. No-one wants to invest because it's too risky. They need names attached, clear plot points, clear genres. The other rejection comes as criticism. You spend two years making a movie and then some newspaper or internet guy writes about how you're talentless and not worthy of living.

For actors, it's constant rejection. Everyone knows actors get rejected but they don't know the toll it takes. An actor's job during a project is to bare their soul and in between projects their job is to protect it from crumbling.

The big thing is the uncertainty. When is the next pay cheque? When will they call back? When will I ever get a role?

Everyone is running around pitching ideas confidently in coffee houses and spreading their mediocre films on Facebook, but how are they feeling really?

Hardly anyone earns money at this. No-one knows how next month will pan out. And you might miss your best friend's wedding if you get the role in the movie.

This post is not about much of anything, but is just to say that I know a huge amount of people working extremely hard at this and nobody ever really sees it. I just want to give voice to the artists who are out there navigating through the complexities of living a creative life.

Care to share?