Thursday, September 26, 2013

Godspeed You! Black Emperor Gives Thumbs Up Middle Finger. And sort of wrecks it for the rest of us...

So, I was driving to TO last night with Georgie, my husband for those of you who don't usually follow along, and we were listening to the CBC (Because we drive back and forth from Stratford to Toronto so often AND are over 40 we have had our eyes opened to what the nation's radio station has to know, right? ) and the news had Steve Patterson, the comedian and host of one of my fave CBC shows, The Debaters, reading a short essay he wrote in response to a statement made by the band who won the Polaris Prize. I have heard of the prize but not being hip to the indie recording artist scene I GOOGLED it on the old IPHONE.

For any who are like me, here is the mission statement of the Polaris Prize:

Mission Statement
The Polaris Music Prize is a not-for-profit organization that annually honours, celebrates and rewards creativity and diversity in Canadian recorded music by recognizing, then marketing the albums of the highest artistic integrity, without regard to musical genre, professional affiliation, or sales history, as judged by a panel of selected music critics. 

I do know enough to recognize that the award is very prestigious and much anticipated in the music scene.
It has been awarded to the very commercially successful Feist and to the Best Album Grammy winning (and only indie band without a label to do so) Arcade Fire.
But again, that is all I know about it.
AND then on the interwebs and the Facebooks...someones posted the statement made by the winner...whose name is GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR!...they don't actually do it all in caps...but it is a bit of a random list of STONE TEMPLE I want to be sure you know the name.
Here is their statement:

hello kanada.
hello kanadian music-writers.

thanks for the nomination thanks for the prize- it feels nice to be acknowledged by the Troubled Motherland when we so often feel orphaned here. and much respect for all y’all who write about local bands, who blow that horn loudly- because that trumpeting is crucial and necessary and important.
and much respect to the freelancers especially, because freelancing is a hard fucking gig, and almost all of us are freelancers now, right? falling and scrambling and hustling through these difficult times?
so yes, we are grateful, and yes we are humble and we are shy to complain when we’ve been acknowledged thusly- BUT HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW- we’ve been plowing our field on the margins of weird culture for almost 20 years now, and “this scene is pretty cool but what it really fucking needs is an awards show” is not a thought that’s ever crossed our minds.

3 quick bullet-points that almost anybody could agree on maybe= 
-holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.
-organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.

-asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab for that gala, during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet, IS FUCKING INSANE, and comes across as tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.

these are hard times for everybody. and musicians’ blues are pretty low on the list of things in need of urgent correction BUT AND BUT if the point of this prize and party is acknowledging music-labor performed in the name of something other than quick money, well then maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords. and maybe a party thusly is long overdue- it would be truly nice to enjoy that hang, somewhere sometime where the point wasn’t just lazy money patting itself on the back.
give the money to the kids let ‘em put on their own goddamn parties, give the money to the olds and let them try to write opuses in spite of, but let the muchmusic videostars fight it out in the inconsequential middle, without gov’t. culture-money in their pockets.
us we’re gonna use the money to try to set up a program so that prisoners in quebec have musical instruments if they need them…
amen and amen.
apologies for being such bores,
we love you so much / our country is fucked,
godspeed you! black emperor

I am open to all responses and thoughts...maybe queries on this statement in which they insult the award, the cheque amount AND the corporate sponsorship of the gala...and the gala itself.
THAT being said, and before anyone freaks, I get what they are saying in this statement...but if they truly have any regard for other indie artists out there, young and/or old, doing their thing...who are, quite possibly, trying desperately to be heard or to find an audience who will listen to their work, maybe pay money to see a concert OR buy their album...which will enable them the time or space to continue to GROW in their learn in their art...I think they are doing them a large disservice.
You may not agree with me...and I sure there are a number of you who don't.
BUT I do believe it is statements like these that make corporate sponsors turn away. If YOU don't want corporate sponsors, that is fine...but, please, and AGAIN some of you will hate me for saying this...don't ruin it for the rest of the arts community.
I wish they could have found a more positive way to make their point.
Last night, I was at the opening for Louise Pitre's self penned one woman show, On the Rocks at Theatre Passe Muraille...and it was a glorious evening. To see an artist of her calibre get up onstage and tell her story...a story that she wrote...and singing music that she wrote with her husband...and show a side of herself that we never usually get to see...was a great thrill. And I sat in the audience and thought, "This is amazing! I hope this means more looks into the hearts of solo artists...of musical theatre artists...I hope it means many many many young artists will be inspired within the arts to tell their own stories..."
And after the show, Artistic Director Andy McKim got up onstage and thanked lead sponsor, BMO, and many other supporters and sponsors for their generous help in putting up this show. 
For the last few years BMO has been to sole corporate sponsor of my tours and my work. In 2010 they were one of the first to donate money to my work/tours and they have continuously supported what I have was their support and name that guided many other wonderful supporters to my shows and to donate to my tours. 
I thank Nada Ristich at BMO heartily for her belief in what I do.
I have always been incredibly thankful for their support and it has helped me immeasurably....truly.
I believe that statements like the one made my Godspeed You! Black Emperor impacts the growth of many artists.
Let the emails, messages and things that will eventually sort of hurt my feelings (I know, I am asking for it!)  begin. 
BUT I feel it is important to say.
I know they are musicians and work in a different way than, say, the theatre, cabaret, visual art and artists in other disciplines...but the arts community depends LARGELY on corporate sponsorship to keep their doors open, their art shows going, their studios open, their tours running...AND to get other supporters on board.
AND, if we are lucky, we may find ourselves accepting awards, nominations and ending up on shortlists and (again, if we are lucky) invited to attend and perform at galas...that get our work out there to a bigger audience...a different audience...where we meet other like minded artists...and these things let someone across the ocean, or somewhere else in the world know that we are...wait for it...legitimate.
I KNOW, I  doesn't take an award or a donation to make us legitimate but it SURE HELPS in getting a booking at a festival or in a new venue.
In the end, let us get back to the band and the Polaris Prize (who, it seems, is not at all self serving and has a very strong mission and mission statement). As a lot of pals on Facebook have pointed out, if they, GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR,  really didn't believe in the prize why didn't they take themselves out of the running when they were long listed...or when they were then short listed...or why didn't they just give back the cheque?
Well, there you have it.
And, someone might want to tell GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR that almost all of their videos that I watched of their work on the YOUTUBE start with commercials for a HUGE blockbuster movie, Milk, and various other sundries. Ironically.
But maybe they know.

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