‘Professional jealousy’ Archive

Karma Co.

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

(Originally appeared here. Check out http://www.we-support-local-music.com for other great local bloggers.)

A long time ago, when the world was young, there was a guy named Russell Wolff. Russell was this amazing ball of energy from, um, maybe Philadelphia – he moved up to Boston and immediately became one of my favorite pop songwriters. His album “Karma Co.” is everything you want from a pop album – whip-smart, great production, great songs, lots of attitude, and the chops to back it up. He became Liz Carlisle’s producer, and they left town to seek their fortunes, and they showed up in the Boston area to perform once or twice, and then…crickets.

This always fascinates me. Where do these people go? How could someone I thought was the bee’s knees just…vanish? Before the Intertubes, we were left to wonder. Now, on the other hand, well, just Google “Russell Wolff”. Kinda takes the mystery out of it, but one day, I was sitting in front of my computer, balancing my checkbook and rockin’ out to “Karma Co.” (it’s great checkbook-balancing music, I’ll tell you), and that’s exactly what I did. And there he was, big as day, hangin’ out in Nashville! And he’s done lots of cool stuff! And there’s an email address! And, of course, I couldn’t resist.

And, of course, he wrote back, and, of course, like everyone else in Nashville who isn’t on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, he’s starving, but he’s loving his life. Now, I’m glad that Russell is loving his life, and I’m sorry he’s starving. But there’s a part of me that says that Russell has let me down, because I want more “Karma Co.”, dammit.

I mean, Russell’s music is mine. That sounds insane, doesn’t it? He wrote it, he recorded it, he performed it, it’s his, no question about it. But there’s that little voice in my head – and I’m betting that you have it too, for some author, musician, playwright, somebody – that has glommed onto this particular snatch of creative energy and laid a claim to it, that somehow has a wire directly into my lizard brain. I want more. I need more. And the fact that “Karma Co.” was the last full-band music that Russell recorded makes me sad – for the world – and mad – because I want more.

Now, I know that Russell doesn’t owe me a damn thing. He’s already given me a gift. Fifteen bucks isn’t a lot of money to pay for karma. But it’s a drug. I am, I guess, addicted to “Karma Co.”

This is the fan speaking. Art is designed to connect, viscerally. And the wars that are fought over copyright, nowadays, are fought, at least in part, over the ownership of the connection. We consume these things – we’re encouraged to consume them, they’re fed to us, by television ads, billboards, flacky articles in breathless magazines – and then the fight begins. Can I remix my favorite U2 tune? It’s mine, dammit. It was playing when I met my first girlfriend, or when I lost my virginity, or during that astonishing beach weekend where all ten of us watched the sunrise and bared our souls.

But it’s not ours. The music does not belong to us, legally. The artist does not belong to us. There’s a television series now called “Game of Thrones”, which is based on a book in a series by an author named George R.R. Martin. And a while back, my wife observes, fantasy writer Neil Gaiman was asked by a fan of Mr. Martin about the inordinate amount of time that Mr. Martin was taking in producing his next book, and Mr. Gaiman famously said, “Look, this may not be palatable, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.”

Heaven knows that if one of my fans buttonholed me at a gig and demanded to know where my next album was, I’d either assume he was joking or wasn’t really interested in preserving his previous investment in orthodontics. I mean, I’ve been working on it. Really. Leave me alone. It takes money, and rehearsals, and the sort of time that people with ailing and elderly family members don’t really have. And I hate being in the studio, and my voice isn’t having the greatest year, and – just – no. As thrilled as I am that you like my music – as delighted as I am that you came to hear me – I am not your bitch.

And Russell, in turn, is not my bitch, either, as much as it grates on me to admit it. It’s crazy that I can hold these two contradictory thoughts simultaneously – I demand that Russell record another album, and I’m appalled at the thought that anyone would demand another album from me – but the fan and the musician occupy different parts of the lizard brain. You’ve all probably read those interviews with famous actors who find themselves tongue-tied in the presence of their professional idols – yes, it could be marketing flackery, but I believe it. The consumer and the creator are different beasts, living side by side within us.

After all my gnashing of teeth, it turns out that Russell is in the middle of writing a song a day for the entire year, to raise money for a friend of his with cancer. That might feed my jones for a while – but you know how addicts can get.