Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Echinocereus fitchii and Coryphantha scheeri (top) add their ephemeral glories to summer '07.
Cecil Taylor's For Olim in the background (actully, really frikkin' loud) on a 90 degree day.
The small flashes and sparks around here have to do with MONEY, BABY. That's right....bread, scratch, cold hard cash. Because what is money really? I ask. The school I used to work for had a generous donor who used to say "Money is just energy." I've known plenty of people who think money is bad, except that they wish they had more of it. I don't know very many rich people who think money is bad, but Santa Fe does have them: "Liberals" or "progressives" who are all chagrined and conflicted and embarrassed about having money.
If money is just energy, how can it be bad? Energy is neutral.
I guess I'm not really thinking about money as much as I am thinking about transactions. The exchanges that get us money or in which we lose it. A transaction is based on some sort of explicit or tacit agreement that both parties are a means to some sort of end. The ends in an employee/employer transaction are significantly different for both parties. As an employee, I'm agreeing to provide some sort of labor or service in exchange for money (energy) that I use to survive (shelter, food, clothes, etc.) As an employer I agree to pay an employee because, for whatever reason, I need that employee's labor or service.
But here's one way the transaction gets strange. The employee needs to survive, whereas the employer simply needs a particular task done. The stakes are much higher for the employee, and the pay can't really match how high those stakes are. The stakes are low for the employer, because the employee can be anyone, anyone at all, really (even in specialized fields it doesn't seem to take all that long to find a "replacement.") The dispensable employee is relying on the agreement for indispensable means of survival. This is probably why employees seem to set out to make themselves indispensable somehow, always a losing a game. In an employer/employee situation, no employee is indispensable. Having been one of the founders of a private school in 1994 and fired by the Board of the same school a short 7 years later teaches that kind of lesson. My father, who was in labor relations at Bethlehem Steel for 32 years, found himself forced into early retirement in the 1980s. One imagines that a 32 year commitment to a corporation entitles one to some generous treatment, but the agreement was never about that to begin with.
Maybe this is particularly clear to me as a drummer in a small town with about two dozen working drummers. How it is that a particular musician becomes "in demand" and manages to stay in that position for any length of time is a real mystery to me. It's certainly not chops; life as a musician has taught me that no matter how hard I woodshed, there's always some phenomenal player out there coming around the corner, setting fire to his snare drum with a faster single stroke roll, or whatever. It seems to me to be an ineffable quality of combined personality and ear that gets musicians hired in any reliable way. But it's a mystery.
From a larger perspective, it's strange making music within the framework of an employer/employee transactional economy. As a sideman, or even in a "collective" situation where everyone makes the same amount of money, it's hard for me to equate the actual music making with the transactional situation. I have played unbelievably cheesy, easy gigs that paid a relatively large amount, and very very tough and challenging gigs that didn't pay a dime. I've had great fun and gotten paid well and had a miserable time and gotten paid well, or poorly, or not at all. I've been told by leaders that I was exactly what they were looking for and then not gotten a call back; I've been on rockier ground and had steady work. It seems that my music life is an exaggerated version of my overall work life: a series of odd mysteries and strange transactions over which I've had very little control. The single constant has been the desire to survive, a rather bare naked animalistic thread on which to hang one's dealings with the world. But in all of its forms, no matter how elaborate-seeming, it is what it is.
The desire to make music is somehow separate for me from the desire to survive. Sometimes feeling even "in spite of" the desire to survive. I'll have to puzzle over that. And my apologies to readers for whom the above all seems entirely rudimentary and transparently obvious.