Music in The Arts; A Non-Essential

May 16, 1997

This year has, once again, seemed fraught with change, some of it regrettable.  Several of my favorite venues have either gone away, or have radically and dramatically altered house rules in order to" improve the bottom line." 

Sadly, in too many cases, that has translated to no more music. In some cases, whole venues have disappeared; case in point, Chicago House.

Why is it that while no society has ever determined that music per se is a necessity,  no society I 'm aware of  has ever been able to exist without it in some form or another?  Just try and think of one. Yet, time after time,  I see, even in my own sweet little town, an overwhelming willingness to annihilate the arts in a context where there is alleged concern for "the bottom line."  This is really ironic considering the fact that I live in what the Chamber of Commerce and Bureau of Tourism proudly proclaim is The Live Music Capital Of  The World.  It would seem this is true only when music is beneficial to their "bottom line."

Certainly among the venues concerned, improving sanitation and overall attitude toward clientele would go a long way in increasing business, thus improving the so-called bottom line.  Replacing some cooks and other personnel and adding a fresh coat of paint might even increase traffic in those venues where quality of food service, and/or cleanliness, seems to be a last priority. Yet, I guess if there is blame to be slung, some of it should land squarely within the musical community itself wherein we might have grown too complacent, too comfortable with the unique abundance of available music venues.  Perhaps we here in The Live Music Capital Of The World have succumbed to the illusion that we need do no more than just show up for the gigs, and their existence would be self-sustaining. History has proven differently;  we have but to glance at the number of venues which have disappeared in the last five years, alone, to see the evidence.  And I for one, am incredulous at the apparent un-necessity of each consecutive loss.  In order that acoustic music, and the venues which support it, be preserved, it is my opinion that we can all do a little more than just show up for the gig. We can always express our appreciation for what we in The Live Music Capital expect will still be around, in perpetuity, and we can express our concern when music is apparently threatened by a financial "bottom line."  Music is a resource which needs to be preserved.  It is a form of creativity and expression every human being should have an opportunity to share, whether we are participants or spectators.

There may still be a chance to salvage music in the legendary Waterloo Ice House 6th Street location; the other two Waterloo locations have discontinued it altogether.  But you'd better make your voices heard.  The owner's name is Stuart Hentschel.

On the other hand, just for fun - - there is an article on Jewel (yes) in July's Acoustic Guitar Magazine. She is real, people, she's an Interlochen School of Music alumnus...  and she's only 22 years old. There is a reason the kids are listening to her... there may even still be some room left for genuineness and sincerity in this crazy industry.  Hey, those industry guys can't fool all of the people all of the time!!  Just look at the financial mess they've been in the last two years.  Maybe if they'd just stop trying to sell in a manner oriented only to the short run, and think about how quality = longevity...?  Unfortunately, now, even when they attempt to sell "quality,"  it still looks like they are trying to sell us crap. Unfortunate for newcomers, but there is still time to find out which is which for yourselves, unless you simply wish to take the words of others...  There is also a good article on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, and Martin Simpson in the same issue.  In June/July/August's Dirty Linen, look for the article on Iain Matthews

Lastly, there's still time to see "Sling Blade" before it is withdrawn from public consumption. It is, and will be, my pick for Best Movie of  the last twenty years.  Simple, profound, dark, breathtakingly spare, quintessentially redemptive, and wholly masterful. It does not pander to the apparent whim of the industry. Billy Bob Thorton's portrayal of Karl Childers is rivetingly genuine, without artifice or pathos. In my opinion, he deserved the academy award for Best Actor. In fact, he does such an amazing job, it's hard to believe he is acting. I haven't admired a movie so much since "To Kill A Mockingbird."  Sling Blade is obviously a work of love. Congratulations to Billy Bob on winning the prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for 1997, and for his writing of an absolutely spellbinding movie.

Well, enough blustering... 

If you came here thinking to view just another website, guess it's a little different. I used to have conversations of this ilk with my friends at a much-beloved venue which expired in 1995 (Chicago House).  Now I'm offering a sort of virtual "venue", The RedBird Cafe', hoping to fill the hole left by dearly departed Chicago House. And over the months, I hope you'll return to learn more about some of my remarkable musical and artistic friends whom I so admire, and whose creativity I really want to share with the rest of the world. You will find poems, stories (eventually), pictures, new links, recipes and whatever other interesting show-and-tell we can find.

Stay tuned...don't forget us out here on the stoop, and send us your musical thoughts; we might even print your letters.

Thanks for listening!

BACK to the Editor Chair on the Backsteps

Sling Blade, 1996