Monday, February 27, 2006

Cruising to Hyperreality

Now that I'm off Cruise Ship X, there are a few elements of boat life I think are worth reflecting on and sharing with you. I'll spare you the day to day crap, though if you really want it feel free to e-mail. There were a few trends that got me thinking, and that's much more interesting to me right now. Particularly, I'm still digesting the experience of living on a ship with people from almost 60 countries, under foriegn law, but in a painfully American paradigm plays out. Every day is a very personal lesson in globalization.

In Umberto Eco's "Travels in Hyperreality", one of the seminal writings on postmodernism, he goes on at length about the title term, a phenomenon where people are creating experiences designed to be "even better than the real thing", as a teacher of mine put it. More and more elaborate wax museums, historical castles that never existed in the first place, more and bigger Disneylands, etc. This kind of post-modernism has had a profound artistic and cultural impact, which I don't feel qualified to talk about but...

The places I visited on Cruise Ship X- especially ports in Mexico and Jamaica- were no doubt tourist traps, with a lot of show of "native culture" with a dubious link to the reality of native life. Is that a show for the gringos, or a paradigm shift? For instance, spend time in the tourist towns of Jamaica, and it becomes clear that they are responding to, or even creating, an experience for tourists based on what the tourists think Jamaica should be. So tourists come looking for a "real" Jamaican experience, lots of beads and "ya mon" (and yes, pot), and the Jamaicans create experiences that meets the tourists' idea of Jamaica, which may or may not have much to do with the historical, cultural or political reality of the place. While at the same time, the trappings of American culture (or imperialism, depending on your perspective)- KFC, Wal-Mart, etc- become more and more a part of the daily equation of native life. (Just outside downtown Playa del Carmen is one of the biggest Sam's Clubs I've ever seen) And if you live in that hyperreality, it becomes real- the culture is subtly or overtly transformed into that hyperreality you're ostensibly creating for the tourists. And slowly these places becomes just another outpost of McWorld.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Cruise Ships and Creative Sandtraps

My friend Darcy, on his page, pointed out an article on a blog called PopMatters about the life and tricky times of saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, and why it matters. It caught my eye for two reasons: one, I knew Rudresh (then Rudy) more than ten years ago, when he was finishing at Berklee and teaching a little at my high school. We became friends, and while we didn't stay close at all, we would bump into each other from time to time in New York; he ran in some of the same circles as a woman I dated. He was, and is, one of the most brilliant, facile saxophonists I've ever met, and one of the most personally and musically relentless. His music is like a hurricane built out of a calculus problem- tremendously heady and physically powerful at the same time, unremitting in its force. I'm not even sure I like his music all the time, but he is always worth hearing, and I still admire Rudy a ton, now at a distance.

Second, and more relevant to me at present, is a quote:

"The summer after my first year at Berklee, I got a cruise ship gig that was a big eye-opener. Almost every musician on the ship had forgotten the reason they started playing," Mahanthappa tells me. "No one cared about music any more. They were just drinking, living the life on the ship. And I thought, if that's what making a living as a musician is about, then I want no part of it."

Which cuts pretty close to home, since I'm writing this from deck two of Cruise Ship X, (again, names withheld to protect the guilty, and my job) working the same job Rudy had ten years ago. And little has changed; those people he's talking about are some of my friends. And, sadly, he's right. This job is a creative black hole, both because the music is usually boring, bland, and easy, and because the lures of the lifestyle are quite strong. If ever been on a cruise, imagine the lifestyle you saw the passengers living- reckless eating, drinking, and skirt/pants-chasing, add five to twelve hours of mindless work every day, and you have the life of a typical crew member. I'm here for a very specific reason- I need to make money and minimize expenses, and this a sure place to do it, especially since I don't have to pay for anything having to do with oil. But, if I'm still doing it in 2007, please hunt me down and shoot me.

That said, I'm not willing to completely throw it under the bus either. There is opportunity here, as there is in any situation, for anyone, to improve myself musically, personally, whatever. And every week I have a completely new audience of as many as a thousand people, most of whom won't hear live music of any stripe, much less improvised music on any level. The fact that others turn into musical (or just flat out) zombies doesn't ever give me an excuse to do so.

And there's a bigger issue. Rudy is the exception and not the rule. His music is surely different, but he's chasing exactly the same grail he was chasing when I met him in 1992, and I reckon the same grail he's been hunting since he heard his musical idols for the first time. Which is as remarkable as it is laudable. How many of us can say the same thing, that we are so able to follow our muse, whatever that muse is. Whether it's because we're either lazy, physically, intellectually, spiritually, or we fall in love, or life happens- disaster, family obligations, injury, depression, whatever. Does that invalidate our journeys?

Okay, I'm now in a completely circular argument; as one of my exes likes to say, enough about me, let's talk about me

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Oh, Hear Us

More on Monday I promise, but...

Jennifer Kimball's new album, "Oh Hear Us" is out (and on Itunes, so I can get at it.) Go check it- I was lucky enough to hear the music in process, and it blew my mind. Enjoy!

EDIT: Now four days and about ten listenings later, I love "Oh Hear Us", love it, love it, love it. I heard a lot of this music in process at various gigs around Boston over the past two years, so it's exciting to hear the finished product- and what a product. For those of you who know her first record, "Veering from the Wave", her strong relationship with Americana is more obvious here, and the breadth of subject matter feels much bigger- she's singing in a voice that's not always so obviously her own ("When I Was Lost"), more storytelling and less confessional. (Though there's that too). And the end of "Ballad ..61" is so perfect, such a wonderful surprise. So go get it already