Musing about delayed patronage

This post was triggered by a comment that Andrew Back made on a recent post of mine, on orphan albums.

The long tail has two dimensions to it. On the one hand, it shows how the hit culture is breaking down, how there are many many niche markets for many many things. On the other hand, it connects people to the niche products.

Some of these niche thingummybobs have cult status.  Some of these thingummybobs have reached their cult status many years after the creation of the thingummybobs. Some of the people who created these thingummybobs now live in difficult circumstances, and  probably wish their thingummybobs had acquired cult status earlier.

We cannot alter history, but we can make a difference to those people now. Particularly if we have received years of enjoyment from the cult thingummybobs.

Just a thought, probably influenced by my delving into the life of Robert Johnson many years ago. These things are hard to prove, but there is anecdotal evidence that he died so poor that he wasn’t put into a coffin; there is also some similarly anecdotal evidence that his son and heir waited maybe 50 years before he received anything in the form of royalties.

In the past, it would have been difficult to trace the people who bestowed cult status on anything. Today the costs of searching for and discovering the cult fans is sharply reduced,  and it becomes possible to connect the fan with the creator. Any views?

4 thoughts on “Musing about delayed patronage”

  1. John Cage spent most of his life being called either a “bad boy” of music (an epithet originally directed at George Antheil) or being accused that his compositions were not music at all. Nevertheless, he was probably the closest thing to a saint I ever met and could barely find a harsh word for either his circumstances or his critics. As is often the case, after he passed the age of 70, he began to get recognition and several rather “serious” awards. I heard him once at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, reading the speech he had prepared on the occasion of receiving one of these awards. All the language conformed to his usual standard of mild politeness; but the message behind the words was absolutely clear: “Where were you when I needed you?” So much for “delayed patronage!”

  2. Your dismissiveness intrigues me. You say “so much for delayed patronage”.

    We can prevent it from being needed by ensuring that artists do connect with their fans now, something that social software allows us to do. We can help those who, like your example, weren’t supported in their heyday. Surely better late than never?

    I can understand the frustration shown by the musician in your example, but how does that take this debate forward? What did you expect me to learn from your comment? I am confused.

  3. Stephen, from your account I can see how John Cage would have been justified in feeling bitter. But as you pointed out we often don’t develop a proper appreciation of someone’s contribution until very late in the game, and in some cases too late. But it’s so much easier to review things further down the line, in the context of what went before and after, and with the luxury of being able to draw parallels and construct theories as to influence and so on, once the dust has settled. I suspect that in some cases misplaced nostalgia also plays a part. Especially when the music industry cashes in on a resurgence of interest in a particular period, scene or style, and anything loosely associated gets drawn into the vortex of compilation frenzy.

    My own musical hero, Arthur Russell, enjoyed limited success as a producer of disco music in the 70s and 80s. But it is only very recently that he has gained recognition for his achingly beautiful avant garde and pop/folk compositions. And whereas not so long ago he was little known, he is now obsessed about by folks the world over, 15 years after he died aged 40. So I feel sad that he isn’t around to see the effect that much of his music has had on people. And even if he were he could’ve likely done with the props and the readies a bit sooner…

    As for “delayed patronage” I think it’s a good 2nd best, and possibly the best option available in the absence of being able to make people recognise good music on first hearing it. And we certainly need a new model for artist reward since nobody appears to be buying music any more [Incidentally I do, but on heavy black plastic discs. But that is another story].

  4. Andrew, it sounds like your hero followed my aforementioned Tristano strategy: He got himself a well-paying day job!

    Cage basically did the same but with less of a conflict of interest. He had collaborated with choreographer Merce Cunningham for a very long time. When Cunningham had accumulated enough dancers to form a company and arrange things like tours, Cage assumed the responsibility of business manager (and did it very well by many accounts). He did music for new dances (and other concert opportunities) as time allowed.

    JP wanted to know how any of this takes “this debate forward.” I think the important things is that Tristano, Russell, and Cage all had pretty high ambitions for what they wanted to do; but they also had realistic expectations about doing it. My violinist neighbor, who plays in the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and is basically of my generation (two years younger), recently observed that the younger crop of performers is not as realistic about their expectations as those who experienced the hard knocks of trying to make a living at music in the twentieth century. I was first aware of this “expectation gap” at a multimedia symposium I attended at the Castro (in San Francisco) about fifteen years ago (just as the Internet was building up steam). The audience was full of unrealistic expectations about “doing your own thing” on the Internet and making a living from it. The technology has matured a lot since then, but the expectations of the users have not followed suit!

    There are a lot of pessimists out there bemoaning the deterioration of critical thinking; personally, I would be happy if we could keep realistic thinking intact!

Let me know what you think

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