I got to attend the Interactive conference at South by Southwest this year and was often reminded of how poor a substitute digital connections are for the real thing and what an epidemic of isolation and loneliness is taking place.
One presenter pointed out what a totally different experience it is when music is shared in the room as opposed to isolated in our headphones.
The best thing I heard at SXSW was a bold keynote from musician/producer T Bone Burnett, who talked about the “growing understanding that the internet has morphed into an insidious surveillance and propaganda machine,” calling for radical accountability for our tech giants and asserting that “the artists are our only hope.”
All of this made me think of my song called Be My TV who’s chorus goes, “I think my TV has been watching me, it cuts up my dreams to sell ads for jeans.”
This mantra is also a riddle, being a double negative – no more bad things – which eludes to the next trick, to do more good things. This is why the song itself has two distinct parts, the frenetic ska song about all the ways gigs turn shitty, and the relaxed ending, about how to set up ideal settings for enjoyable situations. The first half is a fed up young man getting older, shaking his fist at all the bullshit, while the second half is a slightly wiser man, choosing to steer clear of the bitterness the bullshit has brought. Because you can’t just quit your job, you have to find and make a better job.
Learning to say no to dumb, draining situations is certainly a difficult and ongoing challenge made more challenging because it can lead first to an empty space where nothing happens. This can be extremely refreshing, especially for a chronic over-commiter with a fear of missing out. One of the toughest parts about saying No to shitty gigs is fear of no gigs at all. And behind that waits the fear of having to do for yourself what noone else is going to do for you.
I know for me I may have never found the courage to unplug from the shitty-gig machine if I hadn’t had a kid. When Anais was born I had to say no to almost everything else for quite a while. But I had a baby that needed me, so it was an enchanting if exhausting, tradeoff. It gave me time and space to dream up what was beyond the shitty music gigs I’d stopped playing, to having to getting to put on my own gigs, and partner with people that shared my vision for what they could be.