Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Carting a Sick Stick: Sic a Tart Kiss on an Art Trick (Part 1)

The Spirit of Salt Former Media Empire


fairly secret: the tower of approach: each day a song is added to the stack of my persistent apporach
SICKTARTAR: creative meta-commentary on songs and a marketplace

defunct and/or static:

Phree as in Phreakshow: a defunct casualty of the Death of the Age of Blogging
nude al fresco and al dente: and another
It’s Rome, Baby!: now frozen in time: a 20 year retrospective exhibition of text


Searching for the exact phrase “1,000 True Fans” on Google nets about 327,000 results.  The first is Kevin Kelly’s like-named essay.  By his own reporting it looks to be his most popular essay on The Technium and has been translated into 9 other languages.  What’s interesting about this (to me) is that Kelly’s core assertion:

“...Anyone producing works of art - needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living”

is (quite clearly and straightforwardly, in the article) derived in its entirety from a couple of back-of-the-envelope equations (actually no envelope is required, the equations are 1,000 x $100 equals $100,000, more than enough for any creator to keep body and soul together and produce art at a near-enough-to professional level, right?... and one true fan added per day times 365 days per year times three years equals a thousand, more or less, right?).

I think this basic construction is fascinating - there’s plenty to question even if you don’t attack the basic premises (that $100 is a reasonable threshold of true fandom or that one day equals a reasonable amount of time to cultivate a true fan) - right off the bat I’d note that 1,000 divided by 3 is 333 and a third.... which happens to be about 91 and a third more days per year than a person with a very average decent day job - 5 days a week with two weeks off a year and 8 paid holidays - works.

There’s plenty of other critique - to his credit Kelly publishes some of it himself - particularly the balanced observations of composer Robert Rich - and calls for more data before apparently dropping the investigation - while letting the trope live on. Also noted Internet Guy John Scalzi’s response probably summed it up as good as any.

And still this thing, this idea, this Snappy Headline *1*0*0*0* *T*R*U*E* *F*A*N*S* lives on, is repeated, is translated into 9 other languages.  What’s to be gathered from this, I fear, is that there are far too many of us.  Making, making and wishing very much that we could not be doing it for free.  It’s a problem, I think, and probably a mistake for most.  I think most knew better once.  You played your fiddle when the work was done and didn’t expect anything from it but to pass a little sweetness in the night.  There was no recording, nothing to be saved.  Now there is far, far too much recording and Google is happy to put it online in its ongoing advertication of all human thought.

Reading my archives on It’s Rome, Baby! is often painful now because of the wild-eyed revolutionary fervor I had on about the digitalization of media... In some part at least I was purposely camping it up but still.  What kind of world is it where Rudy Rucker has to scrounge for a measly $7,000 advance on Kickstarter? I’m glad that he made it relatively quickly, and I hope come-lately’s don’t just call that good and forego pledging because of the early success.  But still.  Still!  5 bucks for the latest out of one of the wildest brains of modern SF, and a towering middle finger to the established literary order by the by.  How is that not a no-brainer?  How does that have 60 measly backers?  How is it that Rudy Rucker even needs to go out with his hat in hand to raise an advance to write a novel?  Rudy Rucker should have half a million in the bank on the strength of his collected short stories alone. It’s 6 dollars for nearly a thousand pages of stories!  DRM free, right from the source, everything anyone had to ask of digital publication.  Rucker garners 200K+ hits on Google, has nearly 5,000 Twitter followers, he’s a darling of the BoingBoing set and various related cyberpunk and transhumanist sets.  Five bucks.  What the hell is wrong with people?

This makes me understand what I actually find so disappointing about how media is shaping up so far in the digitalization age, and how it relates to my discontent with the 1,000 True Fans trope, even if it was a realistic equation:  it’s still such a consumer model.  Someone else makes, packages, hustles you up and you consume.  What is a true fan worth?  A hundred bucks.  It’s gloomy.  What I really anticipated of the revolution I sought was a new age of discovery.  Digging through the racks, turning up those gems, telling everyone you know.  I thought the age would bring a new era of “paperback original” quality fiction, and sure they’d be rough around the edges but weren’t a lot of Phil Dick’s now-revered novels?  Surely we’d see brilliant ad hoc syndicates forming around micropayment subscription schemes, beautiful bite-sized textual content for all these pocket computers of modern times, surely you’d see independent editor-artist duos wading into the arena of independent self-publishing, splitting the publishing-house and outmoded physical production cost cuts with the reader to produce fully professional fiction and non-fiction at a price to challenge the lumbering legacy model’s lurching shamble into the 21st Century.

Instead it seems to me the world of entertainment, art, media, whatever you want to call it, is still dominated by legacy “producers” (aggregators and packagers) at every turn, still screwing naive artists with crooked contracts and work-for-hire, and the “alternative,” internet-savvy world has its handful of darlings big enough to make the San Diego Comic-Con, its inside track who may occasionally promote a new author (who is almost certainly being published by a large house which may or may not be a subsidiary of some media conglomerate tentacle demon but which is certainly transacting it all on the same-old advance and royalty scheme).  And they tell us what is cool, and they tell us what to buy.

Tracking down and grooming a thousand “I’ll buy everything” superconsumers to provide a middle class income might be a decent trick for someone but I personally think it would be a whole lot cooler to be part of some million-strong global club who pools a hundred bucks a year each and goes out and finds artists and radically transforms their existence - here’s one and a half million dollars, spend the next decade just making your art.  Gosh maybe it would all just destroy people.  Oh well - I guess there are some interesting projects being made possible by Kickstarter.  Right?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Also Willing

Behold, a tee-shirt for the Song of the Day and the [oh hell the rabbit hole of keeping up with the social media jones.  Used to be a link to the Spirit of Salt web domain here but it was too underutilized to keep paying for, and let lapse, which is why these t-shirts now inexplicably provide free advertising for some Austrian purveyor of bespoke, special salt]

Its slogan (if you have trouble reading it because it is in pseudo-Hip-Hop lettering, strangely formatted and partially backwards) reads THE SPIRIT IS WILLING - THE FLESH IS ALSO WILLING, in reference to Song of the Day no. 2.2732.  The whole thing was hand drawn (like with pencils and physical pens full of actual liquid ink on paper and stuff) by me.  Because I am multi-talented.

But wait, I hear you protest, Song of the Day no. 2.2732 won't be published online until October 25th of 2018! [I can't remember if I wrote this before or after the big long summer break, so this date is probably off now].  To which I say you are really good at math!  Also, great optimism!

It's actually possible the phrase will pop up in an earlier song; as I've noted before the hand-written songs are not all transcribed to digital and therefore not all machine searchable.  As far as I can tell I coined this phrase in this exact incarnation, but it's not terribly original - the basic inversion (the flesh is also willing) can be found in a 19th century German book on Christian Ethics.

It is available in two flavors:

Maximum Savour - white graphics on colored backgrounds. Note you can customize the colors.
     - Standard Tee
     - Heavyweight Tee
     - Women's Fitted Tee

You can also try this design out on other products in Spreadshirt's Product Designer - it doesn't work with all of their products however: Maximum Savour Design

Dark Savour - black graphics on white or colored backgrounds (my personal preference).
     -Standard Tee
     -Heavyweight Tee
     -Women's Fitted Tee

Dark Savour Product Designer page

My Spreadshirt storefront page features more designs by my brother, Actual Artist David Hamlow.

All proceeds of sales will go to support a thing I'm going to tell you about pretty soon.  Just to be clear it ain't gonna be a charity, though [blah blah blah, out of date, times change, nobody every buys anything and it all goes to support nothing, probably? When taking it all down is more work than leaving it all and just jamming in a few disclaimers.  Which also no-one will ever read].

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I Love the Song of the Day

A few days ago I noticed that I’d never selected a set of favorite songs for volume 2.4 of the Song of the Day, a deficiency I needed to rectify since I was nearly done with the posting of volume 2.5, which runs through August 10 of 2007.

I write these lyrics longhand in hardbound blank books: these “volumes” are just the various books.  I give them titles and they have a tendency to develop vague themes but the divisions are basically arbitrary.  I posted a picture of them all a little over 6 years ago: as chance would have it concluding with the (then unfinished) volume that I’m posting right now (ten more volumes have been added since).

Writing “a song a day” seems like an easy hook: but over the years I’ve come to feel that however accessible, the “high concept” is actually a detriment.  There’s too much of it.  As the raw output of an unredacted creative process the quality of a given offering can vary wildly, to say nothing of the content, which more than occasionally veers into the profane, lascivious, solipsistic or (even worse), religious.

Picking favorites out of the volumes is an effort to curate the flood somewhat, though I don’t know that anyone really pays attention to the sidebar.  It’s not a scientific process.  I pick five songs per volume by paging through and sticking a tape flag on whatever grabs me, and when I run out of tape flags halfway through, flipping back and forth between the latest attraction and the songs I’ve already tagged, trying to decide which one I like better.  With a few of the volumes I’ve found myself wondering, well in, if I’ll find 5 decent songs (though it’s never really a problem in the end).

No such problems this volume though - there are tons of songs I feel like were good enough to make the cut, songs like Work Faster, Partisans, Peace, Turning Point, Heat, The Spot, Time Tunnel, and Bridge to Nowhere.  I ended up genuinely mulling back and forth over a few selections in the final list.

And there it is: the truth is that I love the song of the day.  I’m really attached to it.  If I could justify it I suspect I would spend countless hours on this bizarre congregation, transcribing the remaining texts and affixing tags to the backlog of online posts and diagramming the oddball thematic connections that find their way into it all, connections that can only be approximated with searches.

I love it, but what to do with it?  At the end of the day, regardless of whether any of it is good or bad, it’s an incredibly quixotic pursuit.  In this age of Vine, Instagram and Pinterest supplanting Tumblr (by virtue of the latter trending too wordy, presumably), I’m producing verse, stubbornly free of any graphic adornment... And not even “high” verse, I don’t know anything about modern poetry least of all how to emulate it.  What I’m cranking out rather rests firmly in the idiom of the pop lyric, though generally lacking things that make pop lyrics catchy, like choruses, or being about young love.

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s just there and that’s all there is to it.  I’m no longer sure where I was going with this, and anyway I’m beat and this day’s song was written hours and hours ago.

And tomorrow there'll be two.

Monday, June 10, 2013

flash glimpse

"You are never the same after you've had that one flash glimpse down the cellular time tunnel"

-Timothy Leary, High Priest

Slightly unnerved to discover that Google's first result for "cellular time tunnel" is not the Leary quote but an essay I archived over at The Museum* about Narnia (really about time and perception but anyway).

I've never read Leary's book, in fact, or anything of substance by him.  I'm aware of Leary purely as part of a cultural milieu I was once deeply fascinated by but which seems increasingly irrelevant as the years go by.  What remains of note to me are a few of the mordant fragments of post-mortem that doomed culture produced, somewhere around the beginning of my life - Hunter Thompson's Wave soliloquy, of course, and also this insightful passage from Adam Smith's Powers of Mind** where I first encountered said Leary quote:

"Aldous Huxley, the novelist, had written of psychedelics in Heaven and Hell and The Doors of Perception, which described his own experience in the early 1950's with mescaline.  Huxley brought great cultural depth to the experience, and Leary went to see him, since Huxley was the Respectable Intellectual of the Further Reaches.  Leary's visit in 1962 brought forebodings to Huxley. "He talked such nonsense," Huxley wrote to Humphrey Osmond. "...this nonsense talking is just another device for annoying people in authority, the reaction of a mischievous Irish boy to the headmaster of the school.  One of these days the headmaster will lose patience - and then good-bye to the research. I am fond of [him], but why, oh why, does he have to be such an ass? I have told him repeatedly that the only attitude for a researcher in this ticklish field is that of an anthropologist living in the midst of a tribe of potentially dangerous savages.  Go about your business quietly, don't break the taboos or criticize the locally accepted dogmas.  Be polite and friendly - and get on with the job. If you leave them alone, they will probably leave you alone."

But Leary thought he was on the edge of a revolution, and did not heed the advice.  "You are never the same after you've had that one flash glimpse down the cellular time tunnel," he said.  "Turn on."  The savages did not like having their customs taunted, and they put the anthropologist into a big iron pot and boiled him for supper."

It is many years after I first read that (in a period of my life relevant in all sorts of ways I'll tell you about sometime if you take me out for a cup of coffee or a decent beer) and I think maybe this casting is a little hard on Leary.  Society's Hammer was coming down on any socially active outcropping of the New Age regardless.  Leary just got to be the poster boy for the rise and fall.  Even Thompson had some pointed words for Leary, though he ultimately cut him more slack (in a nearby passage to The Wave in the same book):

"This was the fatal flaw in Tim Leary's trip. He crashed around America selling "consciousness expansion" without ever giving a thought to the grim meat-hook realities that were lying in wait for all the people who took him too seriously.  After West Point and the Priesthood, LSD must have seemed entirely logical to him... but there is not much satisfaction in knowing that he blew it very badly for himself, because he took too many others down with him.

Not that they didn't deserve it: No doubt they all Got What Was Coming To Them.  All those pathetically eager acid freaks who thought they could buy Peace and Understanding for three bucks a hit.

But their loss and failure is ours, too."

In any event, that one little phrase apparently put some sort of hook in me, as it turns out this is not the first time it crops up in the songs.  I wouldn't be surprised to find it wasn't the last, for that matter.

Turn on.

*I note as I compose this that while I changed the title of The Museum to something a little more genteel, its URL (which was created by Blogger's automated protocols and is thus based on the original title) still communicates the original title in all its profane glory.  I take this as a not altogether comfortable indication that my fundamental nature is probably not subject to rehabilitation.

**Adam Smith as in the finance author and onetime PBS anchor and editor George Goodman's author's alias, as opposed to the 18th Century philosopher - and in reference to the long out-of-print and increasingly obscure mid-seventies tome on the New Age movement (more or less).  Which growing obscurity is a shame, in my opinion.

Friday, June 7, 2013


We took a vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior, in a rental cabin (actually one of a group of really lovely pine log structures, a place called Stonegate) right on a private stretch of granite shore.  On the morning of the last day I looked out the window to find some mysterious and frankly sketchy looking couple; a guy was standing by their car right in front of our cabin, and the woman was leaning way out at the edge of the water doing... something.  Honestly I thought she was quite possibly throwing up.  Nobody else was up yet; and we had the place basically to ourselves at the time.  So I went out to tell these people that, you know, this was not public access to the water.

The guy was slumped against the car smoking a cigarette and something in his demeanor slowed me down.  I couldn't see the woman any more from where I was (the cabin was up some stairs).  And so I asked the guy what was up and he said, in a kind of voice that communicates that he has been going through some stressful times, probably for a while - "she's got her brother's ashes, she's taking them to the lake" but I was already in full retreat at that point, I was like "yeah you take it easy man" over my shoulder on my way back inside.  I took my coffee to a chair where I couldn't see out the window for a while and when I looked out again they were gone.

I think I wrote this song about that (but was it at the time or when reminded on a different vacation?); in retrospect I suspect I wrote it in an embarrassing assumption that there was a some relatively direct connection from Lake Superior to the Mississippi, surely the St. Croix valley thing connects somehow?  I think you actually have to go by way of Lake Michigan...

Apparently at one point they were contemplating digging a canal!