By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Then again, how could we expect otherwise? Selling out has become the national ethic. Presidents auction off nights in the Lincoln Bedroom or hit up drug companies for contributions right after proposing policies favorable to those very corporations. CEOs lie to inflate stock values so they can make a killing by selling off their own shares at artificial highs. Fabulously rich filmmakers like Spielberg stick product placements into ”personal“ movies, journalists like Andrew Sullivan cheerfully appear in Gap ads, The Best Damn Sports Show Period lets advertisers come up with skits and segments. You might chart our culture’s changes by measuring the distance between Herman Melville writing Moby-Dick, a viciously panned novel that anatomized the dark whorls of the American psyche, and his distant relative Moby, who uses that white whale‘s name to trademark the music that he instantly sells to commercials.
I remember my disillusionment when Lou Reed and Miles Davis first turned up on TV pitching motorcycles -- it felt like a betrayal of some grand idea -- but those born after 1970 would probably think me naive. They were raised to see such behavior as a necessary part of the gig: It’s advertising, cross-promotion, branding. In fact, the moralistic phrase ”selling out“ barely makes sense in a society in which almost everyone is implicated with corporations and media (I myself worked happily for several years at Vogue), a society in which agonized shrieks of despair can quickly be turned into corporate product -- and mansions for the shriekers. This isn‘t to say that every artist is eagerly grabbing at the golden ring (I haven’t yet seen Thomas Pynchon flaunting his American Express card) or that it‘s become impossible to create good art: Moby’s done some terrific songs. But our familiar ideas of the rebel and sellout no longer mean what they once did. The romantic era of the artist-as-outsider is over, a brief historical glitch in the long, complicated history of patronage. This is the age of the artist-entrepreneur.
As we try to figure out what exactly this might mean (do you enjoy David Byrne‘s music for Windows XP?) and get used to a society that increasingly respects only winners, I keep thinking about all the unknown artists out there who continue to pursue dreams colored with romantic idealism. L.A. is filled with writers, actors, musicians, painters, comedians, performance artists, photographers and filmmakers, and we all know gifted, hard-working souls who never made it because they’re unlucky, lacked connections, grew self-destructive, came along too early or too late, had slightly the wrong face, didn‘t know how to play the game or had just enough talent to make trying an inner necessity but not enough to make them great (the universe can be cruel this way). In these days when Adam Sandler tops Forbes’ star-power rankings, we should be saluting the heroism of the men and women who spend long years waiting tables or riding buses in pursuit of some grander dream. In such devotion, there is no little nobility.
Speaking of which, I met Selby once, nearly a decade ago, when I drove him to a studio to do an interview for a documentary. Although he‘s known for his writing’s dark intensity, he was all decency, warmth and intelligence -- the crew declared him a Wise Man. What I remember most clearly is the eagerness with which he accepted his small honorarium (he was obviously broke) and the worn look of his small apartment. I drove off stunned and ashamed that one of our greatest novelists should, in his 60s, have to live so humbly. I haven‘t seen him since, but I’m told he still lives in that apartment, still needs money and still keeps on writing. He‘s staying the distance.
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