Of Sacred Space & Audiences Starved

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Patti Smith / Bruce Springsteen

              DON’T SHOOT ME
                                                                           I’M ONLY THE MESSENGER

In the summer of 2014 I sat with Kent Williamson of Paladin Media at Charlottesville’s Golden Living / Cedars for an interview, part of which is linked below.

I talked about the artistic space created when a musician performs a song – the sacred space wherein the listener can be precisely who they are in the moment. The song has no judgment; the song just does not care if it’s a world leader or a homeless person. The song and the space have no concern for the listener’s race, creed, physical situation, sexual orientation or anything else. This is true also of a painting, photograph or sculpture on display – the space is open to all.

So I wonder why so many musicians wield discriminatory and exclusive judgments about who they entertain. It might not sound so great when I say it but the fact is that this is the systematic practice of audience discrimination, and it’s astoundingly widespread in America. It’s doubly mystifying since musicians routinely sing out against discrimination, claiming to stand for equal opportunity & fairness. Weird, huh?

When I first began the SongSharing effort I heard time and again that musicians did not have time to volunteer music in Community Venues ™ because they were aspiring professionals, struggling financially to remain dedicated to their craft. As SongSharing found ways to pay musicians the song remained the same, with a sickening twist. They still did not have time because they were professionally busy, but now they said “Oh, dear. I couldn’t take money to play for those people.”

I have grown to despise the classification of Community Venue audiences as “those people”, as though somehow they are to be pitied. I don’t pity folks in senior and nursing homes, nor do I pity the disabled children & adults I share music with. I feel for them, very deeply & profoundly. But I regard them as artistically equal to anyone that might bask in the sacred space as themselves, fully and unapologetically.

And I feel for the musicians that do pity Community Venue audiences and believe that I am driven by pity, because they know not what they do. The result of this artistically condescending mindset is that these human beings are systematically excluded from the domain of musicians and artists, but the musicians and artists think someone else is at fault. “Those people” become the domain of charity workers, and the social services, and strange people like me who end up ostracized.

And if you want to confirm your hunch about what sort of artistic exposure this yields then visit a nursing home in your area. Wait in the lobby every day for one week – a fraction of the time the residents wait. Bring a pencil and sliver of paper and wait for the music. Make a little mark for every musician from your town’s “thriving music scene” that entertains for even 45 minutes; a mark for every artist that incorporates Audience Inclusion ™ in their professional bag of tricks. Make a mark for every musician that lives their lyrics in this way. Trust me, you won’t need more than a matchbook cover because you won’t be making many marks in America.

Alice’s pal Les Iszmore says “You know, out here on The Road Les Travels ™ it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just the way we do it.” And I am not saying that it’s wrong to practice audience discrimination. It is what it is, and I, like the space this writing creates, do not stand in judgment.

But I don’t understand, because all I hear about these days are starving artists and declining demand for music, while the audiences starved in Community Venues represent staggering, rewarding marketplace demand and therefore professional opportunity. But the valuable demand they represent for live and recorded music is not even recognized as such, which has to do with why so many musicians wonder what the hell I’m talking about and think I’m crazy.

But I’m not. The sacred space has been forgotten, forsaken in pursuit of money and a distorted sense of recognition. And the result is the sound of silence.

Fools said I, you do not know
Your silence like a cancer grows…

Simon and Garfunkel

Leave a Reply