Very early on in my muddled career, I worked in what is called “The A & R Department” of a record company: that is the department which received all the tapes from would-be recording stars. There was at least a sack of tapes a day, so your chances of being listened to were remote. If you were heard, and the song did not grab our attention in the first two bars, it was the bin for you, and no letter saying “We are sorry we cannot pay you more attention at this time but we were already bored by the fourth note.”
On the back of this, with a friend, I started a side-line professionally recording songs for hopeful artists, using ourselves and session musicians we knew: all great stuff and loads of fun. What struck me, even then, was the amount of amazing talent out there, and that there was far too much of it for the record companies to deal with, or the public to absorb. Naturally, a greater number of the people who sent in material were horrendously self-deluded, and a sound-proof shower would have been the best place for them to express their dream.
Now I have joined that throng as a “published writer.” ( Short pause to do a bit of modest bowing here before I realise no one is watching ). Once again, although in a slightly different situation, I am in a place where those who dream of being heard may write at will, and be self- published if they so wish. As with my previous experience, I am astonished by the numbers of people sharing this dream and reports that about 300,000 books are published or self- published a year. ( This figure may be wrong because I am too lazy to check it). To be successful in these circumstances takes talent, marketing and a possible smile from Uncle Miracle.
Over the years, especially when I was younger, I came across many people who wanted to be ‘Artists’ without really appreciating what they were saying. Examine the life of many famous artists and you will see a history riven with chaos, sadness, difficulties, poverty and isolation; mental if not physical. It is the perspective they often gain from being outsiders, which drives them to seek for sense or balance in a world-view unvisited by common experience, and discovered through misfortune or their own recklessness. A circumstance which drives them to look where others have no wish to, and to seek for understanding in places shunned by their more circumspect neighbours.
Great art seldom comes from a long successful career, marriage and retirement in a seaside cottage. It is more often the last gasp of those left only with the need to understand the world from a perspective none of us would choose. When people say, “I want to be an Artist” I always reply “Be careful what you wish for”. Van Gough, Herman Melville and John Keats, got little recognition from their work during their lives, and day to day might well have settled for that sense of peace enjoyed by their less-reflective neighbour. For those who need cheering up, study the life of Edgar Allan Poe who wrote brilliantly, drank copiously, lost his wife early and struggled for money constantly before dying unknown at the age of forty. Of course, if you want to be an entertainer, that is quite another matter.