I've been thinking a lot lately about work and ideas of class.
There was a trend in music a bit ago that seemed to irritate a bunch of people where a band embraced the upper middle class or something. I get it, the idea is no one ever has a fortunate, comfortable childhood and has anything important to say. Of course that's not true.
For a number of years I worked in rock clubs, and I know musicians have a hard life, filled with grand ambitions and constant rejection, the grind of the road, inevitable debt, and everyone stepping out of the woodwork to lie to their faces about what they can do for them. Then again, I can think of no musician I knew whose parents weren't comfortable. Instruments, lessons, almost always require disposable cash. It doesn't make it easy. Although, easier than not.
I started thinking about this after seeing The Pixies documentary. Then reading Black Francis helped pay for their first demo with $1,000 borrowed from his father. I love The Pixies. Would you have heard of them and enjoyed their music if Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV (Black Francis) hadn't been able to ask his dad for $1,000? Maybe not. In 1987, when I was in college, could I have borrowed $1,000 from anyone? No. I'm not bitter—I'd have blown it on pizza, beer and games of The Golden Axe. I was not in a band with Kim Deal or any band at all, plus I have no musical talent.
1. Bob Dylan's parents, the Zimmermans, owned a successful appliance store in Duluth, Minnesota, and were leaders in their community. At young Robert Allen's bar mitzvah, the guest list was 400, the largest in the town's history. Dylan attended the University of Minnesota before dropping out and moving to Greenwich Village.
2. Mac McCaughan (born Ralph) of the bands Superchunk and Portastatic as well as co-founder of Merge records, which has given the culture some of the best music of the last two decades, is a graduate of Columbia University, the same as our current president. Mac's father is a successful attorney focused on estate planning and estate law. Among other titles he's Associate University Counsel for Duke University. Superchunk toured relentlessly when they were starting out. It was the only way for a band to get noticed at that time. When their van broke down in the desert and they rented a car instead of limping back home, did anyone help them? I don't know, it's rude to ask. Would She & Him be signed to Merge now if someone had not helped young Ralph Jr. buy his first amplifier? I doubt it. Does this mean he hasn't worked his ass off and done a great job? Not at all.
3. Leonard Cohen is arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. He attended McGill University and Columbia Law. While he was starting out as a poet and a songwriter, he lived on an inheritance left to him by his father, in Greece. Yes, he was a trust-fund kid. He lived modestly as all he wanted to do was write and play music. Would he have been able to otherwise? No. Am I glad of it. Yes. Here's his childhood home.
What am I saying? Truly rich people are far removed from the middle-class, even the upper-middle class, and I think all these examples fall into some strata of the middle class. But to someone whose father pawns his trumpet I suppose those distinctions are lost. I guess the root of all this is we assign some strange nobility to perceived poverty coupled with artistic endeavors. When strangely, historically, we've condemned poverty as a spiritual failing and are suspicious of artistic ambitions.
There's a long history of people making a pretense of downward class status, an embarrassment of riches. Not that my examples are making a pretense of anything other than the icon of entertainer. It happens in politics, literature, music, broadcasting, sports. It annoys me. I don't know. It all seems meaningless and small, a decoration, but I'm curious about it.