There are all these different ways to approach the same idea. And usually the simplest idea is the best. But experimentation is always the key to any progress. But I always end up coming back to the same idea. Consistency is really the key to a lot of things. The least confusing idea for this blog is that I write about a song every day. And when I can’t do that, I just simply can’t do that. I doubt that I will write about 365 songs this year. Maybe I will come up with another title for this blog. Maybe I won’t.
“To be the boss”
In elementary school back in Bryam Township, NJ, there was a math teacher named Hobb Engler. The local Little League organization is named after him. He was a big guy with a cigar. That’s how I remember him. I never had a class with him. But there were three female teachers around him in the 4th grade that would send their misbehaving students, especially male, instead of wasting the time of the principal. I got sent to his class once. I don’t remember what I did. I expected that I would sit in the desk next to his desk with my back to his class and the discomfort of the unfamiliar setting would be punishment enough.
“or carry my hat.”
But Hobb Engler’s methods were not passive. He told me to get up and write on the chalkboard while he sat in his chair. My handwriting has always been atrocious, so the numbers on the board were unreadable. But he had me carry on until the students were asking what the hell I was writing. Which he made me explain. The class he was teaching was one grade ahead of me, so I was a bit lost. And while I was incredibly confused, I attempted to figure out what was going on. I was engrossed in trying to decipher what I had written on the board when Mr. Engler said, “Mr. Lines? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “What?” Engler, “It’s a yes or no question.” Me, “What?” Engler, “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “Mr. Lines. It’s a yes or no question. Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” Me, “?” Engler, “I think I have had about enough of you.” Me, “?” Engler, “Or you of me? Go back to your class and don’t bother your teacher anymore. Got it?” I didn’t bother her anymore.
“Don’t blow it away.”
To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? There’s not much of a choice is there. I think it’s a really important thing to ponder an incoherent question. It’s sort of the daily dilemma of the modern world. The riddle of affluence. The curse of the middle class.
“I want it to stay.”
There’s a lot of encouragement about bettering ourselves and being of service. But society and possibly survival itself don’t lend themselves very well to idealism, community, passion, intelligent discourse, etc. When it comes down to it, there is no right answer for anything. Any of the political or social issues that own large swaths of our consciousness. Tax cuts, crime, social security, defense, world hunger… There are answers, but the questions are largely incoherent. Requiring yes or no answers where long discourse and argument are concerned is largely unproductive. But when the problem includes threats that seem imminent and life threatening, then intelligent discourse gives way to panic and threats.
“But our little fire’s not doing okay.”
Phantom Buffalo fits into a particular group of Indie artists and labels that don’t seem to distribute their music very widely via the internet. You can order a record from the label, Time Lag Records, but that’s about it. Mexican Kids at Home, who I wrote about in my last entry is the same. They are on Wee-Pop records and they even told me that they don’t necessarily put mp3’s out on the internet. This all seems rather contradictory in a way. And really this song, Be The Boss, has been bothering me. But it finally reminded me of this story about Hobb Engler. And while the song comes off as a love story, it seems to be saying something about the fruitless endeavors of the creative fringe of society. We used to be just underground, but now we are marginalized. Largely with our consent.
Being an Indie artist, or maybe to do anything truly artistic (I’m not talking about making music for the corporate context that is dictated to us.), is like walking backward through life. The answer as a musician seems to be to get a large following, get signed by a major label and make lots of money. There is a different formulaic answer for all of the media that artists work in. And it’s ironic to contemplate all of these solutions, because all of these paths to success involve some step or element that most people don’t have access to. A very basic step in the music formula is submitting a demo. You need an entertainment lawyer to do this. To retain a decent entertainment lawyer, you need to cough up a very larger retainer (In case you didn’t know. Retainer = cash.) and also be connected to people that know lawyers well enough to recommend you to them. So you need an agent to make an introduction. Run your head around that one a bit. It’s enough to make you crazy.
Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Really! So we know the answers. We really do. There are thousands of books written about how to do it. And even how to do it as an Indie artist. None of these answers reflect that the questions are incoherent. How do you break into an industry that no longer even likes what it does? The music industry doesn’t like music or musicians. The people don’t like themselves. No one likes what they do. We all point to the government as if the government wasn’t the biggest employer in the country. Even people that work for the government talk about it as if it is something outside of themselves. We largely alienate only ourselves because we are always who we are criticizing. The truly rich have sold us the dream of being rich, and we have laid down our only defense. Freewill. We feel like we don’t have any choices. We need everything the middle class dream has dictated that we must have.
So my first instinct when hearing music so far out of the mainstream that the labels that distribute it have basically dropped out of the contemporary methods of the distribution chain is to just dismiss it all. I actually said out loud to a friend that I wondered if they were members of the Society for Creative Anachronism. But then I thought about all of the things that I have said here. And really I am so full of shit if I come at it from this angle. The music is good. There are some really heavy metaphors lurking just under the surface. And I know for a fact that digital distribution only serves to expose more people to the music. It doesn’t even attract new people to the shows which is where the band makes all of its money. But no one makes any money off of the digital distribution except the corporations that offer the download service, iTunes, Amazon, Emusic.
So what does it matter. People downloading songs on their computers don’t really add a significant turnout to shows. Word of mouth. Scene buzz. That’s how people end up going to shows. The internet does hold a lot of promise as the great equalizer, but it isn’t the shoe in the door to the industry success that we would like to believe it is. So labels like Time Lag and Wee Pop are just choosing to reign it in. As are the bands that choose to partner with them. It’s kind of a smart strategy. It’s the community that has always been the strength of building buzz around music. But even if it doesn’t bring them bigger “market share”, there is some integrity in it. They are not playing the corporate game. The game where smaller players have to mortgage their future to buy into a new infrastructure that only benefits the larger corporations that own that infrastructure. These smaller players have their own rules and their own metaphors. They protect what they have when they drop out and say that they aren’t going to play.
“Even in our minimized world, we can survive girl.”
That seems to be it. There is so much promise in all of this new stuff. But I think a good deal of it is a waste. What was the original question that our modern answers are responding to? To be the boss or carry my hat? Do you walk to school or carry your lunch? Yes or no? I understand what he was trying to teach me. The teacher was there to do a job and I was being an asshole for making it harder. Teachers show up for work and most of the questions they are answering are incoherent. Their time with the students is short. The teacher isn’t the man. Just another victim of a senseless system. I get it, but if Hobb Engler asked me today, I would say, “No!”
2 responses to “Be The Boss – Phantom Buffalo – 2009”
How interesting! Mr. Engler is my father.
Hi Laura. Me and my brothers were just talking about your father the other day. He made quite an impression on a lot of people. And of course, we played every available year in the Little League named after him. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org