In 1977 something very exciting happened.
Two young dudes – Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were working on one of those youth arts projects (Meatwhsitle – a prime feeder of Fringe festivals from what I can gather) as computer operators and … they met.
A mutual love of avant guard music and being interested in this new-fangled electronica stuff forces a desire to buy a synthesiser and learn how to play it. Pretty soon they are so good, friends are inviting them to play at parties. (!)
They soon decide they needed a singer, so they made the dubious choice of Philip Oakey. They liked his eccentric style of dress, and offered him the position despite the fact that he had no musical experience. Oakey listened to one of Ware and Marsh’s demo’s and decides to help out with some lyrics.
That song became the single ‘Being Boiled’.
With a kind of instant-noodle magic reserved only for contemporary music as art form, The Human League had a studio release of Being Boiled a year later and changed the nature of music forever.
Throw in a support tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie being in your audience one night, and history is made.
All is not well in the land of brilliant bands. Oakey and Ware and fighting and Virgin won’t sign them after a period of low sales. Why?
They are so ahead of their time they can’t make money. No one is buying their albums and being brilliant and unpopular is a luxury only aspirants can afford. Ask Joyce what it is like to know you are a genius, know you are changing the face of literature forever, but living penniless. The arguments between band members are about making music that is more accessible to a main stream audience. The question – immediate success over long term success measured financially - cripples the band.
Unlike Joyce, The Human League decide to split, and then reform with a cheezy blonde and the absence of the bands true artists.
In 1981, they come out with this:
Even on You Tube today, the earlier Human League songs rate hits around one hundred thousand, while this song has well over two million views.
Ware and Marsh leave to create this:
All are still making music and touring.
Music has the power to make heroes of people in remarkably short time frames. If you are a seasoned music ‘veteran’ with no success to your name after ten years in the game, an uncomfortable moment comes inevitable where you must decide how committed you are in the face of so much failure.
This sits in stark contrast to other art forms. Writing, sculpting, avant guard and classical music, painting, all take years and years to perfect, and only the ‘freak’ artists that make ‘it’ within a ten-year time frame, and those artists are rarely change agents.
All art forms, that is except for drama. You want to be an actor, you share the same problem as the musician.
Ask yourself why? Why are musicians and actors washed up and over if they have not made it after three years when all other art forms are getting started?
The answer is the public gaze. Musicians and actors are ‘seen’.
The writer, sculptor, classical and avant guard musician and painter do not have to reveal the agonizingly slow and desperate process of the creation of art to an audience.
I can’t bear to watch the wrenching of art from in-authenticity. The excruciating agony, the blood-lust are too much. The sight of that artist, writhing on the ground, foaming at the mouth, on behalf of that paragraph I magically feel ‘reaches me’ does not fit with my image of genius, nor of inspirational leadership.
I want my artists to produce for me NOW! At least, the artists I can see. I’d also like to be spared the horror of their journey.
For me however, this leaves the unanswered queston, what COULD our musicians produce if they weren’t under the public gaze. What might we be missing out on?