My brother Sean just wrote an excellent blog about the Ashlee Simpson lip-synching incident, using the metaphor of an unknown artist who, despite her talents, will never be famous. I think the metaphor is even bigger: as elements of culture become more and more automated, the odds of major fuck-ups like this are going to be increasingly more common.
Ashlee Simpson and George Bush have a distinct similarity: both were shown, on live television, to be utterly unable to perform their jobs without external aid. Simpson did it on SNL and Bush did it in the debates, but they are both examples of people who have been handled so much that they no longer have any sense of their craft.
Bush, in particular, has fallen mightily as a thinker and a debater on his feet; his 1994 gubernatorial debates showed him to be meaner than hell, but viciously articulate with his version of the truth. Ashlee Simpson probably never had any true musical experiences (other than seething with resentment as her sister got all the play), but there’s no doubt she can carry a tune. But excessive isolation from the analog world has made them both unfit for live performance. She and Bush have to understand the day would come when they’d be forced to pick up a guitar, pluck out the chords, and sing.
Electricity, as the blackouts of 2003 showed, is not a constant, even in America. Computers, as Florida is proving right now, fuck up all the time. Humans, as evidenced by my hamfisted attempts at MIDI, put the wrong patch cords into the wrong slots all night long. If you are relying on any of the above, there will come a night when you will have to rely on your wiles and your talent by candlelight.
This is the reason why I hate being on Celexa, why we are getting solar power for our farm, and why the piano is so wonderful. I hate being beholden to a drug for my happiness, and the day may come when the drug will be impossible to get. I understand my addiction to electricity, so I will not be beholden to the North American power grid. And the piano? In the ’70s, when an Iowan tornado would wipe out the power in our town, my dad always lit candles and played Beethoven.
My life depends so much on digital, but life itself is analog. Every few days I try to pick up the guitar and work out a current pop song so I can always have it at the ready in case all other sounds are silenced. Being a violin major was a major drag, but in case we’re cut off from flow of electrons, our house will still rock.