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for September 24, 2002

Artists, Entertainers, Musicians
by Stiffy Biceptz

Whenever someone asks me, "Stiffy, what makes an artist Alternative?", my response is invariably, "Exactly." They then wander off, realizing next time they'll keep their questions to fitness and tanning issues...
I've had to explain this many times to people so let me do another rep.
The way I describe it, there are Artists, Entertainers and Musicians. Lets start with Musicians. Musicians are people/bands/groups who are defined by the technical skill of their playing, their instrumentation. Think 70's Rock bands.
Next we have the largest group, the Entertainers. Entertainers are immediate, timely, predictable. They deliver entertainment, instant gratification, disposable amusement. They give you want you want in a comfortable package. Think Britney, N'Sync, and many, many others. There's nothing wrong with entertainment; we all love it in one form or another, but it tends not to have a lasting impact or effect. Think candy...
And now we get to Artists. Artists can be musicians, and can certainly be entertainers as described above, but certainly don't have to be. They possess that something that the other two groups lack-a newness, a freshness, an unexpectedness. They create and deliver something unknown to you (and to them) that can't be measured by previously existing yardsticks. Its different. And when something is so different that it stimulates your brain into directions it wasn't aware of ... that, my eager acolytes, is art. The impact of artists generally becomes greater as time goes on. It takes time for people's brains to catch up. Sometimes generations. All the great alternative artists peaked commercially long after their finest artwork had been created. Artists tend to have a powerful influence on the flow of pop music. They move the mainstream towards them, while entertainers move towards and reinforce the status quo -- in other words, please the masses. The entire alternative music movement is about new directions, new sounds, new ideas, creativity unbridled by commercial concerns. And the result is great art, whose appreciation and influence grows every year.
My favorite examples are REM and the Ramones. REM's greatest artistic (alternative) output was from 83 to 87. And yet they were essentially unknown to the public. By the time they had influenced so many and changed the music scene so much for the better, it was 1992 and everyone liked them.
Then there's my dear Ramones. In a world of great Musicians, they came on the scene with no musical talent, by any standards. And yet they were Artists, so great and so revolutionary as to be widely recognized only now as the GREATEST American band ever, the granddaddies of punk, alternative and new wave.
Alternative bands are Artists, above all else.

©2002 Stiffy Biceptz

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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